From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"Question :What happens when the Soviet Union takes over the Sahara Desert?"
--old Russian joke
A guy was sent from East Germany to work in Siberia. He knew his mail would be read by censors, so he told his friends: “Let’s establish a code. If a letter you get from me is written in blue ink, it is true what I say. If it is written in red ink, it is false.” After a month, his friends get the first letter. Everything is in blue. It says, this letter: “Everything is wonderful here. Stores are full of good food. Movie theatres show good films from the west. Apartments are large and luxurious. The only thing you cannot buy is red ink.” --One of Zizek's jokes, first appeared in print in Welcome to the Desert of the Real.
The culture of the Soviet Union passed through several stages during the USSR's 70-year existence. During the first eleven years following the Revolution (1918–1929), there was relative freedom and artists experimented with several different styles in an effort to find a distinctive Soviet style of art. Lenin wanted art to be accessible to the Russian people. The government encouraged a variety of trends. In art and literature, numerous schools, some traditional and others radically experimental, proliferated. Communist writers Maksim Gorky and Vladimir Mayakovsky were active during this time. Film, as a means of influencing a largely illiterate society, received encouragement from the state; much of director Sergei Eisenstein's best work dates from this period.
Later, during Joseph Stalin's rule, Soviet culture was characterised by the rise and domination of the government-imposed style of Socialist realism, with all other trends being severely repressed, with rare exceptions (e.g. Mikhail Bulgakov's works). Many writers were imprisoned and killed. Also religious people were persecuted and either sent to Gulags or were murdered in their thousands though the ban on the Orthodox Church was temporarily lifted in the 1940s, in order to rally support for the Soviet war against the invading forces of Nazi Germany. Under Stalin, prominent symbols that were not in line with communist ideology were destroyed, such as Orthodox Churches and Tsarist buildings.
Following the Khrushchev Thaw of the late 1950s and early 1960s, censorship was diminished. Greater experimentation in art forms became permissible once again, with the result that more sophisticated and subtly critical work began to be produced. The regime loosened its emphasis on socialist realism; thus, for instance, many protagonists of the novels of author Iurii Trifonov concerned themselves with problems of daily life rather than with building socialism. An underground dissident literature, known as samizdat, developed during this late period. In architecture Khrushchev era mostly focused on functional design as opposed to highly decorated style of Stalin's epoch.
In the second half of 1980s, Gorbachov's policies of perestroika and glasnost significantly expanded freedom of expression in the media and press, eventually resulting in the complete abolishment of censorship, total freedom of expression and freedom to criticise the government.
The following articles contain information on specific aspects of Soviet culture:
- Soviet art
- Soviet music
- Soviet education
- Soviet literature
- Soviet cinema
- Philosophy in the Soviet Union
- Soviet television
- Broadcasting in the Soviet Union
- Voluntary Sports Societies of the USSR
- Soviet Union at the Olympics
- USSR Chess Championship
- Palace of Culture
- Research in the Soviet Union
- Soviet Ballroom dances
- Soviet Student Olympiads
- Great Soviet Encyclopedia
- Censorship in the Soviet Union