Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State 2020050883, 2020050884, 9781793624291, 9781793624307

Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in Belarus, an example of an authoritarian state, Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet A

601 95 5MB

English Pages [185] Year 2021

Report DMCA / Copyright

DOWNLOAD FILE

Polecaj historie

Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State
 2020050883, 2020050884, 9781793624291, 9781793624307

Citation preview

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Studies in Folklore and Ethnology: Traditions, Practices, and Identities Series Editors: Simon J. Bronner, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee and Elo-Hanna Seljamaa, University of Tartu Advisory Board: Pertti Anttonen, University of Eastern Finland; Julia Bishop, University of Sheffeld, England; Ian Brodie, Cape Breton University, Nova Scotia, Canada; Lei Cai, Wuhan University, China; Norma Elia Cantú, Trinity University, San Antonio, USA; Valdimar Tr. Hafstein, University of Iceland; Petr Janeček, Charles University, Czechia; Hideyo Konagaya, Waseda University, Japan; Peter Jan Margry, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands; Ulrich Marzolph, Georg-August University, Göttingen, Germany; Thomas A. McKean, University of Aberdeen, Scotland; Rūta Muktupāvela, Latvian Academy of Culture, Riga; M.D. Muthukumaraswamy, National Folklore Support Centre, Chennai, India; Francisco Firmino Sales Neto, Universidade Federal de Campina Grande, Brazil; Anand Prahlad, University of Missouri, USA; Süheyla Saritas, Balikesir University, Turkey; Dani Schrire, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel; Pravina Shukla, Indiana University, USA; Diane Tye, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada; Ülo Valk, University of Tartu, Estonia Studies in Folklore and Ethnology: Traditions, Practices, and Identities features projects that examine cultural traditions around the world and the persons and communities who enact them. Including monographs and edited collections, the series emphasizes studies of living folk practices, artists, and groups toward a broad understanding of the dynamics of tradition and identity in the modern world.

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Recent Titles Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, by Anastasiya Astapova Prenuptial Rituals in Scotland: Blackening the Bride and Decorating the Hen, by Sheila Young PTSD and Folk Therapy: Everyday Practices of American Masculinity in the Combat Zone, by John Paul Wallis and Jay Mechling Tradition, Urban Identity, and the Baltimore “Hon”: The Folk in the City, by David J. Puglia Jewish Bodylore: Feminist and Queer Ethnographies of Folk Practices, by Amy K. Milligan

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Anastasiya Astapova

LEXINGTON BOOKS

Lanham • Boulder • New York • London

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Published by Lexington Books An imprint of The Rowman & Littlefeld Publishing Group, Inc. 4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200, Lanham, Maryland 20706 www​.rowman​.com 6 Tinworth Street, London SE11 5AL, United Kingdom Copyright © 2021 by The Rowman & Littlefeld Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote passages in a review. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Information Available

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Astapova, Anastasiya, author. Title: Humor and rumor in the post-Soviet authoritarian state / Anastasiya   Astapova. Description: Lanham : Lexington Books, [2021] | Series: Studies in folklore   and ethnology: traditions, practices, and identities | Includes   bibliographical references and index. | Summary: “Informed by   ethnographic feldwork in an authoritarian regime, this book shows how   jokes and rumors remind communities of their fears, support paranoia,   shape conformist behavior, and, consequently, reinforce the existing   hegemony. In this study on everyday life in a repressive regime,   Anastasiya Astapova unveils political humor as it is lived”— Provided   by publisher. Identifers: LCCN 2020050883 (print) | LCCN 2020050884 (ebook) | ISBN   9781793624291 (cloth) | ISBN 9781793624307 (epub) Subjects: LCSH: Belarusian wit and humor—History and criticism. |   Belarus—Politics and government—Humor. | Folk literature,   Belarusian—History and criticism. Classifcation: LCC PN6231.P6 A657 2021 (print) | LCC PN6231.P6 (ebook) |   DDC 891—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn​.loc​.gov​/2020050883 LC ebook record available at https://lccn​.loc​.gov​/2020050884 ∞ ™ The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Contents

Preface vii Acknowledgments ix Notes on Transliteration and Translation

xi

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Introduction 1 1 Why Does the Jelly Tremble? Surveillance Rumors and the Vernacular Panopticon

19

2 Why Do All Dictators Have Moustaches? Political Jokes in the Authoritarian State

43

3 Joking about the Fear (of Joking)

67

4 The Making of the President: Lukashenko’s Official Image and Vernacular Ridicule

85

5 When the President Comes: Potemkin Villages

105

6 “There Is a High Probability of the Mustachioed Dude’s Victory”: Election without Choice

121

Conclusion: Every Joke Has Only a Shred of Joke to It

139

References 143 Index 167 About the Author

171

v

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved. Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Preface

This book is being published in a moment when Belarus is undergoing many changes. The sixth presidential election was marked by unprecedented electoral fraud, as Alexander Lukashenko claimed that he was reelected for the sixth time with up to 80 percent of the vote. This, in addition to the government’s extremely incompetent and reckless management of the COVID-19 epidemic, Belarusian economic stagnation, and the shameless arrest of opposition candidates just before the election, has caused popular indignation and massive peaceful protests that have been brutally repressed by the Belarusian police and military forces. Despite severe beatings, multiple arrests, several deaths of peaceful citizens, and massive violations of human rights, however, people continue to go out to protest and strike all over the country. Therefore, it might be that by the time of this manuscript’s publication, Belarus will be a strikingly different country compared to what I captured in this book. The situation may evolve in a variety of ways, as lots of scenarios are possible, from Russian military intervention and continuing unrest to Lukashenko’s escape to one of his authoritarian allies and a Belarusian transition to democracy. Unfortunately, it is also posssible that Lukashenko’s regime continues. It is my sincere hope, however, that the fears emerging in jokes, rumors, and other genres of political folklore described in this book will not be as relevant at the time of its publication. Still, they capture the country’s everyday reality under its twenty-six years of authoritarianism, a long period in its history which will undoubtedly have an impact on its future no matter how the current situation evolves. What has been documented in this book will remain crucial, whether for the study of Belarus or any other country with a history of nondemocratic rule.

vii

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved. Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Acknowledgments

First of all, I must thank my respondents who spent their time and sometimes risked their well-being giving the interviews for this research. Due to the anonymity I promised, I cannot mention most of the names here, but I should at least acknowledge the role of Pavel Marozau, Alla Romano, Valiantsina Tryhubovich, and the late Aliaksandar Nadsan, who introduced me to Belarusian diaspora populations in Europe and the United States as well as many Belarusian political activists all over the world. I would like to thank Dmitry Bogatishev for the permission to reprint his work of art. I conducted the main part of this research at the Department of Estonian and Comparative Folklore at the University of Tartu with the support of a great team, each member of which is a wonderful person on their own and all of whom are examplary scholars to learn from. Still, I must single out the person thanks to whom not only my book, but my development as a scholar, have become possible. Ülo Valk believed in many of us, giving us a chance to grow both as scholars and humans and investing an immense amount of energy into us. Similarly, my other supervisor, Elo-Hanna Seljamaa, brought me to the topic for this book and was supportive at each stage of writing. Thanks to Elo-Hanna and Ülo, I also had the opportunity to spend two semesters in the Center for Folklore Studies at the Ohio State University, which was very infuential for my research. The director of the center, Dorothy Noyes, the scholars of Folklore Studies, and the Mershon Center for International Security Studies, and the members of the Russian-speaking diaspora in Columbus made my stay there especially cozy and productive. I would also like to thank the scholars of humor research, Alexandra Arkhipova, Liisi Laineste, and late Arvo Krikmann, who brought me to the adult world of humor studies. Elliott Oring has not only been a cult fgure of humor and folklore studies for me, but he also became my unoffcial advisor ix

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

x

Acknowledgments

and a friend who signifcantly inspired this research. Warm friendship, discussions, and reading of my drafts by Irina Sadovina have always been of great help. A postdoctoral fellowship I spent in the Institute for Russian and Eurasian Studies of Uppsala University was truly eye-opening in terms of extending disciplinary boundaries for this research, and I would like to express special gratitude to Sofe Bedford and Matthew Kott, who made this visit possible and made my stay in Sweden extremely fruitful and educational. My teaching experience and lectures on Belarus and humor in Belgrade University, Charles University in Prague, European University in Saint-Petersburg, Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Indiana University, Moscow State University for the Humanities, Stockholm University, Umeå University, University of Tartu, and University of Warsaw, as well as feedback from students at these lectures, have been extremely important for thinking this research through. The fnancial assistance of various institutions and funds has been of immense help for this research. I would like to single out the support of the European Social Fund’s Doctoral Studies and Internationalisation Programme (DoRa), the Swedish Institute Visby scholarship, and the 2018–2021 Estonian Research Council project PSG48 “Performative Negotiations of Belonging in Contemporary Estonia.” Simon Bronner and Judith Lakamber were extremely understanding and supported me at every stage of preparing this manuscript. My special gratitude goes to my family—my constant supporters, advisors, and even informants, to my mother and late father for always comforting and lending aid to me. My husband Victor has been an unfailing source of patience, wisdom, encouragement, and humor in the most complicated moments. The book could be written in English thanks to my aunt Nina, who had once invested a lot of time in teaching me the language in isolated 1990s Belarus, where learning English was a privilege. I dedicate this book to my grandparents, who developed my love of books and the cult of hard work and have always believed in me.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Notes on Transliteration and Translation

Various controversies in transliteration emerge due to bilinguism in Belarus: the country has two offcial state languages (Russian and Belarusian), both using the Cyrillic alphabet and belonging to the East Slavic subgroup of the Slavic language group (along with the Ukrainian language). As a result, personal and place names in Belarus usually have at least two versions in Cyrillic—Russian and Belarusian; moreover, their transliteration from Cyrillic complies with different documents, with either Russian or Belarusian variants used as a source, and there is no uniformity and ultimate standard (Kascian 2015). For instance, the president’s names deriving from the Belarusian and Russian forms, Aliaksandr Lukashenka and Alexander Lukashenko, correspondingly, are used interchangeably whether in the press or in research papers. The same variations emerge for most Belarusian personal and place names. In this book, I choose to transliterate Belarusian toponyms and personal names from the Belarusian language; however, where there are established spellings of names and place-names in English deriving from Russian originals which are more familiar to international readers, I give them preference (e.g., Alexander Lukashenko, Minsk, Vitebsk). For transliteration, I use the Library of Congress system modifed to remove diacritical markings except for the ’ marking for ъ and ь. I keep the original transliteration of the citations and bibliography when a given work or name has been transliterated differently. The translations in this book—whether of non-English sources or interviews—are mine unless otherwise stated. Due to space considerations, I chose to provide only English translations of jokes and pieces of the interviews rather than their initial versions in Russian and Belarusian. However,

xi

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

xii

Notes on Transliteration and Translation

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

if the text is based on wordplay that is impossible to understand without the original, when too much is lost in translation, or if the Russian/Belarusian original is helpful for understanding additional meaning, I provide it in italics in square brackets. Other comments of mine or interview questions are in the normal font in square brackets.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Introduction

In her book The Unwomanly Face of War, Nobel Prize-winning Belarusian writer Svetlana Alexievich documents the following joke which circulated among Belarusian (then Soviet) women after the World War II:

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

It’s nighttime. In the barracks. Prisoners are lying and talking. They ask each other, “Why were you locked up?” One says—for telling the truth. A second— because of my father . . . And a third answers, “For being lazy.” What?! They’re all surprised. He tells them, “We were sitting at a party in the evening, telling jokes. We got home late. My wife asked me, ‘Should we go and denounce them now, or tomorrow?’ ‘Let’s go tomorrow. I want to sleep.’ But in the morning they came to take us . . .” (The joke has also been documented in Romania [Banc (pseud.) and Dundes 1986, 23], Hungary [Luray 1957, 16] and other countries in the Eastern Bloc.)

Anyone even slightly familiar with Soviet political jokes and the persecution they incurred would understand that there is no boundary between humor and reality in this example. Soviet joke-tellers and those who did not report on them were subject to legal Article 58.10 “Anti-Soviet agitation,” which covered acts of defamation against the authorities and resulted in at least six months’ imprisonment or several years in the Gulag camps in the worst case, albeit realistic, scenario. Variants of the joke above could have circulated as a rumor, a cautionary tale refecting reality and preventing others from making the mistakes of the protagonist. This is why the joke-teller comments at the end, “It’s funny. But I don’t feel like laughing. We should weep. Weep” (Alexievich 2017, 322). Texts like this, fuctuating between humor and rumor, fction and reality, comprise the major materials of this book. Collected from 1

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

2

Introduction

real-life feldwork in the contemporary authoritarian state of Belarus, these jokes still retain Soviet memories; the plots endure, and new ones grow from the fertile ground of the current nondemocratic regime. My seven years of ethnographic feldwork in the Belarusian authoritarian state inform this book, yet this research also sheds light on everyday life in nondemocratic regimes in general, addressing a variety of questions. Why do people in authoritarian states need humor and neglect the risk of punishment to make jokes? How do people align with or oppose state policies and practices in nondemocratic regimes? What is their attitude toward the authoritarian leader, and why do they conform to his rule? In this book, I document humor, rumor, and their context, allowing us to look anew on these and other fundamental questions about life in an authoritarian state. Belarus, which is labeled controversially, yet not incorrectly, as the last dictatorship of Europe, can provide unexpected answers.

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

THE LAST DICTATORSHIP OF EUROPE Belarus has been governed by the same president, Alexander Lukashenko, since the frst presidential election in this young, post-Soviet country in 1994. In this sense, Belarus is far from unique: according to different ­estimates, over forty states are currently governed by autocracies of different kinds. For instance, the Polity score rates the level of democracy in a state from +10 (consolidated or fully institutionalized democracies, for example, Australia or Sweden) to –10 (fully institutionalized autocracies, such as Bahrain, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar), placing Belarus in the –9 to –6 segment. The authors of the Polity Project call countries belonging to this segment “less-than-full autocracies” characterized by ­ authoritarian rule by personalistic leaders, military juntas, or one-party structures. Examples in this range include Azerbaijan, China, Iran, Kuwait, Vietnam, and ­others—altogether, 20 percent of world states (Marshall and Elzinga-Marshall 2017, 29–31). The amount of research into autocracies is, however, hardly proportional to their number, especially when it comes to everyday life, grassroots reactions, and vernacular attitudes toward the autocratic state. Autocracies are often isolated and hard to enter, and they may be dangerous sites for ethnographic feldwork. One of the rather recent well-known examples of such danger in another post-Soviet country is the case of Alexander Sodiqov, a political science PhD student in Canada who was detained by Tajik secret police when doing an interview with oppositional activists in the Pamir Region in Tajikistan. Sodiqov was charged with treason and faced twenty years in a Tajikistan jail. With substantial support from academic circles and human

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Introduction

3

rights activists, he was released and allowed to return to Canada, yet the charges remain (The Economist 2014; O’Toole 2014). Because of such cases, research into autocratic regimes has often had to rely on distant analysis or retrospective views gleaned from memoirs, archives, and testimonies, which has certainly posed limitations on the results. Following the attempts of a few researchers (see, e.g., Arkhipova 2012; Arkhipova and Alejandrez 2013; Banc [pseud.] and Dundes 1989; Brandes 1977; Cochran 1989; He 2008; Kishtainy 1985; Reuter and Szhakonyi 2015; Rezaei 2016; Shehata 1992), in this book, I aim to present the results of longterm, contemporary feldwork recording current vernacular reactions to the regime in the nondemocratic country of Belarus. Among other forms, these reactions crystallize in political jokes—a genre often believed to be obsolete due to the collapse of their most well-known source, the Soviet Union—yet such jokes are thriving in Belarus, as are rumors. So far, the Eastern European landlocked country of Belarus has largely remained in the shadow of its more infuential neighbors in historical, scholarly, and public awareness; as a result, “too many foreigners are sincerely surprised to know that there is a whole country between Poland and Russia” (Cherkasova 2005, 253). Both Imperial Russian and Soviet experiences have been crucial for the formation of contemporary Belarus, which became independent for the frst time only in 1991. With its name translated into numerous languages as “White Russia” (Valgevene in Estonian, Weißrussland in German, Valko-Venäjä in Finnish, etc.), Belarus is the most Russifed of all the post-Soviet republics. Despite having both Russian and Belarusian as state languages, today, less than a quarter of the population identifes Belarusian as a language of home communication (IISEPS 2014), and speaking it in Belarus remains a statement. Historically, use of the Russian language gave speakers greater access to education and employment, while Belarusian was often perceived as a rural dialect and was marginalized in favor of Russian. Some scholars argue, however, that rather than emphasizing Russifcation, it would be more accurate to consider Sovietization as the key to understanding Belarus (Yekadumau 2003, 186–187). Indeed, Belarus was the window display of the Soviet system, an exemplary republic within the USSR (Eke and Kuzio 2000, 523). Soviet infuence is still obvious in Belarus: travel bloggers often advertise the country as a way to see the Soviet Union a quarter of a century after its collapse. A popular joke exemplifes this attitude: Two tourists come from Europe to Belarus: “Listen, there is a time difference, how shall I change my clock?” “To twenty years back, I think.” Recorded in Vitebsk (male 2011), Moscow (male 2013). For a version of this joke about Russia, see (Bibo 2008).

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

4

Introduction

Table 0.1  Dates in the History of the Current Belarusian Territory (Latyshonak and ­Miranovich 2013) Ninth century Thirteenth– sixteenth century Sixteenth– eighteenth century 1795–1919 1918–1919 1919–1991 1991 1994 1995

1996

2001, 2006, 2010, 2015 2004

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

2005 2006

2011 2014

2017 2020

Several effectively independent principalities arise (e.g., the Principality of Polotsk). The Grand Duchy of Lithuania Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth Russian Empire First attempt to create an independent Belarusian state. Soviet Union Belarusian independence declared. The first independent presidential election is won by Alexander Lukashenko. The first referendum proposes three major changes: (1) giving the Russian language equal state status with Belarusian, (2) the adoption of national symbols reminiscent of Soviet symbols, and (3) economic integration with Russia. The majority vote in favor. The second referendum proposes several additional changes, including (1) moving Independence Day to July 3, the day of the liberation of Belarus from Nazi Germany in World War II (voted for); (2) constitutional amendments that would increase presidential power (voted for); (3) the abolition of the death penalty (voted against). Presidential elections: Lukashenko is re-elected each time. The third referendum: most Belarusians vote to allow Lukashenko to change the constitution and to participate in an unlimited number of new elections or to serve indefinitely (unacknowledged by Europe and the United States). Terrorist attack in Vitebsk results in forty-six casualties. Ploshcha: following the 2006 Belarusian presidential election, the largest protests involve up to 30,000 people. Seven presidential candidates are arrested, and more than 700 protesters are imprisoned. Financial crisis: currency deficit and inflation. Minsk Metro bombing results in over 200 casualties. Another financial crisis. The annexation of Crimea by Russia and war in Ukraine are followed by Lukashenko mediating the talks between the EU, Russia, and Ukraine. Mass protests against the “social parasite tax” that requires jobless Belarusians to pay an annual fee to the state. Sixth presidential election followed by unprecedented protest caused by the announcement of Lukashenko’s victory.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Introduction

5

Due to strong Russian and Soviet ties, following its sudden independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, 83 percent of Belarusians were in favor of maintaining the USSR, a higher percentage than in any other Soviet republic outside Central Asia (Blacker and Rice 2001, 226; Rudling 2015, 2). Realizing this, in the frst presidential election of independent Belarus in 1994, Alexander Lukashenko won the votes of Belarusians by offering the “neo-Soviet retroproject”: a promise to preserve the familiar stability of the Soviet empire (Bugunova 1998, 32). Most Belarusians supported this move, as the other major alternative was the radical Russophobic nationalism which had emerged in the young postcolonial state, although it had remained alien to most of the population. Lukashenko won the election in 1994 and has kept power since by changing the constitution via referendums (in 1996 and 2004), extending his frst term and allowing him to participate in an unlimited number of future elections. In addition to this change to the constitution, rigged elections, persecution of oppositionists, and mass media censorship of varying degrees have accompanied Lukashenko’s rule (Silitski 2005; McCarthy et al. 2008; Ash 2015). He has violently suppressed several protest movements against his elections and referendums (Bedford 2017, 381; Korosteleva, Lawson, and Marsh 2003, 193–194). Lukashenko’s powers are extensive: he has the exclusive right to nominate the prime minister and the right to appoint and dismiss deputy premiers and government ministers, he heads the armed forces, and he issues decrees and directives (McAllister and White 2016, 362). For these reasons, in 2005, Condoleezza Rice, then U.S. Secretary of State, was the frst to call Belarus “the last dictatorship of Europe.” It did not take long for similar labels to follow, such as “the Cuba of Europe” and “the outpost of tyranny” (BBC 2005; CNN 2005). Scholars and journalists followed with catchy titles for their works on Belarus, including monographs titled Belarus: The Last European Dictatorship (Andrew Wilson 2011), The Last Dictatorship in Europe: Belarus Under Lukashenko (Brian Bennet 2011), or Belarus: Europe’s Last Authoritarian State (Miller-Jones 2011). A Google Scholar search shows over 19,000 English-language publications with the combination of “the last dictatorship” and “Belarus” in their texts (last searched December 11, 2020). The idea of “the last dictatorship of Europe” endures thanks to its appealing simplicity; in Belarus, however, attitudes toward the regime are much more complicated. Readers of Anglophone scholarship and media might be surprised to know that many Belarusians do not agonize over the fact that they live in such a regime. Out of a current population of 9.5 million, 2.5 million are twenty-four years old and younger, meaning that over a quarter of the population has only ever lived under the rule of Alexander Lukashenko (National Statistical Committee of the Republic of Belarus 2017). The rest of the population knows only the previous and not much more democratic

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

6

Introduction

alternative: the Soviet regime. In other words, what appears to be a gloomand-doom dictatorship from an outside perspective constitutes the lifelong everyday reality for many Belarusians. Despite partial isolation (mostly due to visa restrictions from the European Union and North American states, as well as poor economic possibilities), Belarusians travel, work abroad, and issue cheap visas to foreigners on arrival. As of 2018, 78 percent of Belarusian households had Internet access, 79 percent of people used the Internet (Medvedeva 2019, 22–23), and very few websites are blocked by the Belarusian state (even those that are blocked may be accessed with a proxy, if necessary). Access to political knowledge in Belarus is not a problem (Ioffe 2007, 46), and many are well aware that they live in what foreigners call “the last dictatorship of Europe.” For most people, however, this fact has not been their primary focus. A revealing example of this is an interview I once conducted with a man in his early twenties, well-travelled and active, yet with no political position or interest at all. When I asked him why he, as a young man, remains so uninterested in what happens in his country, he explained this with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which holds that people must have their basic physical needs met before they can proceed to addressing higher-level emotional, social, or intellectual needs. Just like many Belarusians who have faced economic instability (low salaries, high infation, unemployment, and several major fnancial crises), my interviewee argued that his basic economic needs were not covered, which is why he did not have the possibility to proceed to the next level of Maslow’s pyramid and concern himself with the country’s social problems or any kind of a political position. This is, of course, one of the heterogeneous attitudes toward the regime; many more positions exist that incorporate a variety of political beliefs, ranging from conformist to oppositionist attitudes. For instance, those of my interviewees who generally disapproved of the dictatorship often gave positive evaluations of some of its aspects, an attitude that stems from Lukashenko’s successful populist strategy. Having promised to preserve Soviet values at the very beginning of his career, Lukashenko is often said to have made a social contract with the Belarusian people: in exchange for people’s loyalty in allowing him to remain president, he offers economic and social guarantees (Silitski 2009; Wilson 2016). The state propagates security, stability, and peace as key values that Lukashenko has achieved and maintained. Given the trauma of Belarus having been ruined during the World War II in 1941–1944, the uncertainty of the early 1990s, and recent military conficts in neighboring Ukraine as it strived for change instead of stability, it is unsurprising that the primary preference for many is the peace and stability offered by Lukashenko. Additionally, the strict order established in the country, even if it means being labeled a dictatorship, has become a means of positive representation of Belarus directed mainly toward the nostalgic post-Soviet

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Introduction

7

audience. The image of order has become a strong tool for propaganda, as the following joke shows:

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

A girl and her mother are in the clinic waiting for a doctor’s appointment. The girl says: “Mom, I want to live in Belarus.” “My poor child, what are you saying? Your fever is gone.” “No, mom, I want to live in Belarus as it is shown on TV and written about in newspapers.” Recorded in Vitebsk (females 2012, 2013). For a version set in Bulgaria, see (Vivre à l’Est 1977, 671); for a version set in Kazakhstan, see (Porjati​.​ru 2012). In a Soviet version, a schoolboy wants to live in the Soviet Union as described by his teacher (Melnichenko 2014, 452). In a Romanian joke, a boy says he wants to live like a Soviet child (Banc and Dundes 1986, 54–55).

Moreover, a variety of actors, including Lukashenko himself, exploit and abandon the idea of dictatorship as needed. In polemics with a German politician, the openly homosexual foreign minister Guido Westerwelle, Lukashenko responded to criticism of Belarusian human rights records by saying that “it is better to be a dictator than gay” (Spiegel 2012). By saying this, Lukashenko was also appealing to his electorate and their values (e.g., according to a 2010 opinion poll, 56 percent of Belarusians treat sexual minorities negatively [IISEPS 2010b]). On the other hand, some Belarusians use the negative label of dictatorship to draw attention or receive benefts. Benjamin Cope and Siarhei Liubimau use the example of Belarusian rock music, which often receives international attention when it includes the drama of dictatorship (Cope and Liubimau 2008, 105; Liubimau 2007). The dictatorship label has also been instrumental in international relations. Since the rise of authoritarian rule, politicians, journalists, and intellectuals in Western countries have consistently portrayed Belarus against the background of more advanced, powerful, and democratic governments (Ackermann, Berman, and Sasunkevich 2017, 3). The dissatisfaction of the European Union and the United States with Belarusian political repression led to the imposition of sanctions against Lukashenko and some of his accomplices (Portela 2011). These sanctions are, however, abandoned every now and then, if needed. For instance, democratic governments easily forgot about political prisoners and the lack of freedom of speech in Belarus thanks to the participation of Lukashenko as a mediator in the peace talks on Ukraine in 2014 (Kryvoi and Wilson 2015). After the peace talks, Lukashenko, who by then had been in power for twenty years, was invited to a reception at the seventieth session of the UN General Assembly (2015) on behalf of the president of the United States, Barack Obama. These are just some examples of policy shifts from the West from confrontation and isolation to cooperation and engagement (Pikulik and Bedford 2018, 2).

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

8

Introduction

In fairness, the Belarusian dictatorship has not been entirely static, and a lot has changed since Condoleezza Rice termed it “the last dictatorship in Europe.” Much has changed since 2014, when Russia, supported by the Russian-speaking population in Ukraine, annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea and patronized the emergence of two separatist states in Ukraine, the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics. The latter territories have been in military confict between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian (and Russian) separatist forces ever since. Watching Russian military aggression against Ukraine, Lukashenko has made concessions in order to maintain his power (Astapova et al. 2021). He has released quite a few political prisoners, opened Belarusian borders for visa-free visitors, and allowed soft Belarusization and nationalism to stand against the Russian infuence (whereas nationalism had previously been associated with pro-European discourse and oppositionists). Freedom of expression has certainly increased. Moreover, new contenders for the title of the “last dictatorship of Europe” have appeared, from the evolving personality cult in Russia to right-wing populism in Central and Eastern Europe (Ackermann, Berman, and Sasunkevich 2017, 1). Foreign policy toward Belarus has not been static, just like the dictatorship itself; however, swings between confrontation against and cooperation with Belarus on the part of the EU and United States were not proportional to actual democratic changes in the country. For instance, between 2011 and 2014, the previously imposed sanctions against Belarus were reduced, but not because it had complied with the democracy requirements of the EU. As such, authoritarianism in Belarus persists, not only due to loans from Russia serving as anesthesia to the unreformed Belausian economy, but also because political prisoners, elections without choice, and human rights violations do not matter to the EU/ United States when Lukashenko becomes a mediator in conficts with Russia (Pikulik and Bedford 2018, 3, 9–11). Given all these contradictions, I restrain from using “dictatorship” in the title of the book. Other defnitions scholars have given to the Belarusian regime have varied from “authoritarianism with elections,” “the model form of autocracy” (Brownlee 2007, 25), “electoral authoritarianism” (Bedford 2017, 381), and even “presidential monarchy” (Brooker 2014, 239). Indeed, coming up with a single label for a nondemocratic country is not easy; as Schmitter and Karl write, “democratic is one [label]; others are autocratic, authoritarian, despotic, dictatorial, tyrannical, totalitarian, absolutist, traditional, monarchic, oligarchic, plutocratic, aristocratic, and sultanistic, which may be further broken down into subtypes” (1991, 76). Considering the blurred boundaries between possible defnitions, and since in the mishmash of Belarusian policies it is diffcult to perceive any clear direction except for the consolidation and strengthening of presidential power, I will further use a more generic “authoritarian” defnition from Belarus for the title of this book (Marples 2005, 904).

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Introduction

9

After all, this refects vernacular attitudes, since most of political folklore I collected in Belarus evolve around one single authoritarian fgure—Lukashenko himself. Lukashenko is hardly prone to sharing his power or popularity with others. The Belarusians themselves are so used to Lukashenko’s rule that they cannot believe that it will ever end, as, among many similar jokes, a popular joke about Lukashenko and his son Kolia testifes. Currently a teenager, the third and youngest son of Lukashenko, Kolia is the apple of Lukashenko’s eye. Gossip about the unruliness of the boy, as well as his presence at many offcial events with his father, have sparked a rumor that Lukashenko is preparing Kolia to be the next president. Jokes refect this belief too. “Alexander Grigor’evich, till when [dokole] are you going to be a president?” “Till Kolia [Do Koli] . . . ” Recorded in Minsk (female 2011 and male 2012), Vitebsk (female 2012 and male 2013), Tallinn, Estonia (male 2012); versions with God asking Lukashenko the same question recorded in Minsk (female 2012), Vilnius (male 2013).

The humorous effect of this joke is reached due to the consonance of dokole and do Koli, and, according to the joke, Lukashenko will rule the country until Kolia becomes president. This is an exemplary vernacular response showing how rumor and humor refect reality but also intertwine and nurture each other in a situation of stagnation and uncertainly.

