Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Ads Go Personal

In the good old days husbands loved wives, wives loved husbands, and the state loved everybody. At least that was the public version. People had affairs, indulged their fantasies, suffered loneliness and despair, but it all took place behind locked doors.


Even in the final days of the Soviet Union, the press was hesitant about addressing anything other than those social ills, like alcoholism, about which it was safe to write. Meanwhile everyone here continued to communicate with each other in code, reading between the lines for information.


One sign of the renewed vigor of the press is the huge growth of personal ads. Every newspaper carries columns of them. Suddenly you find there are no subtleties any more. The lusts and passions of postcommunist society are writ large over these pages. People have begun talking to each other publicly and they are using a megaphone to do it.


"I hate men", one woman writes. "They are all liars, cowards, and traitors. I cannot stand children either. But I am very healthy which is why I want to give birth to a baby for a wealthy family".


Women appear to think that they have two things, they can sell - their bodies and their wombs: "I am willing to give birth to a baby for a childless couple. I am 36, beautiful and healthy. Price negotiable". If childless couples do not provide a ready market, then women are sure that foreign families will: "A young healthy Russian woman will give birth to a healthy beautiful child and sell it to attentive, caring foreign parents", the same ad continued.


Sex is no longer something husband and wife do solely to produce recruits for the Young Communist League. The ideal of womanhood is no longer wide-hipped and ruddy faced, capable of producing enough children to win the epithet "Mama heroine". Sex, in Marx's words, has entered the "cash nexus". Barbie has replaced Mother Russia as the image of womanhood. Never was this so clearly spelled out as in the following advertisement: "I am a young, handsome and rich businessman. I have a country house, a Mercedes, and a shop. I want to give happiness to a girl". She must not, however be older than 32, he specifies. He has no need to worry.


To a Western eye, these lusts seem unfiltered by any social prohibition. It is in strange contrast to the days when on a U. S. -U. S. S. R. satellite link an American women asked whether Russian couples actually had sexual relationships.


Even the once upright Moskovsky Komsomolets, which was founded by the Young Communist League, the Komsomol, will always print several baldly phrased ads along the lines: "Beautiful young woman offers sexual favors to rich man". No ambiguity here.


There are women, however who look for other qualities in a partner. "I own my own house. I am 39 years old, 170 centimeters tall, and I am looking for a real man so we can work hard together and love each other".


There is an odd contrast between a 20th-century obsession with sex, with all its urban sophistication, and the rural population's struggle to survive. Next to offers of one-night stands and demands for young virgins, there are offers of specialist seeds and this request from a poor farmer in Belarus: "The communists did not allow us to own horses and land. The democrats allow both, but I cannot earn enough money to buy either one. Rich people, please donate money so I can feed myself" and my country".


People say of the Russia of old that however grim life could be there were some facts of life that were inalienable. The choice of food in the shops was very limited, but everyone could afford to eat. There was cheap housing for everybody. It may have been substandard, but it was a roof over your head. The old, the sick, and the disabled were cared for. No longer.


Now that this roof is being sold to the highest bidder, coupled with the fact that there is less and less provision for the poor, the old, and the disabled, there are numerous ads offering to care for these people in return for the right to inherit their house: "I hope there is an elderly lady somewhere whom I could take care of until her last days, on condition that her house becomes mine after her death. I am an easy person, and I can knit and cook". Signed, Chukotka. Or: "I would be an attentive grandchild and a helping hand to a single, elderly person who can provide housing to a 23-year-old army man".


Looking at such advertisements one cannot help but ponder that it might just be tempting for Chukotka to give her charge a gentle nudge into the next world by putting a little something in her excellent chicken broth.


With hospitals having run out of even basic medicines the newspaper columns are full of offers of medical advice and cure-alls. Even:


"Immortality for sale. Payment purely symbolic". Or : "Help save my mother. I need practical advice on cancer cures with herbal remedies". Those who have neither dollars nor rubles nor even a few medals to sell resort to barter. There are some unlikely exchanges. "A grateful artist" offers his services as a decorator to the dentist who can: "painlessly cure my teeth, and make me some dentures".


Some people can only throw" themselves on the charity of others. "Is there anyone who has old but still wearable shoes? I am 72 and my husband is 84. We are raising three grandchildren (10, 13, and 15). Their parents are dead. In summer their grandfather, a veteran of three wars, makes bast sandals for them but they have to wear something now".


Perhaps this is the real face of the free market in Russian today.


Harriet Forster is a freelance journalist based in Moscow.