Friday, August 12, 2016

13 Radio Armenia Jokes from Soviet Times Highlight How Little Russians have Changed

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 12 – Radio Armenia jokes were so popular in Brezhnev’s times that officials couldn’t refer to the real Radio Armenia without provoking laughter among their audiences.  But what is striking now is how much many Radio Armenia jokes reflect the ways in which Russians still think about their country and the world.

            A collection of 13 of these jokes published last week makes that conclusion clear (  They highlight both how much and how little has changed in the way in which Russians view the world despite living in an entirely different political system and an entirely new country.

·         “Radio Armenia is asked: ‘If everything is so good with you, why is everything so bad?’” To which it replies: “Because that is the way the dialectical law of unity of opposites works.”

·         “Radio Armenia is asked: ‘What is the difference between democracy and dictatorship?” To which it replies, “In a democracy, the people openly shows its dissatisfaction with its government, but in a dictatorship to other governments.”

·         “Radio Armenia is asked: ‘What is the difference between television and a chamber pot?’” To which it replies: “Not much: there is shit in both, but in the chamber pot, it is easier to see.”

·         “Radio Armenia is asked: ‘How can you distinguish correct news from a provocation?’” To which it replies: “If the news is presented by the BBC and rejected by ‘Pravda,’ the news can be trusted.”

·         “Radio Armenia is asked: ‘Will there be money under communism?’ To which it replies: “The Yugoslav revisionists assert that there will be. The Chinese dogmatists assert that there won’t be. We however approach the question dialectically: some will have it and others won’t.”

·         “Radio Armenia is asked: ‘Must a communist pay his party dues on the bribes he gets?’” To which it replies, “if he is a real communist, then of course, he must.”

·         “Radio Armenia is asked: ‘Is there a way out of a situation with no way out?’ To which it replies: “Radio Armenia no longer answers questions about agriculture.”

·         “Radio Armenia is asked: ‘When will things get better?’ To which it replies: “Things already were better.”

·         “Radio Armenia is asked: ‘What is the average life expectancy in the USSR?’” To which it replies, “Ten year: seven before school and three after going on a pension.”

·         “Radio Armenia is asked: ‘What is the main distinction between tsarism and developed socialism?’” To which it replies, “Under tsarism, power passes from father to son, while in developed socialism, it goes from one idiot to another.”

·         “Radio Armenia is asked: ‘How is a pessimist different from an optimist?’” To which it replies: “A pessimist asserts that things will not get worse, but an optimist believes that they will.”

·         “Radio Armenia is asked: ‘With what countries does the USSR have a border?’” To which it replies, “with whatever countries it wants.”

·         “Radio Armenia is asked: ‘How many feelings do Soviet people have?’” To which it replies, “Six: sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste, and a feeling of deep gratitude.”

But if Russians have changed less than many think, the Russian state’s attitude toward humor has changed a great deal. In an article in “The Moscow Times,” Elena Rasputina points out that “comedy and censorship in Putin’s Russia [are] no laughing matter” (

Aleksandr Arkhipova, a folklorist who specializes in Russian humor, says that when Putin first came to power, people joked about his KGB past. Then as he became more repressive they revived old jokes from Stalin’s time.  But now, she says, “Putin is almost never the butt of a joke.”

Instead, in public performances on radio or television, “xenophobic and sexist sketches” have replaced the political jokes of the past. According to Arkhipova, on one program that had been famous for its political humor, now “jokes about racial and gender stereotypes dominate” and there is almost no show that does include racial jokes about Barack Obama.

The only kind of political jokes that can pass muster with the censorship and self-censorship of station managers are those that “are inherently anti-Western and in praise of the Kremlin.” One recent sketch, she continues, “showed Putin and the Russian ruble defeating the euro and the dollars.

Nonetheless, there are some political jokes about Putin; and Rasputina shares two of them.  In the first, it is said, “an angel and two demons live inside President Vladimir Putin’s brain. Every day, they decide how to rule Russia. The angel, being outnumbered, always loses, and the demons are left to do as they please.”

And in the second, “a hungry Vladimir Putin woke up at night and made his way to the fridge. Inside, there was a portion of meat jelly. “Stop trembling,” he said. “I’m coming for the yogurt.”

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