Russian political jokes
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Russian political jokes (or, rather, Russophone political jokes) are a part of Russian humour and can be naturally grouped into the major time periods: Imperial Russia, Soviet Union and finally post-Soviet Russia. Quite a few political themes can be found among other standard categories of Russian joke, most notably Rabinoivich jokes and Radio Yerevan.
In Imperial Russia most political jokes were of the salon type told by educated society. Few popular political jokes remained recorded. Some of them were printed in a 1904 German anthology.
- A man was reported to have said: "Nikolay is a moron!" and was arrested by the policeman. "No, sir, I meant not our respected Emperor, but another Nikolay!" - "Don't try to trick me: if you say "moron", you obviously refer to our tsar".
- A respected merchant Sevenassov wants to change his surname and asks the Tsar for permission. The Emperor writes his resolution: "Allowed to deduct two asses down".
There were also numerous political themed Chastushki in Imperial Russia.
Every nation is fond of the category of political jokes, but in the Soviet Union telling political jokes was in a sense an extreme sport: according to Article 58 (RSFSR Penal Code), "anti-Soviet propaganda" was a potentially capital offense.
- A judge walks out of his chambers laughing his head off. A colleague approaches him and asks why he is laughing. "I just heard the funniest joke in the world!" "Well, go ahead, tell me!" says the other judge. "I can't - I just gave a guy ten years for it!"
Nevertheless, as Ben Lewis put it in his essay, and book , "Communism was a humour-producing machine. Its economic theories and system of repression created inherently funny situations. There were jokes under fascism and the Nazis too, but those systems did not create an absurd, laugh-a-minute reality like communism."
Early Soviet times
Jokes from these times are of historical value, portraying the character of the epoch as perfectly as long novels.
- Midnight Petrograd... A night watch spots a shadow trying to sneak by. "Stop! Who goes there? Documents!" The frightened person chaotically shuffles through his pockets and drops a paper. A soldier picks it up and reads slowly, with difficulty: "U.ri.ne A.na.ly.sis"... "Hmm... a foreigner, sounds like..." "A spy, looks like.... Let's shoot him on the spot!" Then reads further: "'Proteins: none, Sugars: none, Fats: none...' You are free to go, proletarian comrade! Long live the World revolution!"
According to Marxist-Leninist theory, communism in the strict sense is the final stage of a society's evolution after passing through thesocialism stage. The Soviet Union thus cast itself as a socialist country trying to build communism, the classless society.
- The principle of socialist economy of the period of transition to communism: the authorities pretend they are paying wages, workers pretend they are working. Alternately, "So long as the bosses pretend to pay us, we will pretend to work." This joke persisted essentially unchanged through the 1980s.
Satirical verses and parodies made fun of official Soviet propaganda slogans.
- "Lenin died, but his cause lives on!" (an actual slogan)
- Punch line variant #1: Rabinovich notes: "I would prefer it the other way round."
- Variant #2: What a coincidence: "Brezhnev died, but his body lives on."
- (extra comedic effect in the latter case is achieved by the fact that the words cause (delo) and body (telo) rhyme in Russian.
- Lenin coined a slogan on how to achieve the state of communism through rule by the Communist Party and modernization of the Russian industry and agriculture: "Communism is Soviet power plus electrification of the whole country!" The slogan was subject to popular mathematical scrutiny: "Consequently, Soviet power is communism minus electrification, and electrification is communism minus Soviet power."
- A chastushka ridiculing the tendency to praise the Party left and right:
- The winter's passed,
- The summer's here.
- For this we thank
- Our party dear!
- Прошла зима,
- настало лето.
- Спасибо партии
- за это!
(Proshla zima, nastalo leto / Spasibo partii za eto!)
- One old bolshevik says to another: "No my friend, we will not live long enough to see communism, but our children... poor children." (An allusion to the slogan "Our children will live in Communism!")
Some jokes allude to notions long forgotten. Survived, they are still funny, but may look strange.
- Q: Will there be KGB in communism?
- A: As you know, in communism, the state will be abolished, together with its means of suppression. People will know how to self-arrest themselves.