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

HIDDEN TRANSCRIPT, OR POLITICAL FOLKLORE: HUMOR, RUMOR, AND THE AGENCY OF BELARUSIANS As James C. Scott stated, the stricter the regime is, the richer political folklore becomes, embracing a multiplicity of rumors, gossips, folk narratives, gestures, and euphemisms (1990, 27). The high number of political jokes in the Soviet Bloc has been among the major examples supporting such a statement (Fitzpatrick 1999; Johnston 2005; Oring 2004). Scott defnes jokes, rumors, folk narratives, and similar speech acts and practices placed beyond direct observation of powerholders as a hidden or backstage transcript (ibid. xii). Opposed by the public transcript, which covers onstage matters and is available postfactum (in archive documents and the press), a hidden transcript requires in-process observation; otherwise, it is often lost and obscured (ibid. 88). Just as public transcripts in every political regime have specifc features, or stage settings, so do hidden transcripts, including the corresponding specifc “dirty linen” (ibid. 12). In this book, I aim to capture the hidden transcript that is particular to this post-Soviet authoritarian country

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

10

Introduction

and explore features that correspond to the regime from it originates. It is hardly possible to measure the richness of folklore, but in Belarus, it is obvious: few countries can still boast of so many political jokes circulating in oral communication. A persuasive parallel showing a correlation between nondemocratic regimes and the abundance of jokes may be that of Donald Trump’s authoritarian populism (Giroux 2017), coinciding with the richness of Internet humor he has provoked (Mould 2018). Another useful term to characterize the empirical material of this book is “political folklore.” Among other defnitions, William Westerman suggests that political folklore comprises:

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

(1) the folklore of politics, emerging from the political process and political confict; (2) the politics of folklore as the impact of folklore on people’s lives; (3) the politics of applied folklore policy, the implementation of folklore and cultural programming; (4) political interpretations of folklore by scholars; (5) folk political organization—how power relationships among individuals and classes are expressed, negotiated, and related to the larger society; (6) political belief as folklore (Westerman 1996). Folklore researchers study political folklore within a variety of such understandings as vernacular expressions emerge alongside vigorous and playful resistance (Hurston 2008; Stokker 1997), stories of location and dislocation (Abrahams 2000; Fialkova and Yelenevskaya 2010), folklore of divided societies (Cashman 2008; Mills 1991), refugees and evacuees (Bohmer and Shuman 2008; Fingerroos 2006), labor movements (Huber 2006; Shuldiner 1999), political instabilities (Fialkova 2001; Kalmre 2013), the construction of the nation and authenticity (Bendix 1997; Cash 2012), fake news (Frank 2011; Laineste and Kalmre 2017), and so forth. Political folklore is also widely studied by other disciplines—anthropology, sociology, economics, philosophy, history, and so forth—but is often referred to differently, for instance as “popular culture” (Fitzpatrick 1999, 66). The term “political folklore,” however, is rarely used in practice. Some may avoid the use of “political” with “folklore” to stay away from unnecessary attention and labeling. I could have chosen not to use such terms, for instance, if I had worked on current materials in contemporary Belarus. Another reason might be the blurriness of the boundaries around what can be considered political, since this term can be applied widely. As Aleхander A. Panchenko writes, the borders of the political in folklore remain fuzzy: different social classes and groups may have specifc ideas about what to defne as political folklore (2010, 2–3). As a possible solution, in my research I often use the emic perspective, for

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Introduction

11

example, when the interviewees decide which joke to tell as political, thus defning political folklore themselves. This also shows that the emic perspective on political jokes appears to be much broader than etic approaches to the genre, mediating the vernacular, embracing different kinds of texts, and leading to more substantial conclusions. In this book, I concentrate on two particular genres of political folklore, rumors and jokes, to show how their plots and functions intertwine up to the point of being indiscernible. As Linda Dégh shows, jokes and rumors do not only get on well together, they also provide necessary living conditions for each other (Dégh 1995, 293). Often, prompted by a situation of change and fear, rumors and jokes perform the same function: these fctional genres provide a vent for frustration (Banc and Dundes 1986, 10; Dundes 1971, 51) and become mini-guides for navigating reality, address the same topics with a different degree of belief, help in negotiating hardships of everyday life, and shape shared norms and behaviors (Ellis 2005, 126; Laineste and Kalmre 2017, 96; Waterlow 2018, 214–215). Scholars have often observed hazy boundaries between rumor and humor; the same narratives are equally used to present serious truth claims and perform jokes for an audience, recommend others to be alert and cause laughter (Bennett 1988, 1993; Fine and Ellis 2010, 125–127). “All genres leak” (Briggs and Bauman 1992, 149), and the genre ambiguity between rumor and humor is not unique. The haziness of genre boundaries, however, is proportional to the number of intertextual links and generic precedents the same texts entail. The multiplicity of references and connections to previous texts results in mixed, blurred, ambiguous, and contradictory generic framings (ibid. 163). While there is no reason to make strict generic distinctions between different texts, it is essential to see which intertextual links enable the genres’ similarity, at which point the genres become indistinguishable, and what attitudes toward the political situation endure in both rumor and humor. The presence of various intertextual elements incorporated into rumors and jokes creates a powerful effect of multiple layers and meanings (Yassif 2009, 58). Ethnographic research enables me to bring in emic perspectives on these genres’ coexistence. With a focus on emic perspectives, studying jokes and rumors in context also permits me to reveal the agency of Belarusians. In many ways, I owe this approach to the revisionist critique of totalitarianism which emerged from the 1960s onwards. Mostly, focusing on the Soviet Union, the revisionists acknowledged the existence of the personality cult, propaganda, the use of terror, and the monopoly of the Soviet state. At the same time, they recognized the agency of the people and the limits of their power to shape society, the importance of interest groups and the appeal of Stalinism to the fears, dreams, and personal agendas of large sections of the population,

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

12

Introduction

giving a lot of attention to autobiographical and frst-person accounts and testimonies (Ackermann, Berman, and Sasunkevich 2017, 9–10). In this sense, I follow the legacy of Anne Applebaum (2003), Sarah Davies (1997), Sheila Fitzpatrick (1999, 2005), John Arch Getty (2013), Caroline Humphrey (2005), Hiroaki Kuromiya (2007), Sergei Mironenko and Vladimir Kozlov (2011), Robert W. Thurston (1991), Nina Tumarkin (1994), Alexei Yurchak (2006), and others. Representing different disciplines, they have been challenging the idea of а passive subaltern society to look at the attitudes and subjectivities which shape people’s behavior no less than the authoritarian state does. This realization certainly goes beyond political repression cases; for instance, Lawrence Levine writes about the tradition of research on black American humor, arguing that black Americans were seen as “passive subjects reacting in an almost classic Pavlovian manner to external stimuli, rather than as people with a point of view and a cultural reference who were able to respond with some degree of intelligence to their environment” (Levine 1977, 388). Avoiding perceptions of living under repression as subaltern and passive, I hope to show in this book that ordinary people remain the main players in everyday life (Sánchez 2010, 1). Belarusians are not deprived of agency when choosing to support Lukashenko eagerly, work complicitly within his social contract, or protest. After all, the Belarusian regime endures because a variety of players reinforce it by moving and acting within it (Bedford 2017, 404). Finally, although it may seem that “everything is political,” in this book, I show how contemporary jokes, rumors, and related everyday behavior are not grounded only in the current political situation or Soviet memories. First, many issues I touch upon here are deeply embedded in traditional beliefs that signifcantly predate the Soviet Union and even the Russian Empire. To give just a few examples, blood libel and evil eye beliefs intertwine oddly with rumors about Internet surveillance, discussion of the president’s actions, and joking about his origin. Second, many subjects I address, such as surveillance rumors, are global, yet their local peculiarities make for valuable examination. RESEARCH MATERIALS I have been doing feldwork with Belarusians since 2011 via informal and unrecorded talks, interviews, media readings, and visits to public events, both state-supported and oppositional. First, I conducted quite a few interviews among the Belarusian diaspora in China, Estonia, Lithuania, Russia, Poland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Whenever I went to a foreign country, I often looked for Belarusians through acquaintances or by

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Introduction

13

simply searching for Belarusian national associations on the Internet in the countries I was visiting. Second, most of the data I rely on comes from the interviews I carried out between 2011 and 2018 with Belarusians living in Belarus and abroad. I collected materials on trips to smaller towns in Belarus, such as Alexandria, Ashmiany, Halshany, Kopys, Orsha, and Rakov. However, I conducted most of the interviews in the cities of Vitebsk and Minsk. With almost two million people, Minsk is the capital of Belarus, while Vitebsk, with 363,000 people, is the country’s fourth largest city. Vitebsk is the town where I grew up, and the connections I have there were very helpful for fnding interviewees. Situated in the north of Belarus close to the Russian border, Vitebsk is one of the most Russifed cities, while Minsk has a higher number of Belarusian speakers. This was also refected in the language of the interviews, which in Minsk were often conducted in Belarusian. Throughout my feldwork in Belarus, my Belarusian friends posted information on social networks advertising my research and calling for participants for interviews on political and ethnic identity. Those who were interested in voicing their opinions on these issues then contacted me. After the interviews, some of my interlocutors connected me to other people who were willing to express their views on political issues. When starting my research, I was doubtful that people would want to share their thoughts on politics despite fears of repression, but many were surprisingly willing to do so. Through these methods, I found and interviewed most of the respondents, who were mainly males between twenty-fve and forty-fve years of age. Since these were the people who volunteered to be interviewed, it seems to me that they were representative of the most politically aware and interested members of Belarusian society and its diaspora. They might be more engaged with politics than average, young enough to use the Internet, and sometimes were educated abroad. They form a rather distinctive sample characterized by sensitivity, concern, and awareness of political issues, as well as willingness to discuss them openly. At the same time, the interviewees were of different political mindsets and were not necessarily opposed to the current government. Many questions, such as those about surveillance, are, perhaps, not as important for the average Belarusian as they were for my typical interviewee. Still, the line between quiet conformists and politically enthusiastic Belarusians is not so sharply drawn. The concerns of intellectually engaged Belarusians are illustrative of general fears and are also recurrent in interviews with women and/or older people. This book presents the heterogeneous composition of Belarusian society, ranging from gloomy oppositionists to zealous conformists. It provides an insight into the arguments and reasoning of the two sides. Third, this book is an outgrowth of my activities outside academia: volunteering for Belarusian NGOs and Sunday schools, visiting Belarusian

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

14

Introduction

diaspora meetings and congresses, living among the Belarusian-speaking diaspora in the United States, and traveling. Additionally, while conducting research on Belarus, for professional and personal reasons I visited most of the post-Soviet and postsocialist countries; I have also lived in Uzbekistan, Russia, and Estonia. My observations of similar processes in the former USSR states when traveling or reading about them have often been instrumental for interpretations of what I recorded in Belarus. Many rumors and jokes are spread all over the post-Soviet countries, if not globally, but variations in situational contexts inform the country-specifc concerns. In addition, when traveling, I always made notes on the perceptions of Belarus from the outside, which are equally interesting despite being very different in the West and, say, Central Asia. When teaching in Estonia, Sweden, the United States, Serbia, Israel, Czech Republic, and Russia, I got many ideas about the local perceptions of Belarus from students. Finally, I demonstrate that despite partial isolation, Belarusian political folklore—jokes and rumors—is never just local: its plots and motifs circulate globally. I show this specifcally by providing a list of non-Belarusian versions of jokes I recorded in Belarus, often from other former and current authoritarian regimes. In case the joke variant from another country or language differs, I also briefy describe this difference. The principles of feldwork, analysis, and comparison I describe here apply to most of the material in this book, unless specifed in some chapters. Due to anonymity promised to the participants, these interviews have only very basic references: I mention where and when the interview was recorded as well as the age and gender of the interviewees; sometimes I use pseudonyms. Pieces of interviews are followed by the time and place of when they were recorded and the gender on the interviewee. I made audio recordings of most of the interviews; there were only two cases in which my interlocutors did not allow me to record the interview and only allowed me to make notes of their responses. As I mentioned, the respondents often chose me rather than the reverse, and the fact that the majority of those who were interested in talking about the political situation were males shows that political folklore genres in Belarus are highly gendered and often remain beyond the interest of the female population, or women may remain passive tradition bearers. The following piece of an interview with one of the few female interviewees can be telling: [Do you think that the elections in Belarus may have been falsifed?] Yes, there is a lot of evidence, I think. Before, I was younger and more passionate, but my parents laughed at me, as they understood that we cannot change anything. Previously I could not understand them; I asked, “Mom, why don’t you go to protest?,” but now I also think like they do, and I understand that

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Introduction

15

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

many positive things are done in our country too. Culture is developing, journalists are writing about culture, handmade art is developing. I am a girl and I do not interfere in politics. Recorded from in Minsk (female 2012), emphasis mine.

Again, this attitude is not absolute. There were certain rumors that I recorded mostly from women, such as narratives about Lukashenko’s folk biography. Also, I assume that political folklore may still be vibrant in female personal communication, yet it does not become performative. The state discourages female participation in political life in general and particularly in opposition activities. In 2010, after the protest against the unfair results of another election violently suppressed by the state, Election Committee chairwoman Lidia Yermoshina commented about the women participating in the protest: “These women have nothing to do. They should rather be staying at home and cooking borscht [traditional beetroot soup]” (Rudovich and Waldmann 2016). This attitude extends to the whole population: the state does not only disseminate the idea that politics is someone else’s business, it also marginalizes people willing to participate in oppositional movements. Still, due to the more conservative and traditional role of women in Belarusian society, the female population engages in politics even less than men. Things have been changing greatly in the time of writing this book, when following 2020 presidential election, women have been leading anti-Lukashenko protests. Before the interviews, I prepared а basic plan of the main topics and questions to ask. These included questions about the interviewees’ ethnic identity and political belonging, attitudes toward the East and the West (Russia and Europe), historical and cultural highlights of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko’s professional and life story, attitudes toward Lukashenko himself, the presidential election in Belarus, surveillance by the secret police, Belarusian political humor, and the safety of joke-telling. I did not always follow this plan religiously but let the interviewee speak more on the issues he or she was interested in. These were semistructured narrative interviews with open-ended questions that encouraged the interviewees to express themselves freely. That is how, for instance, the topic of Potemkinism (window dressing for the visits of high offcials) turned out to be of great importance for many respondents (see chapter 5). This is also how the general outline of this book emerged by refecting on the frequent topics in and around Belarus. Chapter 1, “Why Does the Jelly Tremble? Surveillance Rumors and the Vernacular Panopticon,” examines rumors about surveillance and persecution. Despite their global omnipresence, these often-unverifable narratives are contextualized by local peculiarities and modalities in Belarus. Largely inherited from the Soviet Union, they are repeated and transmitted due to the nontransparency of current legislation and other features of the Belarusian

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

16

Introduction

hegemonic regime. Knowledge of surveillance rumors is essential for understanding the context in which political jokes emerge; additionally, such rumors form the context for jokes about the fear of joking. The next two chapters focus on both phenomena. Chapter 2, “Why Do All Dictators Have Moustaches? Political Jokes in the Authoritarian State,” is a general analysis of 140 joke texts I collected from Belarusians in my interviews. I demonstrate the collected jokes’ genetic relations with earlier Soviet and socialist humor and show that most contemporary Belarusian jokes target the authoritarian fgure of the president. Using the metaphor from the joke “Why do all dictators have moustaches?,” I show how jokes function as fexible schemes that can be adapted for targeting every dictator. Finally, drawing from the emic perspective on what constitutes a political joke, I show how expansive this vernacular category is compared to the etic understanding. Surveillance rumors ground a large humor cycle of special political jokes about fear and paranoia. Chapter 3, “Joking about the Fear (of Joking),” refects on feldwork examples of jokes about political persecution in everyday conversation. A large part of the chapter will be dedicated to narrative and conversational metajoking: referencing other political jokes while joking or joking about the fear of joking. Documenting this vibrant humor tradition in Belarus, I try to answer one of the most frequent questions of socialist jokes researchers: why individuals might undertake the risky business of political joking under repressive regimes. As I demonstrate starting from the very frst chapter, most jokes and rumors concentrate around the authoritarian fgure of the Belarusian president, and most of the following chapters will evolve around his image. Rather than repressing victims, most authoritarian regimes nowadays rely on making their key fgure look competent via a repertoire of propaganda techniques in order to manipulate citizens’ beliefs (Guriev and Treisman 2015). Chapter 4, “The Making of the President: Lukashenko’s Offcial Image and Vernacular Ridicule,” begins by analyzing such techniques in the offcially constructed biography and paternalist image of Alexander Lukashenko. Next, I focus on grassroots reactions to these techniques and the rich political folklore rising up as a response. Concentrating on Lukashenko’s childhood story, I look at how certain biographical elements become signifcant for the offcial promotion or folk condemnation of the president. Chapter 5, “When the President Comes: Potemkin Villages,” focuses on rumors about the special preparations undertaken before Lukashenko comes to visit a particular location. These narratives, however, do not only demonstrate a negative attitude toward and bitter irony over the cracking Potemkin façades. Analyzing vernacular attitudes toward Potemkinism, I argue for a multidimensional understanding of it and suggest that, in a socialist state, a

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Introduction

17

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Potemkinist order becomes a viable alternative to democracy and a signifcant means for the country’s self-representation to ideological allies. Chapter 6, “There is a High Probability of the Mustachioed Dude’s Victory: Election without Choice,” draws its title from a common reference to elections in autocratic regimes and the Twitter hashtags for the recent Belarusian election. I analyze oral and Internet election rumors and jokes about Belarusian election fraud. The chapter will demonstrate again how rumor and humor are interconnected to the extent of sometimes being indistinguishable. Rather than exploring the limits of genres, I focus on the genres’ interplay, intertextual bridges, and common ideologies. The book presents only a few notable examples of Belarusian political folklore. I am committed to conveying the texture of everyday life in Belarus and the vibrant political folklore emerging in these particular circumstances. By the time this book is published, new questions as well as new folklore texts will undoubtedly have appeared in Belarus. I believe, however, that the analysis of the material published here, as well as the material itself, will remain relevant for quite some time, just like this joke and the questions posed in it have been relevant at least since the time of Stalin: Lukashenko brings his son Kolia to school on the frst day and says to the other children in the class: “Kids, you may ask three questions from me.” One boy stands up and says, “I have got three questions! Who killed the journalist Dmitry Zavadsky [who had criticized Lukashenko’s politics]? Why does Belarus violate human rights? When will my parents have an average salary of 500 dollars? [related to the 2004 promise of Lukashenko to raise the average salary in Belarus to 500 dollars. This had not yet happened at the time of writing, and his promise became a reference for multiple jokes and protests.]” Suddenly, the bell rings, and the next lesson starts. The boy who asked the questions is no longer in the class. Another boy stands up and says, “I have only two questions: why did the bell ring 40 minutes before the end of the lesson, and where is the boy who asked questions?” Recorded in Vitebsk (female 2013) and Minsk (male 2013). For a version about a trade union meeting in Romania and Popesku asking questions, see (Banc and Dundes 1986, 73–74). Other versions are Hungarian (Sanders 1962, 25), Czech (Beckmann 1969, 21), Polish (Drozdzynsky 1974, 114), East German (Brandt 1965, 95–96), Yugoslavian (Meyer and Meyer 1978, 82–83), and Greek (Orso 1979, 10). For a version about Stalin, see (Krikmann 2004, 181–182). In the Stalin version, the frst boy asks why people in the country are so poor, who killed Sergey Kirov, and why human rights are violated.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved. Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Chapter 1

Why Does the Jelly Tremble? Surveillance Rumors and the Vernacular Panopticon

When talking about rumors and humor in Belarus and, perhaps, in many other nondemocratic regimes, it is essential to start with the background that sets the conditions for the rest of political folklore and attitudes in the country: perpetual, yet nontransparent, surveillance. The following Belarusian joke perfectly depicts the Belarusian sense of it:

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Lukashenko opens the fridge, sees meat jelly there, and says to it, “Why are you trembling? I came for the sour cream!” Recorded in Minsk (female 2012, males 2012 and 2013), Vitebsk (female 2015). For a Russian version with an unnamed protagonist, see (Bibo 2011); for a ­version about Putin, see (Berry 2013).

The joke about wobbling jelly has international versions circulating all over the Internet (e.g., “Why did the jelly wobble? Because it saw the milk shake!” [10 Cal Jelly 2016]); however, in Belarus, it acquires political meaning. One of my interviewees, Dmitrii, living in Minsk, commented after telling this joke: “Who does the joke target? The meat jelly? No, us!” The meat jelly joke serves as a perfect metaphor for the Belarusian state and fears that its people associate with it. Interestingly, this joke is also told about Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia. The Soviet and post-Soviet experiences of newly independent neighboring countries ground the strong oral tradition of surveillance narratives. This tradition, however, does not belong to authoritarian countries alone, as surveillance is a global phenomenon, as is the fear of surveillance. In the following section, I start with the contemporary understanding of surveillance and rumors about it and proceed to the Soviet and current Belarusian peculiarities that contextualize local rumors about surveillance. 19

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

20

Chapter 1

THE GLOBAL RISE OF SURVEILLANCE AND DISCIPLINARY APPROACHES TO SURVEILLANCE RESEARCH

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Surveillance has developed “as a dominant organizing practice of late modernity” (Lyon, Haggerty, and Ball 2012, 1) evident in diverse political regimes all over the world. Industrialization, urbanization, globalization, terrorism, and other societal shifts are crucial to its rise; as an academic response, an autonomous discipline of surveillance studies has recently emerged from such disciplines as international relations, political science, criminology, and the sociology of policing and technology (Bigo 2012, 279). The terror attack of 9/11 and the London Underground bombing in 2005 are perpetually referred to as events that have led to an increase in surveillance, especially via CCTV. In the Routledge Handbook of Surveillance Studies, Gary T. Marx claims that scholarly awareness of surveillance serves as a reminder: while state and commercial actors are watching us, we are watching them (2012, xxix). The main theoretical basis of surveillance studies is the Foucauldian notion of the panopticon, a concept that Michel Foucault loaned from the ideas of brothers Jeremy and Samuel Bentham. The Benthams proposed the

Figure 1.1  Cartoon “The Prison Country” (by Dmitry Bogatishev)

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Why Does the Jelly Tremble?

21

panopticon as a physical structure designed for prisons. Due to its form as a circular edifce with an inspection house in the center, a single watchman can observe all inmates of an institution stationed around the perimeter, while the inmates are not able to determine whether they are being watched (Bentham 1843). In his 1975 book Surveiller et Punir (Discipline and Punish 1977), Foucault used the Benthams’ idea of a panopticon as a metaphor to defne modern prisons, schools, universities, and other hierarchical institutions with their pervasive proclivity to observe and to normalize. According to Foucault, such institutions maximize effciency by placing the subjects in a state of permanent visibility. It is the awareness of constant surveillance that makes the panopticon so novel and so ideal for maintaining control, far more so than previous methods of domination. Foucault’s ideas and the surveillance studies that utilized them have become truly interdisciplinary, and today, students of various backgrounds focus on the history of surveillance, surveillance techniques, crime and policing, ethics and the possibilities of limiting surveillance, social divisions and resistance caused by surveillance (especially depending on gender and colonial relations), and literature and cinema concerning surveillance. With a few exceptions (Lankov 1995; Botello 2011; Wacquant 2008), democracies, mainly those of Anglo-Saxon origins, became the focus of surveillance studies research. The examination of Western democracies is much more accessible, as the organizers of surveillance in these states appear to be more willing to speak to researchers. For instance, Catarina Frois, author of a book about public surveillance in Portugal, stresses that in spite of her initial preconceptions about the diffculty of the planned research, the authorities of a relatively young Portuguese democracy were willing to share a lot of information about their monitoring strategies (Frois 2013). Meanwhile, the sources for research in nondemocratic societies are almost exclusively based on rumors—a genre of communication that is generally avoided by scholars of international relations, political science, and the other disciplines from which surveillance studies developed. Rumors, however, have a history of research in folklore studies, especially when they emerge from a lack of information from the state, as they allow concealed sentiments to enter public debate (Fine and Ellis 2010, 8). Such were the rumors surrounding the Chernobyl catastrophe in the 1980s, when the Soviet state provided either none or very few of the verifed facts (Astapova 2021, Fialkova 2001). Similarly, rumors about Hiroshima (Miller 1985), AIDS (Goldstein 2004), and 9/11 (Marks 2001) served to make collective sense in an ambiguous situation and represented an attempt to manage the potential threat (DiFonzo and Bordia 2007, 21–23). Stories about surveillance can also easily fall into the category of contemporary legend, a genre that is based on traditional themes and modern motifs that circulate orally in multiple versions

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

22

Chapter 1

and are told as if they are true or at least plausible (Turner 1993, 5): “maps by which one can determine what has happened, what is happening and what will happen” (Ellis 1989, 202). The boundaries between the rumor and legend are hazy (Fine and Ellis 2010, 4; Kapferer 1990, 9; Turner 1993, 5; Goldstein 2004, 25) and fuid, since the same texts mutate in form and motifs from person to person and even from one telling to another within the repertoire of the same person (Smith 1984). The matter is further complicated as stories about surveillance may also be defned as conspiracy theories alleging that “a secret, omnipotent individual or group covertly controls the political and social order” (Fenster 2008, 1). Conspiracy theories, however, are more often understood as a complex set of rumors—plausible elements combined in a totalizing discourse (Astapova 2020a; Fine and Ellis 2010, 52; Frankfurter 2006, 2). Coming up with a single defnition for narratives about surveillance is also diffcult because most of the terms may carry pejorative connotations. For instance, Carl Lindahl rightfully insists that the bias of understanding legends “as stories that we know to be untrue, but which the naïve teller does not” runs deep in the history of folklore studies; to illustrate his point of view, Lindahl provides a list of folklore studies still feeding the vernacular perception that “legend” and “false story” are synonyms (2012, 141). Elliott Oring also observes that although “folklorists have acknowledged that a narrative does not have to be false to qualify as a legend,” this formal recognition is not really implemented in practice since “folklorists gravitate to narratives that they almost invariably believe to be false” (2008, 159). In a personal communication, folklorist Yvonne Milspaw told me that a U.S. folklore journal refused to accept her article on folklore surrounding the nuclear meltdown at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant (later published in Milspaw 1981, 2007) because the rumors she recorded seemed truthful to the editor. In short, there has been a tendency to study narratives that are certainly not true and that would not be found within the oral tradition of the scholars who study them. Surveillance is too ubiquitous and undeniable to be treated as part of the same category as contemporary legends about fnding a rat in a can of coke, and most academics in general, and folklorists in particular, are at the very least passive bearers of surveillance rumors. I choose to further refer to the stories about surveillance I recorded as rumors because (1) I fail when attempting to classify each text as part of a particular category other than rumor, a term that appears to be the most inclusive; (2) rumor is less pejorative than the terms “legend” and “conspiracy theory”; and (3) viewing the stories as rumors allows me to embrace not only the basic beliefs behind them (e.g., “mobile phones are tapped”) but also more fully developed narratives that contain such beliefs. It is not my aim in this chapter to establish which surveillance rumors are true or false, and I admit “the diffculty of trying to investigate what by its

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Why Does the Jelly Tremble?

23

very nature is not intended to be revealed” (Bendix and Bendix 2003, 8). My aim is rather to explore the meaning surveillance rumors have for all concerned, and how they infuence people’s everyday life at large. Surveillance techniques have a global presence, but globalization does not mean homogeneity: surveillance and its associated rumors remain conditioned by local and temporal contexts (Murakami Wood 2012, 340). As folklorists would say, “Even minor variations can reveal culture specifc concerns” (Goldstein 2004, 36). Take the examples of countries as different as Uzbekistan and the United States, both of which encourage participatory surveillance. In the United States, the slogan for a campaign launched by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority was “If you see something, say something.” In Uzbekistan, the catchphrase encountered on placards in the metro (in Russian and Uzbek) is “Vigilance is a requirement of time.” Despite their vast social and political differences, both countries have reasons for instilling suspicious attitudes in their citizens. While in the United States, such attitudes stem mostly from the national tragedy of 9/11, in Uzbekistan, they are grounded in anti-government protests as well as terrorist attacks, which have also given rise to suspicious attitudes toward foreigners. Fears have become contagious: tourists I encountered in a trip to Uzbekistan in 2014 sometimes claimed that they were being spied on by the locals who were just volunteering to show them around or who invited them to their homes. Fears in the United States have had their own effects too. Uli Linke and Danielle Taana Smith describe a case in which a family of Muslims was removed from a U.S. airliner after passengers were distressed by their conversation about the safest place to sit on the plane (2009, 1). Surveillance stories, although deeply rooted in globally ubiquitous surveillance practices, have different backgrounds and consequences. It is not merely the level of democratization (Uzbekistan is quite a closed country) that seems to defne rumors about surveillance; they differ depending on national traumas, history, and state politics. In the next part, I examine how such phenomena underpin surveillance rumors in Belarus. THE RUSSIAN EMPIRE AND SOVIET SURVEILLANCE It is ironic and not widely known that the model of the Benthams’ panopticon that inspired Foucault was designed in Belarus on a rich estate in the southern Mogilev province, which was then part of Russia (Druzhinina 1959, 82–84; Zakalinskaia 1958, 56–71). The estate belonged to Prince Grigorii Potemkin, the most infuential of Empress Catherine the Great’s favorites during the 1780s. Grigorii Potemkin and Samuel Bentham attempted to transform the Krichev estate into a landscape of enlightened prosperity and extravagant

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

24

Chapter 1

spectacle to impress Catherine the Great on her visit. Like Krichev itself, the panopticon presented an idealization of what the Russian estate might become under the watchful eye of the enlightened Empress Catherine and her nobility: a Western, illuminating production utopia constructed amid the horticultural splendor of a restored Eden. It was in the midst of this theater of horticulture, model factories, palaces, and gardens that the panopticon inspection house was to be built. Samuel Bentham subsumed the spatial structure of the Russian estate, placing the nobleman at the center and his peasant workforce around him. Jeremy’s brother, Samuel Bentham, in turn, was struck by this model and incorporated it into his own plans for a new prison for Middlesex. The design of the panopticon at Krichev never materialized, but the idea itself originated within the context of the Russian Empire and the territory of contemporary Belarus (Werrett 1999). So did many other techniques of surveillance. The politicheskii sysk (political detective work) of the Russian Empire implemented massive surveillance that was carried out mainly through spying on citizens and foreigners and through the encouragement of denunciations. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the idea of a “crime against the state” (gosudarstvennoe prestuplenie) as “an offense against the interests of the state and people” frst appeared in Russia (Anisimov 1999, 18). It originated from the growing need to deal with crimes against the tsar, his power, and his property. The spies of politicheskii sysk were not always trained as police cadres. Disguised soldiers, minor offcials, merchants, or petty criminals released to work off their crimes monitored their fellows at social events, taverns, or saunas: anyone could report on a compatriot. As Nina Golikova, who studied the documents from the so-called Preobrazhenskii Prikaz (the institution investigating political crimes) notes, 767 out of 772 cases she looked at started with denunciations (1957, 58). Surveillance also made writing dangerous: postal censorship had existed at least since the time of Peter the Great, and letters were often tracked. Even keeping a diary was not safe (Anisimov 1999, 255–256). Through all these sources, the employees of politicheskii sysk were looking for signs of potential treason. Among these signs, they focused on verbal insults against the tsars and offcials and discussions of their shady deeds, and they even identifed some words as potentially traitorous. For instance, those that used the words bunt (riot) or izmena (treason) were arrested and interrogated (Anisimov 1999, 37). Along with other Russian domains, the Belarusian territory was subject to the policies described for both tsarist and Soviet Russia. In spite of its criticism of tsarism, the Soviet empire not only adopted its methods but also elevated its security services, making them more professional and hierarchical. The whole structure of the surveillance unit—from the individual informers to the central party, NKVD (the abbreviation for The People’s Commissariat

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Why Does the Jelly Tremble?

25

for Internal Affairs), and KGB (Committee for State Security)—was involved in monitoring public opinion and punishing nonconformist thinkers (Davies 1997, 10). It is hardly possible to establish the extent of those involved in NKVD and KGB activities because it is not known exactly how many secret informers, collaborators, and volunteers were employed (Kuromiya 2007, 47). Treason against the Soviet state was frst of all expected from foreigners, former elites, intelligentsia, and youth, due to their greater potential to dissent. Enemies could be found even among friends and neighbors, should they sabotage collective work. The damage ascribed to such sleepers and evil infltrators (Magliocco 2003, 20) became the perfect excuse for the socialist revolution not working the way it was supposed to. Denunciations and complaints from ordinary people were encouraged (Fitzpatrick 2008, 197–227). Many people surveilled by professionals and informed against by friends were charged under the notorious 58.10 “anti-Soviet agitation” article of the Soviet Penal code for expressing opinions that, as the authorities judged, aimed at undermining Soviet power. With the elastic defnition of this article (Davies 1997, 5), the numbers of those punished under it fuctuated and grew into Stalin’s Great Terror. The state was omnipresent in private life and not only through direct surveillance and punishment: the feeling of the panopticon was amplifed by the limitless domination of the state in the bureaucracy, in the distribution of goods, and in employment. The Soviets implemented the practices of surveillance all over the country, including in the territory of Belarus. Persecution all over the territory of what is contemporary Belarus was ubiquitous and could befall virtually anyone for no apparent reason whatsoever (Savchenko 2009, 94). This experience undoubtedly became one of the determinants of attitudes and rumors about surveillance in the independent country. Repressive regimes that used methods of control and identifcation of citizens as a means to impose political and moral values continue to leave a mark on social life regardless of their current stage of development (Frois 2013, 25). For instance, in Estonia, another post-Soviet country, contemporary beliefs in secret superpowers echo the motifs of Soviet rumors about the control of the KGB. In 2000, Ülo Valk interviewed a person who claimed to have discovered in a meadow not far from his home an omniscient super-civilization of Ivirians possessing secret information about the world’s structure. In the same interview, the person referred to the immense knowledge and potencies of the Soviet KGB, arguing that the KGB had held experiments in certain residential districts with generators that emitted vibrations, making it easier to control and manipulate people but causing disease (2011, 858–860). While in post-Soviet democratic Estonia, beliefs about controlling powers are often reactivated due to a wave of New Age spirituality, post-Soviet Belarus had a very different but much more solid ground for the rebirth of surveillance rumors.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

26

Chapter 1

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

CONTEMPORARY BELARUS During his frst election in 1994, Alexander Lukashenko appealed to Soviet patriotism and made promises of a return to socialist security. Once elected, he largely fulflled his commitment to reviving the socialist way of life, along with the KGB, bureaucracy, and the practice of blaming the West for Belarusian troubles. These attitudes, familiar to Belarusians from the Soviet times, became the basis of his political success. In addition, surveillance was now justifed under the guise of preventing protests, terrorist attacks, and foreign intervention. The omnipresence of the state, the president, and special services in private life rekindled the sense of living in a panopticon. The methods employed by the government to secure the well-being of its citizens remain concealed. For instance, an ordinary Belarusian citizen does not have access to reliable sources of information about the actual numbers of those involved in the security services. The lack of offcial information generates recurrent rumors, such as that there is one militiaman per three to ten citizens. The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) claims that there are 7.6 active military men per 1,000 citizens in Belarus, compared to 2.3 in Germany, 4.3 in Venezuela, 7.2 in Russia, and 2.6 in Latvia (Preiherman 2013). These numbers and scales—from those encountered in rumors to those based on IISS data—make Belarus one of the most militarized countries in the former Soviet Union. It is little wonder that people imagine the secret services, militia, and army as a collective omnipotent big brother. Such a feeling is heightened because it is unclear how the power is distributed and who is responsible for what. The scariest and most inscrutable secret service is perhaps the KGB. Belarus is the only country in the former Soviet Union that retained this name for the committee for State Security. Furthermore, there is still a monument to Felix Dzerzhinsky—the infamous head of Soviet CheKa (Commission to Combat Counter-Revolution and Sabotage)—at the KGB main headquarters. Fidelity to Soviet standards of secret service does not only refect the ideals of the government, it also infuences the continuity of rumors about these services. The reputation of the Belarusian KGB varies, yet it is often said that the Soviet KGB past has been a very good ground for the current strong KGB institute. Most of my interviewees never had a personal encounter with the KGB. Knowledge of it came instead from a strong oral tradition about the institution. For instance, one of my interviewees who had an experience of being persecuted by the KGB (he is now a political refugee from Belarus living in a European country) claimed that the KGB school in Minsk had been the strongest within the Soviet Union. According to him, the contemporary Belarusian KGB inherited a lot of its tools and techniques from this KGB school, and thus, it still possessed powerful methods for the persecution of those who commit political crimes (recorded in Warsaw in 2012). Another

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Why Does the Jelly Tremble?

