¡Ay de aquel que navega, el cielo oscuro, por mar no usado
y peligrosa vía, adonde norte o puerto no se ofrece!
Don Quijote, cap. XXXIV

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sábado, maio 25, 2013

Comentando a falta de papel higiênico na Venezuela "bolivariana", me reportei às minhas viagens a países socialistas, antes da queda do Muro e do desmoronamento da União Soviética, onde sempre sofri a falta deste item tão singelo mas tão fundamental para viver civilizadamente. Escrevi ainda que a falta era bem anterior à época em que viajei. Recebi dezenas de mensagens comentando a crônica, como também fartas contribuições ao debate. Entre elas, os depoimentos abaixo de outros viajantes, que mostram que o problema é crônico e inerente ao socialismo.

1. Some Mainly Historical Reports of Toilet Paper Usage in The Soviet Union

From: Harold: a senior British academic

As a member of the NUS delegation to the USSR in the spring of 1954, I remember being bemused by the large cotton-wool pads for use in the bathroom of my suite at the Metropole in Moscow. In the hotels we stayed in elsewhere the toilet paper made no lasting impression, so presumably it was not very different from the hard, shiny Bronco toilet paper then commonly in use in the UK (and at St Antony's College until 1969 when the Bursar was compelled by popular protest to dispose of the huge supply he had bought at a knock-down price and find something less offensive. In the early 1990s, a British livestock dealer who spent most of his time on farms in Ukraine, assured me that the wipe of choice was corn-cobs, after they had been stripped of their corn. I have no first-hand knowledge of how workers deal with the problem, though it was always said that the pages of Pravda were their first choice.

From: Walter: a senior American academic

When I was in Leningrad for ten months, Sept. 1959 - July 1960, toilet paper was extremely difficult to obtain. My strong impression was that in homes that we visited, and in the dormitory where we lived, most Russians used cut up newspaper. In later years supplies of toilet paper improved somewhat, but I doubt if the use of newspaper ended.

From: Jack in Leningrad

On my visit to Leningrad in 1959, I was fortunate enough to visit the apartment of a well-off Russian family. When I made use of the facilities, I was surprised to find cut up pieces of Pravda where a roll should be. I thought it a most excellent use for Pravda.

From: Dimitri

This sounds like an intriguing research question. Anyways, in the good ole Soviet days, newspapers were the way to go even in the "middle class" families. Probably this explains the high circulation of the Soviet press as well as the high awareness of an average individual of the current events. Well, times change and the political literacy of the Russian population is slumping, maybe exactly because of the advent of textless toilet paper. Yes, it actually exists in Russia and people seem to be using it the same way as elsewhere. As to the quality... come on! It's been less than ten years since the transition started!

From: "Inna" who makes an interesting historical contrast between Russia and China

I feel very interesting this discussion. My mother (born in 1914) grew up in Moscow's downtown in a big communalka where lived ex middle class people after October revolution. As she remembers, she had never seen any toilet paper in 20s, 30s and 40s before she came to China (married to my father). What about me, I was shocked in my childhood by these cut up newspapers after coming to Moscow and being used to the toilet paper in China. Maybe it sounds strange, but in China I've never passed a shortage of toilet paper including the time of "cultural revolution" (although it was a kind of very ugly and hard yellow paper which was given for example in Qingcheng prison). I wonder what's the origin of this toilet paper phenomenon?

So my question is: when did the manufacturing of toilet paper begin in Europe and USA? Was there any manufacture of toilet paper in Russia before the October Revolution? I believe that the toilet paper and its manufacturing was a innovation brought by Europeans to China (may be in 20s?)And after that the production has never stopped.

From: Kosta on child labour

Bill, you missed something. Back in USSR there wasn't enough toilet paper produced. I was told by my friends that some lucky ones had connections that gave them access to toilet paper. I remember seeing on the streets people walking with enormous quantities of toilet paper rolls. The lines that people had to stay in to buy it (when rarely it has been sold) were huge -- you'll stand for a couple of hours. o people like my parents and I used newspapers. When I was a kid, it was my work to cut newspapers for my family. Now in cities most can afford to buy toilet paper, but I suspect that some people in villages and even some people in cities live without it.

From: more from Kosta and Bill

Yes kost but the point that an analyst was making was that the situation is worse now. I don't agree do you? he said that although there were shortages in Soviet days--now people cannot afford to buy toilet paper so they don't use it. That is the opposite of my experience. What do you think??

Bill, you are right. Much more people use toilet paper now than before. In other words, a social base of toilet paper consumers is much wider these days than in 1970-s and 1980-s.

From: Willis – an historian in Canada

I suspect that you will acquire a whole roll of responses to your plea for toilet paper intelligence. And soon it will spread to paper napkins, the small triangular size and quite differing quality one often got at a restaurant (but rarely was visible at a stolovaia) seems just as suggestive. But it gets worse. I lived at MGU 1964-66, and recall that my roommate in the second year had a 'preferred' newspaper (Sovetskii sport). Since he was highly interested in athletics, however, that may have affected his scientific judgment.

