USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘soviet’
Material

Cheburashka (Чебура́шка)

INFO:
Cheburashka is a “little fellow” who looks like a monkey and a bear. He’s small and furry, with big ears, and he’s “the cutest thing ever” (according to my informant).

The image of Cheburashka (Wikimedia)

The image of Cheburashka (Wikimedia)

The character originates from a Soviet story written in 1966 and created into a stop-motion animation film in 1969 and then several animated TV series between the 1960s and 1980s. In the stories, he shows up in a crate of oranges and doesn’t know where he is or where he came from. A crocodile named Ghean befriends him and grants Cheburashka’s wish to work as a toy in a daycare center. When Cheuburashka eats oranges, he falls asleep.

The informant owns a Cheburashka doll that he got as a gift from his sister, who went to Russia recently. When you squeeze it, it sings:
“Я играю на гармошке
У прохожих на виду…
К сожаленью, день рожденья
Только раз в году.”
“And I play the accordion for all to see
Sadly (my) birthday
Is only once a year.”

BACKGROUND:
These cheburashkas are popular toys, and are cultural symbols — it was even used as a mascot/symbol for the Moscow Olympics. The informant says that he looks at Cheburashka and thinks, “That’s something that’s Russian.”

CONTEXT:
I spoke to my informant during an on-campus event.

ANALYSIS:
What’s interesting about Cheburashka is that, like Paul Bunyan, the character itself originated from a creator’s work. However, like Paul Bunyan, Cheburashka has become an integral figure in Russian culture, to the point where it was considered a Russian icon for the Moscow Olympics.

I think the character itself is very cute, but it doesn’t necessarily have any strong ties to other Russian folklore creatures? I did a little bit of research and beyond Cheburashka’s own published materials and Olympics iconography, it doesn’t seem to tie into anything that existed prior, which I find extremely interesting. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that Cheburashka was created as a Soviet icon, and even though the Soviet Union is no more, the character has survived into the modern Russian lexicon.

Humor

Soviet military joke

INFO:
A Soviet soldier and an officer are chilling together at the base. The soldier goes to the officer and says, “Comrade/captain! Can you tell me why is your shirt red?” The captain says, “Well, comrade/private, if we go into battle and I’m shot, I don’t want you to know that I’m bleeding out and I want you to keep on fighting.” And the private goes, “Oh, okay, that makes so much sense! That must also be why your boxers are yellow.”

BACKGROUND:
He was told this joke by his Russian friend, about ten years ago. They were just talking about military stuff, maybe playing a video game together, when unprompted, the informant’s friend shared the joke. The informant still thinks the joke is funny, but

CONTEXT:
I spoke to my informant during an on-campus event.

ANALYSIS:
Clearly, there are some attitudes about the Soviet military, and perhaps the entire Soviet political structure, being expressed in this joke. It takes the idea of the “cowardly officer” but expresses it in the faux-egalitarian framework of the Communist regime. Even though I don’t completely understand the joke in and of itself, I can still feel the upwards-directed anger within the officer/private confrontation.

Customs

The walls have ears

“‘The walls have ears,’ you know, everyone is listening, shut your mouth, don’t talk. Don’t talk bad about the government, don’t talk…don’t say stupid things, because there’s always someone listening. That’s my parents’…their Soviet upbringing. Because, like, everyone was listened to… I had relatives who, for a joke, went to prison. So that kinda…got pretty well ingrained, just don’t…don’t talk bad.”

My informant moved to the US when he was less than two years old, but the memory of Soviet oppression was so strong for his parents that they taught him to hold his tongue about the government, and authority in general. Obviously, this stems from the horrors of the GULAG and other ways in which the Russian people were oppressed during the Soviet era. The fact that even the Americanized children were taught how to survive in a communist country shows how enduring an impression the repressive Soviet regime made on those who lived under it.

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