- The original version was about Cheka. To fully appreciate this joke, a person must know that during the Cheka times, in addition to standard taxation of peasants, they were often forced to perform samooblozhenie ("self-taxation") — after delivering a regular amount of agricultural products, prosperous peasants, especially those declared to be kulaks were expected to "voluntarily" deliver the same amount again; sometimes even "double samooblozhenie" was applied.
- -How do you deal with mice in the Kremlin?
- -Put up a sign saying "collective farm". Then half the mice will starve and the others will run away.
This joke is an allusion to the consequences of the collectivization policy pursued by Stalin between 1928 and 1933.
- Three men sit in a jail in (KGB headquarters) Dzerzhinsky Square. The first asks the second why he has been imprisoned, and he says, "Because I criticized Karl Radek." The first man responds, "But I am here because I spoke out in favor of Radek!" They turn to the third man who has been sitting quietly in the back, and ask him why he is in jail too. He responds, "I'm Karl Radek."
- Armenian Radio was asked: "Is it true that conditions in our labor camps are excellent?" Armenian Radio answers: "It is true. Five years ago a listener of ours raised the same question and was sent to one, reportedly to investigate the issue. He hasn't returned yet; we are told he liked it there."
- "Comrade Brezhnev, is it true that you collect political jokes?" — "Yes" — "And how many have you collected so far?" — "Three and a half labor camps."
Alexander Solzhenitsyn's book, Gulag Archipelago, has a chapter entitled "Zeks as a Nation", which is a mock ethnographic sketch intended to "prove" that the inhabitants of the Gulag Archipelago constitute a separate nation according to "the only scientific definition of nation given by comrade Stalin". As part of the research, Solzhenitsyn analyzes humor of zeks (gulag inmates). Some examples:
- "He was sentenced to 3 years, served 5, then fortunately was released ahead of time." (The joke hints to a common practice, described by Solzhenitsyn, of arbitrary extending the sentence term or adding new accusations). In a similar vein, when someone asked to addsomething, e.g., more boiled water into a cup, a typical retort was "The prosecutor will add!"
- "Is it hard in gulag?" — "Only during the first 10 years."
- When the quarter-century term had become standard for Article 58, the common joke was: "OK, now 25 years of life are guaranteed!"
Main article: Radio Yerevan
The Armenian Radio or "Radio Yerevan" jokes are of format "ask us whatever you want, we will answer you whatever we want". They give snappy or double-minded answers to questions on politics, commodities, economy or other taboo subjects of the Communist era. Questions and answers from this fictitious Radio are known even outside Russia.
- Q: Is it true that there is freedom of speech in the Soviet Union the same as there is in the USA?
- A: In principle, yes. In the USA, you can stand in front of the White House in Washington, DC, and yell, "Down with Reagan!", and you will not be punished. Just the same, you can stand in the Red Square in Moscow and yell, "Down with Reagan!", and you will not be punished.
- Q: Is it true that the Soviet Union is the most progressive country in the world?
- A: Of course! The life was already better yesterday than it's going to be tomorrow!
Politicians form no stereotype as such in Russian culture. Instead, historical and contemporary Russian leaders are portrayed with emphasis on their own unique characteristics. At the same time, quite a few jokes about them are remakes of jokes about earlier generations of leaders.
- Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev are all travelling together in a railway carriage. Unexpectedly the train stops. Lenin suggests: "Perhaps, we should call a subbotnik, so that workers and peasants fix the problem." Stalin puts his head out of the window and shouts, "If the train does not start moving, the driver will be shot!" But the train doesn't start moving. Khrushchev then shouts, "Let's take the rails behind the train and use them to construct the tracks in the front".(A hint to Khrushchev's various reorganizations.) But it still doesn't move. Brezhnev then says, "Comrades, Comrades, let's draw the curtains, turn on the gramophone and pretend we're moving!" (A hint toBrezhnev stagnation.)
The jokes about Lenin, leader of the Russian Revolution of 1917, typically made fun of the features of his character popularized by propaganda: kindness, love of children (Lenin never had children of his own), sharing nature, kind eyes, etc. Accordingly, in the jokes Lenin is often sneaky and hypocritical. A popular joke set-up is Lenin interacting with the head of the secret police, Dzerzhinsky in the Smolny Institute, seat of the revolutionary communist government in Petrograd, or with khodoki, peasants that came to see Lenin.
