Date: Thu, 18 Aug 94 12:05:18 PDT
Subject: Soviet Anecdotes
Forwarded-by: firstname.lastname@example.org (Henry Cate)
The following material comes from Stephen F. Cohen, Professor of
Politics at Princeton University. He teaches the very popular "Soviet
Politics" course here. Each year, he has a "joke" lecture in which he
tells about anecdotes and jokes that come from the Soviet Union. As he
put it, there's one on about every subject of Soviet life.
Steve Cohen - Soviet Anecdotes - As told on December 1, 1987
When all is said and done, though, the real articulation of popular
opinion is the form that the Russians call the anecdote. Once there was
a law against anti-Soviet anecdotes. That was no joke. Though quickly
there was a joke about it:
F.D.R. and Stalin met, and F.D.R. boasted that he was so popular in
America that a book of jokes about him had been published. Stalin said,
"That's nothing - I have 10 campfulls."
Nowadays, though, the anecdote is told everywhere. It's the equivalent
of the "Soviet High Five". It's representative of friendship and
astuteness and knowledge of common affairs. They're a commentary on
Soviet life - and are made up amazingly quickly:
Living in Moscow in 1977, there was a report on the short-wave radio
that some Soviet musician had defected in New York. The NEXT DAY,
somebody said to me, "You know what a Soviet trio is? -- A Soviet
quartet returning from New York."
Brezhnev was thought not to be too bright. He comes to address a big
Communist party meeting, and starts:
"Dear Comrade Imperialists,"
The whole hall perked up - "what did he say??" Brezhnev tried again...
"Dear Comrade Imperialists,"
Well, by now the hall was in pandemonium - was he trying to call them
Imperialists? Then, an advisor walked over to the podium and pointed to
the speech for Brezhnev. "Oh..." he muttered, and started again:
"Dear Comrades, Imperialists are everywhere."
You might say that Soviet jokes tend to be political, because of the
nature of their lives, while American jokes tend to be sexual. Does that
tell us that the Russians have more political problems than we have?
Probably. Does that tell us that we have more sexual problems than the
Russians? Hmmm... Probably not.
A friend of mine once told me an anecdote, which I then told Gorfinkle over
there, and Gorfinkle didn't think it was funny. The punch line of the
anecdote - which had to do with life in the army - was that the Soviet privates
were sent out to paint all the grass on the base green. I thought it was
very funny. He didn't. I said, "Why don't you think it was funny," to
which he replied, "because when I was in the army, we always painted the
There was a famous anecdote that the reason Brezhnev's speeches ran 6 hours
is because he read not only the original, but the carbon copy. In fact, there
was a report near the end of Brezhnev's life that he went down to south Russia
to deliver a speech on science, and accidently gave the wrong speech - on
culture - and didn't even know it until it was over.
A man, in 1937, as Stalin's terror was raging through Moscow, packed his bags
every night before he went to sleep, in case he should have to escape. Finally,
one night, sure enough. KNOCK! KNOCK! He gets up out of bed, kisses his
wife, takes his bag and leaves.
A few minutes late, he's back. Wife looks at him, "What happened?"
"It's absolutely nothing," he replies. "Just the house on fire."
Stalin is addressing a large meeting. It's the bad years of the terror. He's
delivering a report about enemies, when suddenly, in the back, somebody
"Comrades - who sneezed?" yells Stalin. No one answers.
"Shoot the first row," he says to his body guards. "Now, who sneezed?"
When no answer is given, he repeats the process over and over again, taking
out row after row.
Finally, with just a couple of rows back, a man raises his hand.
"Comrade Stalin," he says weakly, "I sneezed."
Stalin turns to him and says, "Gazunthite."
Late 1940's - the Soviet Union in the late half of life was claiming it had
invented the world. Stalin receives a report that Soviet archaeologists have
discovered the remains of what might be the mighty warrior Ghengus Khan.
Stalin was excited, but was told he had to wait before the results cold
be certain. Stalin cabled "Patience run out. Need report."
Next day, a report comes back saying that the mummy was, indeed, Ghengus
Khan. This is heralded all over the Soviet Union, and the archaeologists
are given a banquet. One of their companions asks them how they were able
to determine, beyond any doubt, that the mummy was indeed
Ghengus Khan within such a short time.
"It was simple," replied the archaeologist. "The mummy confessed."
It was decided to build in a Siberian town a statue of Lenin. The party boss
told the monument factory to build a well-known, famous sculpture of Lenin.
So the work commences - a statue of Lenin addressing the crowds will be
Later, the party boss returns as the work is being done, and he notices that
Lenin lacked a hat.
"We can't have Comrade Lenin standing in the Siberian cold without a hat
on him. Put one on his head."
"But, Comrade- " the sculptor started.
"No buts. Put a hat on him."
So came the day of unveiling - and there was Lenin, a hat on his head...
and another one in his hand.
In 1967, the Soviet Government minted a beautiful silver ruble with Lenin
in a very familiar pose - arms raised above him, leading the country to
revolution. But, it was clear to everybody, that if you looked at it from
behind, it was clear that Lenin was pointing to 11:00, when
the Vodka shops opened, and was actually saying, "Comrades, forward to the
It became fashionable, when one wanted to have a drink, to take out the ruble
and say, "Oh my goodness, Comrades, Lenin tells me we should go."
When Jimmy Carter came up with the idea of the neutron bomb (to kill people
but leave buildings standing), I wasn't sure what the logic was - I mean,
what was the use of all these buildings if no body was around to use them.
But the serious drinkers of the Soviet Union thought it was a wonderful idea.
"Just think of it," they said, "a full liquor store and no lines!"
What is the difference between Capitalism and Socialism?
Well, under Capitalism, you have the exploitation of man by man. Under
Socialism, it's the other way 'round.
