As the systemic crises of economic failures and political inefficiency continued from the ‘reforms’ of Khrushchev to the ‘restoration’ of Brezhnev into the 1970’s, the dissolution of term limits led to an increasingly ossified leadership. In effect, setting the state of events in stone. While these political restructuring weren’t the only reason for the economic and social crises, it certainly didn’t help the situation. As increasingly citizens realized that the Soviet system was not providing the means or solutions to the problems of living conditions and economic growth, they turned to comedy.
An entire genre of jokes arose out of a need to cope with the increasingly gloomy situations. “Anekdoty”, Soviet jokes primarily from the Breznev era became popular, and even synonymous with Soviet life, especially on cigarette breaks, between university classes, and even in public parks. In fact there even arose a slang expression for these gatherings where jokes were told and traded, “traveet”.
From what I can gather, many jokes focus specifically on the ignorance or stupidity of Brezhnev himself, as well as the inanity of the Soviet system:
“Man on Red Square shouts, ‘Brezhnev is an idiot!’ He gets sentenced to 15 years: five years for insulting the Soviet leader, and 10 years for betraying a state secret.” #1
“After the Americans have landed on the Moon, Brezhnev calls in his space bosses and says: ‘The Party and government direct you to land our cosmonauts on the Sun as soon as possible.’ ‘But the Sun is so hot that you can’t even fly close to it.’ ‘OK, then you’ll have to launch the rocket at night.’ #2
“How do you know if Brezhnev is on a level stage. He drools from both sides of his mouth.” #3
These jokes demonstrate not only that the Soviet citizens were increasingly cynical about their leadership and the Soviet system, but also increasingly cynical and pessimistic about the involuntary role they were forced to play in it. As Siegelbaum points out, the pessimistic citizen was not an overt political dissident, or at least wasn’t seen as such by the Soviet authorities. The anekdoty, increasingly pessimistic film, books, and music were all tolerated by the authorities to a degree. While the early forms of the “Pessimistic citizen” was regarded as harmless, the political consequences of this generations dismissal of the Soviet system would have far reaching consequences in the future.
Featured Image Source: Poster for Eldar Ryazanov’s 1975 dark comedy “The Irony of Fate”