July 01, 1996

A Nation of Plotters



Dachas (summer houses) are a concept held dear by most Russians — 80% of
the population has a dacha, and Russians put them third on their list of material
priorities, behind apartments and cars. Yelena Utenkova takes a detailed look
at the history and role of the dacha
in Russian society.

If you ask Russians about their dachas, the chances are you will get a wide variety of descriptions in reply. A ‘New Russian’s’ dacha would be a four-story villa in a pine grove. For less affluent Russians, it would be a half-abandoned cottage in a remote village. Still others would call a tiny potato patch their ‘dacha.’ But whichever definition fits best, they all have one thing in common — Russians spend most of their summer months there.

Centuries ago the word dacha (from davat — to give) was used in Russia to describe a plot of state land leased to a monastery or a major landowner. Later, at the end of the 19th century, other kinds of dachas appeared after impoverished landlords were forced to carve up their lands and sell small lots to housing developers. Anton Chekhov’s play The Cherry Orchard clearly shows the sufferings of the mistress of an estate as she realizes her lovely cherry orchard is in danger of being turned into a housing project.


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