- During the famine of the civil war, a delegation of starving peasants comes to the Smolny, wishing to file a petition. "We have even started eating the grass like horses," says one peasant. "Soon we will start neighing like horses!" "Come on! Don't worry!" says Lenin reassuringly. "We are drinking tea with honey here, and we are not buzzing like bees, are we?"
- (Concerning the omnipresent Lenin propaganda) A schoolteacher is leading her students through a park, and they see a baby hare. These are city kids, and have never seen a hare. "Do you know who this is?" asks the teacher. No one knows. "Come on kids", says the teacher trying to lead the children to the answer, "He's a character in many stories, songs and poems we always read." One student "figures it out," pats the hare and says reverently, "So *that's* what you're like, Grandpa Lenin!"
- An artist is commissioned to create a painting celebrating Soviet-Polish friendship, to be called "Lenin in Poland." When the painting is unveiled at the Kremlin, there is a gasp from the invited guests; the painting depicts Nadezhda Krupskaya (Lenin's wife) naked in bed withTrotsky. One guest asks, "But this is a travesty! Where is Lenin?" To which the painter replies, "Lenin's in Poland."
Jokes about Stalin are of morose, dark humour. Stalin's words told with a heavy Georgian accent.
- "Comrade Stalin! This man is your exact double!" / "Shoot him!" / "Maybe we should shave off his moustache?" / "Good idea! Shave it off and then shoot him!". (In another version, Stalin replies shortly Ili tak [lit. or so], meaning "this way is ok too", which has become somewhat proverbial).
- Stalin reads his report to the Party Congress. Suddenly someone sneezes. "Who sneezed?" (Silence.) "First row! On your feet! Shoot them!" (Applause.) "Who sneezed?" (Silence.) "Second row! On your feet! Shoot them!" (Long, loud applause.) "Who sneezed?" (Silence.) ...A dejected voice in the back: "It was me" (Sobs.) Stalin leans forward: "Bless you, comrade!"
Jokes about Khrushchev are often related to his attempts to reform the economy, especially to introducemaize (corn). He was even called kukuruznik (maizeman). Other jokes address crop failures due to mismanagement of the agriculture, his innovations in urban architecture, his confrontation with the US while importing US consumer goods, his promises to build communism in 20 years, or just his baldness, and rude manners. Unlike other Soviet leaders, in jokes he is always harmless.
- Why was Khrushchev deseated? Because of the Seven "C"s: Cult of personality, Communism, China, Cuban Crisis, Corn, and Cuzka's mother (In Russian this is the seven "K"s. To "show somebody Kuzka's mother" is a Russian idiom meaning "to give somebody a hard time". Khrushchev had used this phrase during a speech at the United Nations General Assembly, allegedly referring to the Tsar Bombatest over Novaya Zemlya).
Brezhnev was depicted as dim-witted, suffering from dementia, with delusion of grandeur.
- "Leonid Ilyich is in surgery." / "Heart again?" / "No, chest expansion surgery: to fit one more Gold Starmedal."
- At the 1980 Olympics, Brezhnev begins his speech. "O!" -- applause. "O!" -- more applause. "O!" -- yet more applause. "O!" -- an ovation. "O!!!" -- the whole audience stands up and applauds. An aide comes running to the podium and whispers, "Leonid Ilyich, that's the Olympic rings, you don't need to read it!"
- After a speech, Brezhnev confronts his speechwriter. "I asked for a 15-minute speech, but the one you gave me lasted 45 minutes!" The speechwriter replies: "I gave you three copies..."
- "Leonid Ilyich!..." / "Come on, no formalities among comrades. Just call me 'Ilyich' ". (Note: In Soviet parlance, "Ilyich" by itself by default refers to Lenin, and "Just call me 'Ilyich'" was a line from a well-known poem about Lenin, written byMayakovsky.)
- Brezhnev sees a man carrying a watermelon while on a carride on his way to home. He asks the driver to stop the car and approaches the man. He tells him that the watermelon is looking nice and asks him to sell it to him. The man replies "Sure, pick the one you want" and Brezhnev asks "How can i pick , there is only one". The man replies "Just as how we elected you"
Quite a few jokes capitalized on the cliché used in Soviet speeches of the time: "dear Leonid Ilyich".
