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Last Updated:  Friday, 11 April, 2003, 16:18 GMT 17:18 UK
Latvians poke fun at Soviet past
Latvians may see the years of Nazi and Soviet rule as a dark age in their history, but they have always been determined to joke about them as well.

What's the difference between communism and capitalism - under capitalism people exploit other people and under communism it's the other way round
Soviet-era joke
The Occupation Museum in the capital Riga recently decided to pay tribute to the funnier side of Moscow diktat, organising last Wednesday an evening of anecdotes poking fun at the Soviet regime.

Dozens of people gathered amid portraits of Josef Stalin and photos of KGB operatives to tell and hear jokes which at one time could have landed them in jail.

Favourite targets included the often incompetent former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and his elderly colleagues who ruled in Moscow in the years before perestroika.

Latvia, along with the other Baltic states Lithuania and Estonia, was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1940 under the Nazi-Soviet pact.

After Nazi occupation in World War II it remained under Moscow's control until the USSR's collapse in 1991.

Catharsis

The occupation museum was set up in 1993 to provide information about Latvia under the Nazi and Soviet regimes, during which the telling of jokes was a form of passive resistance.

So far the museum has found 50 cases of Latvians who were imprisoned for cracking jokes.

Latvians celebrate the fall of communism in 1991
Communism was overthrown in Latvia in 1991
"We like to concentrate on the occupation's very serious side, like crimes against humanity, but we are also trying to show other sides," museum spokesman Valters Nollendorfs told BBC News Online.

He described the evening as a kind of therapy or catharsis for people who had lived under years of repression.

"On the one hand people did laugh but on the other it's a reminder of a type of regime that believed in controlling people's minds."

Here are some of the old chestnuts that were dusted off for the evening's entertainment:

  • Upon hearing the Americans had put a man on the moon in 1969, Leonid Brezhnev summoned his cosmonauts.
    "Comrades," he told them. "You will be the first men on the sun."
    "But comrade Brezhnev, it's too hot on the sun - surely we will die," they answered.
    "Don't worry," Brezhnev replied. "We have decided you will go at night."

  • Former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev has just returned from the US and is asked how Americans live. His answer: "Let them just try to build communism, and we'll see how they succeed."

  • Latvian Communist Party First Secretary Augusts Voss, quoted at a party conference: "Comrades, lately the rumour has spread that a mannequin is riding in my car in my place. Let me tell you with a full sense of responsibility that these rumours are criminal lies about the party, in truth it is I who is riding in the car in place of a mannequin."

  • What has four legs and 40 teeth? A crocodile.
    What has four teeth and 40 legs? The Central Committee of the Communist Party.
    [Members of the Central Committee were often elderly.]

  • Comrade Mennikh, leader of a group of party lecturers, answers questions after the lecture.
    Q: Comrade Mennikh, what will be the outcome of the Communist Party's battle for peace in the world?
    A: Comrade, the Communist Party will battle for peace in the entire world so that in the imperialist camp there will be no stone left standing.



SEE ALSO:
Country profile: Latvia
01 Apr 03  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Latvia
02 Apr 03  |  Country profiles
Postcard from Latvia
12 Dec 02  |  Europe


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