"Comrades, we have established beyond a doubt that it is possible to build
socialism in one large country - like the Soviet Union. But is it possible
to built it in a very small country, say, Switzerland."
"Of course it is - but what have you got against the Swiss?"
1950's. Khrushchev receives an urgent cable from Mao:
DEAR COMRADE KHRUSHCHEV. CHINESE PEOPLE STARVING. SEND FOOD.
Khrushchev cables back:
DEAR COMRADE MAO. REGRET STARVING CHINESE. HAVE NO SURPLUS
FOOD. TIGHTEN BELTS.
To which he receives the following reply from Mao: SEND BELTS.
It tuns out that God is deeply depressed. He sits on a cloud and mopes.
So, St. Peter calls in Freud. "Sigmond, could you have a look at God?"
Freud comes back. "I'm afraid it's very serious. God is suffering delusions
of grandeur - he thinks he's Stalin."
Brezhnev was invited to come to Poland. Tensions were strained, so Brezhnev
wanted to bring a gift to the Polish comrades.
"Lenin once lived in Poland," someone suggested, "why not have a picture of
Lenin in Poland."
So, they get a modern jewish dissident painter who had just been arrested
to paint the picture. When he finished it, it showed a naked man and
woman having sex.
Brezhnev is enraged. "In the name of Karl Marx - who is that naked woman?!"
"Well, that's Lenin's wife."
"And who's that naked man?"
Brezhnev was insensed. "Where the hell's Lenin?!"
To which the painter replied, "He's in Poland."
A man was arrested one night for running across Red Square yelling
"Khrushchev is a fool! Khrushchev is a fool!"
He was arrested and given 10 years - 5 for slandering the leader, and 5 for
revealing a state secret.
Brezhnev was widely regarded as a man who couldn't walk and talk at the same
time, so many anecdotes were generated about him.
Often, they were about his great fondness, for some reason, of riddles - which
he could never solve.
One day, he was bumbling down the corridors of the Kremlin, and he bumped into
Andropov. Andropov was trying to get into a position to succeed Brezhnev so
he thought he would butter him up.
"Who is the son of my father but not I?" asked Andropov.
"Hmmm... a tough one," replied Brezhnev, "I give up."
Brezhnev was impressed. "Brilliant!" he cried, and continued down the hall.
He bumps into Gorbachev.
"Miky... hear this riddle: who is the son of my father but not me?"
Gorbachev plays along with the old man and asks, "Who?"
Brezhnev, delighted about being able to tell his riddle blurts out,
Brezhnev goes off to India and meets with Indira Ghandi. When he comes back
he has a dot painted on his forehead, in the Indian tradition.
Everyone asks him why he had the dot put on.
"Well," he replies, "when I met with Indira, at one point during our
conversation, she turned to me and said, pointing to her head, 'You know
something, Brezhnev? You're missing something - right here.'"
Brezhnev called in all the Soviet cosmonauts, and in an effort to surpass the
U.S. in the Space race, said, "Comrades, I have a plan to overtake the U.S.
in Space exploration - you will land on the sun!"
"But Comrade Brezhnev," they complained, "we'll burn up!"
"Do you take me for a fool," he asked, "you'll land at night!"
At the Olympics in the Soviet Union, Brezhnev started a speech at the opening
ceremonies. He began as follows:
"Oh...." "Ooooo...." "Oh...." "Ooo...." "Ooohh."
until one of his advisors quietly pointed out that the Olympic symbol was
not a part of the speech to read.
Chernynko was dying from the moment he was in office. Rumors circulated that
he was dying. A Soviet spokesman went on TV to dispel the rumors.
"Comrade Chernynko is in good health. At exactly 7:00 each morning, he
wakes up, and 7:15 he urinates, and at 7:30, he gets out of bed."
There were so many state funerals between 1982 and 1985 that when a guy
approached Red Square for one of them, and the cops stopped him and asked
if he had a pass, he replied, "Hell, I've got a season ticket!"
Who in the politboro supports Gorbachev?
- No one, for he can walk by himself.
Is it true that the American capital people are on the edge of the abyss?
- Yes, they are on the edge of the abyss, looking down to see how we live.
Brezhnev was being shown the pentagon. At the end of his tour, he
noticed a red door. "What's in there?" he asked Nixon.
"Oh, that's a secret," Nixon replied.
"But you promised to show me everything, Dick!" whined Brezhnev.
"Okay," agrees Nixon, and takes a key out of his pocket and opens the door.
Inside is a red telephone.
"It's a hot-line to Hell," replies Nixon.
"No way," says Brezhnev, "I don't believe you!"
"Try it," replied Nixon.
Brezhnev picks up the phone, and a voice answers:
"Hi! It's the Devil! This is Hell!"
Brezhnev is shocked and hangs up the phone, but as he's leaving, Nixon says,
"That'll be $55 for the phone call."
"$55!" exclaims Brezhnev, "why so expensive - but what the hell, here."
Brezhnev goes back to the Soviet Union and yells at his generals. "You idiots!
You know what the Americans have? A hot-line to hell! Why don't we?"
"We do," they reply, and show him a similar door with a phone. He picks it
up and sure enough - "Hi! It's the Devil! This is Hell!"
As he hangs up, the general says, "That will be 2 Copeks, Comrade."
"Why so cheap? In America it was $55!"
"That's because here it's a local call."
It's almost impossible to get tickets to the theater. A woman is there one
night, and next to her is an empty seat.
MAN NEXT TO HER: I've never seen an empty seat before - why is one there?
WOMAN: It's a sad story. We ordered these tickets two years ago, and my
husband just died the other day.
MAN: How sad... But why didn't you give them to a relative?
WOMAN: I would have, but they're all at the funeral.
© 1994 Peter Langston