Certificates of appreciation (Kazakhstan)


Certificates of appreciation (Kazakhstan)

There were many different honorary awards in the USSR, ranging from military to civilian. The awards included titles, medals, badges, orders, and banners among other forms of recognition. While titles, medals, orders, and badges were considered to be of a greater importance and also included compensation in forms of a stipend or exemption from income tax for military and civilian personnel, civilian citizens, including youth, were also celebrated for their distinguished actions with honours. These honours were called Certificates of appreciation (pochetnaya gramota) and their function was to merely distinguish the “good Soviet (wo)man/citizen”. It is safe to say that they were used for the social benefit of the people awarded and to sustain the social order by holding them up as the public example of a “good” communist.

The gramotas were mostly in red and white colors, printed on a thick glossy paper with Lenin’s image either on the front cover or in the center on the left of the internal side (see fig.1-4). It appears that these certificates were pre-printed for use by the chairman of the trade unions of the respective organizations, as 3 out of 4 such certificates that were awarded to my family members are identical. They were given for many years of conscientious work, high production figures and for the early fulfillment of the yearly plans (fig.1, fig. 2 and fig.3 respectively).

Lenin’s famous quote is placed below his profile. The same quote was used on Soviet posters:
Производительность труда это в последнем счёте, самое важное, самое главное для победы нового общественного строя”.
(Productivity of labor is the most important, the principal thing for the victory of a new social system).

The right side of the certificate starts with the political slogan of communists, «Пролетарии всех стран, соединяйтесь!» (“Proletarians of all countries, unite!”, literal translation) or a more common version of this saying in English, “Workers of the world, unite!”.

The only certificate that was not printed on a typewriter and had a different quote was awarded in 1987 to my mother. She was 15 at the time and the certificate celebrated her fieldwork achievements in the summer camp: “(…) for active participation in the social life of the camp and a conscientious attitude to work” (fig. 4). Thequote says “Переплелись в большой моей судьбе, колосья в поле с колосьями в гербе!» (Intertwined in my great destiny, ears in a field with ears in the coat of arms). My mom reminisces about the award ceremony. “These school events were important. It felt as if the school children were given medals. This also added to your social status at school, because to be deserving of the gramota as a high school student could also mean the career prospects and the future that your life holds as a good Soviet. The administration also hung our photos on the honor roll that year”. She also mentions that the families that had such honors among its members also had a higher social status among neighbors and relatives.

The Soviet period, in a sense, has commodified ‘respect’ and ‘honor’ that are of vast importance in the Kazakh culture, in relation to labour. It extended its audience to the children as well that were not as much part of the ‘respect’ dynamics. This social capital was also accumulated by the family members as well as brought prospects of building a career in the Party with the proof in the forms of gramota.

Makhabbat Boranbay is currently pursuing her Erasmus Mundus Joint Master’s Degree in Women’s and Gender Studies at Central European University. She graduated with a BA in Sociology from Nazarbayev University in 2020.