Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

"New Russian" Humor

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

"New Russian" Humor

Article excerpt

Well known among Russians, Vovochka is the traditional character of Russian jokes--indecent or bordering on indecency. A middle school pupil, and not a very good one at that, Vovochka is a troublemaker. But he can also be very shrewd, perplexing others with his provocative remarks. Until now, the only political hero to appear in Vovochka anecdotes was Vladimir Lenin. Maybe now, Vovochka will have a new protagonist. At least, we offer one of the first references to the new Vovochka--"After March 26, all jokes about Vovochka are considered political"--and we anxiously await to see where Vovochkiana will go from here.

We have published Russian political jokes in Demokratizatsiya in the past, to the delight of our readers. Now we offer new material, but the purpose is not to amuse you, although we hope these jokes will make you smile. Rather, political humor is a way to illuminate the mindset of the modern Russian. We can tell much by what makes him laugh, even if it is bitter laughter.

The target of Russian humor in the early 1980s was "advanced socialism," the seriously ill Brezhnev, and the lack of rights or freedom in the USSR. That was followed by the lighter side of dying secretaries general, security officer Andropov, and a range of national and economic problems. The characters who populated those jokes were members of the Political Bureau, Communists, national minorities, and everyday Russians. Gradually, it became clear that the apparatus of repression in Russia was powerless to suppress the jokes. The harsh realities of life made humor a necessity, and the number of jokes grew exponentially. Telling political jokes was against the law, but to enforce it Russian police would have to arrest the entire population.

The late 1980s and early 1990s were spent poking fun at the politics of perestroika and acceleration; Gorbachev's indecision and his unsuccessful efforts to stop Yeltsin's democratic reforms; the failure of economic reforms; the poor quality of life; and, of course, the anti-alcohol campaign. At the center of those jokes, besides Mikhail Sergeivich himself, were his wife and his inner circle: Ligachev, Rishkov, local leaders, and young democrats. Then the reign of Boris Yeltsin began. Over ten years he evolved from the adored, brave opponent of communism to our physically and intellectually inept leader--a "second edition of Brezhnev." New characters populated our humor: Guydar, Chubais, Burbulis, Stankevich, Popov, Korshakov, Sobchak, and Chernomyrdin. None of Yeltsin's prime ministers was spared by Russian humor. Although the quantity of political jokes declined significantly when restrictions against free expression were lifted, people still actively responded to the ups and downs of Russian life under Boris Nikolaievich, from devaluation of the ruble to war in Chechnya, from the sexual scandal of the general prosecutor to efforts to impeach the Russian president. The 1990s introduced a new source of humor in the character of the "New Russians," a phenomenon that undoubtedly deserves closer examination.

The new millennium will bring political jokes that reflect the current realities of Russia and that are populated by new personages. Our goal is not only to introduce this new humor to our Western readers but to preserve the jokes of the past. Because they are a part of Russian history and Russian culture, they are valuable. They illuminate political opinion and therefore occupy a position in the scholarship about what was, is, and will be in this fascinating country.

A New Russian is waiting in the maternity ward. He sees the doctor and rushes to him. "So?" he asks.

"Congratulations," says the doctor, "you have a son. Seven even."

"No problem," says the New Russian. He takes out his wallet and hands the doctor seven thousand dollars.

Three New Russians find a genie in a bottle, who agrees to grant them each three wishes. "But we have everything," they say, "we don't need anything more. …

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