- The phone rings, Brezhnev picks up the phone: "Hello, this is dear Leonid Ilyich...".
During Brezhnev's times, Communist Party leadership gradually became increasingly geriatric. By the time of his death, the median age of the Politburo was 70.
Party Chairman Leonid Brezhnev died in 1982. His successor, Yuri Andropov, died in 1984. His successor in turn, Konstantin Chernenko, died in 1985. Russians took great interest in watching the new sport at the Kremlin: hearse racing. Rabinovich said he did not have to buy tickets to the funerals as he had a subscription to these events. As Andropov's bad health became common knowledge (he was attached to adialysis machine by the end), several jokes made the rounds:
- "Comrade Andropov is the most turned on man in Moscow!"
- "Why did Brezhnev go abroad, and Andropov did not? Because Brezhnev ran on batteries, but Andropov needed an outlet." (Reference to Brezhnev's pacemaker and Andropov's dialysis machine).
- "What is the main difference of succession under tsarist regime and under socialism?" "Under tsarist regime the power transferred from father to a son, and under socialism - from grandfather to grandfather." (A wordplay: 'grandfather' in Russian is traditionally used in a sense of 'old man')
- TASS communication: "Today, due to bad health and without regaining consciousness Konstantin Ustinovich Chernenko took up the duties of Secretary General" (the first part of the sentence is the common beginning of state leaders' obituaries)
- Another TASS communication: "Dear comrades, you're going to laugh, but the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the entire Soviet nation, have again suffered a great loss.
Mikhail Gorbachev was occasionally made fun of for his poor grammar, but perestroika-era jokes usually addressed his slogans and ineffective actions, his birth mark, Raisa Gorbachev's poking her nose everywhere (much like Hillary Clinton jokes about her being the 42nd President of the USA), as well as Soviet-American relations.
- ― Why are the meatballs cube-shaped?
- ― Perestroika! (restructuring)
- ― Why are they undercooked?
- ― Uskoreniye! (acceleration)
- ― Why are they bitten?
- ― Gospriyomka! (state approval)
- ― Why are you telling me all this so brazenly?
- ― Glasnost! (openness)
- A Soviet man is waiting in line to purchase vodka from a liquor store, however due to restrictions imposed by Gorbachev, the line is excessively long, the man loses his nerve and screams "I can't take this waiting in line anymore, I HATE Gorbachev, I am going to the Kremlin right now and I am going to kill him!" After 40 minutes the man returns, and begins elbowing his way back to his place in the vodka queue as the crowd looks on. They begin to ask if he succeeded in killing Gorbachev, to which the man replies: "No, I got to the Kremlin, but the line to kill Gorbachev was far too long, so I decided to come back and wait for my vodka"
Telling jokes about the KGB was thought to be like pulling the tail of a tiger.
- A hotel. A room for four with four strangers. Three of them soon open a bottle of vodka and proceed to get acquainted, then drunk, then noisy, singing and telling political jokes. The fourth one desperately tries to get some sleep; finally, frustrated, he surreptitiously leaves the room, goes downstairs, and asks the lady concierge to bring tea to Room 67 in ten minutes. Then he returns and joins the party. Five minutes later, he bends over an ashtray and says with utter nonchalance: "Comrade Major, some tea to Room 67, please." In a few minutes, there's a knock at the door, and in comes the lady concierge with a tea tray. The room falls silent; the party dies a sudden death, and the conspirator finally gets to sleep. The next morning he wakes up alone in the room. Surprised, he runs downstairs and asks the concierge where his neighbors had gone. "Oh, the KGB has arrested them!" she answers. "B-but... but what about me?" asks the guy in terror. "Oh, well, they decided to let you go. Comrade Major liked your tea gag a lot."
- The KGB, the GIGN (or in some versions of the joke, the FBI) and the CIA are all trying to prove that they are the best at catching criminals. The Secretary General of the UN decides to give them a test. He releases a rabbit into a forest and each of them has to catch it. The CIA goes in. They place animal informants throughout the forest. They question all plant and mineral witnesses. After three months of extensive investigations they conclude that the rabbit does not exist. The GIGN (or FBI) goes in. After two weeks with no leads they burn the forest, killing everything in it, including the rabbit, and make no apologies: the rabbit had it coming. The KGB goes in. They come out two hours later with a badly beaten bear. The bear is yelling: "Okay! Okay! I'm a rabbit! I'm a rabbit!"
