Thursday, November 03, 2022

Soviet memories. ethnicity and propaganda

About ethnicity and propaganda in Soviet Russia, from my point of view. No particular agenda, just some memories for those who are curious, and those who want to compare notes. Inspired by some memories of some other people, on the same subject.

I was born in Leningrad (St. Petersburg), in 1971, Jewish (it is an ethnicity, and was very much an official ethnicity in the USSR), in a family of two very young engineering students about to graduate.

As an aside: the USSR had internal passports and listed the ethnicity in them. Birth certificates listed the ethnicity of each parent. Schools listed your ethnicity too, in the class journals. The ethnicity was the same as the parents'. If the parents had two different ethnicities, which in my case they didn't, you could choose either for school, and change them. At 16 you got the internal passport, and at that point you had to choose once and for all.

(As an adult, I've heard stories of people whose ethnicity was erased and who were forcibly listed as Russians. That wasn't the case around me though: there they wanted to make sure you don't try to pass for a real Russian.)

"Russians" ("русские"), incidentally, always meant the ethnicity in my childhood. Nowadays they use the word "россияне" to mean citizens of Russia as opposed to "русские".

Anyway, I was a child, and learned to read quite early, and immediately learned that whatever I read, or see on TV, does not necessarily correspond to reality. Teaching the difference between the reality, the propaganda, what you can say with your own people and what you can say outside was a common thing, but usually didn't start that early. At some point my parents started saying "don't say this outside of home", but I don't remember when. Correcting me if I believed lies on TV came later. But when the TV says there is sausage in the stores, and there is no sausage in the stores, you don't need a parental explanation to figure that out.

The TV always said "we, Russians", so I naturally believed that it included me, until at the age of 5 my grandma enlightened me that I was a Jew and not a Russian. I took this with mild curiosity, and started asking about other people. I didn't understand how the ethnicity thing worked yet, and after asking about a dozen or so relatives and finding out they were Jews I figured that everyone is Jewish and the widespread existence of Russians is just something the media is lying about. (This misunderstanding was corrected a year or so later when I mentioned this conclusion to adults.)

I didn't think of it much. At that age I had a lot of interest in moons of Jupiter and rings of Saturn and suchlike, and fairly little in people, and my daycare convinced me there was something very wrong with quite a lot of people anyway, so I wasn't about to start thinking about their ethnicities. Some daycare workers occasionally used ethnic slurs to my face, but in an environment where everyone yelled and swore a lot this failed to shock me.

I took "we, Russians" that I heard everywhere the same way I took the fact that many texts assumed that the reader was male. Later I noticed that when they are trying to be inclusive, they list 15 ethnicities, and none of them was us. Even later (8 or 9 or so) I realized what even when the list was expanded, the ethnicities indigenous to the USSR and the ethnicities that are not were talked about differently, and the "alien" ethnicities were rarely mentioned.

Ethnicity was a big thing. Anything visibly different was noted, discussed, and often insulted. "Visibly different" didn't mean just skin color or suchlike, but also names, facial features, etc. I think by the 3d or 4th grade people became quite good at figuring out the ethnicity by name, to the extent that names reflect ethnicity. Yet there were lots of friendships across ethnicity lines, and people could insult each other with horrible ethnic slurs, and then be friends the next day. I am sure I did it too, and I apologize to everyone involved if they still remember me.

Most minorities in all my classes were white (Ukrainians, Belarussians, Jews, a Latvian, a Komi and a Finn) and could speak Russian without an accent. In one of my classes there was a black guy and two Koreans, all off them native speakers of Russian. You wouldn't believe what the black guy had to listen to from the teachers in class. Not sure if it was because of being black, or because his father was a real foreigner, but the teachers have at least called his mother a whore and said that he was going to end up as a criminal. (He is, currently, a software developer and a choreographer in NYC.)