Does all this sound ripe for a round table panel at the next AAASS? There have been worse uses of our time. Other random thoughts: Soviet trains that travelled into EE/West, by my recollection, were more far more likely to carry toilet paper than the hard cars within the Soiuz. By the way, I still have a partial roll of the gently corrugated toilet paper style if you ever need a visual aid. My great shame is that I allowed a student to make off with my prize visual aid--a sheet that wrapped a packet (not the rolled variety) of toilet paper: I used it to show all the perfection of censorship, since the few lines reporting the factory and number of sheets of course included the zakaz/censor's order/approval number.

Finally (for now), a colleague to this day admits that he is beholden to me: when you lived there for an extended period, you always carried your own. On one occasion I gave mine to a desperate fellow stazher, and he has mentioned that act of kindness often since.

From: Lawrence - a former senior member of the US military

While I do not pretend to have exhaustive knowledge of toilet paper use through the FSU, I can provide you the following insights based on firsthand experience:

1. My first trip to the USSR occurred in 1967, when I studied at LGU (Leningrad State University). We had been warned to either bring our own toilet paper or reconcile ourselves to using makeshift alternatives, since the Soviet product -- when available at all -- resembled waxed paper. The warnings were accurate, except that I would say "single-sheet waxed paper." Routinely, Russians and foreigners resorted to newspaper, a more than fitting use for Pravda. Of course, I am referring here to the men's facilities; I do not know what amenities the women enjoyed. (My guess, based on the paternalism of the society, is that the women fared better than we did and may have actually had something usable.)

2. During much of my military career (1968-95) I dealt with Soviet forces in the field and in garrison. I can confirm to you without hesitation that what troops and officers alike employ in the toilets is recycled newspapers, letters from home, and scrap paper. And naturally, the further into the "sticks" you go, the fewer the amenities. In some special facilities, such as guest houses for senior officers, you can find real, third-rate toilet paper resembling bottom-of-the-line brands occasionally sold in Western supermarkets for a couple of cents per roll. But such "luxuries" represent the exception, not the rule.

3. Naturally, the hotels where foreigners could stay in Moscow and Leningrad had real paper -- my last visit was in 1994, so this information is not current -- but its quality was, as noted above, poor.

4. You mentioned in your JRL piece a colleague from the former GDR, who provided you with insights based on her experiences. I would caution you not take comments on life in the GDR to be directly applicable to the USSR; the differences were great. I spent 3-1/2 years in East Germany in the mid-1980s as part of the US Military Liaison Mission to the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany and came to know East German reality fairly well. In fact, we knew more about the GDR than many East Germans did - not to mention the West Germans, for whom the country might as well have been located on the moon. Just as a chasm separated the living standards in the GDR from those in the FRG, something similar can be said about a comparison between the GDR and USSR. On average, the East Germans lived far better than the Russians -- esp. after Brandt's Ostpolitik, one of the principal goals of which was to ease the burdens of daily life for the Deutsche im Osten. Thus, for instance, Bonn insisted on having the EEU (at the time) treat the GDR as a member of the Common Market for purposes of tariffs and (non-CoCom) trade, meaning that Western consumer goods could enter the GDR in far greater quantities and at lower prices than elsewhere.

From Lindsay: who worked for Progress

My first visit to the USSR in 1969-70 (as a 3rd year undergraduate) involved a whole year away from home working for Progress, the foreign languages publishers, and sharing a flat with a fellow British student, with no access to the Embassy shop -- a rare experience in those days. Getting hold of such defitsitnye items as toilet paper became a near obsession. Once our supplies from the UK ran out (how on earth could one carry a year's supply?!) we searched in vain until we discovered that the place to find the said item was a stationery (kantseliarskii) shop or department. Even then, the quality was not what we were used to in the UK (which in my experience lagged behind countries like the USA and Germany in matters lavatorial). This remained the situation for the next couple of decades. In the Progress offices on Zubovsky Boulevard the toilets were well stocked with cut up paper from galley and page proofs. The translated works of Soviet poets featured for several weeks, but the various editions of works of Lenin in English, which were constantly in production in Progress, were never used for this purpose.

With regard to the present, during visits to Moscow and St Petersburg in autumn 1999 and spring 2000 I found that two- or four-packs of soft toilet tissue (imported) were readily available, for example on market stalls by metro stations, but at 40 roubles plus would be regarded as a luxury by many Russians. The visitor to the new public pay WCs, one of the better manifestations of private enterprise, are expected to tear sheets from a roll before entering a cubicle, no doubt reflecting the fact that business would suffer if clients were allowed a free hand. I'm sure I don't need to elaborate on the often deplorable state of the lavatories in libraries and archives, which is where most of us spend most of our time (in the reading room, I mean). As far as people's homes are concerned, foreign visitors cannot be certain that facilities to hand reflect normal usage. Some Moscow friends actually decorated their bathroom in anticipation of my arrival.

* Texto integral em http://home.wlv.ac.uk/~le1958/t2.htm. Pravda, em russo, significa verdade.