Russian Language Blog

Trade Your Life for a Joke? Posted by on Oct 15, 2014 in Culture, History

What does it feel like to be arrested for retelling a joke, or even an anecdote? For those living in Russia during Stalin’s reign, it was a reality. Gulags were home to not just societies most dangerous and, therefore, worthy criminals; professors, doctors, all sorts of educated professionals could also call it home – some for sharing the jokes and anecdotes found in a collection entitled “Laughing Under the Covers.”

Living in the Soviet Union meant that the state controlled virtually everything and in such a society, it is easier for the state propaganda machine to fill its inhabitants with only the knowledge that the leaders wished to disseminate. Unlike in most of today’s societies, you couldn’t say jokes about the powers that be. Should you step out of line, the state’s enforcers, mainly the KGB, would be there to escort you from your home, often in the middle of the night – never to return. Due to the tight grip the government held on even the words you spoke, people started sharing stories that were often humorous, called анекдот or анекдоты in plural. These anecdotes were spoken only in extreme privacy – hence the title – “Laughing Under the Covers.” Their authors were seldom, if ever, known for obvious reasons.

We can thank, in part,  the late Mark Perakh for translating and compiling many of these gems into English. More info about his work can be found at

What follows are a few examples of these humorous анекдоты:

A delegation of foreign leaders came to see a kindergarten in Moscow. Before they arrived, the children were instructed to answer every question put to them by the foreign leaders by saying, “In the USSR, everything is the best in the world.”

The visitors asked, “Children, do you like your kindergarten?”

They replied, “In the USSR, everything is the best in the world.”

“And how about the food you receive?”

“In the USSR, everything is the best in the world.”

“Do you like your toys?”

“In the USSR, everything is the best in the world.”

Soon after, the youngest boy in the group of children began to cry.

“Misha, why are you crying? What happened?”

“I want to go to the USSR!”

A man named Chekov applied to the Communist Party. The party committee conducts an interview to determine his worthiness.

“Comrade Chekov, do you smoke?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Do you know that Comrade Lenin did not do it and advised other communists not to smoke?”

“If comrade Lenin said so, I shall cease to smoke.”

“Do you drink?”

“Yes, a little.”

“Do you know that Comrade Lenin strongly condemned drunkenness?”

“I shall cease to drink.”

“Comrade Chekov, what about women?”

“A little……”

“Did you know Comrade Lenin strongly condemned amoral behavior?”

“If Comrade Lenin condemned it, then I shall no longer love them.”

“Comrade Chekov, will you be ready to sacrifice your life for the Communist Party?”

“Of course, who needs such a life!”

Hope you enjoyed these as much as I did. In today’s society, it is hard to believe that one could be imprisoned for telling such stories.

Всего хорошего!


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About the Author: Jenya

Born in Russia, I spent the first twenty years of my life in Orenburg, Russia and Mogilev, Belarus. For the last eleven years, I've lived in New Hampshire and Michigan, US. While I continue to absorb and adapt to American culture, I am always thrilled to share my Russian heritage with those who find it interesting. Travel, photography and art play a special part in my life. Twitter: @iamnx2u