27

interviewee emphasized that the present Belarusian KGB school is still superior by arguing that Vladimir Putin, the current Russian President, studied there (recorded in Minsk, female 2013). The power Putin has, she thought, is also rooted in his education in a Belarusian KGB school. According to popular belief, one of Lukashenko’s sons, Victor, heads the KGB, although de jure he is only a member of the Security Council. However, de facto, the KGB is under the jurisdiction of Alexander Lukashenko, and it is a primary institution to repress oppositionists that potentially threaten Lukashenko’s power. The existence of a secret police institution that retains the Soviet name and Soviet methods presupposes similar practices; however, the state conceals it from the average citizen, who is only left to assumptions and the feeling of perpetual surveillance. Ultimately, the country is seen by many interviewees as a network designed to watch:

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

I have a metaphor for our society as a feudal society and a fock of sheep. As in Norway, I have been there recently and really enjoyed it, so we are the sheep, we have bells, different sheep marked with different paint. At the very beginning of spring we are set free, we may do what we want: run, jump, move from one rock to another. But if needed, and in Norway it is needed, when it becomes cold and the sheep are gathered to be sheared, slaughtered, fed in the warm stall . . . If needed we will be found with the help of the bells, defned according to the color of the paint, if necessary. In the 19th century, it was more diffcult to do this, and that is why there were the gatherings in the pubs, the 1st of May, and the execution of anarchists. On the other hand, we are like a feudal society: we are the peasants who belong to the baron. There is some mobility, we are allowed to move to another country and to another baron, but it is diffcult. But they follow, yes, they monitor. Recorded in Minsk (male 2013).

These concerns are illustrative of general fears and are recurrent in the interviews. Among other questions, I asked my interviewees about cases of surveillance and their consequences. Very often, however, there was no need to ask; the topic emerged, for instance, when they discussed the safety of telling a political joke in Belarus or expressed a reluctance to answer certain questions. Such concerns are illustrative of general fears; however, the issue of surveillance is more frightening for alternative thinkers, such as intelligentsia, foreigners, youth, journalists, and other potential or current dissidents. DISSIDENCE AND SURVEILLANCE Surveillance studies show that surveillance disproportionately targets people on the margins (Murakami Wood 2012, 340) as a way of imposing norms on

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

28

Chapter 1

those who have been categorized as “abnormal” (Fiske 1998, 81). In Belarus, there are also active and passive nonconformists who are especially sensitive to the possibilities of surveillance and from whom I most often recorded surveillance stories. The dissident movement has become one of the major sources of rumors about the panopticon, and many stories group around violently surveilled and suppressed protests and their aftermath. In Belarus, tension increases after every election in which Lukashenko wins, which results in protests in Minsk often referred to as Ploshcha (“square,” where the protests were held). These demonstrations are violently suppressed by the state; the protesters are badly beaten and often arrested. My interviewees also reported that their phone signals were monitored during demonstrations, and personal letters about their mere interest or plans to participate in the protests were read by the KGB. Consider the following account from an interview I recorded:

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

My Belarusian-speaking friend studies at high school; when she was only about 16 years old, she communicated with people who organized the meetings at Ploshchas. She was just communicating with them, she never even wanted to participate in it, and she just supported their idea. Her mother received a call from the KGB advising her to control her daughter, they reminded the mother that her contract at school (she was a teacher) was expiring. And her mother forbade her to participate in anything—no matter whether a folk choir or a dance. [But how did they know?] Everything is on a platter on social networks—our words and our thoughts. It can be easily read. Recorded in Vitebsk (female 2013).

According to the story, the young girl’s mother was threatened with dismissal because her sixteen-year-old daughter was supposedly interested in dissent. This interest was revealed by the KGB monitoring her correspondence on Vk​ .co​m, a Russian-language social network similar to Facebook. The surveillance was illegal and unexpected; the punishment that followed did not ft the “crime,” nor was it directed at the supposed offender. The teacher threatened with dismissal, moreover, was a single mother; losing her job in the general situation of unemployment was also a serious threat for her family’s wellbeing. Finally, gossip about why she was dismissed would have been a source of shame for her and for her daughter. The stories of average people threatened or persecuted when they or their close relatives merely thought about dissent constitute a widespread plot. Similar stories come from mature dissidents; narratives about unfair persecution resulting from surveillance become an important part of their publications in nongovernmental media sources. For instance, the 2006 and 2010 presidential elections were followed by protest rallies that were brutally suppressed.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Why Does the Jelly Tremble?

29

Several presidential candidates and their supporters (including journalists) were beaten badly, arrested, and accused of organizing or participating in the riots. Once released, many of them became political refugees in Europe and the United States, where they tried to disseminate their truths about what was happening in Belarus through mass media channels they created and maintained. Lacking channels for the dissemination of their ideas compared to those of the offcial propaganda, the oppositional press sometimes depicts the gruesomeness of the regime, frequently employing sensationalism to attract attention to their point of view and to bolster people’s fears by spreading rumors. In their unequal struggle with Belarusian offcial ideology and with each other, oppositionists try to hit the target audience in the most direct way, through concerns people already have. The rumors of suppression often have similar plots: a recurrent motif of being surveilled before being detained, lists of advice useful for avoiding or diminishing surveillance, and the anonymous confessions of the employees of the KGB or of the phone network (presumably designed to surveil, as well). The panopticon-like image drawn by the dissident press is, however, contested by government-controlled television and newspapers that constantly emphasize the country’s stability and offer promises of a better tomorrow. Speaking of general fears, the dissidents use rumors to challenge and resist the government’s actions (Fine and Ellis 2010, 6); built around a political impulse, the stories strive for knowledge, implying that the citizens have the right to know about the emerging menace (25). The rumors about surveillance become a tool for debate about the country’s politics. As Gary Alan Fine and Patricia Turner remark: “motive is the worm in the apple of belief” (2001, 74). The choice of which rumor to tell, to trust, or to spread is ideologically grounded. The rumors Belarusian intellectuals choose to spread are thus also very interesting to examine. By intellectuals, I refer to people employed in academia, writers, or public intellectuals living in Belarus or abroad. Despite expressing concern about surveillance in Belarus, they tended not to imagine the KGB as an institute of advanced professionals, in contrast to many other stories stressing the high professionalism of the secret police. Admitting the omnipresence of surveillance in Belarus, intellectuals, however, often underlined that KGB agents conducting surveillance are badly educated and ignorant; they are often people who had merely served in the military or studied in the least-respected universities and departments and who were then employed by the KGB. As a result, many stories tell how dilettantish the work of KGB agents is. One my interviewees (2015, in St. Petersburg), Irina, once a researcher in a Belarusian university, told how she had been going to a conference on political science in Poland. For some reason, the KGB learned about it and invited her for a talk. During the talk, the KGB agent kept asking

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

30

Chapter 1

about her reason for visiting this conference and what the whole conference was about. At some point, Irina got angry and replied that the agent should just read the conference description on its website. The agent confessed: he could not read English but needed the information for his report. According to Irina, this was the last straw; after this encounter, she came to the realization that even special agents are that backward. She decided to move to another country. A Belarusian political joke is a reminder of the lack of professionalism of Belarusian KGB agents or militiamen. “Why do Belarusian KGB agents walk in threes?” “The frst can write, the second can read, and the third must report on these dangerous intellectuals.” Recorded in Tallinn, Estonia (male 2012, with militiamen featuring instead of KGB agents), and Vitebsk (male 2011, with KGB agents featuring). For a Polish version, see (Filip and Steiger 1977, 53). For a Romanian version, see (Banc and Dundes 1986, 99). For a version about Soviet militiamen, see (Draitser 1979, 49).

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Another joke pokes fun at the bureaucracy of the special services, in this case referring to the border control (under the KGB rule in Belarus) and customs: “When did the Second World War start?” “On September 1, 1939.” “And when did the Great Patriotic War [a term used in Soviet and most post-Soviet countries to refer to World War II period starting with the invasion of the Soviet Union by the Nazis] start?” “On June 22, 1941.” “What were Germans doing in between?” “Clearing the Belarusian customs.” Recorded in Minsk (male 2013). For a version about the Polish border, see (Anekdotovstreet, n.d.).

The mixed and contradictory nature of signals about whether the KGB is professional or not is of signifcance. Authoritarian regimes often send costly and biased signals about their strength in an attempt to prevent citizens from coordinating against the state. Citizens, due to misinformation concerning the regime’s strength, cannot fully separate true information from false, despite understanding the state’s incentive to deceive. In this sense, the coherent messages of propaganda that are often considered essential for its success (Edmond 2013) may actually be less strategically effective than imprecise signals.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Why Does the Jelly Tremble?

31

TERRORIST ATTACKS In many countries, upgrades to security policies involving surveillance can reasonably be traced to specifc events. The best known is perhaps the case of the 9/11 attack in the United States, which resulted in a great increase in surveillance and consequently marginalization and prejudice against certain social groups. The United Kingdom’s transition to a maximum surveillance society largely happened as a result of the abduction of a two-year-old from a shopping center (the kidnappers were caught as a result of having been captured on flm) and the London Metro bombing. Belarus had its own moment of public crisis that led to calls for the reinforcement of surveillance. After terrorist attacks in Vitebsk in 2005 (in which ffty-two people were injured) and in Minsk in 2008 (ffty-four people were injured), the Minsk metro was bombed in 2011, and at least ffteen people were killed. Those leading the investigation linked all the terrorist attacks together, and almost immediately two suspects were detained based on obscure and conficting videos from several metro cameras. A lathe operator and a carpenter, both in their early twenties, were executed (capital punishment is still a legal penalty in Belarus) after a very brief trial in which they confessed their guilt. It was still during the trial that I recorded the joke:

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

A day after their arrest, a lathe operator and a carpenter pleaded guilty for the terrorist attacks in London and New York. Recorded in Minsk (male 2011). The joke has versions in other authoritarian humor cycles, e.g. the pharaoh’s mummy pleads being Ramesses XVIII after torture by the Soviets (Melnichenko 2014, 350–351). In the Spanish version, Franco loses his purse and fnds it the next day; by this time, the minister of the Interior has made all of his assistants plead guilty (Garcia 1977, 30).

In addition to the joke, the attacks caused a multiplicity of rumors about those who could have organized it: the United States; President Lukashenko’s son Victor, who headed the KGB; Lukashenko himself; dissidents; extremist organizations; a mentally ill criminal, and so forth. The offcial version provided no explanation of the reasons for the attack or the possible motives of the accused, Dzimitry Kanavalau and Uladzislau Kavaliou. The offcial press covered the court case briefy, mostly sympathizing with the victims of the terrorist attacks; meanwhile, dissident accounts were much more detailed and largely commiserated with the accused and their families. After the sentencing, Alexander Lukashenko refused to grant pardons to them. While the supporters of Lukashenko mostly agreed with the outcome of the case,

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

32

Chapter 1

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

many other people were unsure both about the outcome and about the need for capital punishment. The possibility of the death of an innocent person due to surveillance is too well known to Belarusian citizens, and not only due to memories of the Stalinist terror. Both Kavalyou and Kanavalau were from Vitebsk, a city with a legacy of unfair convictions. In 1970s, serial murderer Gennadii Mikhasevich killed over thirty women in Vitebsk, but before he was fnally detained, fourteen men were convicted of his crimes (and many more were detained). One of them was executed; another lost his sight in prison. The investigation was clandestine; there was no public information about it, and the Vitebsk population remained in fear—women were afraid of the maniac’s attacks, while men were afraid of being convicted. This is just one example of how fears of arbitrary punishment have persisted long after Stalin’s death, and of how the system has endured long after the infamous Gulag camps. Beliefs that the accused, Kavaliou and Kanavalau, lacked both the motives and the qualifcations to make a bomb, along with their surprisingly fast detention, trial, and punishment, left a lot of questions unresolved, and the lack of accountability prompted the emergence of rumors. Although the state offcially closed the case, these questions generated many conspiracy theories about the explosion. The attack took place in the middle of a severe economic crisis in Belarus, during which prices rose and foreign currency was not available for exchange in the banks. As a result, many people thought that the terrorist attack was organized by the government to distract people’s attention from the economic problems and that those accused and executed were just randomly chosen. The bombings in Belarus certainly became a turning point for its citizens’ sense of security. However, in addition to the bombings, the state was also seen as potentially threatening, as one of my interviewees remarked: It was the time just after the Vitebsk terrorist attack, when we got into an argument with my colleague. We started to discuss, how do people know how to make explosives, why are they so good at chemistry? We agreed that it is possible to fnd information about it on the Internet. Next morning, this colleague’s wife retold our conversation in her workplace while having coffee. Her boss got interested, used the Internet, and searched how to make a bomb. He said that there were almost no useful links, just rubbish, they laughed and forgot about it. Closer to lunchtime, a comrade militiaman appeared in uniform, asking the boss for a private talk. The militiaman opened his folder, and there was a considerable printout of the websites the boss had visited. The militiaman asked, “Why do you actually visit these websites, do you know that it is a crime? Be careful, next time do not be so naughty.” I told this story at work, and my colleagues dropped their jaws, concluding, “We should not use the Internet at all, it is so dangerous.” Recorded in Vitebsk (male 2012).

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Why Does the Jelly Tremble?

33

Unanswered questions caused people to make their own inquiries about the case and reinforced the rumors about surveillance, confrming that anyone may become its victim. It is also important to underline the speed of the militia’s reaction to the boss’s misconduct: he looked up how to make a bomb after his morning coffee, and the militiaman appeared before lunchtime. The effciency of the secret services is shown as almost a refex. Although the boss from the interview escaped punishment for his supposed crime, the story about him became a warning for average Belarusians about the state’s might and omnipresence, as the moral at the end shows. In a situation in which there is a lack of knowledge, such rumors become cautionary tales for the citizenry.

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

COMPLAINTS AND DENUNCIATIONS When one of the frst terrorist attacks happened in Vitebsk in 2005, Siarhei, a schoolmate of mine of rather heterodox views, was hosting a Norwegian visitor in his home. Several years after the bombing, in 2013, he told me that another schoolmate of ours and friend of his, Aleksei, had reported this Norwegian tourist to the special services to make sure that this foreigner had not been involved in the attack. Aleksei had been employed at the Belarusian Republican Youth Union—the successor of the USSR’s Leninist communist youth league and the largest youth group in Belarus supported by the Belarusian government and promoting its ideology. Like Aleksei, many of those who are employed in this youth union are committed to its values, sometimes trying to save the country from the threat of potential enemies. Often, young people try to get employed in the Union since it guarantees many benefts and promises a successful career. The Soviet idea of complaint and denunciation for the sake of personal privilege or as part of the struggle against assumed foes seems to have been revived in Belarus. Complaints are sometimes initiated by the supporters of the regime against alternative thinkers, as happened in the story of maverick Siarhei and pro-Lukashenko Aleksei, despite their long acquaintance and companionship. This and similar rumors show that one should always remain alert: even a friend may make a complaint. It is not only terrorism that provokes extreme watchfulness but the politics of the state, making complaints an effective tool used for different purposes. While the U.S. experience of terrorism developed a rubric of “preparedness” or “readiness” (Andrejevic 2007), Belarus developed a rubric of denunciations and complaints not necessarily related to the terrorist attacks. As I demonstrated in the historical overview above, denunciations were encouraged in the territory of the current Belarus for at least two centuries. Current socialist politics also support the value of complaints: surveillance

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

34

Chapter 1

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

of and complaints against neighbors and coworkers in Belarus have been highly effective in practice. For instance, the complaints became an instrument of infuence and punishment under conditions of high unemployment. My interviewees working in different organizations told me about an unspoken rule that three complaints—no matter of what substance—are always followed by a dismissal. The interviewees often stated that the complaints are unsubstantiated, and the one who complains is always regarded de facto as right. Dismissal following a complaint is also menacing due to the widespread belief that it is impossible to fnd another job once dismissed. On the level of discussion, there is general condemnation of those who complain that is refected in a number of pejorative terms used to label the one who complains—shestiorka (“one who cringes”), stukach (“one who knocks”), donoschik (“one who reports”); these terms are synonymous with “informer” or “sneak”—and the corresponding verbs for denoting complaining: shesterit’, stuchat’, donosit’. This vocabulary mostly originated in the prison vocabulary—often in the Gulag camps. As Anne Applebaum writes, Gulag prisoners considered that there was always at least one stukach in the prison cell set by the prison administration to surveil the others. For this, the stukach usually got benefts or got to work less (Applebaum 2006, 164). Despite this condemnation, in practice, participatory surveillance is believed to be highly effcient and widespread. I heard from people working in many state enterprises that every working place has a stukach employed to deliver information about potential dissidence, whether against the enterprise management or against the state. Large enterprises are said to have one in every department. Moreover, many former and current university students mentioned that the same rumors circulate around universities: I studied at the History Faculty, and it was said that every student group has a student recruited to report to the faculty about the political agenda among the students in the group. This rumor that every group has a stukach embedded in it might have just been a method of intimidation to make sure that students talk about protest less so that the faculty would not have problems with it. Yet, I do not disclaim that this rumor might have been true. Recorded in Vitebsk/Minsk in a phone interview (female 2017).

It is essential to underline that the interviewee talks about her experience in the history faculty of the university: in Belarusian universities, students of art, history, and Belarusian language are known to be the most free-thinking, liberal, and dissident, which also means that they are more susceptible to surveillance.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Why Does the Jelly Tremble?

35

SURVEILLANCE OF TELECOMMUNICATIONS During Soviet times, poor phone connections often caused overlap between two separate telephone conversations, and this often generated the belief that KGB agents interfered with them. Today, variations of this rumor are still extremely strong, and political dissidents still report feeling endangered. A former political activist, Andrei, who has now settled down with his family and given up his dissident activities, still feels that he is being surveilled:

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

They may listen to all mobile phone calls. It does not mean that the comrade major is now listening to us, but, as our phones now have microphones, they are switched on and any comrade major may listen to what we are talking about. There is not even a need to make calls for it, it is still possible to listen to a phone that is switched off, even with the battery removed. It is possible since the electrical contour [circuit] connected to the microphone still sends this information to the air. But tapping a phone that is switched off is very expensive, they may fork out the money for it, but only if they really need it for a very important person. The KGB exists, it has its tools. I am still on their list, not erased. When [dissident] meetings are held in town, my phone loses its charge very fast. This means that it constantly works in the heightened regime, because they listen to it. Recorded in Minsk (male 2013).

The recurrent motifs of not being able to avoid surveillance no matter how hard one tries, the vulnerability of (even former) dissidents “on the list,” and danger coming from gadgets are reiterated in this piece. Current sophisticated technology evokes even more beliefs and technical explanations on how surveillance works. One of my interlocutors once suggested that to avoid surveillance on the phone, one has to insert a special code before the conversation. His KGB agent friend shared this code with him, and he states that now he always uses it to avoid surveillance. Another interviewee claimed that Skype is the most diffcult technology to listen in on, although it is still possible, and went on with explanations on how this may be executed. The piece cited above and many other interviews mention the comrade major from the well-known Soviet joke, which is still retold and widely known in Belarus as well as in other post-Soviet countries: A hotel. A room for four with four strangers. Three of them soon open a bottle of vodka and proceed to get acquainted, then drunk, then noisy, singing and telling political jokes. The fourth one desperately tries to get some sleep; fnally, frustrated, he surreptitiously leaves the room, goes downstairs, and asks the lady

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

36

Chapter 1

concierge to bring tea to room 67 in 10 minutes. Then he returns and joins the party. Five minutes later, he bends over an ashtray and says with utter nonchalance: “Comrade major, some tea to room 67, please.” In a few minutes, there’s a knock at the door, and in comes the lady concierge with a tea tray. The room falls silent; the party dies a sudden death, and the joker fnally gets to sleep. The next morning, he wakes up alone in the room. Surprised, he runs downstairs and asks the concierge where his neighbors have gone. “Oh, the KGB has arrested them!” she answers. “B- but . . . but what about me?” asks the guy in terror. “Oh, well, they decided to let you go. You made comrade major laugh a lot with your tea joke” (Blogspot 2006). For a Soviet version, see (Melnichenko 2014, 361–362). Recorded as a reference to the punchline in Minsk (males 2012, 2013) and Vitebsk (male 2014, female 2017).

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

A signifcant iterant motif of this story and the joke it references is the omnipresence of surveillance, when those who do not expect it fnd that they are the objects of watching. This is, perhaps, the main theme of Belarusian surveillance rumors. For instance, one of my interviewees, Nikolai, an employee from the state organization, confessed that he frequently uses his position for gaining personal advantages, complaining about how dangerous such behavior has become recently. He gave the example of his close friend serving another state organization and being accused of bribery. Nikolai complained that the militia knew everything about the crime—the things his friend discussed only with his partner and only on the phone. “Any deal on the phone is dangerous now,” he concluded (recorded in Minsk 2014). My respondents used a reference to another joke that is at least eight centuries old when discussing a particular case and surveillance in general. Two hares meet in a feld. “Why are you running that fast? You are even out of breath!” “Have not you heard the announcement that all camels will now be castrated?” “But you are not a camel.” “Well, yes . . . But they catch and castrate frst, and then you try proving that you are not a camel.” (Melnichenko 2014, 349) Recorded as an idiom referencing the punchline in Vitebsk. (males 2012, 2014, 2015). The frst known occurrence refers to 12th century Iranian sources (Omidsalar 1987). For an Egyptian fox escaping to Libya, see (Shehata 1992, 80). The plot has been widespread in the Soviet Union, Germany (Melnichenko 2014, 349), Romania (Banc and Dundes 1986, 33–34), and the Middle East (Kishtainy 1985, 174). In the Soviet Union, the punchline was also used as an idiom (at least as early as in 1934) to refer to the omnipresence of secret police and the absence of the presumption of innocence in Soviet law (Melnichenko 2014, 349).

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Why Does the Jelly Tremble?

37

The joke is usually referred to as “try proving that you are not a camel,” and, just like the comrade major joke showing that it is impossible to avoid surveillance, it shows that it is impossible to avoid punishment, even for those who are not guilty. Engineers and other technical specialists who participated in my interviews often searched for understanding about how the special services could manage to listen to everyone with a minimum of resources employed. One of the frequent explanations was that there are certain words such as “bribe,” “bomb,” or “president” that the phone system reacts to and automatically taps. These tapes then reach the professionals, and people using such words are carefully surveilled. Many interviews emphasize that the more developed the technology, the more likely it is to serve surveillance purposes. Mobile phones are regarded as much more effective for surveillance than landline phones. It is believed that mobile phones can be listened to even with their battery removed; the smartphone versions are said to provide even more information about the owner. Of course, these rumors appear to be global. In the United States, for instance, civil rights groups are raising serious constitutional questions about the Justice Department’s use of dragnet technology onboard aircraft to collect data from suspects’ smartphones (Frizell 2014). Sometimes I conducted my interviews on Skype, and usage of this channel revealed in unexpected ways fears of talking about politics. For instance, one of my interlocutors ironically noticed that as soon as we started to talk about Lukashenko, the Skype connection became noisy, as if it had been interfered with. Very often, whole stories on Skype surveillance appear on the Internet with multiple comments from users aiming to prove the story. A typical comment (supporting the main story) is: “I also always have a strange noise when I call Ukraine from Belarus . . . They start exactly when we start to discuss life in our countries” (Nadoel 2013). According to the rumors, both phones and Skype are especially subject to tapping when one calls from abroad. For instance, Vladimir, born in Belarus and now living in a European country, commented on calling his parents in Belarus: “They [secret services] listen in; always, when I call home something is like tuk-tuk-tuk [imitating the noise he hears]” (recorded in Vitebsk, male 2012). An IT specialist claimed that Skype and phone surveillance are accompanied by other techniques if necessary, and no one is ever safe: What is the sound that is heard through the Internet? They are the same ones and zeros as in text. It is possible to record it, but it is technically diffcult. Why spend the resources? Once, one of our research institutes started to deal with similar things, including making a flter for 220 volts in order to prevent the attack. Because it is not only ones and zeros that are there, but also electric oscillation. Even in the 1990s, it was possible to connect to the electrical socket in

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

38

Chapter 1

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

the building and get the image from almost any monitor. Tapping the messages from Skype is not a big deal. Recorded in Minsk (male 2013).

Obviously, the rumors about Internet monitoring are not uniquely Belarusian: they are widespread all over the world. As Simon J. Bronner suggests, fear of unwanted viewers, including authorities, generates a folklore of its own: Internet metafolklore (2009, 32). This shapes behavior in situations of perceived surveillance; for instance, Saskia Witteborn describes how migrants from countries like Iran and Cameroon refrain from using Skype and Facebook in Germany due to suspected surveillance by police and government in their home countries (Witteborn 2015, 355). Many countries have been proven to use the Internet as a platform for surveillance. For instance, China, often characterized as one of the most effective totalitarian states, is known for its Golden Shield Project (colloquially referred to as the Great Firewall of China) aimed at censorship and surveillance on the Internet, mainly of groups outlawed by the government (such as those seeking independence for Tibet and the Uighur people). Internet nonconformism is dangerous for any regime, totalitarian or democratic. At the “e-G8” meeting in 2011, only months after the Arab Spring uprisings were partially facilitated by online media, Nicolas Sarkozy, then the French president, suggested that democratically elected governments should control the unaccountable and unruly Internet. Similarly, Mike McConnell, former U.S. director of National Intelligence, has argued for re-engineering the Internet through making geolocation, intelligent analysis, and impact assessment accessible. In his mind, the Internet is a fertile feld for terrorists and criminals due to its current openness (Murakami Wood 2012, 338). The case of Edward Snowden again showed how many ideas of Internet control have already been enacted. So did, for instance, the persecutions of terrorists or dissidents around the world, based on the Internet surveillance. As James Scott suggests, the utopian, immanent and continually frustrated goal of the modern state is to reduce the chaotic, disorderly, and constantly changing social reality beneath it via observation (Scott 1998, 82). The new reality of the Internet is indeed disorderly and changing, and thus it requires intensive observation. The Belarusian government has special reasons to monitor the Internet. Internet media not only partially facilitated the Arab Spring, but it also enabled the Belarusian Revolution via the Social Network (Revoliutsiia cherez socialnuiu set) movement in 2011, which increased the number of participants through the successful promotion of protest on the Internet. Forbidden from protesting openly, the participants got together just to clap ironically for the Belarusian regime instead of chanting protests or, after this protest was suppressed, just to hold a silent protest together without slogans or placards. The dissident mass

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Why Does the Jelly Tremble?

39

media again reported on illegal arrests, beatings, and other events, confrming that the rights of protest organizers, participants, and journalists were violated. It is also claimed that these violations were preceded by surveillance of the Internet accounts of those who were involved in the protests. The belief that telecommunications and computer technology had evolved into a tool that better enabled the invasion of people’s privacy was confrmed. TRADITIONAL BELIEFS Finally, it is important to remember that Belarusian surveillance rumors are not only grounded in the recent global omnipresence of surveillance, Soviet experience, and the current authoritarian state, as well as the increased use of information and communication technology. Such behavior may also be grounded in traditional religious beliefs, such as that of the evil eye:

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

I have heard that in Minsk every café is equipped with a bug and it is better not to discuss certain things, better to do it at home. Indeed, there is a fear of speaking out, of saying something. But it is not only that. For instance, when I plan something, I will never tell it to everyone around because they can cast an evil eye on me, and my plans will not be realized. Or so that the others knew less about you and do not envy you. For instance, my friend once told her colleagues that she had travelled to Lithuania for the weekend and not the Netherlands so that they would not envy her. Recorded in Vitebsk/Minsk in a phone interview (female 2017).

The belief in the evil eye is still very prevalent in Belarus; for instance, most of my female classmates and university mates in their early thirties will rarely post pictures of their newborn children online before they are forty days old: it is only then when, according to the traditional belief, the children have protection against the evil eye. Similarly, in the poor socialist economy, someone’s fnancial success may be seen as depriving others from their equal share of goods, and nobody wants to stick out by being richer and therefore envied. It is similar to what George M. Foster described as the concept of “Limited Good”: studying Mexican villagers, he noticed that they imagine that all the good things in the world were allocated in certain limited amounts. Thus, when someone seems richer or happier than the average, this causes envy: the others feel that he or she deprives them of what should be equally spread in the society. Foster (1965) demonstrated that societies complying with the idea of limited good tend to display strong levels of equality among members and to be strongly resistant to social change. The Belarusian case exemplifes that traditional beliefs in limited good and associated envy intersect with the

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

40

Chapter 1

current political situation too: until recently, Belarusians preferred stability to dissent and change. NO RULES—NO TRUST: SURVEILLANCE AND ACCOUNTABILITY My interviews regarding rumors about surveillance—the only source of information about the issue in Belarus—often show how an innocent person chosen randomly through inevitable omnipresent surveillance receives punishment that does not correspond to his or her actions. There is little wonder that Belarusians are sometimes afraid of joking, thinking freely, communicating with foreigners, mentioning the president, and so on. The possible list of offenses is as long as the list of variations of any folklore genre; many acts can be conceived of as punishable. This creates a climate of fear that was described well by one of my interviewees, a journalist for a dissident newspaper. This fear, manifesting in unverifed rumors, inspires cautious and wary behavior:

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

[Is there a reason for fear in Belarus?] Yes, there is. For instance, when I studied at the university and participated in the events organized by the oppositionists, my parents were saying, “Do not do that, fnish your studies.” When I started to work later, they said the same, “you will lose your job.” In other words, there is always something to lose—that is the basis of fear. That is why people are fred and dismissed. [So, there were real examples of it?] Yes, yes, maybe not too often, but they reinforce the fear. That is to say, when one is dismissed it is not a big deal—you will not blare about it all over Europe. But it is the fear for the population, they will be afraid. Recorded in Minsk (female 2013).

In democratic countries, “common law, statute or common procedure codes determine the range of powers at the disposal of the police to discharge these tasks” (Early 1993, 806). Of course, many techniques remain concealed, but in general, the activities of the state are meant to be open for public discussion. Meanwhile, totalitarian surveillance is characterized by very close, even paranoid attention to the personal lives of citizens, as is known, for instance, from the Stasi archives (Murakami Wood 2012, 334). Nondemocratic surveillance regimes “bring more practices to the attention of surveillance agencies, but they do so in ways that are not openly accountable” (Brighenti 2010, 64). The difference lies in the lack of accountability. The Belarusian state does not feel obliged to report its safety measures to the people. Referring to the

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Why Does the Jelly Tremble?

41

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

most famous metaphor of Foucault, the difference in surveillance in the two types of societies is whether prison inmates see the watchman on duty and act accordingly, or whether they assume that they are always being watched and consequently discipline themselves. Moreover, Belarusian law still contains the rudiments of Soviet law and does not allow its citizens to know why or how they might be punished. Belarusian schools still teach lessons, as in Soviet times, on how to survive a nuclear attack (presumably coming from the West) but provide no education on law. The lack of both general legal education and of a body of professionals who could explain the laws makes the Belarusian legal system opaque. It is therefore unsurprising that threats are perceived everywhere. While there are certain hints in vernacular knowledge about what to do to avoid prosecution (e.g., one should not tell a political joke or host a foreigner), there remains plenty of space for speculating about potential threats and searching for potential dangers in many acts. Unfamiliarity with the rules, along with the disbelief that there actually are working rules, leads Belarusians to interpret many deeds as potentially risky. Intimidated, they employ self-discipline and self-censorship to avoid the risks. Whether rumors about surveillance are true or not, these narratives, characterized by recurrent themes and circulating in multiple versions, fortify the ideology of the panopticon by creating the sense of perpetual surveillance. The truth about them remains unverifed through institutional authority. Like the supposed epitaph of the hypochondriac that reads: “I told you I was sick,” rumors about surveillance may well be true, which in turn expands the genre of surveillance discourse. As I show in chapter 2, surveillance rumors shape the joke-telling context in Belarus, not only leading to the popularity of political jokes on surveillance but also contributing to the practice of joking about the fear of surveillance and even to political metajoking, as I show in chapter 3.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved. Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Chapter 2

Why Do All Dictators Have Moustaches?

