In 1979–1986, a Belarusian publisher, translator, and publicist Michal Dubianecki (1927-1990) was the director of the publishing house “Mastatskaya Litaratura” (lit. – Art Literature), and in the late 1980s he actively joined the national public life and co-founded the society “Martyrologist of Belarus” and the “Renaissance” Belarusian National Front. His diaries for 1979–1988 were published after the author’s death in the journals “Flame” [Bel. – Полымя] and “Verb” [Bel. – Дзеяслоў]. In the quoted excerpt, Michal Dubianetsky talks about trade in the Minsk Komarovsky market in the mid-1980s. He talks about the prices for goods and shares his impressions of typical bazaar scenes.


Michal Dubianecki about trade on the Minsk market, 1985

Michal Dubianecki
Michal Dubianecki, “You need to take risks…” Diary stories 1985–1988, The Verb, 2009, № 2 (39) (March-April), p. 206–208.
Original language:

September 1, 1985.

Today, needed to go to the Komarovsky market again – to buy nails for the dacha floor. At 8 am, I was already there. But it turned out that the store I needed opened at 9 am only.

I decided to go around the market, and see what was for sale and at what rates. It immediately struck me that today there is a kingdom of flowers here. It is clear as it is the first day of the school year: everyone, according to tradition, goes to their Alma mater with bouquets of flowers. You don’t know where to look first, it’s hard to stop your eye at anything particular. There’s extraordinary splendor everywhere. Many tables in a huge area are filled with flowers, mostly in buckets. Flowers in bouquets, flowers “in bulk” – take as much as you need and combine the bouquet yourself. If you can’t do it yourself, just tell and you will get quick and free advice on how to do it beautifully, you will only have to pay for the wrapping.

This is the season of flowers. By the first of September, lush “autumn” flowers will bloom, the “summer” ones have not yet departed. However, today’s prices for flowers can only be justified in the middle of winter when flowers are grown in greenhouses or at home. “Flower people” grab the moment to do the best possible “favour” to their fellow citizen. They use everything possible, even the pieces that no one would care about on ordinary days. And the prices for such “anything” are overcharged, you would be ashamed to charge them even for the extra-class product.

For example, gorgeous gladioli of a meter tall, or more, now cost one and a half rubles apiece. And today, one and a half or two rubles is the price for tiny gladioli, the so-called “babies”. And you can’t buy those extra-luxe samples today.

Some little roses, “Mercedes”, as I was told – two rubles a piece. Chrysanthemums cost either one rubles, or one and a half, or two. Asters – 15–20–30–40 kopecks a piece. And when you have some improved variety, like, say, the chrysanthemum-like “balfie” or something else, they could sell 1 ruble a flower (!)…

Carnations – one ruble a piece. Even phloxes go at 20 kopecks apiece.

State prices are five times lower for all of it. But where are the state products? They are either not available at all when you need them, or they go in such quality that you would avoid them at any cost.

I had time, so I walked a little between the food rows. Where they sell lard and meat, I learned that the peasant selling the food did not determine the priced for these products but the market management. “Here,” a handsome young peasant with an intelligent appearance tells me. “Look, they gave me these labels with the prices already set.” I look at it: “Lard, 1 kg. 3 rubl.”; “Lard – 1 kg. 3 rubl. 50 kopecks.”; “Pork – 1 kg. 5 rubl.”. “And how much would you put yourself?” I ask. “On lard, I would probably set it like they did, and I⁠would increase the meat to six rubles,” he says, “let’s say, on the so-called ‘tenderloin’.” He leaned over, took a large piece of meat, and showed me: “It is one thing to have the meat with bones, and the other thing is this. It’s like the sun. ” With these words, the young cattle raiser’s face brightened. And he seemed to light up all over. It passed on to me as well. “Only a good man, intelligent and the one in love with his work can compare the fruit of his hard work with the sun,” I thought approvingly.

I asked him to weigh me two kilograms of “that sun”. He did it confidently, nicely, and majestically. He wrapped it up for me and put it in front of me. I gave him 13 rubles, a tenner and a three-rubels bill.

“Why the three?” he asks. “It’s ten rubles for all.

“For the sun,” I answered and, quickly added: “Have a successful commerce!” and I went on. I was instantly caught into the human whirlpool. But I still had time to hear some words of the “seller of the sun” addressed to me:

“Dear citizen, take the odd… Well, take the odd money: I have no right to sell it more expensive…”

“Tomatoes are from one to one and a half rubles per kilogram,” I go on. It’s still expensive, I thought: oranges are brought “from across the seas and oceans” and the price for them is always one ruble and forty kopecks a kilogram. And this is locally grown, it should be much cheaper.

Cucumbers go next. Price: two rubles. I was surprised. I approached the counter and asked again.

“It is written correctly,” they answered me. The first and the last are always expensive. And these are the last ones.

On another counter, I saw pickled (and maybe fermented?) cucumbers. The price is the same: two rubles.

Nine o’clock was approaching. So, I needed to “wrap up” with this “activity”. And I wanted to see something else. I managed to do it.

Carrots were from 40 to 80 kopecks a kilogram, up to eight times more expensive than the “state” one.

Beets – forty kopecks, or four times more for a kilogram.

Dill – 15 kopecks per 50 grams. For as long as I can remember, no one has ever argued over such a fantastic price: almost 2000 percent from the state-offered one! How much dill do you need? A precious little!

Similarly, parsley – 15 kopecks for the same bundle. I don’t know the state price. I think no more than the dill.

But pepper and garlic are sold in pieces: a pod of pepper is 20–30 kopecks, a garlic bulb is 25 kopecks. I wonder how many bulbs fit in a kilogram? The state-offered price is rubles and twenty kopecks per kilogram…

And here are the “fruit and berries”:

Apples go rubles or one and a half rubl per kilogram. You can also buy them for 50 kopecks. But they will have little in common with the wonderful Belarusian apples. Overpriced! What if you compare them to oranges again ?!

Pears are even more expensive: good ones go for two and a half rubles a kilogram – almost two kilograms of overseas oranges!

Forest products are also “widely represented” on the market. Berries are sold in glasses, medicinal herbs – in bunches, or even in glasses, if those are the fruit, or the dried flowers. These glasses are special. It makes you wonder where those old ladies get such small glasses that are a far cry from the standard 200-250 gram glasses? This is also a way to “drive up prices”.

Blueberries were sold for a rubles for three glasses, cranberries – for 60 kopecks a glass.

I liked the two grannies who sold the “weeds”. I noticed a neat bundle of some dry herbs. They were happy to tell me that those were the “tears,” and that they are worth one ruble, that they heal this and that (unfortunately, I did not remember the properties of many plants that were shown to me here: there was too much of unuausla information for me).

“Oh, but I can see each of you has different herbs, although you seem to work jointly” .

“That’s a good way to put it, kid, – “jointly”.” Because we are “joint,” we try not to impede each other. And we all have almost the same thing on offer. But if one of use puts out something, then the other one does not offer the same thing. Why compete?

These “girlfriends” have the same glasses as everyone else. But I saw how they “measure” them: they do not shake them but literally tamp them, and then they add a handful on top, holding it so that it does not crumble. Eventually, she would give you four glassfulls instead of one. Yet, they do not switch to large glasses, they are honest and well-doing. I wonder if they have any unwritten law? The law to withstand constant pressure from the state and open hostility from demagogue buyers?

Worked on the material:
Research, comment

Ihor Petriy

Translation into English

Svitlana Bregman

Comments and discussions