Two vastly different Soviet lifestyles are contrasted in `Comrades' series

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Two extremes in Soviet society are examined in extraordinary juxtaposition as part of this summer's most intriguing television series. ``Comrades,'' the 12-part special BBC series on ``Frontline,'' is, sad to say, drawing toward its conclusion with double-header 9th and 10th segments: Baltic Chic/Soldier Boy (PBS, through Sept. 3, check local listings).

The series is affording American audiences a rare look at lifestyles of some Soviet citizens -- often not typical, and, most assuredly, slanted by restraints in some instances. But still, these are portraits of people we ought to be able to integrate into our own overall perception of the people of the Soviet Union. ``Baltic Chic'' examines the life of a fashion designer in Estonia, while ``Soldier Boy'' details the life of a draftee from Volgograd (formerly called Stalingrad). Two more different lifestyles could hardly be imagined.

Krista Kajandu is at the forefront of Baltic chic -- as far as it goes, that is. She designs clothes that most Soviets cannot afford to buy, as well as clothes manufactured at factories, which mass produce downgraded versions of her designs. Quantity, not quality, is the overriding factor. In any event, in a field in which fashion changes overnight, she is faced with a situation in which textiles are produced on a five-year plan. Surprisingly, a fashion show in Tallinn proves not to be very different from a fashion show in Paris or New York.

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``Baltic Chic'' is basically proof that the world of haute couture for the ordinary citizen is a fantasy world anywhere it exists. Perhaps just a little more so in Estonia.

On the other hand, ``Soldier Boy'' proves that youthful conscription into the armed forces anywhere is a kind of universal rite of passage. The separation from parents and friends, as well as the discipline and propaganda, are apparently somewhat easier to take in the USSR, since such service seems to be accepted as a ``sacred duty'' by young men and their parents alike.

At least that seems to be the case with Valera Krylov, the young recruit featured in ``Soldier Boy.'' But it was almost impossible for the BBC filmmakers to delve very deeply while Soviet authorities watched carefully. The film, however, does give us an idea of what life is like for recruits who are obviously given little time to even contemplate the fact that they might end up in Afghanistan.

``Baltic Chic'' and ``Soldier Boy'' provide fascinating insight into the wide range of lifestyles in the USSR. Watching these two films, as well as the rest of the series, cannot help but provide viewers with a broader range of information about the Soviets and the aspirations of ordinary citizens.

Such knowledge is bound to yield greater understanding and a demand for peaceful coexistence . Now, if BBC would only do the same for the US and convince Soviet authorities to show such films in the USSR.

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