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Political Jokes in the Authoritarian State

At least since the early 2000s, a joke consisting of just one question has been circulating on the Internet: “Why do all the dictators have moustaches?” (Anekdot​.​ru 2001). This joke is quite different from a classic narrative joke with a punchline. Its listener is supposed to think for a moment, realize that indeed, most well-known dictators have had moustaches, and smile from this realization. A list of mustachioed dictators usually follows the joke to ensure that its recipients are given more examples in addition to those they thought of themselves: Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Augusto Pinochet, Mouammar Gaddaf, Saddam Hussein, Benito Mussolini, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Francisco Franco, Fernando Romeo Lucas García, Robert Mugabe, Bashar al-Assad—all of them have moustaches, including Alexander Lukashenko. In this chapter, however, I do not argue for the deterministic role of having a moustache to becoming a dictator; instead, I hope to show that the moustache joke is a perfect metaphor that is instrumental for understanding contemporary political jokes, especially within authoritarian regimes. First, in this chapter, I will demonstrate that just like a moustache joke, contemporary political jokes take a variety of unconventional forms, not only narrative ones. Second, I show that the type of the regime, in this case, authoritarian, determines the repertoire of political jokes. To remember James Scott’s domination and resistance theory, every rule or public transcript has its corresponding “dirty linen” (1990, 19). Just like every authoritarian leader has a moustache, every authoritarian state has a certain political humor that is shared by other authoritarian countries. Because of this, many variations on the same joke about authoritarianism and its leaders emerge in authoritarian regimes from Cuba to Belarus by just changing the protagonist from Fidel Castro to Alexander Lukashenko. 43

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

44

Chapter 2

To analyze the repertoire of jokes in verbal circulation in contemporary Belarus, however, it is essential to understand the rich Soviet joke tradition, which was and still is peculiar to Belarus. Both Soviet and contemporary nondemocratic regimes have provided fertile ground for the circulation of political jokes and for recycling the same templates to apply to every new authoritarian leader. SOVIET POLITICAL JOKES

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

In Western scholarship, Soviet and socialist political jokes became known as “the longest, largest and most widespread instance of humor as social protest” (Davies 2007, 291). Conversely, the very frst Soviet researchers of political jokes did not view them simply as a protest; rather, they saw them as a means to vent “the passion and vexation” of the transitional period (Pertsov 1927, 42) or as a means to comprehend new realities (Shklovskii 1922, 63). In a similar vein, the editor of the most exhaustive and seminal Soviet joke collection, Misha Melnichenko, suggests that the transmission of identical political knowledge from Moscow to Vladivostok and the need for its comprehension became an environment that fostered the circulation of the new folklore genre: the jokes spread quickly because the information they transmitted was known to both joke-teller and audience all over the new Soviet state (Melnichenko 2014, 10). However, with the beginning of Stalin’s rule in the 1920s, political jokes became illegal. The joke-tellers and those who did not report on them were subject to Article 58.10 on “Anti-Soviet agitation”; at least 7 percent of court cases under 58.10 related to the performance and dissemination of anti-Soviet jokes, songs, rhymes, or simply political folklore (as of 1935, for instance [Arkhipova and Melnichenko 2011, 36]). The few joke records from these years sometimes describe this context: A person told a political joke about Stalin, who had asked a shoemaker to make shoes for him: “If you make good shoes, I will order that the newspapers write about you.” The shoemaker answered: “Please, do not order this! People will kill me.” The joke-teller was then sentenced to ten years in prison (account from 1930s translated from [Arkhipova and Melnichenko 2011, 246]).

I have not found instances of punishment for the Stalin moustache jokes, although the moustache jokes and references were many; for instance, according to one court case (1947), prisoners were using a newspaper photo of Stalin as toilet paper because, as they had said jokingly, Stalin’s moustache made it softer (Arkhipova and Melnichenko 2011, 268). In the 1930s,

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Why Do All Dictators Have Moustaches?

45

Russian poet Osip Mandelstam wrote Epigram against Stalin, which included the line “his cockroach moustache seems to snicker,” and which brought him to a Gulag camp under the same article. In 1935, NKVD issued a directive “categorically” forbidding “the direct quotation of counterrevolutionary expressions which contain sharp and abusive language, anti-Soviet jokes, obscenities, etc. directed towards the leaders of the Party and government” in the offcial records. Moreover, the Soviet state under Stalin applied the practice of retroactive justice: many joke-tellers were arrested more than a full year after they had made their joke or humorous comment, when stricter punishments for joke-telling were enforced (Waterlow 2018, 158, 160–161). The punishments for anti-Soviet agitation in general and joke-telling in particular decreased after the death of Stalin in 1953 and the denouncement of Stalin’s cult of personality by Nikita Khrushchev in 1965. Historian Vladimir Kozlov, however, shows how minor the change was with the help of a joke: “The new situation [of Khrushchev in power] could be considered a liberation only if compared to the times of Stalin’s terror, when life, just like in the old joke, resembled an old tram in which ‘half of the people sits [sidit] and the other half shakes and waits to be seated’” (in Russian, “sitting” also refers to spending a term in prison) (Kozlov 2002, 83). Another moustache joke describes further change that came with the rule of Leonid Brezhnev (1964–1982) for the worse: “‘Enough for jokes,’ Brezhnev said with a Georgian accent and glued his eyebrows under his nose” (Melnichenko 2014, 269). After the slight softening of the Soviet regime during Khrushchev’s Thaw, the return of repression was exemplifed in this joke about Brezhnev wearing his famous large eyebrows as a moustache and behaving like Stalin. The fear of telling jokes decreased, yet it persisted through the rule of later leaders, Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko (in power 1982–1985). Just like telling jokes, the study of jokes in the Soviet Union was not possible from the late 1920s until 1989. Even the most well-known Russian folklorist, Vladimir Propp, had to refuse to recognize jokes as an independent genre. He wrote, “Do the jokes represent an actual kind of a tale or not? . . . To our mind, it is not a special kind of folk creativity” (Propp 1964, 59). This argument by the world-famous folk narrative researcher, however, might relate to his nine-month arrest and accusations of counter-revolutionary activity (Propp was German in origin, and he was accused of collaborating with a German cultural organization pursuing the preservation of German culture in the Soviet Union) and subsequent caution in writing (Ivanova 2009, 496–497). Despite the relative softening of the regime after Stalin’s death, repressions against many other folklorists and joke-tellers certainly inspired caution within the associated scholarship (ibid. 488–515).

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

46

Chapter 2

The joke genre was mentioned very briefy and rarely in publications during the late Soviet period; when jokes were mentioned, they were compared with other genres: tales, novels, and even epics (Iudin 1978; Kostiukhin 1987, 131). It was only in the very late Soviet era that the frst-known academic publication on jokes appeared in Tallinn in the edited volume Genres of the Oral Texts. Jokes (Belousov 1989). A boom of joke studies followed this publication. Despite generally accepted ideas about the enormous popularity of Soviet jokes, very few sources of these jokes are available. They include very scarce professional collections of Soviet citizens, occasional joke collections compiled by foreign visitors (e.g., journalists), emigrant publications, court cases (in cases in which people were punished for telling a joke), memoirs, diaries, and notes. These limited sources often pose research problems. Many jokes are hard to decipher from handwriting and diffcult to reconstruct from shortenings. Their dates, especially when it comes to nonprofessional publications, are sometimes questionable. Since lots of jokes were recorded by and from emigrants, this might have infuenced the collections: they could have chosen jokes which denigrated the life they had left behind, and thus the joke repertoire may have been selective (Thurston 1991, 542). It is not clear how many of these jokes were really told and how many belong to fakelore which was never retold, for instance, beyond the emigrants’ press. A larger number of potential sources remain in closed archives in Russia. Finally, research into political jokes often focuses on the later Soviet period, since there is slightly more data available (Davies 2007; Yurchak 1997). In general, research into Soviet jokes has mostly been done through turning back to the written sources with the main aim of grasping the uniqueness of extinct totalitarian jokes, how they functioned, and why they were so abundant. Statements concerning the uniqueness of Soviet political jokes are often followed by the popular lament that political jokes are now extinct. When presenting on political jokes, I often received this comment based on the comparison with Soviet or socialist political humor, which frst thrived and then supposedly died out with the collapse of the Soviet Union and other socialist states. However, contemporary research into post-Soviet jokes has demonstrated that political humor in post-Soviet states is still a vibrant tradition (Alekseevsky 2010; Arkhipova 2012). More than that, political jokes have evolved in their structure, pragmatics, and functions. In this chapter, I elaborate upon the contents of the verbal joke repertoire of Belarus to show how popular the verbal jokes in Belarus have remained (without even talking about the Internet tradition). Belarusian political jokes continue to be popular due to the long Soviet tradition as well as the conditions of the contemporary Belarusian authoritarian regime.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Why Do All Dictators Have Moustaches?

47

IN THE CONTEMPORARY AUTHORITARIAN STATE: FEARS AND JOKES

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Even though there is no contemporary law equivalent to Soviet Article 58.10, which was often applied to joke-tellers, the Belarusian criminal code does include three similar articles: Article 367 (Defamation against the President), Article 368 (Insult against the President of Belarus), and Article 369 (Insult of a Representative of Power). Those convicted of violating these articles are subject to fnes, imprisonment, or bonded labor. Obviously, the Belarusian state does not broadcast the news about people being punished for a joke, yet the rumors persist. One of the rumors I recorded about punishment for a joke is about Lukashenko’s moustache too: [Do people tell jokes?] Of course, nobody tells jokes on TV, but people tell more and more jokes at home and in the streets. There has been a case when the person was fred for a joke, although I don’t think it was followed by criminal punishment. This happened in 2002–2003, perhaps a bit later. I think it happened when Baranavichi University opened, and they had a student competition in humor there, and their team told the joke about Lukashenko, and these students’ teacher was immediately fred. He was a faculty member and the head of the department. His students told this famous joke about the person who got hands stitched and so on, have you heard it? [No.] So, a symposium of world doctors takes place. The Americans begin: “We are the coolest doctors. We had a case: a person did not have hands, we stitched new hands to him, and in fve years he became the best piano player in the United States.” The audience gives a prolonged ovation to them. Then there is the Germans’ turn, they say, “This is nothing! We respect your achievements, but we have done much more. We had a person without legs. We stitched legs to him, and he won the Olympic Games in running.” The audience goes into ecstasies. Then there is the Belarusian turn, they say, “Well, what you do is cool of course, but we also want to share our experience. There was a person who had an ass in the place of his face. We stitched a moustache to this ass, and in fve years he became the president.” Recorded in Minsk (male 2013); a version about American, Swiss, and Belarusian doctors’ congress was recorded in Minsk (male 2013); a version about Jewish, German, and Belarusian congress was recorded in Vitebsk (male 2016). For a version about American, French, and Soviet doctors (the latter stitching ears to an ass and getting Nikita Khrushchev), see (Melnichenko 2014, 257); for

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

48

Chapter 2

a version about French, English, and Egyptian surgeons (the latter replacing a nonworking human brain with a monkey brain and getting Hosni Mubarak), see (Shehata 1992, 85); for a version about American, Russian, and Mexican doctors (the latter found a man without a brain, put an avocado pit in its place, and he became president of the republic), see (Schmidt 2014, 160); for a version about Jewish, German, and Mexican doctors (with the latter taking a brainless, heartless, and cowardly rancher and making him president), see (Schmidt 2014, 216–217).

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Another interviewee currently living in Estonia told a story about a teacher who performed a joke about Lukashenko in front of her colleagues at school while drinking coffee and eating cake during the school recess. The interviewee “was personally told” about how the colleagues had reported on the teacher for this joke, and she had lost her job. Lukashenko and his three sons are on a plane and he asks them: “Sons, what shall I do to make the Belarusian people happy?” The sons start to offer different ideas. The frst son says: “Let’s throw 300 dollars to the Belarusian people. This will make them happy.” The second son suggests, “No, this is too much; moreover, we are having a fnancial crisis now, so Belarusians will be happy about anything. Let’s throw just ffty dollars, this will be cheaper, but fun.” The youngest son says, “Daddy, let’s just throw you, this is how we can make Belarusians the happiest ever!” Recorded in Tallinn (male, 2012), Vitebsk (females 2012 and 2013), Minsk (male 2013, female 2013). In another version, it is only the youngest son Kolia who drops out 100,000, 200,000, and 300,000 dollars to make some Belarusian who picks it up happy, and then the pilot suggests that Kolia should drop his father to make the whole country happy. The earliest known version of this plot was recorded in 1937 about Stalin (Melnichenko 2014, 228–229); later versions were about Stalin and the Politburo; Hitler, Goering and Goebbels; Wilhelm Pieck and Otto Grotewohl; Khrushchev and Bulganin (Melnichenko 2014, 231, 405); Franco, his children, grandchildren, the Marques de Villaverde [Franco’s son-in-law], and Prince Juan Carlos (Brandes 1977, 340); Donald Trump (Imgur 2016); Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, and Juan Almeida Bosque (Arkhipova and Alejandrez 2013, 203). Arkhipova and Alejandrez mention the rumor which circulated in Cuba about a Cuban arrested for several days for telling another plane joke in which the plane is about to crash, Cubans hang on the luggage shelves, but Fidel Castro makes them applaud his speech and they fall (2013, 193).

Since I started to do feldwork in 2011, I have collected 140 jokes in a variety of forms (from full recitals to references to punchlines). Altogether, they

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Why Do All Dictators Have Moustaches?

49

constitute sixty-seven joke plots or types, some more popular than others. For instance, I collected ten texts of the most popular joke about Lukashenko sorting potatoes: So, Lukashenko is in his offce, and the telephone rings. He answers: “Good, bad, good, bad . . .” His subordinates around are bewildered. He hangs up the phone and says: “These people cannot even sort potatoes without me.” Recorded in Moscow (female 2012), Minsk (males 2011, 2012, 2015, female 2014), Tallinn, Estonia (males 2011 and 2012), Vitebsk (male 2011, female 2013), Stockholm (male 2017). For a Russian version with an ensign in the army as the protagonist, see (Smeshok, n.d.).

People use jokes in a variety of forms, and the more popular a joke is, the more likely it is to form an idiom, a reference to a full joke that serves as a commentary on various situations. Since both my respondents and I belong to the same culture, such references did not require explanation or the recital of the full joke, for example,

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

He [Lukashenko] is a parody of a dictator, even if you compare him to Stalin, Stalin’s personnel politics was much more logical. Some changes in high ranks were the objective there: the division of power. I am not talking about civilized countries; they have everything there. In our country, Lukashenko knows everything: how to build a house, milk a cow, or sort potatoes . . . . Recorded in Minsk (male 2012); a reference to this joke is also recorded in Vitebsk (female 2014, 2015).

The fact that we both recognized the reference to the joke about sorting potatoes gave us a feeling of having common knowledge and background (ignoring the fact that the joke could well exist in the Russian or Cuban repertoire as well). Other popular jokes often used as references are the one about the comrade major in the hotel and those revolving around someone’s attempts to prove that they are not a camel, which I mentioned in the “Surveillance of Telecommunications” section of chapter 1. It is usually very popular jokes (like the one about Lukashenko sorting potatoes) or a long and complicated but well-known Soviet joke (like those concerning the KGB major from chapter 1) that become the point of reference. The jokes told in oral interviews often emerged on their own as comments or amplifcations of the interviewee’s thoughts, although in some cases, the circumstances differed, as when I requested the interviewee to tell a joke. Any joke collector knows that the most dubious and awkward way of collecting jokes is just asking someone to tell a joke. In my case, a request for a political

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

50

Chapter 2

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

joke was more than a challenge to performance skills: the respondents were invited to confront their own fears and beliefs. Sometimes, I started with a question: “So many people are afraid to tell jokes; what do you think about it?” Very often, the answers contained speculations on the fears described above as well as a joke often told to show that “I am not afraid.” In this book, I present the jokes people told when asked about “political jokes,” and, as I show below, the emic understanding of “political jokes” appeared to be much broader than etic defnitions. I should also underline that the jokes I include in this book are mostly from the oral joke repertoire—jokes people actually tell as opposed to Internet jokes (I reference only a few Internet jokes, mostly in chapter 6). I recorded most of the texts in Russian: ninety-seven from males and fortythree from females. This seems to be quite a usual situation, at least in (post-) socialist states: for instance, Alexandra Arkhipova and Manolo Alejandrez, who collected jokes in Cuba, mention that they wanted to record jokes from both men and women, but the latter avoided telling jokes (2013, 195). Similarly, Nancy Ries, who did her feldwork in 1990s Russia, describes the joke as a male genre with the help of which men demonstrate their cynicism and indifference (2005, 79). Out of 273 cases of arrestees punished for telling political jokes that Jonathan Waterloo uses as a sample for Stalin joke research in his book, only 15 percent were female. However, he acknowledges that NKVD local agents might not take women’s jokes seriously and consider them worthy of punishment (Waterlow 2018, 175–177), which is why the gender proportion of joke-tellers in this and other situations should be looked at critically. Similarly, it might be that I simply did not happen to meet enough women who do tell political jokes. The verbal jokes I collected are published throughout the book. In this chapter, I publish many representative jokes to describe the main features of the Belarusian political repertoire. The frst of these features is that most of the Belarusian political jokes are not exclusively Belarusian. VARIATIONS IN OTHER AUTHORITARIAN REGIMES AND BEYOND As Banc and Dundes noted, “Political jokes protesting the suppression of civil liberties are remarkably fexible, and they are often equally applicable to both right and left wing totalitarian regimes” (1986, 9). From the very beginning of my research, I realized that many Belarusian jokes have equivalents in other languages and cultures, and I took the argument of Banc and Dundes as a hypothesis to test. I decided to fnd out how many of Belarusian joke types I recorded are present in other, especially nondemocratic, regimes. For this, I

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Why Do All Dictators Have Moustaches?

51

went through scholarly collections of jokes. I was primarily interested in the collections on nondemocratic regimes, such as

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

• Soviet jokes (Arkhipova and Melnichenko 2011; Krikmann 2004; Melnichenko 2014); • Jokes about Francisco Franco (Brandes 1977; Ferra 2016; Pi-Sunyer 1977; Tauste and García [pseud. of José García Martínez] 2006); • Cuban Fidel and Raul Castro jokes (Arkhipova and Alejandrez 2013); • Nicolae Ceaușescu jokes (Banc and Dundes 1986; Cochran 1989); • Occasional jokes from other professional collections I found included those on the Argentinian dictatorship (Roekel 2016), Burma (Colman and Searle 2009), Czechs under the Nazis (Bryant 2006; Obrdlik 1942), authoritarian Eritrea (Bozzini 2013), Norway under the Nazis (Stokker 1997), East Germany (Stein 1989), Egypt (Helmy and Frerichs 2013; Shehata 1992), Mexico (Schmidt 1990, 2014), Italy under Mussolini (Mascha 2011), Azerbaijan (Pearce and Hajizada 2014), Zimbabwe (Musangi 2012), Syria (Camps-Febrer 2012), Iran (Rezaei 2016), Greece (Orso 1979), and Macedonia (Brown 1995). Some joke collections contain multiple references to their variants, and I use these references too, when relevant. The list above does not cover all possible sources of political jokes, and these publications contain a varying number of jokes (some fewer and some more), but intersections with these sources are very telling. In addition, I Googled every joke punchline in Russian, English, and Spanish in order to fnd more potential equivalents on the Internet. Out of the sixty-seven Belarusian joke types I recorded, at least fftythree—the majority—have versions in other countries, as shown in table 2.1. The Belarusian case corresponds to other tendencies of authoritarian jokes: for instance, Arkhipova and Alejandrez show that at least 32 percent of the Cuban political jokes they recorded had Soviet and socialist counterparts (2013, 199) and perhaps even more beyond the Soviet and socialist repertoire. As could be expected, most of the intersections are with Soviet jokes (twenty-eight types) and post-Soviet Russian jokes (nineteen); others include (East) German (eight), Romanian (six), Polish (fve), Spanish (three), Ukrainian (three), Cuban (two), Jewish (one), Iranian (one), Korean (one), United States (one), contemporary Serbian (one), and Estonian (one) variants, and the lessexpected Mexican (six) or Egyptian (two) intersections. Many jokes might have simultaneously circulated, for instance, in Romania during the Soviet/ Ceaușescu era, while the connections with Mexico were less established, which is why it is quite curious to fnd so many intersections within its repertoire. The Franco Spanish joke case is also quite interesting: one of the jokes is

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

52

Chapter 2

about the emigration crisis in Spain under Franco, and later it became popular during similar emigration crises in Serbia, Estonia, and Belarus. In Belarus, I recorded this joke primarily after the fnancial crisis of 2011–2012 when many Belarusians who lost their jobs or whose salaries and savings decreased notably moved to other countries, primarily Russia, for employment. National airport Minsk-2. The announcement on the doors: “Dear passengers! We would kindly request one of you who will be the last to leave Belarus to turn off the lights.” Recorded in Vitebsk (male 2013, female 2013). For a version about the Spanish leaving for Argentina, see (Garcia 1977, 101–102). According to my students’ accounts, the same joke has been told in Serbia and Estonia. The same joke in which Spaniards were requested to turn off the lights in the country when they leave for Argentina was also told about Franco’s Spain in the times of economic decay.

However, another fnancial crisis joke is unique to the Belarusian repertoire:

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

In Belarus, there are three degrees of poverty. First: no money. Second: no money at all. Third: no money at all, it is time to exchange dollars. Recorded in Vitebsk (male 2013).

The joke laughs at the fact that Belarusians keep their savings in dollars (because of the high infation of the Belarusian roubles) and only extreme need may make them change and spend these dollars. There were only fourteen joke types from Belarus for which I did not fnd non-Belarusian equivalents, which can be largely explained by the contents of these uniquely Belarusian jokes. They are either cases of (1) untranslatable wordplay which would not be applicable to jokes about other leaders and nationalities (see the do Koli joke from the section above, “The Last Dictatorship of Europe”), or (2) real quotations from Lukashenko’s speeches which seemed amusing to people and which they told when requested to tell a “political joke” (see more in the section below, “Unconventional Forms of Jokes”). Interestingly, Belarusian political jokes also have equivalents in nonpolitical joke cycles. The popular joke about Lukashenko sorting potatoes mentioned above is also told about the military with an anonymous praporshchik (a Russian military rank) instead of Lukashenko as the protagonist. Similarly, the following joke often features a student passing his exams in the university rather than Lukashenko: The journalists ask Lukashenko, “How many languages do you know?” “Five.”

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Why Do All Dictators Have Moustaches?

53

“Really, fve?” “Well, the frst one is written Russian, the second one is oral Russian, the third one is written Belarusian, the fourth one is oral Belarusian, the ffth one is English.” “What do you know in English?” “Hände hoch!” [‘Hands up!’ in German: this phrase is a common knowledge and has been stereotypically associated with Germans probably since World War II]. “But this is German.” “Oh, then I know six languages.” Recorded in Vitebsk (female 2013) and Minsk (male 2014). For a version about Stalin, see (Melnichenko 2014, 236), for a version about a student passing an exam in languages, see (Astapova 2016, 355).

Certain jokes produce more versions, including nonpolitical ones, than others. This implies a phenomenon much wider than the simple inheritance of jokes from one dictatorship to another: some joke plots become productive and easily adaptable for various situations and countries due to their fexibility, and they serve very well to characterize hierarchical relations, whether in authoritarian regimes, in the army or in universities. They are easy to remember and rework for any situation involving power relations. In the following section, I give examples of strategies used to adapt the same joke for various needs. Strategies of Adaptation

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Various schemes of adaptation used by fexible joke plots are especially transparent in the case of political jokes, since this very fexibility facilitates their variety. Below, I enumerate the main strategies of plot adaptation for the creation of new joke variants for new political or cultural contexts. 1. Change of the protagonist(s) The easiest way to change the joke is to change its protagonist, and there are multiple examples of such a strategy. A more complicated example is three-party jokes, in which all three protagonists change to correspond to the contemporaneous political agenda. Compare: Lukashenko and Obama argue: is it America or Belarus that is more democratic? Obama insists that it is the US, saying that everybody there may shout out that Obama is a fool in front of the White House and get away with it. Lukashenko says, “What kind of argument this is: everybody can shout out ‘Obama is a fool

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

54

Chapter 2

at Ploshcha [the main square in Minsk where the protests are usually held]’ and get away with it!” Recorded in Vitebsk (female 2014). and Stalin has an argument with Roosevelt: whose country is more democratic. Roosevelt says, “People may go out and shout ‘Roosevelt is a fool!’ in front of the White House, and they will not be punished.” Stalin answers, “No, our country is more democratic. Everyone may go out to the Red Square and shout ‘down with Roosevelt!’, and they will not be punished!” (Krikmann 2004, 190; Melnichenko 2014, 606). For a version about Franco, see (Garcia 1977, 98; Tauste and García [pseud. of José García Martínez] 2006).

2. Change of circumstances and details

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Often, not only protagonists change but also the circumstances of the joke. Such is the case concerning the moustache joke (see the section above, “In the Contemporary Authoritarian State: Fears and Jokes”), which has ears stitched to an ass to get Lukashenko in the Belarusian version, has a damaged human brain replaced with a monkey brain to get Hosni Mubarak in the Egyptian version, has an avocado pit in the place of the president’s brain in the Mexican version, and so forth. All these instances, however, take place within the framework of rivalries between surgeons of different countries. Another example of a popular joke varies not only in its protagonists but also in a small detail: the driver of the authoritarian leader kills either a dog or a swine. Lukashenko and his driver drive in the village, and the driver hits a swine with a car. Lukashenko is himself from the countryside, he understands that this may be a trouble for the village people, and he is an honest man, so he gives the money to his driver and sends him to fnd the owner of the swine and pay him. The driver leaves and is absent for quite a while. Finally, he comes back totally drunk. Lukashenko asks him, “Where did you get so drunk?” The driver replies, “I put the swine into a sack, went into the village, and told to the locals, ‘I am a driver of Lukashenko and I killed this swine.’ And then all of a sudden all of them started pouring vodka for me.” Recorded in Vitebsk (male 2018) and Minsk (male 2013). For versions with a dog instead of a swine, see (Melnichenko 2014, 860); for versions about Hitler and Walter Ulbricht and a dog, see (Abrahams and

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Why Do All Dictators Have Moustaches?

55

Wukasch 1967, 8). The rest of the versions are about a swine: about Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovich (Anekdot​ .​ ru 2004), Mexican president Carlos Salinas (Schmidt 2014, 183), Soviet leaders Nikita Khrushchev (Banc and Dundes 1986, 154–155) and Leonid Brezhnev (Paruit 1978, 55), and Greek president Georgios Papadopoulos (Orso 1979, 6).

3. Change or removal of a frame The change of the plot within a certain frame is also a productive mechanism for the formation of new jokes. This is the case for the frame “the leader disguises himself and goes to check how his people live” (K1812.17 King in disguise to spy out his own kingdom in Stith Thompson’s Motif Index of Folk Literature [1955–1958]). Compare:

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Lukashenko decided to learn the truth of what his people thought about him. He disguised himself in rags and in the evening went to the market. He went up to a butcher and asked, “How much is a kilo?” “200 roubles.” “Why is it so expensive?” “Because our president is a jerk.” Lukashenko was insulted and decided to teach this scum a lesson and scare him. The next day, he comes in his suit by limousine. He comes up to the same butcher and asks the same question. The butcher answers, “200 roubles.” “Why is it so expensive?” “I told you yesterday, jerk!” Recorded in Minsk (male 2013). See a series of jokes with a frame about a disguised leader going out to see how his people live, for example (Thurston 1991, 544). For a version about Andropov, see (Melnichenko 2014, 305); for a version about Stalin, see (Arkhipova and Melnichenko 2011, 278). and Once Stalin decided to check how his people live, to walk around the city and go shopping. Molotov [Bolshevik politician and diplomat] asks him, “Why? We report everything to you: people live well, they are happy . . . And it is not safe. The Shpiks [Shpiki, former members of the Tsarist secret police] and terrorists are being sent by imperialists. We certainly catch them, but it is not easy to reveal them all at once.” “I will put on makeup in order to remain unrecognized.” Molotov arranged goods to be brought to one of the shops and sent chekists [members of Cheka, the frst Soviet secret police organization] and their wives

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

56

Chapter 2

as the buyers. He drives Stalin to this shop. The leader goes in. He sees that there are not many customers buying anything. He decides to buy a hundred grams of butter, and hands in a receipt to the shop assistant. “Take more,” the assistant says. “Why? I can take more tomorrow if I need.” “Fool! Tomorrow the shelves will be empty. Today this bastard is shopping, observing how his people live. That is why there are goods in the shops!” (Arkhipova and Melnichenko 2011, 278).

The frame of the disguised leader can be found far beyond contemporary political jokes. It exists in fairy tales, anecdotes about Peter the Great (Arkhipova and Melnichenko 2011, 108), and even in written works (e.g., The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain). It is very effective and may be found in various narratives that characterize power relations. The joke may also change, be extended or amplifed, or the punchline may be altered, making the initial structure well suited to further transformation and multiplication of its versions in different situations. At the same time, the frame may be easily removed or altered in case it is not particularly relevant to the plot in question. In the following examples, Stalin asks his questions incognito and Lukashenko or Franco are not disguised:

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Stalin goes to a factory incognito and speaks to a worker. “Who is your father?” he asks the man. “Stalin,” replies the worker. “Who is your mother?” is the next question. “The Soviet Union,” the man replies. “What would you like to be?” “An orphan,” the worker says. Lukashenko comes to Kolia’s school. All the pupils are prepared for his visit to answer his questions in the right way. He asks a boy, “Who is your mother?” “Belarus.” Lukashenko is very satisfed by the patriotism of the boy. He asks then, “And who is your father?” “Lukashenko.” Lukashenko is even happier. He asks his last question, “What would you like to be when you grow up and can choose?” “An orphan.” Recorded in Minsk (male 2013). For a version about Stalin, see (Thurston 1991, 544). For a version about Franco, see (Garcia 1977, 9; Pi-Sunyer 1977, 182). For a version about Khrushchev and Ulbricht walking in Moscow and Khrushchev asking a little boy about his father and mother, see (Banc and Dundes 1986, 157–158). See also a Nazi version (Hirche 1964, 163) and a Polish version about Gomulka (Durocher 1965, 120).

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Why Do All Dictators Have Moustaches?

57

The ultimate mechanism for creating new jokes from existing ones is metajoking: creating jokes about jokes, which is so productive in popular joke cycles that such jokes become a phenomenon in themselves. Political jokes can thus employ a number of strategies for transformation from one version to another. However, certain plots tend to be more effective for authoritarian jokes than others. AUTHORITARIANISM IN BELARUSIAN JOKES

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

As Douglas Ayling suggests, the range of political jokes in circulation under any given government resonates with the lived experience of the joke-tellers. To prove this hypothesis, he undertook an experiment. Ayling analyzed political jokes in three types of regimes: totalitarian (characterized by an elaborate guiding ideology), posttotalitarian (with growing empirical disjunction between offcial ideological claims and reality), and authoritarian (those that that concentrate power in the hands of a leader), using the examples of the Third Reich, post-Soviet Russia, and Franco’s Spain, respectively. Ayling looked at the repertoire of jokes of each regime, and although I acknowledge the drawbacks of such research (e.g., different numbers of jokes in different sources, diffculties in verifying the sources), I think the conclusions he drew are nonetheless interesting. He showed that in totalitarian regimes, jokes are mostly about ideology and the state apparatus; in posttotalitarian regimes, they tend to focus on the disjunction between offcial claims and reality; and in authoritarian states, they are mostly about authoritarian leaders. Compared to posttotalitarian and totalitarian jokes, jokes in authoritarian regimes are almost never about ideology (Ayling, n.d.). The results of Ayling’s study have been echoed in other case studies, for instance, in research on the authoritarian regime of Franco (Pi-Sunyer 1977; Valentín 1987), current jokes in Zimbabwe (Macintyre 2008), and late Table 2.1  Political Jokes in Different Regimes Regimes

Examples

Totalitarian

Third Reich

Posttotalitarian

Post-Soviet Russia

Authoritarian

Franco’s Spain

Peculiarities of the Regime

Peculiarities of Jokes

Elaborate guiding ideology Weakened commitment to or faith in utopia Power concentrated in the hands of a leader

Against the state apparatus and ideology Showing empirical disjunction between official ideological claims and reality Target the authoritarian leader; the smallest proportion of jokes on ideology

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

58

Chapter 2

socialist or postsocialist jokes in the Soviet Union (Krikmann and Laineste 2009; Laineste 2008; Yurchak 1997). While Franco and Zimbabwean jokes are more likely to concentrate on the authoritarian leader, (post-)socialist jokes laugh at the discrepancies between ideology and real life. Following Ayling’s hypothesis, I counted how many jokes in authoritarian Belarus concern the president and noted that at least forty-four out of the sixty-seven (two-third) joke types I collected are about Lukashenko, which corresponds to the regime type in question. Since authoritarian regimes are structurally less inclined to manifest coherent or explicitly articulated ideology, their jokes concentrate on the leaders who have been in power for extended periods of time. Since Lukashenko’s state does not have an explicit ideology (it is rather incoherent and weak if compared to its Leninist-Marxist predecessor), Belarusian jokes concentrate on Lukashenko himself as the head of the regime. Similar are the numbers for Franco’s Spain: 70 percent of jokes were about Franco (Ayling, n.d.). As Garcia writes in his collection of Franco jokes, from 1939 to 1975, there were no political jokes, but only “jokes about Franco.” These jokes mention the future king Juan Carlos rarely, and his fgure was secondary to Franco even then (Garcia 1977, 29). The example of Juan Carlos, however, is curious, as this is a case of an archetypal authoritarian joke protagonist. This is another peculiarity of authoritarian jokes in which a traditional numskull fgure, a certain trickster character, highlights the traits of an authoritarian leader. In most cases, this is usually a schoolboy, for instance, Pepito in the Franco and Castro regimes (Arkhipova and Alejandrez 2013, 193) or Bula in Ceaușescu’s Romania (Cochran 1989, 265) (the boy fgure does not feature in political jokes: in many cases, he is a protagonist for completely apolitical jokes). In Soviet jokes, he was often Karl Radek (1885–1939), a real-life person, an international Communist leader in the Soviet Union after the Russian Revolution. His mean questions within Soviet political jokes were to undermine Stalin’s authority. In Belarusian jokes, he is replaced by someone in the middle: Lukashenko’s son Kolia often appears as a trickster in Lukashenko jokes—a real-life person and a schoolboy. Kolia comes home from school crying. Lukashenko asks him, “Why are you crying?” “Other kids said they would dirty my record book, my exercise book and myself with shit.” “You should not cry, Kolia. I will raise the prices for food again and they will have nothing to dirty you with!” Recorded in Vitebsk (females 2011 and 2012) and Minsk (male 2013 and 2014). In two versions, the classmates threaten to stain Kolia himself with shit. For a version about Brezhnev, see (Melnichenko 2014, 248).