Starting in daycare, and continuing in the first grade, we were told that the Soviet Union is the biggest country in the world, and therefore the greatest. I didn't quite catch the logic of it, but knew enough not to question it. We were also told that the Soviet union, and Russia before that, was always right, always on the side of good, and always won. Except, obviously, when Russia became the Soviet Union, when the old Russia was wrong and the new one right. Russia saved Europe from Mongols, and Soviet Union liberated  the world from the nazis, etc.

The narrative was not perfect, though, and sometimes clashed with real-life evidence. The civil war classes mentioned our enemies the White Finns, which made me wonder if there also used to be Red Finns, and if they lost. The Finnish war was mentioned in fiction, though you couldn't mention it in history classes. The border that used to be next to my grandma's hometown when she was a child was not there anymore. Uncle Zyama was born in Poland, and from the conversations of relatives it was clear that he did not come from Poland, Poland kind of disappeared from where he lived.

When I was 7 I was taken outside of the Leningrad metro area for the first time, to travel with my parents to Odessa. I kind of expected people there to speak Ukrainian. Most of them spoke Russian, but a lot of texts were written in Ukrainian. Some spoke Ukrainian. One woman who was staying at the same place said she was from Western Ukraine. I asked my parents what is so special about Western Ukraine. It was Poland, they said, before the war. They didn't explain how it stopped being Poland.

Next year, when I was 8, we went to Estonia. Everyone spoke Estonian there. Next year, to Estonia and Latvia, and everyone spoke Estonian and Latvian. People did not seem particularly friendly, which I figured was just my social paranoia, until I heard some adults discussing the same. I asked my parents and they told me "they have no reason to be friendly. You know how they teach you that they joined the Soviet Union in 1940? Well, they didn't exactly join voluntarily." "Did anyone else join voluntarily?" I asked. "Probably not."

I figured there wasn't a lot I could do about the occupation of the Baltics, and decided to learn at least a few polite words in the local languages the next time I'd go there. I didn't expect it to make people any friendlier, but surprisingly it did. Pretty much anyone in Russia whom I told about it, except my family, thought that I was out of my mind, but then people said that pretty often about my interest in languages.

I think my image of the state as an enemy was sealed at 8 or 9. I've noticed that people started disappearing a little before that, but didn't pay my attention to it, when I was suddenly invited to a farewell party with my parents. Friends of theirs were going away. "Where are they going?" I asked. "USA." "Why, is it better over there?" "Yes." "Why aren't we going, then?" "It's not so easy to get out of here, you need an exit visa." That was it, really. It was absolutely clear to me that a place that requires an exit visa is a bad place, and suddenly finding out that my home is a prison was a shock. I asked some other Russians later if it was a shock for them; apparently the experience wasn't common.

Years went on, nothing much changed in ethnic relations or otherwise. The stereotypes about people from Caucasus or Central Asia existed way before people from these regions came to St. Petersburg in great numbers. A relative told me that good universities would give me a hard time for being a woman and Jewish. I was outraged they had something against women too; I was well accustomed to the idea that they don't like Jews.

Glasnost came in 1986 or so. Finding out about Molotov and Ribbentrop pact clarified what was happening to the Polish border when my grandma was young. I'd been wondering about a lot of thing that I wasn't supposed to discuss outside home, especially how many of them were common knowledge.

The picture I got was a bit strange. Yes, everyone knew that you couldn't leave the country easily. Most people I knew resented it, too. Everybody knew that life was better in the west, yet man thought that Russia was somehow greater. Nobody wanted to fight in Afghanistan, yet many people thought that Afghanistan should belong to Russia. Most people knew that the Baltics were occupied, but quite a lot of people whom I considered otherwise reasonable thought it was right. What did they need the Baltic countries for? They couldn't tell.

Another strange thing was that history started changing faster than our textbooks could keep up. In the end the teacher said "fuck it, I'll tell you what you need to know a couple of weeks before the test." He did.