Quite a few jokes and other comedy capitalized on the fact that Soviet citizens were under KGB surveillance even abroad.
- A quartet of violinists returns from an international competition. One of them was honored with the possibility to play a Stradivarius violin and cannot stop bragging about this. Another one grunts: "What's so special about that?". The first one thinks for a minute: "Let me put it in this way for you: just imagine you were given a chance to make a couple of shots from Dzerzhinsky's mauser..."
Everyday Soviet life
- Q: What is more useful — newspapers or television? A: Newspapers, of course. You cannot wrap herring in a TV.
(Note: bloated herring is a common snack for beer or vodka. As no designated wrapping for it existed, unneeded newspapers were used.)
- We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us! [A joke that frequently did the rounds at factories and other places of state-funded labour.]
- Five precepts of the Soviet intelligentsia (intellectuals): Do not think. If you think — do not speak. If you think and speak — do not write. If you think, speak and write — do not sign. If you think, speak, write and sign — don't be surprised.
Some jokes ridiculed the level of political indoctrination in the educational system of the Soviet Union:
- "My wife has been going to cooking school for three years." / "She must really cook well by now!" / "No, they've only reached the part about the Twentieth CPSU Congress so far."
Quite a few jokes poke fun at permanent shortages in various shops.
- A man walks into a shop and asks, "Don't you have any fish?", and the shop assistant replies, "You got it wrong - ours is a butcher: we don't have any meat. They don't have any fish in the fish shop that is across the road!" [The Russian version is a subtle pun based on the fact that a sentence "You don't have fish?" (with interrogative intonation and extra accent on "don't") actually means "Do you have fish?" So, the original Russian dialog is less verbose: "You don't have fish?"- "We don't have meat: we are butchers. The fish shop across doesn't have fish."]
- An American man and a Soviet man died on the same day and went to Hell together. The Devil told them: "You may choose to enter two different types of Hells: the first is the American-style, where you may do anything you like, but at the condition of eating a bucketful of manure everyday; the second is the Soviet-style, where you may ALSO do any thing you like, but at the condition of eating TWO bucketfuls of manure a day." The American man chose the American-style Hell, and the Soviet man chose the Soviet-style one. A few months later, they met again. The Soviet man asked the American man: "Hi, how are you going?" The American man said:＂I'm fine, but I can't stand the bucketful of manure everyday. How about you?" Answered the Soviet man: "Well, I'm fine, too; except I don't know whether if we had a shortage of manure of if anybody stole all the buckets away."
A subgenre of the above type of jokes target long sign-up queues for certain commodities, with the waiting time counted in years.
- "Dad, can I have the car keys?" / "Ok, but don't lose them. We will get the car in just seven years!"
- "I want to sign in to the queue for a car. How long is it?" / "Ten years from today exactly" / "Morning or evening?" / "Why does it matter?" / "A plumber is due in the morning".
The Yeltsin era saw the revival of some old Brezhnev jokes, but again the focus was put on actual policies.
- When Yeltsin resigned from the Communist Party at the 28th Party Congress, people used to say that "Yeltsin is out of mind,... honour, and conscience of our epoch". (A hint at a widespread propaganda slogan: "Party is Mind, Honour and Conscience of our Epoch")
- Yeltsin's aide approaches him and says, "Mister President, two guests are here to see you: the Pope, and the director of the International Monetary Fund. Who shall I show in first?" Yeltsin thinks for a moment, then says: "Show in the Pope; at least I only have to kiss his ring."
Political jokes under Vladimir Putin are once again gaining popularity, suggested by Time Magazine as a coping mechanism or a primary part of the Russian consciousness. Many play on his KGB background, such as this one:
- ―Have you heard, Putin ordered the government to arrest the inflation. / ―Well, not exactly, he ordered to have it arrested...and jailed.
Others deal with his perceived hard-line approach:
- Stalin's ghost appears to Putin in a dream, and Putin asks for his help running the country. Stalin says, "Round up and shoot all the democrats, and then paint the inside of the Kremlin blue." "Why blue?" Putin asks. "Ha!" says Stalin. "I knew you wouldn't ask me about the first part."