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Why Do All Dictators Have Moustaches?

59

Thus, the Belarusian political joke repertoire is, according to Ayling’s classifcation, mainly authoritarian. Lukashenko is its major butt, and even if other trickster protagonists feature in the joke, this is mainly to highlight the fgure of Lukashenko. What is more, even the remaining third of jokes that seem not to concern Lukashenko directly are actually about the realities of his rule—the way Belarusians live. As I show below, even ethnic jokes in Belarus sometimes target the authoritarian leader. ETHNIC JOKES

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

The most popular joke in Belarus about Lukashenko sorting the potatoes incorporates two topics at once: the omnipresence of Lukashenko in all spheres of life and potato-eating—the common stereotype for which Belarusians are often mocked. It is simultaneously a political and ethnic joke. The Belarusian verbal joke repertoire incorporates many other ethnic jokes, the political meaning of which is not immediately transparent but is very much present. The second most popular joke I collected (eight times in three variants) is as follows: Scientists decided to play a prank . . . Well, not scientists, someone decided to play a prank on a Belarusian, Ukrainian, and Russian. In sum, it doesn’t matter, the main thing is that the Belarusian was there; and they put a thumb tack on the chair. The Russian sat down: oh, there is something pricking me, stood up, and saw a thumb tack. Then the Ukrainian sat down: oh, there is something pricking me, a thumb tack! And then the Belarusian sat down. He sits one, two, three days, and then he is asked: “Is there anything disturbing you?” “Well, there is something . . .” “Why didn’t you say anything then?” “I thought it is supposed to be like that [a mozha tak i treba].” Recorded in Vitebsk (female 2012), Minsk (male 2014), Moscow (female 2012), Tartu (male 2011), Warsaw (male 2014). There is a nail in the bench, the boss orders his subordinate to sit on the nail, and then asks, “Are you comfortable?” The subordinate answers, “Yes, I am comfortable.” The boss cannot understand how sitting on the nail can be comfortable, and the subordinate then admits that indeed this was not that convenient, but he thought it was supposed to be like that [a mozha tak i treba]. Recorded in Vitebsk (female 2012).

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

60

Chapter 2

Do you know the joke about the war? So, there is a war with the Germans, everything is being burnt. The Germans hang a Russian, a Ukrainian and a Belarusian. After some time, the occupation ends, and our soldiers come to rescue them. They see that the Russian died immediately. The Ukrainian suffered for a while and then died too. They take off the Belarusian and then see that he is alive even after three months of being hanged. They ask, “How is this possible?” He replies, “At frst, it was not very comfortable, but then I thought maybe it should be this way [a mozha tak i treba].” Recorded in Tartu (male 2011), Warsaw (male 2014). For Soviet versions about French, English, Russian, Bulgarian people sitting on the nail, see (Melnichenko 2014, 926).

The joke mocks patience, a widely known stereotype of Belarusians. Although this joke (and its variants) does not mention Lukashenko at all, and its plot can be traced back at least to the Soviet times, it acquires new meaning in contemporary circumstances, laughing at a Belarusian who gets used to everything and never protests, not even against Lukashenko holding power for over twenty years. Many more jokes develop on this theme, and none of them, to my knowledge, have non-Belarusian versions:

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

In Belarus, they founded a monument to the Belarusian people called “A Little Non-Piddler” [nepisajuschij mal’chik, an antonym to the Manneken Pis or Lil’ Piddler bronze statue depicting a urinating boy in Brussels]. “Why is he a non-piddler?” “Because he holds out.” Recorded in Minsk (male 2011). Do you know this tale? I have heard this joke in Warsaw. Irish and Belarusian people are very similar. Both nations like drinking, singing loudly, fghting at weddings, doing nothing, they love eating potatoes and do not speak their own language. Recorded in Tallinn (male 2011). Devils [cherti] speak about their work in hell: “My work is terrible. I boil and roast these Russians, but they jump out of the cauldron, steal frewood, try to fght with me.” “And I deal with Jews. If one gets out of the cauldron, he drags all the others along with him.” “Well, pals, I have great luck [lafa] in my work. I deal with Belarusians. Even if they get out from the cauldron, they do it only to add frewood and then they climb back into the cauldron.” Recorded in Vitebsk (female 2014).

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Why Do All Dictators Have Moustaches?

61

Finally, some jokes elaborate on stereotypes about Belarusian alcoholism and lack of culture, both of which have their roots in Belarusian authoritarianism. The frst joke depicts a Belarusian drinking “like a horse.” What is the difference between a Belarusian and an Armenian? An Armenian drinks kon’jak [cognac] and a Belarusian drinks jak kon’ [like a horse]. Recorded in Minsk (male 2012) and the USA (female 2013). For a Russian version about Ksenia Sobchak, Russian TV anchor, politician, and journalist, see (Anekdot​.​ru 2006).

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

The joke refects the social and political reality: in 2010, Belarus was the country with the highest alcohol consumption in the world; in 2016, it held the second place after Lithuania (World Health Organization, n.d.). Mark Lawrence Schrad, writing about history of drinking, links high alcohol consumption with dictatorial leadership: going through the history of alcohol consumption in Russia, he shows that “people’s misery led them back to the tavern rather than forward to the picket line was an added beneft, at least as far as the stability of the autocratic leadership was concerned” (Schrad 2014, xiii). Similar conclusions can be made about today’s Belarus: the drunk and politically passive population is much more useful for Lukashenko’s autocracy than sober and active people. Alcohol is cheap and easily available; it is one of the most accessible forms of entertainment. Another joke accuses Belarusians of a lack of culture, honor, and politeness in comparison to their western European neighbors. A Cyclops caught an Englishman, a Frenchman and a Belarusian, and since he was not very hungry, he decided to have fun. He says, “I will let go of one of you who tells the most unbelievable story. I will eat the rest of you.” An Englishmen starts frst. “An English gentleman was late for a meeting for a whole minute.” The Cyclops says, “Indeed! This is impossible. But you may go, I let you go.” A French was the next. “A French gentleman arrived at a date without fowers.” The Cyclops says, “You are lying! Go, you are free.” A Belarusian is the last to tell his story, “A Belarusian gentleman . . .” The Cyclops interrupts the Belarusian: “Go, go . . .” Recorded in Minsk (male 2013). For a version about a Russian intelligentsia representative instead of a Belarusian gentleman, see (Melnichenko 2014, 641).

Villy Tsakona and Diana Popa defne ethnic jokes in general as “a particular type of political humour” (2011, 2), and indeed Belarusian ethnic jokes are very political: they relate ethnic stereotypes to the political situation in the

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

62

Chapter 2

country. The predominant stereotypes include excessive patience, alcoholism, and ill manners; interestingly, jokes on Belarusian ethnic stereotypes do not always have equivalents in other ethnic repertoires. What is more, as the joke about the similarity between Belarusians and the Irish shows, Belarusian jokes do not always have narrative forms. This is just one of the examples of many more unconventional joke forms I recorded.

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

UNCONVENTIONAL FORMS OF JOKES When studying a political joke, I maintain an emic perspective: the jokes I publish in this book are those my respondents told me when requested to tell a Belarusian political joke. This is how the pieces of humor that I would not have defned as political jokes myself got into this book. The frst example is the joke about the similarity between Belarusian and Irish people quoted above. It does not correspond to the basic characteristic of a story expected from the narrative joke—that which unfolds as a succession of actions and events and concludes with a new state of affairs (Oring 2016, 148–149). Such a structure is a comparatively recent development of the joke, however: before the nineteenth century, humorous narratives in which a story peaks with a punchline are almost absent (ibid. 164). The emergence of such jokes in the nineteenth century, with their popularity peaking in the twentieth century, may lead to the assumption that narrative jokes are indeed the jokes nowadays, which is not necessarily true. It is not only the emergence of new joke genres with the Internet (e.g., memes) that questions the dominance of narrative jokes. For instance, Alexandra Arkhipova has shown how jokes about Putin have been gradually changing their structure from the traditional dialogue form concluding with a punchline to the monologue structure with no traditional narrative elements (e.g., Putin “3 for 2” offer from the Central Electoral Commission: vote for Putin twice and get him three times! No need to vote again! [2012, 307]). Another example of the Belarusian nonnarrative joke is even more curious. According to the interviewee, the joke originated in the independent Belarusian newspaper offce where he worked. Some jokes are born in our newspaper. Our editor gave birth to the joke: Belarusian brewmasters are preparing to issue new beers—Mikołaj Radziwiłł Porter and Stanisław Augustus Strong. Recorded in Minsk (male 2012).

The beer names in the joke refer to Mikołaj Radziwiłł (a Polish-Lithuanian noble) who had the nickname “Black,” which is why “porter” goes well with

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Why Do All Dictators Have Moustaches?

63

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

his name, and Stanisław II Augustus (Grand Duke of Lithuania), probably “Strong” because of his position. These historical references are too vague, and the historical fgures are too unknown for the general Belarusian population (unlike for the editors of the Belarusian intellectual newspaper), which is why the joke probably never went beyond the newspaper editorial group. It would not seem funny to the majority of Belarusians and would not be able to pass through the collective censor and thus be transmitted further (Jakobson and Bogatyrev 1980, 7). Still, it was told to me on my request to tell a political joke. Indeed, the emic perspective on jokes shows that people tell “political jokes” which are very different from what a scholar would expect, not only according to the main topics (when people tell ethnic jokes also as political jokes) and forms (not necessarily narrative), but also sources. Conventional understanding of a joke as a piece of folklore involves the idea of anonymity and no known authorship when a piece of folklore circulates from one active bearer to another. However, in response to the request to tell political jokes, my respondents recited quotes ascribed to Alexander Lukashenko which seemed amusing to them. The lists of such quotations also appear on the Internet after every press conference in which Lukashenko participates. Usually, these are the slips of the tongue, and some interviewees would continue enumerating several of them in a row. Although defned as political jokes, such quotes clearly do not have parallels in other cultures. [Do you know Belarusian political jokes?] (1) There are many funny cases involving Lukashenko, and creative people can make a joke out of it. For instance, the well-known phrase of Lukashenko: “As soon as you try to handle iaitsa [1. ‘eggs,’ 2. ‘testicles’], the milk becomes more expensive.” This was told in the context of price increase and how it is as though Lukashenko manages everything, while his lazy subordinates do not want to work [Lukashenko was actually referring to attempts to regulate prices for agricultural products showing how diffcult it is to balance everything]. (2) Also, I remember when I was a student there was another press-conference in which he was asked a question by a student: “When will I have a stipend good enough to treat my girlfriend in a restaurant?” Lukashenko replied, “You should get another girlfriend.” I also remember the question, “How does Belarus motivate scholars so that they stay in the country?” He said, “If you are here only for the money, I do not keep you.” (3) Additionally, I remember his references to Francysk Skaryna [a sixteenth-century Belarusian physician, humanist, and translator] and St. Petersburg [founded in the eighteenth century]. He [Lukashenko] spoke about our strong intellectual ties with Russia that have existed since the times of Francysk Skaryna and stated that Skaryna had walked around

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

64

Chapter 2

St. Petersburg and invented or translated something there [the city having been founded almost two centuries later]. And Vasil Bykau [the Belarusian novelist who never wrote poems] wrote poems, according to Lukashenko . . . Recorded in Tallinn (male 2012). The citation about eggs (1) was also recorded in St. Petersburg (male 2012), Minsk (male 2012), and Moscow (female 2012).

There are some funny quotations ascribed to Lukashenko which he never recited, about which I give more details in chapter 4: “The Making of the President. Lukashenko’s Offcial Image and Vernacular Ridicule.” Whether actually said or not, real and false Lukashenko quotes became part of political folklore. The emic perspective includes this type of humor in the category of political jokes, while scholarly discourse, to my knowledge, would rarely see the retelling of these quotations as political joke-telling.

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

A MOUSTACHE FOR EVERY DICTATOR The Soviet joke is a classic example of a political joke; however, in this chapter, I have shown that jokes are still prevalent. While Soviet and earlier socialist joke research is problematic due to the limited sources available, the Belarusian material is accessible and, when recorded as verbal material within ethnographic feldwork, provides a unique insight into the nature of political jokes in authoritarian regimes. The ‘Why do all dictators have moustaches?’ joke is a metaphor that may be instrumental for understanding the authoritarian joke. First, just like every dictator has a moustache, every authoritarian regime has certain jokes in circulation which are often shared by other authoritarian countries. Belarusian political jokes are mostly about the authoritarian leader Lukashenko; even traditional ethnic jokes mock his regime, and any additional joke protagonist serves mostly to highlight the image of Lukashenko. Second, Belarusian authoritarian jokes may be just as unconventional as a moustache joke, functioning in a variety of unexpected forms beyond that of the mere narrative joke. This can constitute a reference to an actual political joke or a ridiculous citation from one of Lukashenko’s press conferences that now circulates as a political joke. Third, just as a moustache suits so many dictators, the same joke plots ft many political situations, adapting or changing their elements in a variety of ways as needed. Political jokes function by the same folklore principles as oral epics, standing on a set of formulas (Parry 1930, 1932; Lord 1960), or fairytales, incorporating up to thirty-one functions (Propp 1969). Which elements and formulas are chosen depends on local needs—this is how different versions appear. Just like fairytales and

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Why Do All Dictators Have Moustaches?

65

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

oral epics, political jokes feature certain patterns and plots which change depending on the context in which they circulate. The principles of morphology can be applied as a form of analysis to political humor, just as they have been applied to oral epics and fairy tales. Such conclusions may be primarily made via the study of modern political humor and by recording the jokes that are actually in verbal circulation. Recording contemporary material also provides a larger opportunity to uncover emic perspectives on political jokes, which appear to be much broader than their etic counterpart. After all, there is no lack of materials for such research, and, as I show in the following chapter, political jokes are so popular in Belarus that there is a whole cycle of jokes in circulation about political jokes and the fear of telling them. Just like the moustache joke, these metajokes have a kernel of truth in them.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved. Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Chapter 3

Joking about the Fear (of Joking)

Why tell political jokes even in the face of danger and fear? This has been the most puzzling question for Soviet joke scholars, journalists working with dissidents and political refugees, and other individuals sympathizing with those living under authoritarian regimes (Brandenberger 2009, 1–23; Davies 1997, 292–293; Draitser 1979, 5; Fitzpatrick 1999, 183, etc.). In addition to political jokes per se, a whole gallows humor culture of joking about the fear of political persecution formed in the Soviet Union:

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

At four o’clock in the morning there was a knock on the door of a Moscow house . . . Finally one of the tenants, Abram Abramovich [a typical Jewish name in Soviet jokes], took his courage in both hands and opened the front door. He was heard whispering for a few moments with a man standing outside. Then he came back to his terrifed fellow tenants with a bright smile on his face: “Nothing to worry about, comrades—the house is on fre, that’s all!” (Thurston 1991, 546).

The situation became such that people joked about their jokes about fears (Thurston 1991, 550). Joking turned into the metaplot for different genres; for instance, the joke below coexisted with the rumor: Brezhnev collected jokes about himself and loved telling them, especially to foreign guests (Melnichenko 2014, 152). “What is the hobby of Brezhnev [or Beria]?” “Collecting jokes.” “So how many has he collected?” “Two camps” (Melnichenko 2014, 661).

67

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

68

Chapter 3

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Scholars of humor have developed four hypotheses on why citizens undertake the risky activity of telling jokes in repressive regimes, as summarized by Elliott Oring (2004). After explaining every hypothesis, in his summary, Oring also explains why each still remains questionable, as I also refer to below: 1. Political jokes are vehicles for speaking about what would otherwise be unspeakable. They serve as a means of indirect and thus sanctioned expression (Dundes 1971, 51; Banc and Dundes 1986, 10, etc.). However, such vehicles often carry little protection and remain unsafe, thus undermining the usefulness of the vehicle (joke) by itself. 2. Cathartic, discharge, or safety-valve theory is related to the frst one and states that political jokes give vent to frustration and aggression (Brandes 1977, 345; Dundes 1971, 51; Pi-Sunyer 1977, 185, etc.). Both this and the frst idea stem from the research of Sigmund Freud (1960, 101, 117). The problem with this idea is that it is diffcult to register the catharsis or venting of frustration and aggression that supposedly results from joke-telling. 3. Political jokes may be regarded as revolutionary acts and political weapons, inficting damage on a regime via nonviolent resistance (Dundes 1971; Draitser 1979; Kishtainy 1985; Larsen 1980; Orwell 1945; PiSunyer 1977; Scott 1990). Christie Davies went as far as to claim that the popularity of political jokes in the late Soviet Union refected popular dissatisfaction with the regime and foreshadowed the collapse of the Soviet system (2007, 304–305). However, political jokes emerged and became popular at least seventy years before the Soviet Union collapse. More than that, as Elliott Oring persuasively shows, history cannot reveal a single case when political jokes became the central cause of revolutionary regime change (2004, 222). 4. Political jokes may be seen as products of a deeply cynical perspective that arises as a response to rigid political norms and limitations; jokes expose the coexistence of two incongruous spheres—the offcial and the parallel (Yurchak 1997). This idea can explain late Soviet jokes but cannot be traced back to political humor in Nazi Germany, or earlier Soviet joke-telling, when the fear was much more persistent. Elliott Oring himself suggests two theories and also questions them: 5. The null hypothesis states that jokes and other forms of humor are just types of aesthetic expression (in other circumstances, it might have been achieved through songs, etc.). This hypothesis, however, is contradicted

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Joking about the Fear (of Joking)

69

by the fact that the informants themselves argue for the distinctiveness of political jokes. Moreover, the theory does not explain why people risk telling political jokes for aesthetic expression if it is possible to express oneself within the sphere of a safer genre. 6. Political jokes offer their tellers and listeners a brief respite from the realities of everyday life, a moment when they feel that they, rather than the authorities, are in control. They are a means by which the joke-tellers and their audiences can domesticate and discount the regime, its leaders and their incompetence, hardships, surveillance, and even terror. Even while offering this theory, Oring (2004) acknowledges that the question of why political jokes are told despite fear remains open.

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Indeed, it is hard to answer the question of why people tell political jokes and make facetious remarks even in the face of fear for at least two reasons. First, previous attempts to answer this question have been based on the repertoire of earlier socialist jokes, which poses more problems than answers. Due to the nature of this material, jokes are often studied out of context, and it is not clear which jokes actually circulated and which never went beyond the emigrant press. Second, coming up with a universal theory to explain every instance of political joke-telling and theorizing about the overarching function of humor in all nondemocratic regimes is not justifed. The polysemic nature of jokes cannot be ignored in favor of the portrayal of an overall function (Rezaei 2016, 90–91). After all, the teller may be forced to tell a joke by the authoritarian leader to demonstrate how liberal the latter is. At a 2011 press conference, a journalist asked President Alexander Lukashenko about how he reacted to jokes about himself. Lukashenko replied that he takes them in stride, and, as additional proof, he made Grigorii Kisiel, the head of the main Belarusian television channel, tell a joke about him (Lukashenko) and election fraud in Belarus at the same press conference. Obama, Medvedev, and Lukashenko fnd themselves in the same boat after a plane crash. Everyone plays it cool and does not want to row the boat. Obama says: “We are the great empire, greater than everybody else.” Medvedev says the same: “We, Russia, are an atomic empire, you, Lukashenko, must row.” Lukashenko replies, “No, guys, let’s vote and see how it works.” They voted, and as a result the picture changed. Obama rows, Medvedev rows, and Lukashenko just sits. Obama says, “Listen, Dima, it seems that he fooled us. There are only three of us here, but four voted for him!” (YouTube 2012). Also recorded in Tallinn (males 2012 and 2013) and Minsk (male 2013); a version about Medvedev, the Ukrainian president, and Lukashenko was recorded in

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

70

Chapter 3

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Minsk (male 2013). A version taking place in a crashing plane with the voters (Putin and Bush Jr.) deciding on who will get the only parachute was recorded in Vilnius (female 2013). For a boat version about Obama, Sarkozy, and Putin, see (Kuraev 2012); for a version about President Chun of Korea, Reagan, and Pope John Paul II competing for oxygen tanks in a sinking submarine (with a different end: Chun foolishly uses a fre extinguisher instead of an oxygen tank), see (Schmidt 2014, 59); for a version about Mexican president Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Bush and the Pope (Salinas eventually cheats), see (Schmidt 2014, 164–165).

On the one hand, through this performance, Lukashenko might have tried to create the impression of a liberal leader who is not afraid of political jokes. On the other hand, Lukashenko might have wanted this joke to be told because he does not even bother to deny election fraud and was therefore insolent enough to listen to a joke with a kernel of truth in it. The context and teller of a joke can illustrate a variety of functions and suggest different hypotheses of why political jokes are told despite fear even within one case of joke-telling. Quite relevant for the case of Belarusian political jokes, especially about fear, is the notion of a heterotelic joke, as explained by Marta Dynel. Heterotelic jokes contrast with what she calls autotelic jokes, which convey humor for the sake of humor and primarily serve an aesthetic function (Dynel 2017, 2). Such is the case for nonpolitical jokes: “A priest, a rabbi, and a minister walk into a bar. The bartender looks up and says, ‘Hey, what is this—some kind of joke?’” (Kelley 2015, 206). This joke is funny because of the double incongruity: frst, it sets up a typical joke situation (walking into the bar) and typical joke protagonists, yet in an unexpected combination; second, the observation of the bartender that this is some kind of a joke also comes by surprise. This double incongruity fulflls the aesthetic value of autotelic jokes: humor is an end in itself or its own justifcation (also see Elliott Oring’s null hypothesis). In contrast to autotelic jokes, political jokes are, by analogy with Dynel’s defnition, heterotelic: they bring something more than aesthetic expression for its own sake and have an additional extraneous end. The Belarusian vernacular has grasped this essence of political jokes in the frequent saying: “Every joke has only a shred of joke to it” (V kazhdoi shutke est’ tol’ko dolia shutki). In other words, Belarusian jokes are seen as only partially being jokes: they convey the meaning their tellers and audiences believe to be true. While autotelic jokes primarily convey fction, conveying the truth is central to understanding heterotelic, or political jokes. In this chapter, I suggest looking at how jokes about fear (of telling jokes) convey truths, the forms in which they circulate, and what their heterotelic messages are.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Joking about the Fear (of Joking)

71

THE FEAR OF JOKING

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

It goes without saying that Soviet fears and rumors associated with telling jokes persist in Belarus, as I have already shown in chapter 2. Many more examples of historically imposed fears can be brought up too. In the Belarusian countryside in 2016, I interviewed Nina Mikhailovna, who told me that as a young woman during the 1930s, she had made a joke, had been reported, and had to fee to Lithuanian territory to stave off the case and avoid persecution. She could return to her village only several years later when this case was forgotten, but because of this, she married and had children very late (recorded in Halshany in 2016). Occasional political joke-telling infuenced many lives. The Soviet KGB archives are closed in Belarus, but several examples of punishments for telling jokes can nonetheless be found in the research literature. For instance, Eduard Garachy was reported for “reading and spreading handwritten collections and jokes among his friends: the parody of the USSR hymn,” was arrested in 1962, and was sentenced to two years in the camps (Dziarnovich 2004, 46). Memory is signifcant, but the contemporary regime also builds new fear. The following excerpts from my interviews exemplify people’s attitudes toward the special services in relation to telling jokes: A: Do you know any jokes about Lukashenko? M: male, 18: Actually, there are lots of them . . . But I will not tell them. A: Are you scared? M: Yes. A: Why are you scared? And why are other people scared? Why? M: Persecution. A: Seriously? M: No, seriously, persecution. A: So, you mean that people become victims? M: Yes. Recorded in Vitebsk (male 2011).

A: Do you know any jokes about Lukashenko? V: male, 19: None. Seriously. This is not the topic for joking. A: And do you think people here in Belarus easily tell these jokes, or are they to some extent scared? V: Well, I do not know, it depends on where, in what circumstances. They do not do it for instance in public places, where there are many people, employees. A: And at home, do they?

V: Sure.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

72

Chapter 3

A: And why are people scared to tell these jokes? V: They are afraid of the responsibility, well, not responsibility, but ­punishment, possible, well, antipolitical . . . A: Is it recorded, or does somebody report it? V: Well, I do not know 100 percent, so actually I do not know. My opinion is yes, phone calls are tapped. A: Why do you think so? V: When there was a terrorist attack in Vitebsk [in 2005], my aunt was there. She wasn’t wounded but the frst thing she did after the explosion was call her daughter to make sure she hadn’t been there and was fne. And after several days she [the aunt] received a call from the KGB . . . They said they had registered her phone call to her daughter and asked her to come and give a witness account of the explosion. Recorded in Vitebsk (male 2011).

In the interviews, the idea of danger in telling a political joke is related to the matters of the Belarusian terrorist attacks, the omnipresence of the KGB, and the danger of denunciations. In both interviews, the fear of joke-telling is explained through rumors about omnipresent surveillance and persecution in the form of a friend-of-a-friend story. Such is the previously mentioned story of a teacher who told a joke about Alexander Lukashenko to her colleagues at school over coffee and was fred from her job or the story of the lecturer fred from the university because his students made a Lukashenko moustache joke (see chapter 2). Such rumors serve as cautionary tales about what happens to those who tell jokes, but some jokes are not comprehensible without rumors. They are so mutually dependent that sometimes it is not possible to distinguish between the two genres.

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

FORMS OF JOKES ABOUT FEARS In the examples below, I refect on the main forms of jokes about fears and their coexistence with rumors about punishment recorded in Belarus. The multiplicity of their forms exemplifes the same trend as shown in chapter 2 and demonstrates that the study of jokes as they live and function present us with a much wider picture than might be expected. Belarusian p­ olitical jokes about fears manifest in the most conventional, narrative form but also as occasional conversational spontaneous joking, Internet jokes, humorous yet pragmatic nicknaming of the president, and practical jokes.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Joking about the Fear (of Joking)

73

1. Narrative jokes About the danger of any open dissent and those brave few who dare to challenge the regime seem to be an essential part of the political joke repertoire in authoritarian states. Consider, for instance, an example about Nicolae Ceaușescu:

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

One day Reagan, Gorbachev and Ceaușescu are sailing through shark-infested waters when Reagan decides to show off the skill and courage of his guard. He removes his watch and throws it overboard. “Go get it, John,” he orders, and like a shot the Marine is over the side. The bystanders watch in awe as he dives for the watch, dispatches a few sharks with his commando knife, and climbs back aboard, presenting the watch to Reagan with a sharp salute. “What courage!” they cry, breaking into applause. Gorbachev, not to be outdone, fings his own watch overboard and sends his guard after it. The results are the same, and the crowd is similarly impressed. “What courage!” they say, applauding as before. Ceaușescu, no less eager than the others to exhibit the bravery of his Romanian bodyguard, now throws his watch overboard. “Go get it, Mihai,” he orders. But the guard does not move. “No chance, sir,” he says. And the crowd cries out, even louder than before, and with prolonged applause. “What courage!” (Cochran 1989, 269).

As Robert Cochran explains, the latter joke relates to the few individuals who actually spoke out openly against Nicolae Ceaușescu, surely knowing it would cost them dearly, and he gives more examples of such stories (1989, 270). No matter whether they are true or not, these “it-happened-to-someone” stories make the joke-receiver much more sensitive to its contents. The same jokes may be used for both purposes: for laughs and to recommend that others stay alert. Additionally, it is important that the joke-teller and the joke-receiver share knowledge about the fears reiterated in jokes and related rumors. In such cases, jokes become excellent metaphors for the state of things in the country, a description in a nutshell that does not require any further explanation. Such are the previously cited jokes about meat jelly (see chapter 1) and potato sorting (see the section “In the Contemporary Authoritarian State: Fears and Jokes” in chapter 2), both of which became recognizable metaphors for the political situation. The degree of fear described by narrative jokes is different. While fear is clearly the main topic of the meat jelly joke, the potato-sorting joke mentions it only vaguely: people surrounding Lukashenko are scared because they do not understand why he speaks on the phone this way and if it implies punishment. Another joke also only reveals the fear at the end and ridicules the person who is afraid:

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

74

Chapter 3

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Two friends walk in the street, and a man in plain clothes follows them. One friend tells the other, “Do you want me to tell you a political joke?” “Yes.” “Do you know what the difference between Lukashenko and a donkey is?” A man following them asks all of a sudden, “What?” The one who was trying to tell a joke answers fearfully, “No, there is no difference, no!” Recorded in Minsk (male 2013). For the earliest 1940s version about Stalin, see (Melnichenko 2014, 229). For a Soviet joke about the difference between a communist and a donkey, see (ibid. 386). For a version about Soviet militiaman, see (ibid. 668).

This example also illustrates a distinctive type of jokes—metajokes, or jokes about jokes (Kelley 2015, 205). When metajokes are performed, the listener is led to follow the script of an ordinary joke, but suddenly this expectation collides with the script uncovering that this is a joke about jokes (ibid. 207). These are usually very popular cycles that exist for quite some time and include many jokes which become the reference for metajokes (Galanter 2005, 3). A key feature of metajokes is refexivity or self-awareness (Kelley 2015, 206). While most political jokes work via allusions to sociopolitical or cultural contexts, fxed expressions, or other genres (Tsakona 2018, 5), political metajokes reference other jokes and the culture of joking in fear in general. The true importance of intertextuality is revealed by metajokes: the intertextual links to the joking culture or particular jokes contribute to the complexity of the textual meaning not simply via the interweaving of the texts but through an existential dialogue that is conducted and deciphered by means of textual elements (Yassif 2009, 71, 73) sometimes only understood by insiders. As Kelley shows, in the Anglosphere, metajokes have been at the service of popular culture. For instance, many standup comedians made metajokes the pillar of their repertoire and success. In contrast, most metajokes in authoritarian and socialist societies are straightforwardly political. Such was the case for Soviet jokes (for instance, the collection of Soviet jokes by Misha Melnichenko includes a whole section dedicated to political jokes), and many Soviet political metajokes still circulate in Belarus (Astapova 2020b). A judge laughs: “I have heard such a great joke!” “Tell it!” “I can’t: I have just sentenced the joke-teller to 10 years for it.” Recorded in Stockholm (male 2017). For a Soviet version, see (Melnichenko 2014, 661).

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Joking about the Fear (of Joking)

75

Political metajokes often employ a trickster (Pepito or Ramples in the Franco and Castro regimes, Bula in Ceaușescu-era Romania, Radek in Stalin jokes, etc.) who is invited to entertain the ruler with his jokes but mocks the ruler instead. I have not documented such jokes in Belarus, but many jokes recount KGB offcers recording joke-telling; in others, prisoners exchange just the numbers of jokes rather than full texts to avoid persecution (anyway, every prisoner knows political jokes by heart) but also to have fun (Melnichenko 2014, 355). In the Belarusian repertoire, the prisoner theme continues: A toast. A new prisoner is pushed into the cell. “Why are you here?” “For a joke.” “Tell it!” He tells a joke, a new court case is started for him, he is sentenced to additional years of imprisonment, and pushed into a cell. “Why are you here?” “For a joke!” “Tell it!” He tells it, and so on. So, let’s drink to the vigilance of the Belarusian prisoners! Recorded in Minsk (male 2014). For a Soviet version, see (Melnichenko 2014, 661).

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

In some cases, metajokes employ well-known joke cycles, such as those about Chukcha or Armenian radio (Melnichenko 2014, 662). In the Anglophone case, these may be about a rabbi or “walking into a bar.” However, in the case of Soviet and post-Soviet jokes, familiar joke templates and well-known cycles, such as those regarding ethnic jokes about Chukchas, will still retain political meaning: Two Chukchas sit in a yarang [skin hut] at the edge of the Arctic Ocean. “Do you want a political joke?” “No! Be quiet, or they will deport us!” (Melnichenko 2014, 604).

One of the functions of metajokes, as described by Greg Kelley, is to interrogate the boundaries of what is considered to be fair game; for instance, the metajoke may ultimately show that it is not appropriate to make fun of blondes (2015, 211). In a sense, constant probing and interrogating the boundaries is also characteristic of the political metajoke, which mocks the fact that so many people are afraid but does not dismiss the reasons for fear. Furthermore, political metajokes may reinforce fear: Someone asks Alexander Lukashenko, “Do you have a sense of humor?” “Of course! For example, tell the latest joke about me!”

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

76

Chapter 3

“I cannot remember the punchline of it . . .” “It does not matter, you may start! You will have a lot of time to remember the punchline!” Recorded in Vitebsk (male 2014).

