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A Dacha in the Country, Every Russian's Dream

The word "Dacha" can be loosely translated from Russian to mean "a house in the country" or a small rural cottage. Owning a dacha is the dream of a great majority of Russians, for a number of reasons. Historically, owning a dacha was a privilege granted by the Czar. It was Peter the Great himself who first formalized the practice, and in fact the word "dacha" in the Old Russian dialect means "something given". Since most of those given the right to own a dacha was members of the aristocracy, to own a dacha by any means was considered to be a badge of high society.

As Russia began to industrialize in the mid-nineteenth century, dachas took on a new appeal as ways to escape the soot and grime of Russia's cities. An outing to your own or a friend's dacha was often a special event, complete with masquerade balls and fireworks displays. As you might expect, the better dachas were much more akin to large country estates than small cabins in the woods. This impression of wealth and privilege came back to haunt dachas - and their owners - after the 1917 Russian Revolution.

Dachas were viewed by the new communist government as decadent, bourgeois affectations that were not in keeping with the tenets of Marxist theory and Soviet society. Almost all dachas were nationalized by the government, however some of the better dachas were distributed to high-ranking functionaries as rewards for their efforts on behalf of the party. Stalin had several dachas, with his favorite being located in the Black Sea resort town of Gagra.

With the fall of communism in 1991 and the restoration of private property rights, dachas have come back in style. It's estimated that Russia now leads the world in the ownership of second homes. The "dacha lifestyle" appeals to traditional Russian sensibilities such as the desire to farm a small plot of land, and also offers some relief from the need to purchase high-priced produce in the city. If you happen to have a Russian friend who owns a dacha, be sure to wangle an invitation - it's one of the best ways to enjoy traditional Russian hospitality!


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