That's about it. 3 years after I left the USSR fell apart. I raised my glass to that.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Putin and zombies, a poem (part 2)

Путин репу почесал,

Матюгальник с полки взял,

Быстро выпил стопку водки,

И истошно заорал:

"Эй, народ, скорей сюда,

К нам идёт врагов орда,

Защищайте президента, 

А не то нам всем пизда."

Видит он - бежит народ,

Иль как минимум идёт:

Кто с клюкой, кто с костылями,

А один без ног ползёт.

"Ой, Владимир, ты наш царь,

Защитим тебя, как встарь,

От любых врагов народа,

Наш любимый государь!"

Посмотрев на тот народ,

Жирик в ужасе орёт:

"Вова, вы все охуели,

Ты смотри, кто к нам идёт!

Ты кого сюда позвал?

Кто в Берлине воевал?

Да у них в последний раз ведь

При Хрущёве хуй стоял!

Ну а сколько здесь бабья?

Нет у них вообще хуя!

Ну ты бля и влип, Володя,

Где хотя бы их мужья?"

"Слушай, зомби, пасть закрой,

За вождя начнем мы бой,

Хуй ни на хуй нам не нужен,

И у нас не домострой.

Я и в финскую войну

Воевала за страну,

Ну а будешь мне перечить,

Щас авоськой ебану.

Я и нашим всем врагам

Дам авоськой по мордам, 

Только что купила сахар. 

Тридцать восемь килограмм.

Коль враги придут на бой,

В зад их выебу клюкой,

А у этих украинцев

Ни клюки нет за душой."

"Бабка, ты сошла с ума,

Украинцев здесь нема,

Украинцы в Украине,

Стерегут свои дома.

А на бункер, всё скорей,

Бежит армия зомбей,

И сожрёт у всех нас мозги,

Если им не дать люлей."

"Мозгоед нам нипочём,

Чай, не мозгом водку пьём.

Раньше жили мы без мозга,

Ну и дальше проживём."

"Бабка, ты не поняла,

Обстоятельств не учла

Без мозгов ведь трудно делать

Президентские дела."

Бабка молвит: "Что пиздишь?

Лишь народ зазря смешишь.

Ты страной уже без мозга

Двадцать лет руководишь."

Sunday, April 03, 2022

Хотят ли русские войны?

 Хотят ли русские войны?
Спросите вы у всей страны,
У тех кто Харьков разбомбил,
Кто бомбой ядерной грозил,
Спросите вы у тех солдат,
Кто там насилует девчат,
Да и детей, когда пьяны,
Хотят ли русские, хотят ли русские,
Хотят ли русские войны.

Пришли в соседнюю страну
Чтоб там начать свою войну,
И чтобы люди всей земли
Спокойно спать уж не могли.
Спросите тех, кто воевал,
Кто в мирных жителей стрелял,
Не дав дожить им до весны.
Хотят ли русские, хотят ли русские
Хотят ли русские войны?

Сказали "можем повторить",
Роддомы начали бомбить,
Хотели Киев сразу взять,
Чтобы нацизм там повторять.
Спросите вы у матерей,
Кто потерял своих детей,
И вы тогда понять должны
Хотят ли русские, хотят ли русские
Хотят ли русские войны.

Поймет и немец, и грузин,
Поймет и чех, и швед, и финн,
Поймет народ любой страны
Хотят ли русские, хотят ли русские,
Хотят ли русские войны.
Хотят ли русские, хотят ли русские,
Хотят ли русские войны.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Putin and zombies, a poem (part 1)

"Ни хуя," сказал Шойгу,
"Я так больше не могу.
Вовка, ты сиди на троне,
Ну а я схожу в тайгу.

Я возьму с собой еду,
Всех вождей пошлю в пизду,
И хоть в Северной Корее
Я убежище найду."

"Хуй с Серёгой," вождь сказал.
"Он хреновый генерал.
Наложил в штаны по полной,
А теперь совсем удрал.