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

2. Conversational joking about fear of surveillance and persecution Stemming from both Soviet and contemporary experiences, the anxieties of Belarusians are not only refected in jokes with recurrent narratives but also in occasional spontaneous conversational jokes about the fears of surveillance and persecution. As volunteers of the Belarusian Oral History Archive (an NGO that collects Belarusian memories from Soviet times) told me in a private conversation, in the Belarusian countryside, Soviet fears became certain formulas that were recurrent in everyday conversations. One of the volunteers, Volha, recounts an autobiographical narrative of a woman from the countryside that she recorded a couple of years ago. In the interview, the woman remembered the discrepancies of Soviet collective farms, repressions, and the denunciations made by neighbors. At the end of the interview, her husband approached her and said, “Have you told enough for Gulag?,” referring to the Soviet labor camp system. There are no longer Gulag camps in Belarus, yet the husband ironically refers to them in order to target his wife’s talkativeness, which could have been dangerous during the Soviet times in which they lived for most of their lives. Another stable formula that Volha recorded from several elderly Belarusian countryside dwellers was “telling a full prisoner’s barrel” (nahavaryt’ bochku aryshtanta), which refers to someone saying enough politically inappropriate and dangerous things to risk prison (recorded in Halshany in 2016). This saying, which apparently originated during Soviet times, is used even now to refer both to the past and to the present. In addition to being very important in the interviewees’ autobiographical stories for describing the contexts of their lives, these Soviet metaphors are still instrumental for evaluating contemporary realities. Another formula recurrent both in the urban and village setting is gavkat’ mozhno (“it is permissible to bark”), referring to old socialist and Jewish jokes and to the possibility to utter one’s political opinion, even if it challenges the regime. A dog runs from Ukraine to Belarus, its eyes bulging. The offcers ask the dog at the customs, “Why are you running?” “There is nothing to eat here. I will run to Belarus.” In several days, the dog runs back to Ukraine, its eyes bulging even more. “What happened this time?”

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Joking about the Fear (of Joking)

77

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

“There is nothing to eat there either. But in Ukraine you are at least allowed to bark.” Recorded in Minsk (male 2013), a version about Belarus and Poland was recorded in Vitebsk (female 2014). For a version about Russian, Polish, and Romanian dog, see (Cochran 1989, 272; Banc and Dundes 1986, 32–33). For a version about Polish and Czech dog, see (Schmidt 2014, 53). The Mexican dog comes to the United States to eat, and the American goes to Mexico to bark (Schmidt 2014, 249). Also see a Soviet version (Melnichenko 2014, 660), East German version (Brandt 1965, 87), and a Jewish version set in tsarist times (Noy 1963, 64–65).

This is just one of many examples in which conversational jokes reference actual jokes through what scholars call an “orphaned punchline”—a punchline used without the joke it belongs to (Kelley 2015, 215). An example of such is the comrade major joke from chapter 1, which is still retold and widely known in Belarus as well as in other post-Soviet countries. After I asked permission from another respondent, Vitalii, to record his interview and took the recorder out of my bag, he grinned: “Comrade major, our president is very good, everything in our country is good.” This was also quite a unique case of using a joke about a joke for a joke. Still, the line between a joke and an authentic belief in surveillance is not clear, especially because after the joke he refused to record the interview (and only allowed me to take notes). Such conversational jokes in-between humor and true belief have been an important part of several interviews. Once, I was conducting an interview over Skype with a respondent who lived in a different country (and we did not have the possibility to meet personally). We talked about political jokes and Belarusian nationalism, and, as usual, I left the most diffcult questions—about his attitude toward Alexander Lukashenko—to the end of the interview. As soon as I mentioned Lukashenko, the Internet connection got disturbed, and Dmitrii immediately laughed and commented on it, saying “I told you: as soon as you mention Lukashenko, they start to surveil you.” To understand this comment better, one has to be aware of the rumors of surveillance and recording, about KGB machines starting to tape phone conversations as soon as someone mentions certain words, including “Lukashenko.” Dmitrii’s case is also exemplary of the unique intersection of rumor and humor genres: in this case, it is hard to say to which genre the text belongs and whether it is possible to say if Dmitrii believes in what he says or just jokes about it. Just like narrative (meta)jokes, conversational, spur-of-themoment (meta)jokes about fears interrogate the boundaries, reimpose rumors, and circulate to inform the members of the group about unwritten rules and recommended behavior.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

78

Chapter 3

3. Internet joking The Internet is also full of jokes about fears of political persecution in Belarus in a variety of forms. Consider two short examples: Belarusians do not have paranoia. They know exactly that they are being watched! (Libertantnoe Soprotivlenie 2011).

The frst two lines of the following Internet poem almost fully repeat the frst two lines of the Belarusian anthem. To get the latter joke, one has to remember that an ordinary Belarusian citizen does not have access to reliable sources of information about the actual numbers of those involved in the security services, which results in many surveillance rumors.

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

We are Belarusians, We are a peaceful people, Why do we have such severe laws then? A man wearing shoulder straps per every three citizens! (Zharty pa-belarusku 2011).

These two pieces appeared on the Internet with a gap of only a few days in November 2011, while the case of the Minsk terrorist attack was being heard in court and only two weeks before the accused were sentenced to death. It was a moment of great tension for Belarusians, as many saw no comprehensible rules or grounds for arrest and conviction apart from a poor-quality video from the metro cameras. From the perspective of multiple conspiracy theories that accompanied the case—for instance, that Lukashenko organized the bombing to distract the citizens’ attention from the country’s economic problems—the idea that anyone could be accused persisted. Obviously, one cannot exist in total fear, and Belarusian jokes suggest that one should not feel that he or she is the only paranoid person in the country. These jokes are logical responses that demonstrate the natural instinct to react to the overwhelming sensation of the panopticon, the product of refexivity about what is going on, and one’s own attitudes toward these circumstances. Additionally, when Belarusians post or repost potentially dangerous materials criticizing the Belarusian state on the Internet, they may add an ironic comment about it. For instance, my friend reposted an article about Lukashenko entitled “Ideal Dictator” on Facebook and wrote: “I am interested whether I get a ‘red fag’ in their database for my repost?” (with an emoji crying from laughter at the end). “A red fag in the database” refers to a special attention mark in the KGB services list.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Joking about the Fear (of Joking)

79

4. Humorous, yet pragmatic, nicknaming An interesting comment on naming Lukashenko is suggested in another joke that is widespread on the Internet: The level of democracy in our country is so high that no one is afraid to say you-know-what about you-know-who (Berezhkov 2008).

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Belarusians prefer not to name Lukashenko, often choosing to use just a pronoun (he, himself), even in cases when this is the frst mention of Lukashenko within the conversation. Several humorous nicknames are also used to secretly refer to Lukashenko, for example: “Moustachio” (Usatyi, due to the fact that he has a moustache), “Hockey-player” (Hokkeist, referring to Lukashenko’s love for hockey), “Gypsy”/“Roma” (Tsygan deriving from the rumor that Lukashenko’s father was Roma), Kolia’s father (Papa Koli), and so forth. These humorous nicknames paradoxically serve to help users refrain from direct reference to Lukashenko in the potential situation of surveillance and to mock him, avoid persecution, and defy power. As with other jokes about fear, they become a middle fnger in the pocket, an expression of disagreement and irony made secretively. Obviously, most of the nicknames have a strong connection to rumor. The “Gypsy” nickname derives from the rumor that, born out of wedlock, Lukashenko is the son of a Roma father. Bringing Kolia to too many events inappropriately, Lukashenko gives food for the rumors about Kolia’s future presidency and becomes “Kolia’s father” (Astapova 2019). As there is a belief that recording equipment or Internet surveillance algorithms may react to certain words, such as “president” or “Lukashenko,” these instances of nicknaming are more than humorous, they also serve the pragmatic function of not getting caught via keywords and of thus avoiding persecution. 5. Pedagogical and practical jokes around fears The last documented type of jokes is practical jokes. On the one hand, these jokes defy power and probe the limits of nonconformism; on the other, they educate others that such limits exist. Moira Marsh defnes a practical joke as a scripted unilateral play involving a trickster and a target with the goal of incorporating the target without his or her knowledge and/or permission (2015, 12). As humorous nicknames, practical jokes around fears become the way to laugh at power in a safe way and serve extra pragmatic function. In Soviet times, some practical jokes took the form of purposeful sabotage. One jokester (saboteur) in Bashkiria inserted the slogan “He who works more and better gets nothing!” on the cover of 10,000 labor books for collective farm

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

80

Chapter 3

workers in 1933 (Fitzpatrick 1999, 184). People hung portraits of Stalin in the toilets (Waterlow 2018, 33). In Soviet Belarus, jokesters threw a bucket of horse manure onto the monument of “one of the leaders of the party” (Dziarnovich 2004, 127). Trying to reconstruct why exactly this happened and who was “one of the leaders” is hardly possible: legal cases describing someone insulting a Soviet leader—either Lenin or Stalin—frequently omit the name of the leader insulted, as secret services also could not avoid selfcensorship (Arkhipova and Melnichenko 2011). Belarusians also developed the local custom of hanging a bag of rubbish or even manure on the outstretched arm of the resident Lenin statue at night in Homiel city (Waterlow 2018, 35). Robert Cochran reports more sophisticated practical jokes from Ceaușescu’s Romania:

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

During the 1970s Ceaușescu’s public behavior, already self-important by any earthly standard, took a marked turn toward a truly imperial style. Prominent among the bizarre manifestations of this growing loss of touch was a tendency to sport a jeweled scepter as a part of his regulation ruler costume. The comedy of this—a leader aping a Sun King even as his nation slides into squalor was suffciently surreal to attract the notice of Salvador Dali, well known for his taste in such matters. Dali, so the story is told, dispatched a congratulatory telegram. The artist was happy to note, he said, that somewhere in the world there still lived a ruler capable of the Grand Manner. True majesty was not fed, as he had previously sometimes feared, but was now at home in Romania. The scepter was singled out for special praise. It was just the right touch. The telegram, taken at face value, was duly printed. Taken as a great joke, it [was] deeply treasured. (Cochran 1989, 270)

Practical political jokes are most diffcult to document, and the only instance I recorded in contemporary Belarus referred to Soviet memories. An eightyone-year-old woman whose family members had suffered greatly from Soviet persecutions remembered her father playing with a cat during Stalin’s regime: Our cat would lie on the bed, he was beautiful, gray, and smart . . . He would lie on the bed with his legs apart and his tail in the middle. My father approaches him and pushes a bit: would you mind leaving some space for me? The cat gets angry and growls. Then my father would say “Long live comrade Stalin!” and slightly push the cat’s paw or tail, and the cat would obviously scream. “This is how we shout hooray to Stalin too,” he would say. “When someone pulls our tail or presses our paw.” My mother said [smiles], “What are you doing, you are not thinking! . . . In front of the kids!” But we understood, we were not too little, we [she and her sisters] were ten and

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Joking about the Fear (of Joking)

81

fourteen, and even ffteen. We knew we were not supposed to speak about it in public. Recorded in Vitebsk (female 2016).

This performed educational joke is another clear example of joking about the fear of joking. On the one hand, the father taught his daughters to be critical about their relationship to the regime. On the other, the mother and father taught them that this critical attitude should never be expressed in public. This case may be defned as a pedagogical joke, as parents teach safe behavior to their children. Practical jokes, however, may be defned more broadly. In February 2012, Belarusian activists in Minsk organized an activity by the name of Igrushko mitingue (“A toy is protesting”). They put soft toys together on one of the central streets and put slogans on posters next to them that corresponded to the Belarusian situation: “Alejandro, release the people” [political prisoners], “Where is my 500$ salary?,” “Where? Freedom of the press,” and so forth. This was the frst rally in a series of what they called nanomeetings—toys with slogans protesting (Astapova 2014). Nanomeetings became practical jokes directed at the powerful, who ridiculed themselves by overreacting to toys (since several organizers of nanomeetings were detained). They are of additional value for understanding why people are willing to risk telling jokes in authoritarian regimes.

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

EVERY JOKE HAS ONLY A SHRED OF JOKE TO IT: HETEROTELIC FUNCTIONS OF POLITICAL HUMOR Political jokes in general, and jokes about fear in particular, take a variety of forms and are so popular that they even result in the emergence of jokes about jokes. Moreover, they have a close intertextual connection with rumors, and the boundaries between the two genres are blurred. The key for understanding the Belarusian risky business of telling jokes is the saying that “every joke has only a shred of joke to it,” which uncovers the functions of heterotelic political humor in Belarus. While autotelic jokes exist for the sake of aesthetics and good fction, heterotelic jokes deliver truth and belief. First, jokes, including political ones, are perfect metaphors for the lives that the joke-tellers and their audiences live. Several scholars note the metaphoric potency of political jokes; for instance, Abram Terts refers to political jokes as a “spore . . . containing a model of reality in its entirety” (1978, 82–83), and Seth Graham observes that jokes are concise and therefore carry a lot of context-specifc semantic weight with enhanced potency for commentary (2003, 88).

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

82

Chapter 3

Rather than going into lengthy explanations about the nature of the regime, people would tell a meat jelly joke, since this is a much sharper and more laconic way to refect on the issue of surveillance and the omnipresence of the president. Moreover, many jokes about political fears are reduced to a reference (an orphaned punchline) which is reusable as a very short allusion to characterize the situation. It becomes recognizable, and just a few words, such as “comrade major,” may stand in for a very long description of why an individual would not want to have his voice recorded when talking about politics. Soviet metaphors remain signifcant for the creation of jokes about fears (e.g., Gulag references when talking about political persecution). Refexive joke metaphors are instrumental for complex yet concise explanations of how the lives of the joke-tellers and their audiences function. Intertextual links to rumors and other jokes are often key to the formation of a successful joke metaphor. Second, many jokes or rumors about persecution serve as cautionary tales that are especially valuable for exchange among insiders. As the majority of texts in this and previous chapters show, the jokes distributed in Belarus mostly contain common knowledge about the dangers of surveillance and persecution: this is crucial information that is shaped with the help of intertextual links to other rumors and jokes, and because this information is relevant for the majority, it is spread widely. Just like rumors, jokes about fear, persecution, and especially pedagogical jokes notify members of the community or even family about how the regime functions and how it may be dangerous. Jonathan Waterloo showed how both humor and rumor genres functioned as “know-how stories” in the Soviet time “to make sense of the mess” and “convey lessons about how the world works.” Jokes may be even better equipped for sense-making than rumors: just like proverbs, brief jokes sum up wisdom “concisely, pointedly, and memorably.” They contain strategies, tips, and guides to navigate the reality (Waterlow 2018, 208–212). This is why the father joked at the regime with the help of the cat in front of his children: to explain how the world they live in works. This is why the mother made sure the children know that joking like that publicly is not appropriate: to ensure that the children understand the source of the danger. Joking about the fear of joking also allows listeners to learn the rules of the situation when they are not clear. Probing the boundaries of what the authoritarian state tolerates is important: by arresting the activists who organized nanomeeting protests, the state showed that these practical jokes went too far and reminded the public of the rules and limitations for joking. Finally, political jokes reinforce hegemony of two kinds. On the one hand, this concerns the hegemony of knowledge in the group circulating the jokes: understanding political humor requires inside knowledge. Documenting jokes in Ceaușescu’s Romania, Cochran also notes that

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Joking about the Fear (of Joking)

83

“jokes are for insiders, people in the know” (1989, 259). Writing about Czech jokes under the Nazis, Bryant compares jokes and rumors to demonstrate that both were among the few safe and available means by which friends and acquaintances could express common fears and wishes (2006, 148–149). Jokes remain thoroughly opaque to an outsider who lacks necessary intertextual links (Adami 2012, 141; Fairclough 1992, 102–103). This creates a sense of shared conspiracy in the context of illicit activity of joking about superiors (Kuipers 2008, 366). For instance, when my respondents referred to the sorting potatoes joke, they clearly counted on my insider knowledge and understanding of this reference. Such jokes’ elegant metaphors require thorough explanations for those who are not deeply familiar with the group. On the other hand, and more importantly, by providing constant reminders of persecution and surveillance, the jokes reinforce the hegemony of the existing political system. Contrary to the idea of a joke as a tiny revolution or a sign of the collapse of the system, my feld research into Belarusian political joking demonstrates that jokes do not signify a crack in the system. In fact, it is quite the opposite, as recirculating fears through jokes helps to maintain hegemony. The scholars who noticed how political jokes have the power to reinforce fear were predominantly those who focused on particular case studies and based their research on feldwork in repressive states. Stanley Brandes thought that political humor in Franco’s Spain dissipated energy or defected it away from direct political action (1977, 346). Anton Zijderveld demonstrated that those who hold power encourage political humor “in order to keep protest and confict within certain limits and to provide society at the same time with a possible outlet” (1968, 306). In reimposing fear, jokes limit an individual’s potential to engage in nonconformist activities; they minimize accountability for potentially unfavorable commentary rather than open protest (Brandenberger 2009, 11–12). In his research on Soviet jokes, Misha Melnichenko noticed that jokes do not only carry factual information; they also impose collective censorship (2014, 24–25). On the basis of analysis of East German jokes, Milena Veenis concluded that a political joke does not pose any threat to the regime whatsoever. As an “institutionalized and harmless form of symbolic protest,” rather than being a threat toward the existing social order, jokes merely consolidate it (Veenis 2012, 133). Finally, Michael Billig (2005) showed that rebellious political humor often supports rather than undermines the regime. In other words, what is considered dissident humor not only fails to effect social and political change, but it actually works to uphold the prevailing social and political norms (Badarneh 2011, 307). Although the idea of jokes reinforcing hegemony is rather rare in scholarly literature, it is recurrent in the vernacular tradition. Many people go as far as

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

84

Chapter 3

to believe that political jokes are invented by the special services in repressive regimes in order to give vent to people’s aggression and avoid actual protest. For instance, Mary Stein recounts an interview with an ex-East German then living in West Berlin:

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Most political jokes in GDR do not originate in the folk, but are consciously developed at Party schools and institutions. They are then skillfully introduced to the folk at beer tables and in small social gatherings, and from there they travel by word of mouth . . . . And the jokes, which allow people to let off steam, also serve the purpose of quieting them (Stein 1989, 95).

Similarly, giving presentations on political jokes in Belarus at conferences, I am often approached individually by fellow scholars (mainly from the former socialist bloc) who make the same inquiry. They ask whether I think political jokes have been invented and imposed on people by the KGB or other secret police services in order to provide an outlet for aggression. They think that because people can use humorous outlets that are actually safe for the regime, they will remain loyal to the state on an everyday basis—which is the aim of the regime. I do not think that political jokes are inventions of the KGB, but there might be another kernel of truth in this vernacular reasoning. In Belarus, people do not know for sure what can lead them to be subjected to political persecution, and jokes become a ludic way of engaging in discussion about this situation. They serve as a means of seriously probing and potentially debating the group’s fears, and may (in the case of humorous nicknames) even become a way to protect oneself from being surveilled and persecuted. This function of jokes is very similar to that of rumors telling about political persecution, and in fact, the boundaries between jokes and rumors may blur in the same narrative, both in terms of their forms and their effects. Jokes, which are normally dismissive in the sense that they frame certain topics and themes as laughable and discountable, in fact provoke the same concerns and the same sense of wariness as rumors and personal experience stories. Like the supposed gravestone epitaph of the hypochondriac that reads: “I told you I was sick,” jokes about the risks of joking suggest that people fully recognize that their imaginations can distort reality, but at the same time, jokes register their feeling that there is an ominous reality out there to be distorted (Oring 2017).

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Chapter 4

The Making of the President Lukashenko’s Official Image and Vernacular Ridicule

The president is a symbol. It would be inadequate to expect it to correspond to reality.

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

—From an ethnographic interview recorded in Belarus in 2012

Dictatorships survive and remain 20 percent of the world’s governments because of their fexibility. They adapt to modernity much faster than it might be imagined in democracies. Maintaining power for modern dictators is nowadays less a matter of violence than it used to be; instead, it relies on a sophisticated repertoire of techniques to manipulate people’s beliefs, including censorship and propaganda (Guriev and Treisman 2015). Throughout this book, I show several examples of these techniques, such as reminding people of their fear and of the need to obey via surveillance rumors or Potemkin village narratives. In this chapter, I show the repertoire of techniques that is associated with the image of the president. I start with analyzing what brought Lukashenko to power and allowed him to maintain it and how his authoritarian rule ties in with the nation-building process. Then, focusing primarily on the case study of his birth story, I show how his ambiguous biographical narrative is formed and exploited by the state and the opposition. Finally, I demonstrate how regular people digest the repertoire of authoritarian techniques via rumor and humor.

85

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

86

Chapter 4

THE NONACCIDENTAL PRESIDENT OF THE “DENATIONALIZED NATION” A quarter of a century after Lukashenko came to power, the Belarusian oppositionists and international observers are still wondering: how was it possible? Nongovernmental biographers call Lukashenko the “accidental president”: they are still unable to believe that this person from the countryside, with no connections and not very educated, took power and has been keeping it since 1994 (Sheremet and Kalinkina 2003). Just like many of his voters, who are also less educated, Lukashenko himself often becomes the butt of jokes showing his silliness, backwardness, and lack of sophistication: Little Sasha [a diminutive of Alexander] Lukashenko writes a letter to the radio and asks them to play the song “Valenki” [the song is about the traditional peasant winter footwear]. They play it. In several years, the university student Lukashenko writes a letter and asks them to play the song “Valenki.” They play it. In several years, the president Lukashenko writes a letter and asks them to play the song by The Beatles, “Yesterday.” He receives a reply: “Sasha, don’t show off [ne vyiobyvaisia], listen to ‘Valenki’!” Recorded in Vilnius (male 2013). For a version about a collective farm worker who got promoted to be the farm’s director and wants to listen to a song by The Beatles, see (Agrofon, n.d.).

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Jokes also poke fun at Lukashenko for becoming the president without even being able to speak either Russian or Belarusian correctly, instead speaking the countryside dialect called trasianka, which is a mixture of the two languages: Lukashenko stands in front of the mirror and rehearses, trying to get rid of his [Belarusian] accent in Russian: “Chesna, chiesna, chiestna, chiestno.” [“Honestly”: Lukashenko starts with pronouncing it in the trasianka dialect and gradually learns to pronounce the Russian version]. His secretary enters: “Alexander Grigor’evich, you are doing so well!” “Chesna?” [still using the trasianka pronunciation] Recorded in Ashmiany (male 2017).

In this joke, Lukashenko needs to be able to pronounce “honestly” correctly to make his pledges believable for his target audience. The joke, however, targets one more thing. It reveals how Lukashenko balances between Russian and Belarusian ethnic identities, and this again contains a kernel of truth. This successful balancing act by Lukashenko is certainly one of the reasons why the president is not that accidental. The trasianka dialect blends together Russian and Belarusian—just like Lukashenko’s political project does. This

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

The Making of the President

87

project is deeply rooted in the circumstances Belarus found itself in at independence: over 200 years of Russian power and language domination, the consequent perception of Belarusian as a less-prestigious language spoken by country bumpkins or as a corrupt form of Russian, and the unpopularity of Belarusian ethnic identity. As a reminder, of the European part of the Soviet Union, Belarusians were the most upset with its collapse and their sudden independence from Russia. Due to the low prestige of the national language and blurred ethnic boundaries, many scholars and public intellectuals diagnosed Belarusian national identity through descriptions of its absence (Akudovich 2007), characterizing it as undeveloped, weak, or even nonexistent (Pershái 2010, 381). They have argued that Belarus is a “denationalized nation” (Marples 1999), a “national failure” (Snyder 2003, 41–42), a country of “unfnished nation-building” (Ioffe 2007, 27), and even “a state that has a death wish” (Marples 1996, 125). This low prestige of Belarusian national identity was the situation faced by the candidates for the frst Belarusian presidential election, including Lukashenko, in 1994. Lukashenko’s two major competitors in the election chose two divergent strategies. The frst one, Viachaslau Kebich, promoted a pro-Russian stance and grounded his ideas in history, emphasizing that Belarus had formerly belonged to the Russian Empire and Soviet Union. The second one, Zianon Pazniak, cultivated Belarusian ethnic identity with a proEuropean and essentially Belarusian national inclination, and he based his claims on the period when Belarus belonged to Europe as part of the Great Duchy of Lithuania. While integration with Russia was a popular idea in Belarus (which is why Kebich ran second in the election), the nationalist idea was “hardly warranted by the level of national consciousness in the country” (Marples 2003, 28). First, most Belarusians could not speak the Belarusian language. Second, problems arose with nationalist symbols: the white-redwhite colors of the national fag and the coat-of-arms of Pahonia, referring to the era of the Great Duchy of Lithuania, had been in use under the Nazi occupation administration in Belarus during the World War II. The symbols of collaborationists were questionable to use in a country that had been devastated by the war. The hasty implementation of nationalist symbols and the Belarusian language, along with other radical nationalist measures, ignored the recent Soviet Belarusian history and the ideology that people had lived with all their lives (Leshchenko 2004, 336). The surgical operation to bring about immediate separation of Belarusian identity and Soviet ideology could not be successful (Bekus 2010, 80). Rather than choosing purely Russian (Kebich) or Belarusian (Pazniak) versions, Belarusians elected a candidate who occupied a space between them: Lukashenko. Lukashenko chose the right key to winning over his electorate: maintaining ambiguity between Russian and Belarusian inclinations, which complemented each other. On the one hand, the Russian inclination helped

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

88

Chapter 4

to restrain Belarusian ethnic identity from developing and keep Belarusians from voting for the nationalists. Later, retaining close ties with Russia and relying on its cheap gas and other Russian resources allowed him to avoid major economic shocks and thus to maintain his power. On the other hand, Lukashenko needed to keep Belarus independent from Russia, and thus he could also retain his presidency. In 1995, after being elected, Lukashenko conducted the referendum, asking, among other questions, about preferable national symbols. The referendum became a scene dramatizing the fnal debate about attitudes toward the past before choosing a future. At the referendum, there were two sets of fags and coats-of-arms offered: the aforementioned nationalist symbols (white-red-white fag and Pahonia coat-of-arms) and a modifed version of the Soviet symbols (the hammer, sickle, and red star were now removed and the colors of the ornament pattern were reversed). In the flm Nenavist’: Deti Lzhi (“Hatred: The Children of Lies”), broadcast on television just before the referendum, Lukashenko’s state, which controlled television content, represented the white-red-white fag adherents as the successors of fascist collaborators (Gapova 2008, 53). The nationalist symbols lost, while the symbols in between Soviet or Russian symbols and those of the new Belarus won. From his frst interviews, Lukashenko supported the in-betweenness in his own biography, underlining that he was born in a “godforsaken half-Belarusian, half-Russian village” (Sovetskaia Belorussiia 1994). At the beginning of his rule, Lukashenko especially relied on strong ties with Russia, but in the light of more recent events, some caveats need to be applied to this statement (Marples 2005, 902). In 2014, Russia annexed the Ukrainian Crimea, supported by the majority of the Russian-speaking Crimean population. Being afraid of similar scenarios for the northern Belarusian, highly Russophone territories, Lukashenko delivered a speech stating that “we are not Russians, we are Belarusians,” underlining the necessity for a distinct identity for the Belarusian people (Prezident Respubliki Belarus 2014). Portraying Russian identity as the default identity for Belarusians may jeopardize the country’s independence and, consequently, Lukashenko’s political career. By navigating in between two identities for himself and his people, Lukashenko has been able to sit on both chairs (sidet’ na dvuh stul’ah), as a Russian saying better refects, or “to sit on the fence,” as one would translate it into English. The constant in-betweenness of Belarus and Lukashenko himself is underlined in several jokes. If Belarusians lose [in sports], Russian news calls it “The loss of Belarusians.” If they win, Russian news calls it “The victory of the Soviet school.” Recorded in Minsk (male 2011). For a version about Ukrainians, see (Novozhilova 2017).

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

The Making of the President

89

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

At the hockey match between the USA and Belarus, 90% of the audience cheers for Americans and 9.9% for Belarusians. The only person who cheers for the unknown team from Malaysia: this is Alexander Lukashenko shouting from the stands, “Malaytsy, malaytsy!” [“Well done” or “Malaysians” in Belarusian]. Recorded in Minsk (female 2012).

While many Belarusian nonstate analysts and Western researchers condemn this ambiguity, which constrains the development of Belarusian ethnic identity, others argue that Belarus took an unconventional path by rejecting totalities of language and upholding multilayered and complicated identities (Bekus 2010, 214; Mitrofanova 2006, 226; Pershái 2010, 393–395; Zaprudnik 2003, 122). Belarus under Lukashenko embraced civic nationalism, whose core is not ethnicity. Civic nationalism is also sometimes referred to as liberal nationalism, which is based on liberal values such as freedom, justice, human rights, tolerance, and so forth. (Tamir 1995). This understanding, however, does not suit Belarus, in which civic nationalism has nothing to do with liberal values and, on the contrary, becomes the guarantor of authoritarianism. Lukashenko’s Belarus is built on civil ideals appealing to the majority and the president’s social contract with them (Leshchenko 2004). His core voters have been socially vulnerable—that is, those who had experienced the uncertainty and economic diffculties of the transitional postSoviet years and who believe they need the protection of the state and the president to be their guardian (McAllister and White 2016, 366). Women, pensioners, people with less education, and those from the countryside feel protected at the liminal and crucial stages of their lives: Belarus provides free healthcare, three years of paid maternal leave, unemployment compensation, subsidies for agriculture in the countryside, and guaranteed retirement pensions. The paradox is that upon closer examination, the social guarantees in Belarus are often not free, and the benefts are very low, even compared to some capitalist countries. In 2019, the average monthly retirement pension in Belarus was 178 euros or U.S.$199 (Finance​.tut​​.by 2019), and the maximum monthly unemployment compensation equaled 20 euros or U.S.$22 (Euroradio 2019). The healthcare system is corrupt; people pay doctors informally for “additional attention,” for instance, during labor or surgery. Although the income tax rate is rather low (13%), Belarusians have to pay social security, transportation, land, bank deposit interest, and even unemployment taxes. The Belarusian gender pay gap increased from 19 percent in 2000 to 25 percent in 2017 (BelarusFeed 2019), yet Lukashenko’s electorate is 63 percent women (Thinktanks 2016). The impression of the social state persists due to the proper routinization: every elderly person is eligible for the pension, and every mother is eligible for the maternal leave. The following joke reveals the paradox of how people survive:

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

90

Chapter 4

Obama says, “Our people receive an average salary of $1500 with $500 taxation. I do not get how they live on $1000!” Medvedev [former president of Russia] says, “Our average salary is $800 with $300 taxation. I do not understand how they live on $500!” Lukashenko says, “In our state, the average salary is $300, with $400 taxation. I do not understand, where do they get $100 extra?” [U nashym gasudarstve siaredniaia zarabatnaia plata $300, a nalogav my biarem $400—in trasianka]. Recorded in Minsk (male 2013) and Vitebsk (with Putin instead of Medvedev, male 2014). See versions set in Poland (“Economic Semantics” 1956, 30), Hungary (“Jokes from Hungary” 1964, 47), and the Czech Republic (Swoboda 1969, 15). For a version about Nikita Khrushchev and Dwight D. Eisenhower, see (Banc and Dundes 1986, 119).

The economic system has also had its downfalls—jokes also ridicule several major economic crises: From the news, “Lukashenko says that a new crisis is not taking place.” “How? Again? It has not taken place recently too!” Recorded in Minsk (male 2014). For a version about Putin, see (Bibo 2011a), for a Ukrainian version, see (Veselye anekdoty 2013).

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

“What is the level of life [standard of living] in Belarus?” “We have completed all the levels and started the game anew.” Recorded in Vitebsk (male 2014). For a version about Estonia, see (Anekdot​.​ru 2005).

As is known from political science research, major economic downturns destroy the authoritarian equilibrium, exposing the leader’s incompetence and generating protests that can only be suppressed by force (Guriev and Treisman 2015, 35). Protests indeed followed the crises, but the image of stability, the suppression of the protests, Russian resources, and Belarusian civic nationalism have helped Lukashenko to avoid major economic shocks. Lukashenko has not been an accidental president for what was perceived as a “denationalized” country. Even though at his second and later elections, Lukashenko was accused of fraud, the number who voted for him, according to opinion polls, has still been the highest. Lukashenko’s civic nationalism project to push the image of a country in between has contributed to the construction of the new identity of Belarusians who sacrifce their well-being for the sake of imagined stability.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

The Making of the President

91

Lukashenko himself is the core of the country’s current identity, the symbol of independent Belarus. Similar to Vladimir Putin’s Russia (Cassiday and Johnson 2013) or Saparmurat Niyazov’s Turkmenistan (Polese and Horák 2015), the Belarusian nation-building process rests on the image of the president. Almost every state organization offce has a portrait of Lukashenko hung on a wall in a central position. One-third of Belarusians acknowledge that Lukashenko’s cult of personality has formed in Belarus (IISEPS 2010a). There has been some discussion among scholars about which factor has been more important to gain people’s loyalty: the social contract (Bedford 2017, 399) or Lukashenko’s personal traits (McAllister and White 2016). Based on the case study of Lukashenko’s birth story, discussed in the next section, I show how the masterful exploitation of both has been key to his political success.

THE ART OF HAGIOGRAPHY: THE BIRTH STORY

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

I call Lukashenko’s offcial biography “hagiography” because it strives to depict him as perfect (almost as a saint), and there are certain examples of admiring literature about him, as I show below. Due to space considerations, here I focus only on the case study of his birth story, although on the way, I will have to refer to other circumstances in his biography too. Until recently, the Offcial Internet Portal of the President of the Republic of Belarus gave the following information about Lukashenko’s birth and childhood: A.G. Lukashenko was born on the 30 of August, 1954, in the settlement of Kopys, Orsha district, Vitebsk region. Belarusian. He grew up and reared without father. Since his youth he had to put upon his shoulders a considerable part of the care for his family. That is why it is logical that as early as in childhood such qualities as perseverance, respect to work, sensibility to truth and verity as the main bases of the human soul were being revealed [sic, original text in English].

This text was considerably cut in later versions, but this version exemplifes the main appeals to the electorate Lukashenko made through his birth story: he was born in the countryside as one of the common people, who, due to having a single parent, acquired very strong qualities of leadership and diligence. The problems, however, emerged when this version and the factual information in it were suddenly changed in 2013.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

92

Chapter 4

The Date of Birth The new version read: “Alexander Lukashenko was born in the town of Kopys, Orsha District, Vitebsk Oblast, on 31 August 1954. He graduated from the Mogilev State Pedagogical University named after A.A. Kuleshov in 1975, the Belarusian Agricultural Academy in 1985. Historian, economist” (The President of the Republic of Belarus, n.d.). In addition to getting rid of several major facts, this biography presents a new date of birth: it changed from August 30 to August 31. August 31 is also the date of birth of his youngest and most beloved son, Kolia, and it is after his birth that Lukashenko learned from his own mother that he himself was born during the night between August 30 and 31. Since “in the 1950s nobody was standing with a stop-watch next to the woman in labor,” they recorded August 30 as his birthday (BelaPAN 2010). Now, Lukashenko decided to change it to have his birthday on the same day as his son’s. This disambiguation caused political misunderstanding: representatives of other countries are no longer certain when to congratulate him on his birthday. Although the date was changed for the sake of “accuracy,” it irritated many people; several of my respondents even compared the situation to George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, in which history is altered to suit those in power. As I show throughout this chapter, ambiguities and controversies have been at the service of Lukashenko’s biography and rule in every single aspect.

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

The Place of Birth Although Lukashenko was offcially born in the village of Kopys, many people assume that his birthplace is the neighboring village of Alexandria. Alexandria and Kopys, along with other nearby villages, are part of the socalled presidential zone: the villages in which Lukashenko was born, lived, and went to school. Alexandria is where Lukashenko grew up; it now houses one of his residences, which is why the village becomes the center of elaborate preparations for each visit from Lukashenko (see chapter 5). Alexandria has become the center of spectacular festive celebrations dedicated to national harvesting festivals and agrarian fairs. Given that Belarus is largely an agrarian country, these celebrations are also part of spectacular civic nationalism, attempting to mobilize people through an illusion of participation aiming to match the nation with the president (Polese and Horák 2015, 459; Adams 2010). Since Alexandria has become more meaningful, many assume by default that this is the birthplace of Lukashenko. Alexandria is promoted in a variety of ways, including its comparison to the Egyptian Alexandria, the second largest city in Egypt and once the

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

The Making of the President

93

important center of Hellenistic civilization. In 2007, after the presidential election was followed by mass protests, a book about this region appeared (From Here Comes the Origin, from Here Comes the Inspiration: Shklov Region of Literature [“Adsiul vytok, adsiul nathnenne . . .” Shklouschyna litaraturnaia]), including an essay on Alexandria and its native Lukashenko (“Alexandrian Flowers”). This is how the essay describes the birthplace of the president: After the train [by which the narrator arrived], the land breathed with clean freshness. The singing of birds in the sky and on the ground was just deafening . . . And here the handsome Dnieper stretched out like a blue curving saber, defending Alexandria from the left—it is diffcult to look away from such beauty . . . Strong people are born on great rivers. Before the village, on the other bank of the Dnieper, in Kopys settlement, Alexander Grigor’evich Lukashenko was born—Alexandria did not have its own maternity hospital. That is how his frst journey happened: in his mother’s hands across the bridge over the Dnieper, by the railroad—to the hut of his grandfather Trofm (Shelehau 2007, 260–261).

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Autumn is the queen of the harvest. In families, daily bread is a king and a god. Alexander Grigor’evich also learned early that the measure of everything in the world is a loaf of rye bread. That is why it is not surprising that for years the majority of the population has voted for him—the people are not mistaken. History turned into a course directed by the hands of a peasant’s son (ibid. 262)

This text resembles the epic, At Our Leader’s Birthplace, written by Russian folk singer Marfa Kriukova in 1939 after visiting Gori, the birthplace of Joseph Stalin. The epic combines her personal experience of seeing his birthplace, school, and underground revolutionary headquarters with descriptions of incidents from Stalin’s childhood and his life as a young revolutionary. Kriukova’s epic is one of the most quoted examples of a novina—a fakelore genre imitating traditional epic to glorify various aspects of Soviet life, especially the leader. The genre formed during Stalin’s regime: to create and publish novinas, professional folklorists collaborated with traditional epic singers (Miller 1990). The essay about Lukashenko in the book From Here Comes the Origin, from Here Comes the Inspiration could serve as a contemporary example of this genre (although, unlike novinas, it is written in prose). Populist methods have not changed much, and the habitual schemes and methods of propaganda used to create the cult of personality in Soviet times remain, superimposed over a people who have become used to them.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

94

Chapter 4

The populist method of propaganda associated with Lukashenko’s birthplace is also visual. One of the most well-known photos of Lukashenko is in the felds behind his house in Alexandria. An image of a leader against a background of an agricultural feld has been employed by different authoritarian leaders (Benito Mussolini, Vladimir Putin, Nikita Khrushchev, Emomali Rahmon—the president of Tajikistan, etc.) in support of the same idea that they are close to the land and the folk (Charter’97 2013). Mother The offcial discourse has never concealed from Belarusians that Lukashenko’s mother Ekaterina was a milkmaid who bore and reared her son without a husband. The aforementioned essay about Alexandria recounts the story of Ekaterina, as told by her neighbor:

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

I know her from the [Second World] war times, when she was the trackwalker at the railroad. Their hut got burnt after the war, so she stored up wood on her own and ploughed. And how she loved her boy . . . She kept him in her heart. And he felt that he was his mother’s frst helper. And he made his way through his life himself. A calm and independent boy. Katerina Trohimovna [his mother] was a toiler, and he took after her (Shelehau 2007, 268).

The motif of a diffcult childhood caused by the fact that Lukashenko was brought up by a single mother is an essential part of the offcial presidential biography, showing that the hard-working leader deserves the position he has taken. Additionally, his close ties with his mother and his respect for her as a woman are important for supporting Lukashenko’s link to his main electorate—elderly women. The image of Lukashenko as a caring son forms the bedrock of his political stability and links well with his paternalist image. He is often referred to as bat’ka (“father”) by, for instance, Russians who approve of his Socialist politics. Relying on more habitual schemes (like father tsar or dedudshka [“grandfather”] Lenin), Lukashenko continues the tradition of the parent-state, forging the idea of vulnerable Belarusians as subjects of care. Father: War and Ethnicity While Lukashenko’s date and place of birth as well as his mother’s image are mostly exploited by the offcial discourse to uplift the image of the president, the topic of his father remains a lacuna. Lukashenko almost never comments on this, which is why speculations readily fll in this lacuna. In these speculations, offcial and oppositional discourse, propaganda, jokes, and rumors

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

The Making of the President

95

merge together in a surprising way. For instance, there is a statement which Lukashenko presumably made once to reveal some information about his father, “My father also died during World War II.” The issue here is that Lukashenko was born in 1954, while the war had fnished in Belarus almost ten years before. Just like other slips of the tongue ascribed to Lukashenko (see chapter 1), this one circulates on the Internet on the lists of Lukashenko’s funny quotes, and people retell it and laugh at it (e.g., “Which war was it? Korean?” recorded in Minsk, male 2013). Nobody questions whether Lukashenko has really said this, and folk memory processes it as a part of offcial discourse. However, no matter how hard I tried to locate the origin of this quotation, I did not succeed. Lukashenko seems to have never actually said this. Or (and this is where the rumor steps in), as the editor of an oppositional website suggested in an interview, the source of the quote is impossible to fnd because the Belarusian KGB has erased it from the Internet (recorded in Vilnius, male 2013). Whether Lukashenko actually made the statement in question is all but impossible to prove now. However, one of the key elements in it is mentioning the World War II. In most post-Soviet countries in general, and Belarus in particular, the memory of the World War II (or the Great Patriotic War of 1941–1945, as the struggle is called in this region) is sacred. Belarus was violently devastated in 1941–1944 and suffered perhaps the most substantial amount of destruction out of all the Soviet territories. It lost over half its national wealth; in Minsk, only 40 percent of prewar residents remained, and over 2.2 million people in the republic died, the highest proportion of any Soviet republic participating in the war (Kokhanovskii and Ianovskii 1997, 359). Nearly every family suffered casualties; the war trauma has deeply penetrated the public discourse and self-awareness of Belarusians, causing many to support and endorse the Soviet ideology (Kotljarchuk 2013). The war cult formed in the Soviet Union as an organized system of symbols and rituals driven by political imperatives determined by its managers (Tumarkin 2003, 598). It has supported the cults of personality of several leaders, from Soviet leaders like Stalin to post-Soviet ones. For instance, in Turkmenistan, former president Saparmurat Nijazov made his father, who had gone missing during World War II, a symbol of Turkmen patriotism and a national hero; this promoted a positive image of the former president as the son of a man who had given his life for his country (Polese and Horák 2015, 463). Whether Lukashenko ever said that his father had died in the Great Patriotic War or not, he has continuously exploited the World War II cult in mass media, parades, and school textbooks to enhance his power. The supporters of Lukashenko frequently use the phrase “Whatever, but not a war” (Lish’ by ne bylo voiny), drawing from the national trauma, to which every Belarusian can relate, to praise the current state of peace and stability.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

96

Chapter 4

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

At the same time, the connection between Lukashenko’s father and World War II is reiterated in many rumors emerging to fll the lacunae in the offcial discourse. The most signifcant group of rumors relates to his father’s ethnicity—and speculations ultimately link it to the War memory too. The frst version claims that Lukashenko’s father was a German occupier who remained in Belarus after World War II, and thus Lukashenko himself is German. The comparison between Lukashenko and Hitler by ethnicity and dictatorial order often follows. Second, the most frequently recorded version considers him to be Roma (tsygan) and claims that there was a Roma group passing through the village where Lukashenko’s mother lived: “There was a touring Gypsy, or even the whole camp halted next to that village, and one of the Gypsies was very active with females. And that Lukashenko, when he was little, was nicknamed ‘small Gypsy’” (recorded in Minsk from a male in 2012). According to the third version, Lukashenko’s father was a Jew. The Jewish and Roma versions often intersect: “Ah, one more theme, that there is something Jewish—either a Jew or a Roma, and many people say, ‘Look at him, how he builds up the relationship with Russia, either of the streaks must be there’” (recorded in Minsk from a male in 2012). The Jewish topic also appears in one of the jokes, although the joke is not directly related to Lukashenko’s ethnicity: Lukashenko dies (here one should make a pause for the listeners’ reaction). So, Lukashenko dies. Belarusians think what to do and how to bury him. They frst ask the Chinese for help, but the Chinese refuse: they have a lot of their own people and they have no space to bury Lukashenko. They suggest asking the Americans for help. Belarusians try to ask the Americans, but the Americans remember the former conficts and, referring to the fact that Belarus has been suppressing all possible liberties and rights, refuse to help. They advised asking the Jews. The Jews also refuse saying: “Once we agreed to bury Jesus, and you know how it ended.” (In another version, Lukashenko chooses the place to be buried, and when the Jews agree to bury him for one million dollars, he gets indignant because this is too expensive for only three days.) Recorded in Saint Petersburg (male 2012), Minsk (male 2013). See versions about Fidel Castro and Pepito settling Castro’s burial (Arkhipova and Alejandrez 2013, 221), the Mexican president and Pepito (Schmidt 2014, 248), Stalin (Melnichenko 2014, 247; Banc and Dundes 1986, 157), Brezhnev (Melnichenko 2014, 300), and Franco (Garcia 1977, 88–89).

All three ethnic groups Lukashenko is related to have lived in Belarus historically and were traditionally seen as “others” (Belova 2005, 10). The

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

The Making of the President

97

stereotypes about them were always widespread and remain so: for instance, blood libel legends about the ritual murders of Christian children by Jews still circulate in this geographical area (Amosova 2013) in addition to widespread conspiracy theories about Jews taking over the world. These three ethnic groups received particular attention during World War II: millions of Jews and Roma were killed by Germans. The World War II cult downplays the Jewish and Roma Holocaust; the further discriminatory politics of the Soviets against Roma and Jewish citizens (Pinkus 1990) only supported the stereotypes. There has been constant emphasis on the “Germanness” of the Nazis, which is why Germans have since mostly been associated with the World War II. These three ethnicities remain despised in Belarus, and xenophobia paradoxically worked against the regime and the president, who did not continue to employ memories of the war in the Soviet way to support his cult of personality. Assigning a stigmatized ethnicity to the leader without any factual basis has been a strategy to delegitimize leaders worldwide. Such was the case of 2013 Czech presidential candidate Jan Fischer, the major criticism against whom targeted his Jewishness (Spritzer 2013). More well-known is a conspiracy theory arguing that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and is not eligible to be president (Barkun 2003, 183–192). Picking up on such themes, the opponents of the leaders use them in an elaborate way. Not only do the oppositionists spread rumors about Lukashenko’s ethnicity in their writings and talks; they create visual images supporting his delegitimization by ethnicity. Such was the graffti spread in Minsk stating, “A Gypsy is not a father to me,” thus negating the paternal image of the president by underlining that he belongs to one of the despised groups (Charter’97 2011).

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Choosing from Biographical Patterns and Maintaining Ambiguity Throughout this research, I observed that elements of Lukashenko’s ­biography resemble life stories from totally different countries and political systems. Just like biographies of other political leaders or heroes, his life story is not sui generis and falls into recognizable biographical patterns (Noyes 2000, 211). The fact that certain elements, such as illegitimate birth, marriage to a princess, and becoming a king, form a biographical pattern equally applicable to mythical and real heroes has been recognized by different scholars who also sought explanations for this striking universality (Campbell 1949; El-Shamy 1997; Hahn 1876; Raglan 1936; Taylor 1964; Underberg 2005). The absence or presence of certain details and traits in the biographical patterns of folk heroes, celebrities, or political fgures provides a signifcant clue to the particular worldviews that produced the various versions (Dundes 1990, 193).

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

98

Chapter 4

Lukashenko’s birth story includes several obligatory elements of the traditional biographical pattern. First, he is a hero of illegitimate birth. Numerous heroes were born out of wedlock and/or brought up by an adoptive family or a single parent (Tristan, Perseus, Paris, and Moses, among others; see [Dundes 1990, 188]). Nevertheless, the motifs of illegitimate birth and having a single parent are resolved in different ways in different biographies. In Lukashenko’s case, the illegitimate birth element underlines his close connection to his mother, thus helping him to be seen as a caring person and appealing to his main electorate—elderly women. Second, Lukashenko utilizes the “exposure move,” as Otto Rank labels giving a child up to fate (1914, 157). The hero—examples of whom include Moses, Karna, and Perseus—is sent in a basket down a river, and this the frst episode that leads to a life story full of troubles and hardships. There is certainly no basket story in Lukashenko’s case, although the beautiful river appears in fake epics about him (Shelehau 2007). Exposure to diffculties due to being the child of a single parent and growing up in the countryside allows him to play the “I am one of the folk” card. Third, the hero’s ethnicity is important for the biographical pattern (see, for instance, Ben-Amos et al. 2006). Lukashenko’s case is especially curious because, on the one hand, the offcial discourse tries to construct his in-between ethnicity to satisfy different interests, while rumors exploit this biographical element to delegitimize the president by ascribing the “other” ethnicity to him. This case is exemplary of how the same element plays different roles, shifting its emphasis depending on the speaker’s attitude toward the fgure. For dictators, maintaining power has recently become less a matter of terrorizing victims than of manipulating beliefs about the world (Guriev and Treisman 2015, 2). In this chapter, I demonstrated that beliefs about Lukashenko as a competent leader can be formed via the thorough construction of his biography. Rather than striving for monologic seamless uniformity, Lukashenko’s biography is highly contradictory and ambiguous: it is an incoherent mess of offcial representation, altered narratives, literary productions, and ascribed quotations. Lukashenko’s biography is highly folkloric due to frequent variation, lack of authorship, and certain motifs traditional in heroic biographies. There is a certain similarity between Lukashenko’s biographical narrative and the legend genre: neither constitutes a harmonious narrative, but both are characterized by brevity and an inconsistent and fragmented style. The construction of Lukashenko’s offcial profle resorts to familiar images that will resonate with the Belarussian people, such as portraits in the feld, paternalism, or fake epics. Moreover, the authenticity of a given piece of information is often questionable, and ultimate and/or truthful authority is not always clearly defned.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

The Making of the President

99

Just like with his liminal ethnic identity, ambiguity seems to be a conscious technique for Lukashenko. As Maurice Bloch suggests, an authoritarian political leader has to resort to a highly formalized code within a well-ordered system, yet, at the same time, he needs to act as an astute politician, introducing creative elements into his political performance (1989, 29). In a similar vein, Julie A. Cassiday and Emily D. Johnson show how ambiguous Vladimir Putin’s discourse is, defying any clear distinction between the offcial and unoffcial and “bringing these realms together in a sometimes baffing amalgam.” They merge to give rise to a single conversation that is invariably hard to read (2013, 48). Such a project, however, has its side effects. Due to the lack of single narrative, the lacunae in the existing ones, and resistance against the personality cult, aggressive and destructive rumors and jokes emerge. I have given several examples throughout this chapter, mostly related to the birth narrative; I dedicate the last section solely to the rumors and jokes regarding different aspects of his life and biography. Rumors and Jokes about Lukashenko

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Alexander Lukashenko has been an ambiguous and enigmatic statesman subject to multiple rumors concerning his life. They concern the status of his marriage (his estranged wife is believed to live in a cattle farm in rural Belarus, a monastery, or even a mental institution) and the identity of the mother of his youngest son, Kolia. His personal wealth has been the subject of rumors (he is alleged to have large sums of money in Lebanon, Austria, Venezuela, and elsewhere [McAllister and White 2016, 360]) and jokes: The traffc policeman stops a beautiful girl driving a fancy car. He demands that she show her driving license and then asks: “Where have you got such an expensive car?” The girl takes her phone and makes a call to someone: “Sasha, I am being asked where I have got such a car.” After receiving the reply, she conveys it to the policeman, saying, “It was a gift.” On the next day, the story repeats, but the girl drives another cool car. The same story takes place on the third day. On the fourth day, the policeman cannot take it anymore, snatches her phone, and asks, “Sasha, where have you got money for such cars?” “For someone I am Sasha, for others, I am Alexander Grigor’evich Lukashenko!” Recorded in Vitebsk (female 2013). For a version about Putin, see (Bibo 2012).

The benefactor of the beautiful girl who changes fancy cars every day appears to be Lukashenko, who can afford such cars. The joke is reminiscent of another rumor though: that of his supernatural sexual power and appetites.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

100

Chapter 4

In his earliest presidential years, a tabloid newspaper supporting Lukashenko stated that he “is the only candidate who is potent” (Komsomolskaia Pravda 1995, 4). Linking his political power to his masculine sexuality has been part of his promotion and has generated even more rumors. One of my respondents said that several young girls are brought to Lukashenko’s palace every evening so that he can choose from them (recorded from male in Minsk, 2015). Attractiveness, virility, masculinity, and frmness are often an integral part of an autocrat’s image (Laineste and Kalmre 2017, 94). The rumors about Lukashenko’s sexual appetites also rest on the fact that his youngest son was born rather late from an unknown woman (allegedly, his personal doctor) and other rumors declaring that Lukashenko has more children born out of wedlock. The sexual potency references coexist with other propaganda—Lukashenko’s image as a very ft sportsman who is especially fond of football and hockey. Due to his hobbies, many sports arenas were built. Engaging in sports in these complexes, however, remains very expensive for common people, and many of them now serve as concert arenas and restaurants. While Belarus seems to promote sports and a healthy lifestyle by building sports palaces like these, it is 141st in the world for life expectancy at birth (Central Intelligence Agency 2017), and at least 11 percent of Belarusians are alcohol-dependent (with an average of 4 percent in Europe as of 2010 [Global Alcohol Report. Belarus 2010]). Another joke uncovers the interplay of the personality cult and the alcoholism that is traditional for this region. Alcoholics in the last stages of their illness may start drinking any liquid available that contains alcohol, including cologne.

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

“Every politician tries to immortalize himself. Vodka: ‘Yeltsin,’ ‘Zhirinovsky,’ ‘Gorbachev.’ “But what about the Belarusian president?” “He is modest. He limited his perpetuation to the cologne, ‘Sasha.’” Recorded in Minsk (male 2013).

Despite the prevalence of health problems in Belarus, the construction of the sports complexes is not for the sake of sports but for the sake of spectacular civic nationalism (Adams 2010). For the same reason, building the sport complexes was followed by building the national library, the geometrical design of which has been so unpopular that it has received the folk names of Chupa Chups, Rubik’s Cube, and Sharik Shurika [“The Ball of Shurik”—Shurik is short for Alexander]. Similar to the humorous nicknames for Lukashenko’s creation, conversational and narrative jokes ridicule the absurdity of spectacular nationalism and Lukashenko’s assumed stupidity: Lukashenko learned to play football and the whole country started to build football stadiums.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

The Making of the President

101

Lukashenko learned to play hockey and all of Belarus started to build ice arenas. And now Belarus builds a national library. Recorded in Minsk (male 2013).

In addition, Lukashenko’s offcial presentation as a ft and healthy leader is contested, with multiple rumors circulating about the true state of his health and how Lukashenko’s political team tries to conceal that he is getting older. He supposedly has to wear glasses, but the media is prohibited to capture them in photos or videos, even when the glasses are placed next to the president, and cannot talk about him wearing them. Lukashenko has an elaborate haircut to conceal his baldness, and, according to other rumors, journalists can only take pictures and videos of Lukashenko’s head from a certain angle so as not to reveal how bald he in fact is (recorded from a female, Saint Petersburg 2015). Still, even children’s jokes acknowledge and mention his baldness: Boys played cards, one of them lost, and as a dare, other boys asked him to shout out: “Lukashenko and Putin sit in the garbage pit!” He went out to shout it and heard the voice from garbage pit: “Baldy, we’ve been noticed!” Recorded in Minsk (male 2012). For a version about Reagan and Gorbachev, see (Livejournal 2011).

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Other rumors report more serious physical and mental maladies that Lukashenko supposedly has. Since his early career, his opponents spread the rumor that he has an antisocial personality disorder called “mosaic psychopathy” which, they often added, Stalin, Mussolini, and Hitler had. To my humble medical knowledge, mosaic psychopathy does not belong to any list of medical conditions. Finally, a number of jokes expose hostile attitudes toward Lukashenko and the open wish that he dies: Terrorists kidnapped Lukashenko and demanded a ransom. The offcials collect all the money from treasury, but this is still not enough, so they decide to collect money from people. The traffc policeman stops a car and says, “You know, there is a problem in the country: the president has been taken hostage, and if we do not fnd money before tomorrow, they will cover him in petrol and set him on fre. Please, give as much as you can.” The man thinks for a while and replies, “I can give 5 liters.” Recorded in Vitebsk (male 2014). For a version about Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko, see (Talks​.​by 2007). For a version about Vladimir Putin, see (Pikabu​.r​u, n.d.). Putin and Kuchma [Ukrainian president] are in a plane. Putin asks, “What if the plane crashes? Which people will grieve more, Russians or Ukrainians?”

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

102

Chapter 4

“Belarusians.” “Why?” “Because Lukashenko was not with us.” Recorded in Minsk (male 2012), with Putin and Kuchma in Moscow (female 2012). For a Soviet version, see (Melnichenko 2014, 860); for versions about Hitler, Goering and Goebbels, see (Arkhipova and Melnichenko 2011, 259). Bat’ka was being buried, three accordions were torn . . . [In the joke, people were so happy and played the instruments so intensely that they tore them.] Recorded in Tartu (male 2011). For a version about mother-in-law burial, see (Kostromin 2003).

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Lukashenko thinks while sitting in his offce. His portrait hangs on the wall. “Oh, the prices rise so fast, everything becomes so much more expensive, the strikes are more frequent, the salaries are tiny. Probably, they will take me down soon.” The portraits answer quietly from the wall, “No, they will take me down and hang you.” Recorded in Minsk (female 2012) and Vitebsk (male 2017). The earliest record of this joke is from 1920 about the portraits of Lenin, Trotsky, Molotov, and Stalin; see (Melnichenko 2014, 166–167). For a version about Hitler, see (Melnichenko 2014, 157). Kennedy, Yeltsin, and Lukashenko walk down the street and meet Jesus. He asks them, “Do you want me to tell you why you are lucky?” “You are lucky because you rule a great country and have a strong loving family,” he said to Kennedy. “You are lucky because you went through a complicated surgery and continue to rule a superpower,” he says to Yeltsin. “And why am I lucky [A u chym mae shchasce, in Belarusian]?” Lukashenko can’t wait. “You are lucky because my hands and feet are nailed.” Recorded in Minsk (male 2014) and Vitebsk (male 2017). For a version about Obama, Poroshenko, and Putin, see (Anekdot​.​ru 2014).

While offcial propaganda employs different techniques to glorify Lukashenko via his own biography, jokes, and rumors often resist this. To a certain extent, they may be regarded as a folk response to the creation of a cult of personality. Rumors and jokes, as uncontrollable folklore, perform similar functions by undermining and eroding offcial truths, systematized worldviews, and the

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

The Making of the President

103

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

moral teachings imposed by them (Valk 2011, 25–26). However, as many other examples in this book show, their functions should not be limited to resistance. In fact, by constantly recycling the existing state of things in their fction, rumors, and jokes normalize shocking and horrendous situations, making them seem quotidian and mundane. In chapter 5, I show how window-dressing rumors and jokes lay the groundwork for establishing and normalizing the hegemony of the Belarusian Potemkinist state system, which then seems like a viable alternative to democracy.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved. Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Chapter 5

When the President Comes

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Potemkin Villages

The term “Potemkin villages” (potemkinskie derevni) originated in the Russian Empire to describe what was perhaps the most famous case of building façades to hoodwink important guests. In 1787, the Empress of Russia, Catherine the Great, departed to see her newly conquered territory of Novorossiya and Tavrida (contemporary Ukraine). To show this territory in the best possible way, General Grigory Potemkin is said to have ordered that peasants should construct mock villages along her route. After multiple arguments, historians have agreed that this story was a legend, but this legend did not appear from nowhere, and it refected political tendencies of that time (Panchenko 1999, 462–475). Despite the announced groundbreaking changes of the Revolution, in the Soviet Union, Potemkin villages became an especially ftting idiom to describe an act of concealing the grim reality from a short-term visitor (Nechepurenko 2018). The emphasis on a visible, rational, disciplined Potemkinist façade prevailed, whether in architecture or in public ritual (Scott 1998, 196). First, in the Soviet Union, Potemkinism became a primary means of cultural diplomacy: showcasing “the great experiment of the Soviets” entailed showing ideal model institutions, from collective farms to scientifc organizations, to Western visitors. The terms kultpokaz (“cultural show”) and pokazuha (“window dressing”) formed to describe this particular kind of Potemkin villages (David-Fox 2012, 98–141). The most well-known case was probably that of the kultpokaz organized for U.S. vice president Henry Agard Wallace’s tour to the Magadan Gulag in 1944, during the rise of the U.S.-USSR friendship. By organizing the route and erecting Potemkin villages for Wallace, the Soviets duped him into believing that Gulag was a highly effcient organization rather than a repressive institution with inhuman conditions for prisoners (Applebaum 2006, 412–413; Birstein 2012). Through ideal representations 105

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

106

Chapter 5

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

of certain institutions and territories “the defects and contradictions of the present were overlooked and the world was described not as it was but as it was becoming, as Soviet Marxists believed it necessarily would be in future” (Fitzpatrick 1994, 16, her italics). In addition to making a show of exemplary institutions, the deceptions concentrated at the Western borders of the Soviet bloc, such as the Baltic states (Purs 2012, 49–75). Second, the idealist representations of Potemkinism not only targeted visitors but also the USSR’s own citizens. As early as in 1919, the so-called agitpunkts (short for agitatitsionnyi punkt—“canvassing venue”), indoctrination and political propaganda centers, were established in towns and railway stations to promote Soviet values and achievements. They glorifed and idealized the best Soviet workers, military successes, and agrarian or industrial triumphs. Agitpunkt became synonymous for the propaganda façade concealing the actual state of things. The ideal depictions of the Soviet realities in agitpunkts became subject to jokes (which are still recorded in Belarus): The man found himself in kingdom come. He is asked, “Where do you want to go, to paradise or to hell?” He asks, “May I have a look at them?” First, he sees a place with music, birds singing, creeks babbling, fowers and trees and is told that this is paradise. “What about the hell? Show it to me!” He sees a pub where other men drink, smoke, yell, and have fun. The man says, “I want to stay in hell!” Suddenly, he fnds himself in a frying pan in the oven. “But why? I saw something different!” “That was an agitpunkt.” Recorded in Vitebsk (female 2011). For a Soviet version with Khrushchev as a protagonist, see (Melnichenko 2014, 623). For a Nazi German version, see (Gamm 1979 [1963], 69). In a Romanian version, the tour around hell and paradise is organized for tourists (Banc and Dundes 1986, 43–44).

Third, in addition to foreign visitors and its own citizens, perhaps the most important target audience for Potemkin villages was the Soviet superiors. Elaborate preparations preceded important offcials’ visits, and deceptive mechanisms were invented to conceal the real state of things and present the situation in the best possible way. For instance, the insanely high demands for achievements combined with very low wages generated the practice of tufta—ingenious ways to cheat one’s superiors by pretending to work. Initially, tufta probably developed in Gulag camps due to the impossibly high daily working quotas imposed on prisoners; the idea then blossomed for the whole Soviet system, well-encompassed by the proverb “They pretend

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

When the President Comes

107

that they pay, we pretend that we work” and such vernacular terms as ochkovtiratel’stvo (“eyewash,” lit. “rubbing the glasses”), lipa (“fake”), and so forth (Applebaum 2006, 330). Whether created for foreigners, regular people, or superior Soviets, literal and metaphorical constructions of Potemkin villages became an important theme of the Soviet political folklore repertoire. The genres of stories about Potemkinism mostly fuctuated between rumor and humor. The precise genre defnition is diffcult again primarily because it is hard to determine whether Potemkinist stories are true or not and where the border between truth and fction lies. For instance, Alexandra Arkhipova and Mikhail Melnichenko give the following example of this kind of narrative recorded as a joke (2011, 36–49):

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Stalin drives in a car past a beautiful two-storey summer house [dacha]. “Whose kindergarten is this?” “This is the house of General N.” “But it seems to me that this is a kindergarten.” The next day, when Stalin drove along the route again, children were running around the house (Borev 1990, 235).

In another version of this joke, Stalin parties in Marshal Kostantin Rokossovsky’s luxurious summer house and says this is a good “children’s summer camp.” On the same day, orphans settle there (Krikmann 2004, 165). These two texts may be versions of the same joke; however, one or both of them might have well been rooted in real events, given how afraid of Stalin’s visits and orders people were. After all, many rumors with a similar plot persisted: according to them, Stalin visited someone’s mansion, recommended that it should turn into an institution benefcial for vulnerable people, and this happened the next day. It is hard to validate the truth of these variations based on the same plot, but just like the initial Potemkinist legend, they refect the tendencies of this time. While jokes are traditional bearers of absurdity, rumors about Potemkinism also refected on the absurdity of the Potemkinist reality. Looking for the origin of Potemkin narratives, defning their genre, and answering the folklorist’s eternal question of whether they are the products of mono- or polygenesis is rarely possible. This is also the case with Potemkin narratives persisting in some contemporary post-Soviet countries. For example, one of the most recurrent Potemkinist plots is about paving asphalt over manholes along the ruler’s route (when the workers do not have time to repair the road properly before his visit). Multiple pieces of news discuss paving the manholes before Vladimir Putin’s arrival in Smolensk (Bezformata 2019), Dmitry Medvedev’s trip to Kirov (Lenta​.​ru 2009), Victor Yanukovich’s visit

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

108

Chapter 5

to Chernovtsy (TSN 2010), and Alexander Lukashenko’s visits to Vitebsk (see below). It would be misleading, however, to argue that Potemkinism is a purely Russian, Soviet, or post-Soviet phenomenon. Potemkinism is named differently in different languages, but the variety of synonyms and related terms, for instance, in English, proves that it is a widespread phenomenon (window dressing, massaging the data, building façades, beautifcation, cosmetic reforms, etc.). Potemkinism is at least as old and widespread as another famous piece of folklore—the fairy tale “Puss in Boots” (Uther 2004, ATU 545B). Over the course of the fairy tale, the cat successfully presents his master, the son of a miller without money for a dowry, to the king (the cat hurries ahead of the king’s coach and orders the country folk along the road to tell the king that the land belongs to the cat’s master). As a result, the king is impressed with the bogus son of a miller and his fortune and gives him the princess in marriage. Another famous work of art on Potemkinism is the flm Bienvenido, Mr. Marshall (Spain 1953), which shows how offcials try to show off Franco’s Spain to U.S. emissaries in order to get fnancial aid from them. They select different objects for kultpokaz, trying to demonstrate the stereotypes of Spanish culture to impress the visiting American offcials (Noyes 2006). Potemkinism is well known to tourists visiting North Korea, who are only allowed to follow certain routes to see a façade exclusively prepared for them. Related stories persist: in order to showcase their prosperity to the South, North Koreans reportedly fabricated an entire village, Kijong-dong, which lies in the heavily patrolled demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. Actors and actresses cut the grass, turned the lights in the buildings on and off, and pretended to live happy, poverty-free lives to impress South Koreans (The Latest 2008). On the one hand, as Brian McVeigh argues, “all societies possess—indeed, rest upon (to some degree at least)—simulated institutions” (McVeigh 2012, 15). On the other hand, the most powerful Potemkinist stories seem to circulate in repressive and authoritarian regimes. As I show below, in Belarus, Potemkinism is deeply embedded not only in public rituals but also in everyday life. It becomes another cornerstone of Lukashenko’s hegemony and a crucial tool for Belarusian foreign policy. Initially in my research, I did not aim to ask about Potemkinism, but these stories started to pop up naturally in many interviews with Belarusians. Since the instances of Potemkinism in Belarus are so widespread that there could be a whole book written about them, in this chapter, I limit myself mostly to examples from two localities: my home in the Vitebsk region and the so-called Presidential Zone—the Alexandria village and its surroundings (where Lukashenko was born and raised). I then proceed with several examples of how Potemkinism surpasses mere architectural constructs for the president by infltrating everyday life and foreign policy.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

When the President Comes

109

POTEMKINISM IN VITEBSK AND THE VITEBSK REGION Artifcially limited infation, the administrative command economy, and rising salaries before the 2010 presidential election resulted in the 2011 Belarusian fnancial crisis. This entailed 50 percent devaluation of the Belarusian rouble, infation, and an associated decrease in purchasing power. In search of a way out, among other measures, the government tried to revive forlorn ineffective industries scattered around the country. Alexander Lukashenko visited many of them personally, including the Vitebsk woodworking enterprise. Many stories accompanied and followed his visit. According to them, the road Lukashenko was to drive on as well as its surroundings were completely changed. Vitebsk offcials prepared a guest route, an essential Potemkinist practice, for Lukashenko: To prepare it for Lukashenko’s visit, all of the DSK [name of the district in which the woodworking enterprise is based] was cleaned, moreover . . . they paved the road with asphalt at the very last minute, in fact, they paved the road over the snow, it was snowing for the frst time . . . All the workers were sent away for a day off, one line was launched, and engineers and masters wearing new clothes were placed there instead of the workers, those who would not have said anything wrong. Recorded in Vitebsk (male 2013).