Эй, Герасимов, ко мне,
Ты хоть раз был на войне,
Ты займись-ка Украиной,
В этой разберись хуйне.

Блядь, куда он убежал?
А ещё, мол, генерал,
Думал, он покруче Шойгу,
Ну а он в штаны насрал.

Жириновского ко мне!
Он хоть не был на войне,
Но он круче их обоих,
Всем пизды задаст вдвойне."

Сразу же ему в ответ
Входит Жирик в кабинет,
Но вот как-то непонятно,
Толь живой он, толи нет.

"Вовка, слушай, ты дебил!
Мариуполь разбомбил!
Я когда пиздил об этом, 
Я же просто пошутил!

Разбомбил ты город в хлам,
Учинил вселенский срам,
Хоть и знал что Украина
Нам уже не по зубам."

Молвил Путин: "Ты, гляжу,
Понабрался куражу.
Хоть ты призрак, хоть ты зомби,
Но тебя я посажу."

Тот ответил "Дуралей,
Ты спасай своих людей,
А не то уже до завтра
Попадешь ты в Мавзолей.

Ты не понял ни хуя,
Не боюсь тюряги я,
Я теперь когтистый зомби,
Мне не страшен твой судья.

Не еби мозги мне тут,
Не зови своих паскуд,
На хуе тебя вертел я, 
Да и твой Басманный суд."

"Ладно Жирик, не жужжи,
Ты иди, в гробу лежи,
Но пока ты здесь со мною,
Про тот свет мне расскажи.

Почему ты не в аду?"
"Вова, ты имей в виду,
Ад ввёл санкции на русских,
Посылают всех в пизду.

В рай нас тоже не берут,
Прямо сразу на хуй шлют,
Рай теперь вступает в НАТО,
В НАТО русских не зовут.

Так что тысячи солдат
Не в гробу уже лежат,
А хотят тебя прикончить,
Да и твой госаппарат.

Встали зомби из могил,
Те, кого ты загубил,
И идут войной на бункер,
Это хуже чем ИГИЛ."

"Не боюсь я войск моих,
Я же слал туда тупых,
Да к тому же украинцы
Танки спиздили у них."

"Вова, ты блядь идиот,
Зомби-армия придёт,
И без танков, и без ружий
Тебе яйца оторвёт.

По стране они идут,
У прохожих мозги жрут,
Тех могзов хоть и немного,
Но сойдут хоть за фастфуд."

"Не боюсь я тех солдат,
Без ракет и без гранат,
Защитит меня от зомби 
Мой родной электорат."

"Кто мне голос отдаёт,
Того зомби не сожрёт,
Зомби ест походу мозги,
И у них их не найдёт."

"Я скажу тебе любя,
Нет мозгов и у тебя,
Ты о чём, мудила, думал,
Украину разбомбя?

Ты серьёзно думал, гад,
Что устроишь там парад?
Да тебе вся Украина
Хочет вставить кактус в зад!

Из-за ёбаных понтов
И украинских фронтов
Сам, уёбище, создал ты
Вокруг нас кольцо врагов!

Финны в НАТО подадут,
Шведов заодно возьмут,
Даже чёртовы швейцарцы
Наши деньги загребут.

И поляки нас с углём
Вслед пошлют за кораблём,
И Китай тебя, похоже,
На хуе вертит своём."

"Жирик, ты Китай не трожь,
Как-никак, союзник всё ж,
А верчение на хуе -
Это вражеский пиздёж.

Есть у нас ещё друзья,
Эритрейские края,
Правда денег у них мало,
А точнее ни хуя."

Wednesday, March 09, 2022


For a while I found it difficult to put my feelings about the war into words.

I think I can finally describe what it feels like: the rotting corpse of the USSR rising from its grave as a zombie and devouring people.

Imagine when somebody who's been dead for 30 years and whom you couldn't stand even when they were alive, suddenly clawing their way out of the grave, getting up, and eating live people and chasing them out of their homes.