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

And on Lukashenko’s way, of course, everything was put in order. In the places where the streetlights had not worked for decades, they lit everything; they put numbers on the houses. Recorded in Vitebsk (female 2013). They started to pave the road with asphalt over the snow, they started to paint everything, all the roads, all the glades, even to clear them of stumps; to light up the windows in every possible way; this was horrible. The head of the enterprise which he was supposed to visit had been fred and hired again three times. Recorded in Vitebsk (male 2013).

The nonstate, oppositionist press, including Radio Liberty, added to the circulating narratives: several articles appeared claiming that during the preparations for Lukashenko’s visit, trams—the main means of public transportation in this district—did not work, as the road was being paved with asphalt: Many people expressed their indignation at Vitebsk offcials preparing pokazuha for Lukashenko. And then they often added that they had not voted for him

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

110

Chapter 5

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

at the election; and the more things like that happened, the more diffcult it was to tolerate such humiliation . . . The façades of the houses were being painted, the trees cut, the bushes cleared, even the fowerbeds planted—no matter that it was in December (Svaboda 2012).

The narratives surrounding Lukashenko’s visit to the Vitebsk woodworking enterprise are like many others associated with Lukashenko’s visits to other places, each more incredible than the last. In the rainy summer of 2018, Homiel city offcials were ordered to pump water out of puddles on Lukashenko’s route before his visit (Belsat 2018). Once, Lukashenko visited a countryside agrarian enterprise, and the offcials decided to impress him by showing off a special breed of cows; for this, they simply sawed off the horns of the regular cows (recorded in Vitebsk, female 2013). In the Mogilev region, they painted cows’ hooves for Lukashenko’s visit (Livejournal 2010). In Polotsk, people were asked not to dry their laundry on their balconies and not to walk their dogs on Lukashenko’s route when he was visiting (Free Region 2012). The idiom krasit’ travu [“to paint grass”] appeared to defne these and other practices of elaborate and meaningless preparations for Lukashenko’s visits all over the country. Unverifed information about them circulates orally, on blogs, and by the nongovernmental press. It is almost impossible to say whether stories about such preparations are true: the facts and the narratives get into a continuous process of retroaction, strengthening each other’s viability in the paradoxical situation of coexistence. They refect on both what has really happened and what can happen (Dégh and Vázsonyi 1983, 29). In fact, such stories become “maps for action” (Ellis 1989, 218), as from them, people in the locality Lukashenko visits next learn how others strived to hoodwink him and can do the same. The repeating stories enacted in real life are reminiscent of the term “ostension,” most thoroughly exemplifed by Linda Dégh and Andrew Vázsonyi (1983) in their analysis of U.S. Halloween legends about poisoned candies and apples with razors in them that were supposedly discovered in trick-ortreat sacks. Dégh and Vázsonyi showed that people may often perform the legend: having heard the stories of the apples with razors, they could actually pretend to have received an apple with a razor to prank their friends. As such, not only can facts be turned into narratives but narratives can also be turned into facts. Later, scholars gave more examples demonstrating how people enact the rumors and legends they have heard, for instance, by deliberately placing a mouse in a soda or beer can and thus performing an ostensive action: replicating the legend about a mouse/rat in a soda can (Preston 1989). In addition to the deliberate reenactment of a legend, ostension may manifest in cases in which a narrator transforms a rumor into a personal experience story, an act known as proto-ostension (Dégh and Vázsonyi 1983; Meder

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

When the President Comes

111

2009, 261–262). Undoubtedly, ostention is also a key to understanding Potemkinist narratives that migrate from one place to another, with people reenacting previously heard rumors (e.g., painting the grass) or transforming rumors into personal or friend-of-a-friend stories. Through Potemkin stories, people also judge that there is no limitation for the asininity of Potemkinism. Asininity (marazm) is one of the key words Belarusians use when describing Potemkinism, explaining the absurdity of Potemkinism by marazm, unprofessionalism, and the stupidity of higherranking offcials coming from the very top and diffusing around: They were painting the rotten old windows before the president’s visit. [For pokazuha as well?] Of course, for pokazuha. I also consider that every boss has a certain marazm of his own level, and the higher the level is, the more marazm he has. Recorded in Vitebsk (female 2013).

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

[Why do such cases happen?] Some idiot makes a decision, and everyone should behave the way this idiot wants. This is the style of management coming from the very top; that is why I am not surprised at such cases fourishing at the level of the Ministry of Health or kindergartens: these are chains of one vertical line. We just see the effect on the lower levels. Recorded in Minsk (male 2013).

Another word that is key to Potemkinism is nepriiatnosti (“troubles”)—many report that they agree to erect absurd Potemkin façades to avoid them, primarily via being fred or demoted. Nepriiatnosti may also follow gaffes in erecting Potemkin façades: no blunders are allowed. My interviewees used both marazm and nepriiatnosti a lot when talking about the former Vitebsk governor, Alexander Kosinets, who was the main offcial associated with Potemkinism in the city, after Lukashenko. One of my interviewees told the story of how the shopping mall Marko City in the center of Vitebsk was built at Kosinets’s order. The opening of the mall situated in the very center of the city was dedicated to the annual Slavianskii Bazar music festival—Vitebsk is hastily renovated every year to impress the international visitors of the festival as well as Lukashenko. Just a couple of days before the festival, Alexander Kosinets visited Marko City and was almost fully satisfed with it. Only one thing disturbed him: to his mind, the transformer substation supplying the shopping mall with electricity was spoiling the view of the whole composition, and he asked the employees to remove it. The employees were shocked: this caprice would cost several days of work and cause an electricity shutdown in the central district of the city. I asked the interviewee if they objected. “Of course, not. Kosinets is a medical doctor, how will you explain

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

112

Chapter 5

it to him?” After some thinking, he added: “Well, taking into account that my uncle was demoted, maybe he objected. It may have caused nepriiatnosti” (recorded in Vitebsk, male 2013). Whether it is the Slavianskii Bazar or a visit from the president, every special event held in the country brings about new stories about the elaborate Potemkinist preparations. As one of my interviewees put it, “many things [in Belarus] become relevant immediately before a certain date or event” (recorded in Minsk, male 2013). Another interviewee remembered a story about how Kosinets had forced different state institutions to adorn windows with garlands at the employees’ expense “to create a festive mood” before New Year.

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

He issued a decree [ordering to decorate the buildings with garlands], probably unpublished, I guess on Saturday. On Sunday, people of course did not work and did not know anything, and coming to work on Monday, they learned that garlands were to be there by 4 p.m., as someone would come and check that, and if the windows were not decorated, the managers would have nepriiatnosti. On Monday, people had to pay heaps of money for the garlands, ask their friends for them, well, as usual. Recorded in Vitebsk (female 2013).

Judging by the fact that the zealous advocate of decorative order, Alexander Kosinets, was promoted to the position of the Head of Presidential Administration in 2014, his Potemkin villages ft the ideology of Lukashenko’s state very well. Lukashenko’s hegemony rests on Potemkinism: compliant people express their loyalty and reproduce the system when erecting asinine Potemkin villages; in return, they avoid troubles and keep what they imagine to be a welfare state. Antonio Gramsci would say that Belarus reached “excellence” in hegemony due to the massive production of subaltern identities (1985, 61–63). Plain environments constructed as Potemkinist façades tend to diminish skills, agility, and initiative and encourage parochial activism (Jacobs 1961; Scott 1998, 194, 224–225, 349), decreasing the meaning of individuality, diversity, creativity, and choice—qualities that are dangerous for nondemocratic societies. The system becomes self-suffcient through everyone participating and being involved in building façades. Potemkinism is an ideal instrument for supporting the existing hegemony: it diminishes the initiative to protest because of the fear of troubles and belief in the welfare state. In 2016, Lukashenko demoted Kosinets from his new position, and while the offcial discourse does not comment on the reasons, rumors do. It is said that Kosinets was so good that Lukashenko became afraid of being overthrown by him (female, recorded in Stockholm in 2018). Given that the rule of Kosinets was primarily known for Potemkinism, the rumors suggest

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

When the President Comes

113

why Lukashenko might fear him as a rival. Kosinets was too effective in reproducing hegemony and could easily replace Lukashenko: by engaging in Kosinets’s absurd Potemkinist practices, his subordinates conformed to his will just as well as they conformed with Lukashenko’s rule.

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

ALEXANDRIA AND THE PRESIDENTIAL ZONE Perhaps the ultimate example of Potemkinism in Belarus can be found in Alexandria village, where Alexander Lukashenko grew up, and the surrounding villages in which he was born, studied, or which simply lie on his route when he visits Alexandria. This cluster of villages is known as the Presidential Zone, and it has been the topic of jokes and rumors all over Belarus. As one of my Vitebsk interlocutors joked when hearing that I was going to visit Alexandria for feldwork, “there, even cows do not defecate in the places not designated for defecation” (female, recorded in Vitebsk in 2013). According to rumors, KGB agents crowd the area and surveil both residents and newcomers (Compromat 2006). The symbolic center of the Presidential Zone is the Museum of Lukashenko set up in the school where he studied. Visiting it requires permission from the local division of the state’s Department of Ideology, and they make their decision on whether to grant permission after asking many questions over the phone about the aim of the visit. Taking pictures in the museum was not allowed at the time of my visit in 2013: the guide explained that the museum was not quite ready after recent renovations, which could cause criticism and speculations in case pictures were uploaded to the Internet. The museum exposition is presented on four walls: the frst one is dedicated to the history of the location, the one across from it is on the ethnography of the region, and the third and the fourth ones, facing each other, are about Lukashenko— pictures of him and his family and some documents. In the center, there is a picture of Lukashenko in an Alexandrian rye feld. The Lukashenko Museum is an interesting case: unlike the majority of window-dressing cases described above and below, it performs humility and ordinariness. This is quite a contrast from more typical cult of personality monuments (statues, luxurious museums, or mausoleums). It supports Lukashenko’s hagiography and ideology showing that he is one of the folk, the ordinary people. In Alexandria and its surroundings, I never even had to ask about Potemkinism; the natural fow of conversation brought the speaker to his or her complaints at the very beginning of the talk. Potemkinism was the main topic of storytelling in this locality, as all major events are dedicated to Lukashenko’s arrival. The frst thing almost everyone I met on my way in Alexandria and the surrounding villages mentioned to me was that they

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

114

Chapter 5

represented an unusual school, hospital, museum, factory or shop, as they are based in the Presidential Zone. No matter what their actual job is, the duties of the dwellers of the Presidential Zone include maintaining perfect façades and undertaking elaborate preparations for each of Lukashenko’s visits. Lower offcials working in the zone make people build façades for the president; window dressing becomes their offcial duty, which overweighs the essence of their actual jobs and becomes more signifcant than teaching for a teacher, selling goods for a shop assistant, or taking care of the regular visitors for a museum guide. It was quite frequent during my feldwork that one of the inhabitants would express his or her discontent with Potemkin villages, and other people surrounding us would come up with a series of examples of what they have to do to please Lukashenko. For instance, an employee of a cultural institution once started complaining by saying that, before Lukashenko’s recent visit, they had to “crawl and clean everything with their bellies.” When he arrived, they were sent to the forest and had to stay there while he was visiting, even though it was early spring and still frosty. A visitor from the nearby plant interjected with a comment: when Lukashenko came to his enterprise, the employees were sent to sit and wait in the warehouse. The unsightly and unreliable were to be kept away from the eyes of the president to prevent the slightest chance that they might talk or behave inappropriately. Another visitor agreed: when he worked on power grids and Lukashenko was visiting a nearby factory, electricians were to stay inside the transformer substation. It happened not only because they were unsightly but also to eliminate any distortion in the performance: in case the electricity was cut, they were supposed to fx it immediately. He also said that before the 2006 presidential election, electricians in the Vitebsk region had received an order to hang lights in every village and to remove them after the election. This is an example of window dressing done by people for other people of the same social class and similar rank; having been ordered to make each other happier before the election, they consciously and routinely completed this order. Perhaps the ultimate story I heard in this conversation was that of the principal of a school in the Presidential Zone who was painting its façade in a hurry to prepare it for another visit from Lukashenko and fell off the ladder, breaking his leg. However, my Alexandrian interviewees noted, breaking the leg was for the good. Among other preparations before Lukashenko’s visit (including painting the façade), the offcials set up a computer class for students, so the principal did not suffer in vain. While Potemkinism is characteristic of Belarus as a whole, it is fundamental for Alexandria, where hegemonic excellence triumphs. Alexandria is the most extreme case of Potemkinism and “order” (poriadok)—a key term associated with Lukashenko’s rule—something he promised to establish from the very beginning of his political career. The defnitions of order, however,

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

When the President Comes

115

may be contradictory: order is “the state of peace, freedom from confused or unruly behavior, and respect for law or proper authority” (Merriam-Webster, n.d.) and “a state in which the laws and rules regulating public behavior are observed and authority is obeyed” (Lexico n.d.). The second, rather Potemkinist and authoritarian understanding of order is antonymous to the frst, rather democratic defnition. Order in the sense of regulating public behavior and obedience to strict rules in Belarus becomes an alternative to order as peace. It is not freedom that counts in the Belarusian case, but power: the ability of the leader to provide peace, prosperity, and stability. This state of things seems to constitute a viable model in Belarus, in contrast to Western democracies. In addition to reinforcing hegemony, the perfection of the otherwise ordinary Belarusian village aims to metonymically transfer the ideal qualities of this subject territory to its leader by proxy. Exhibiting the perfect Belarusian countryside (given that Belarus is largely an agrarian country), these fawless performances do not only target Lukashenko but also other observers. More than that, the drive to achieve fawlessness, so essential in the interaction between Lukashenko and his people, spreads beyond the political performances and becomes the foundation of Belarusian everyday life.

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

NOT ONLY VILLAGES BEING BUILT Potemkin villages in Belarus surpass mere archipectural enhancements for superiors or ordinary citizens and become metaphors for their residents’ lifestyle at large. To illustrate how deeply window dressing is embedded into the lives of Belarusians, in this brief section, I will mostly introduce instances of Potemkinism in higher education, one of the professional felds subject to window dressing that I am more familiar with. The cases of Potemkinism in higher education start with the most visible: pompous performances for foreign visitors at international conferences. Unlike conferences for locals, international conferences in my feld open with folk dances and songs. Demonstrating invented folk culture to foreign visitors is standard practice whether in tourism or in Eastern European academic conferences. Special attention to foreigners, however, goes far beyond literal performances and mere hospitality. One of my academic European friends visiting a conference in Minsk complained that a student was appointed to look after him and followed him everywhere, softly steering him away from nonideal representations of the country. In the same way as the kultpokaz described at the beginning of this chapter, Potemkin villages are often meant to mislead foreigners with certain conditions that are carefully groomed for them. In addition, Potemkinism penetrates academic research. I wrote my own frst research paper when studying in a Belarusian university; it was on

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

116

Chapter 5

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

student humor and paved the way for my interest in political humor later. For this research paper, I was carefully collecting students’ jokes, humorous poems, and songs to publish and analyze them. But when I showed these texts to my supervisor, an elderly and highly respected scholar who occupied a leading position in the university, she made me erase all instances of curses or obscenity in the material collected—anything that could embarrass the reader. She corrected what she said were “mistakes” in folklore, and, as a result, I got innocent, ordered, and grammatically correct texts resembling anything else but student lore. Some students and scholars learn to adapt and beneft from the Potemkin elements of the system. In a recent encounter with a Belarusian scholar who was telling about her doctoral dissertation on linguistics, I expressed my surprise about its easy defense: it contradicted my knowledge about the diffculties of defending a dissertation on the humanities in Belarus. “Potemkinskie derevni, that was what helped me,” she replied. She had a lot of English sources in her bibliography, which made her elderly professors think her dissertation was good enough. According to her, they could not read English, so they could not check these sources, but having to maintain their academic faces, they did not confess it. Thanks to this twist, the dissertation defense went smoothly. Potemkinism in Belarus becomes more than saving face: it grows into a routine of everyday life. I could continue with examples of Potemkin villages deeply embedded in all spheres of Belarusian life beyond higher education. For instance, façade performances become a priority in young families’ houses: in spite of lack of money, they take bank loans for decoration and beautifcation of their apartments and buying new cars; no matter that afterward they do not have enough money for food. What is more important, however, is how Belarusians refect on Potemkinism and evaluate such practices. ATTITUDES TOWARD POTEMKINISM Belarusians are conscious about Potemkinism: they constantly use the phrase potemkinskie derevni and its synonyms, retell critical accounts of asinine Potemkinist instances, and refect on various aspects of Potemkinism, from shaking in front of the offcials to bending over trying to please the offcials, in rumors and jokes. Lukashenko says to his driver, “Let me drive!” They changed places, Lukashenko drives the car on the highway. A policeman stops the car, looks at him, and steps away shaking, “I do not know who is in the car, but Lukashenko is driving him.”

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

When the President Comes

117

Recorded in Minsk (male 2012). For a version about Andropov, see (Anekdot​.​ru 1996). At the proctologist’s: Lukashenko visits the proctologist and says, “It is the third day that I do not defecate. Doctor, what is wrong with me?” “Take off your pants, bend down. Well, you have nothing in there, not even a hole.” “Shit, they have licked it down” [Vot, blia, zalizali]. Recorded in Minsk (male 2013) and Vitebsk (male 2014). For a version about Brezhnev, see (Melnichenko 2014, 280), for a version about Putin, see (Anekdot​.​ru 2002).

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

While the frst joke reveals the intense fear of Belarusians in front of high offcials, the second one uncovers fawning and lickspittles. Both types of behavior are associated with Potemkinism. However, these jokes and critical accounts on Potemkinism should not lead one to think that people resist or only treat Potemkinism critically. On the contrary, these self-refexive jokes and rumors function as confessions about Belarusian behavior that normalize every following instance of it. Attitudes toward Potemkinism are ambiguous, and even Belarusians may fnd positive aspects of it. This is how, for instance, a young man of rather oppositionist views expressed his attitude toward the changes undertaken by Kosinets in Vitebsk: About the changes in the city, my attitude is ambivalent: on the one hand, the city became attractive, places for rest appeared; on the other hand, spaces that were too important, like Victory Square, were rebuilt. But the young people are happy, children are happy . . . Also, just before Lukashenko’s visit, a car hit the fence [the fence became unsightly for Lukashenko coming by], so the fence was expanded, and it was positive. Recorded in Vitebsk (male 2013).

And this is the conclusion about Potemkinism from another interviewee: [Are there many cases of pokazuha?] Of course, there is a lot of marazm. But I think it happens not only in Belarus; in all the countries, it was and will be like that. Recorded in Minsk (male 2013).

More than that, Belarusians learn to adapt and beneft from the situation they fnd themselves in when they have to construct Potemkin villages. The aforementioned case in Alexandria with the principal who was painting the school in a hurry and broke his leg is symptomatic: many concluded that the

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

118

Chapter 5

leg of the school principal was not broken in vain, since the school got computers. Similarly, the PhD student defended her dissertation easily thanks to Potemkin villages: the professors did not know English but could not confess that fact, having to fake their academic expertise. Understanding Potemkinism solely as a negative for Belarusians is as unproductive and distortive as depicting Belarus as a gloom-and-doom dictatorship. Many appreciate the order which results from Potemkinism, even if this order is not democratic. The façade comes to be an end to itself: visual representation of order and effciency ultimately substitutes for reality (Scott 1998, 224–225), as in the above interview about the changes in Vitebsk. Finally, Potemkinism is a good tool for foreign propaganda, mainly targeting the values of a nostalgic post-Soviet audience.

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

THE PROBLEM OF (MIS-)REPRESENTATION Until recently, the European Union and the United States have criticized Belarus for illegitimate referendums and have imposed sanctions for human rights violations. Consequently, Belarusian foreign policy has prioritized cooperation with countries which have mostly approved of Lukashenko’s politics. It has had primary cooperation with the former Soviet countries constituting the Commonwealth of Independent States (which includes Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, as well as Belarus). Other active partners in trade, education, and other agreements have included Serbia (Belarus did not acknowledge the sovereignty of Kosovo), China, Venezuela, Argentina, Iran, and Lebanon. Most of the Belarusian trade agreements or military alliances, as well as agreements in education, healthcare, law, and other spheres, were signed with post-Socialist non-EU countries, and Belarus’ self-representation to such international partners has been of primary importance. Apparently, Belarus succeeds in self-representation, not only within the political establishment but also for the target countries’ people. During my trips around former Soviet and Yugoslav countries, people I encountered often expressed their positive attitude toward Lukashenko’s politics and the order he established. Some got this impression from the local news, and others had visited Belarus and admired the wide, green, and clean main avenues in Minsk. The post-Socialist audience nostalgic about visual stability takes sterile green streets at face value, equating them with order. As a result, phrases like “Bat’ka [father] keeps the country in order” or “We need Bat’ka [father] to establish order [navesti poriadok] in Russia” became almost like clichés, especially in post-Soviet countries. Lukashenko’s nickname Bat’ka and his poriadok are now the keywords to defne Belarus.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

When the President Comes

119

Despite ups and downs in relations with Russia, it remains a primary Belarusian neighbor, political and economic partner, resource supplier, and spectator of Potemkin villages. For instance, Russians are the primary guests for the Slavianskii Bazaar festival in Vitebsk, an event for which particular Potemkinist preparations are taken. Belarus is successful at building façades for the audience most important for Belarusian well-being: plenty of Russians come to the well-ordered Belarus for tourism, healthcare, and shopping. The general friendship between Russia and Belarus as a stable country is benefcial for the latter, as the Potemkin order brings Russian visitors, investments, and gas. Belarus’s solid façades are especially highly appreciated when juxtaposed with the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution: unlike Ukraine, Belarus is dependable not only in its order but also in its friendlier position toward Russia. The performance sways the audience most relevant to the current political regime and economic situation. Moreover, it maintains the image of Lukashenko as a serious and consistent president. Characteristic of this is the reaction Russians expressed on the Internet when another piece of news on Potemkinism in Belarus appeared. In their comments, many Russian users approved of cows’ hooves being painted black for Lukashenko’s visit, arguing that, due to the fear of Lukashenko, local Belarusian authorities actually have to follow orders, and Lukashenko’s visit to Belarusian localities and the preparations for them are benefcial because the subordinate offcials then get their work done (Livejournal 2010). The appearance of peace and stability become more important than actual peace and stability in this part of the world: the Belarusian brand of an ordered and reliable country works when it is promoted to both domestic and foreign spectators. Potemkinism is deeply embedded not only in interactions with Lukashenko, other offcials, and fellow citizens: it runs the country’s inner and foreign policies and constitutes a viable model of order antonymous to a democratic interpretation and crucial for Lukashenko’s hegemony. While Potemkinism is desirable for the nostalgic post-Soviet audience with similar values, the absurdity it may reach remains hideous for others. After the lecture on Belarusian Potemkin villages I gave in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, an Israeli PhD student approached me. Shocked by the examples of Potemkinism in Belarus, she said this vicious cycle should be broken by resistance: the next time some Belarusian gets the order to construct a façade for Lukashenko, a fellow citizen, or a foreign visitor, he or she should simply refuse. Indeed, refusing to build Potemkin villages would demolish Lukashenko’s hegemony: his power stands on Potemkinism. However, an average Belarusian risks losing too much to resist, ranging from the benefts of the imagined welfare state to employment, or, if protesting openly, liberty. This is why Potemkinism spreads to encompass all spheres of life, including the elections.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved. Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Chapter 6

“There Is a High Probability of the Mustachioed Dude’s Victory”

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Election without Choice

Ethnographic feldwork on Belarusian matters often happened in unexpected places. On Sunday, October 11, 2015, I decided to discharge my civic duty as a Belarusian citizen by voting in the presidential election. As I live outside of Belarus on a foreign country’s residence permit, I went to the Belarusian embassy there to vote. The personnel were very welcoming, and the procedure did not take long. The employees of the embassy asked me for a passport, flled out my data in their papers, and issued a ballot to me. I made my choice in the voting booth, put the ballot into the ballot box, thanked the personnel, and left—following the election procedure typical all over the world. Once I had left the embassy, however, questions about how typical the procedure was started to rise in my head. The personnel of the embassy did not ask for my residence permit—how could they be sure that I lived in that country? They did not check it in any lists or databases; they only had tables on paper where they recorded my name with a pen. How did they know that I did not vote in the same way in the Belarusian embassy in the nearby countries and even in Belarus itself—taking into account the fact that preliminary voting for those who cannot vote on Election Day began fve days before, on October 6? Had they later discovered my multiple votes by comparing their lists with other embassies, how would they have found which ballots were mine to make sure that their multiplicity would not have infuenced the election results? Can the same voters purposefully vote at several polling places? Belarusian activists claim this is possible; as I learned later, there has been quite a discussion about the practice of voting multiple times in different places, called a “carousel” or “merry-go-round” (karusel’), with people paid to take part in it called “merry-go-rounders” (karusel’shchiki) (United Civil Party 2015). The rumors and jokes about karusel’shchiki is only a tiny part of the rich election folklore in Belarus—the ultimate example of speculations 121

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

122

Chapter 6

Belarusians resort to in the quest for truth. In this chapter, I mostly resort to the study of 2015 election (the dramatic 2020 election and its consequences I have observed in the process of this book publication are certainly very different and are yet out of scope of this book).

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

ELECTION FOLKLORE Elections have mostly been within the ambit of the study of political science, with scholars rarely recognizing the folk creativity and expressive culture associated with them. Occasional works from the felds of history, anthropology, sociology, folklore, and other disciplines, however, have paid attention to folk genres associated with elections in various geographical areas to different extents. Quite a bit has been written on the Iranian elections and the roles of folk expressions, postelection protests, and Internet election folklore, among other driving forces (Honari 2014; Kamalipour 2010; Rahimi 2013; Rezaei 2016). Several scholars concentrate on the voting cultures emerging after the Arab Spring (Davis 2013; Muravchik 2013; Weddady and Ahmari 2012). Isolated studies exist on election humor and protest in post-Soviet bloc countries like Russia (Alekseevsky 2010; Arkhipova 2012; Arkhipova and Alekseevsky 2014; Erpyleva and Magun 2014) and Hungary (Varga 2015). Among unconventional objects for analysis, historians have accessed messages that nonconforming voters put in the ballot boxes or wrote on the ballots at Soviet elections to criticize political leaders or reach them with their complaints (Kozlov, Fitzpatrick, and Mironenko 2011; Merl 2011). Folklorists have analyzed similarly curious and unusual materials from South Africa: according to the conspiracy theories that circulated during the 1994 South African election, the National Party offered porridge laced with ink to black voters. The intent was that the ink would show up under the ultraviolet lamps on Election Day, and the black voters who consumed it would be disqualifed from voting for the African National Congress—the main opposition to the National Party (Goldstuck 1994; Kaschula 2004, 867). However, most studies on election folklore concentrate on U.S. elections (Sarvis 1998, 42). This might be due to the special character of political engagement in American elections (Dinkin 2002; Gamber, Grossberg, and Hartog 2003; Patterson 2003; Schudson 1998), which evokes rich Election Day traditions and studies about them (Fabre 1993; Santino 1994; White 1993), as well as the abundance of research on fake news and posttruth which followed the 2016 U.S. presidential election (see Allcott and Gentzkow 2017). Long before explorations of election fraud became central for fake news researchers, William S. Sarvis, analyzing accounts of election fraud in postwar rural Missouri, claimed that “election fraud is an appropriate subject

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

“There Is a High Probability of the Mustachioed Dude’s Victory”

123

for oral history and folklore in common with many other topics that involve truth, even though they will not pass the rigors of logics and ‘proof’ required in courts of law or in history articles.” Sarvis underlined that the legacy of election fraud in itself contributes profoundly to suspicion and distrust, even paranoia, around election time in certain locales (1998, 69). However different the Belarusian situation is from that of U.S. elections, Sarvis’ conclusions regarding postwar Missouri are applicable for research on Belarusian election folklore. The current Belarusian political system indeed contributes to suspicion and distrust, boosting rumors and jokes. Belarusian election folklore may be very telling for what has been recently discovered and discussed in Western democracies as posttruth elections (Schmidt 2017). In Belarus, emotions, attitudes, and propaganda have mattered much longer than truth, and election folklore uncovers conficting values and emotions about the everyday political atmosphere, rather than the election per se (Latvala 2014, 121). In many ways, Belarusian election folklore uncovers attitudes which are much more revealing about life in Belarus that the international observers’ accounts of actual electoral fraud.

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

BELARUSIAN ELECTIONS It is needless to say that the seventy-year history of Belarus within the Soviet Empire did not create a sense of honest elections (Jessen and Richter 2011). Nevertheless, the frst independent Belarusian election in 1994 was, by all measures, democratic. For the reasons discussed in detail in chapter 4, Alexander Lukashenko gained 44.8 percent of the votes in the frst round and 80.1 percent in the second one; this, however, was the frst and the last election that did not pose serious questions about fraud and constitutional legitimacy. In addition, despite paragraph 112 of the Belarusian Electoral Code prohibiting “questions connected with election and dismissal of the President” from being brought to a referendum, Lukashenko introduced a whole series of such referendums to strengthen his power. Via the very frst referendum (1995), he altered the status of the Russian language to make it a state language equal to Belarusian and changed nationalist symbols to slightly modifed Soviet ones in accordance with his political agenda. The second referendum (1996) broadened Lukashenko’s power by giving his decrees the force of law, allowing him near-total control over the budget and extending his term to 2001 (88.2% of voters voted for this). In the third referendum (2004), 88.9 percent of votes sanctioned Lukashenko’s participation in an unlimited number of presidential elections. Just like all these referendums, the parallel 2001, 2006, and 2010 elections were characterized by international observers, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

124

Chapter 6

in Europe, as undemocratic and unfair (BBC 2001). Both referendums and elections were followed by protests of various extents, which Lukashenko violently suppressed. The results of the 2015 election discussed here in details were exemplary of the previous ones: Belarusian elections usually have multiple presidential candidates, which allow the government to simulate fairness and democracy; at the same time, the candidates perform the roles of gladiators to highlight the power of Lukashenko. In 2015, Lukashenko offcially got as many votes as usual—83.47 percent against Tat’iana Karatkevich’s 4.44 percent, Sergei Gaidukevich’s 3.30 percent, and Nikolai Ulakhovich’s 1.67 percent. Interestingly, the second most popular candidate was a woman—the frst female candidate to participate in Belarusian elections. The 2015 election folklore repertoire was enriched with jokes and rumors showing how unprepared Belarusian conservative society was for a female candidate. It is hard to say how well the numbers of votes listed for the 2015 and previous elections and referendums refect reality. Rumors, jokes, and international observers’ accounts have accused Lukashenko of fraud since at least 1996, and as I show below, even Lukashenko himself acknowledges fraud. The 2015 opinion polls are indeed not exactly as positive as the results of the election, but according to them, the majority might have voted for Lukashenko. Lukashenko wins, and the hegemony he established also allows him to win in the electoral system he has developed. The elections in Belarus are certainly held “freely, but under unfair circumstances.” To name just a few of these circumstances, the extensive power of executive structures imposes excessive restrictions on campaigning and observers, the campaign environment disadvantages opposition candidates, oppositional activists are intimidated, state-controlled media is highly biased in favor of Lukashenko, and the independent print media is censored (Korosteleva, Lawson, and Marsh 2003, 193–194). Belarusians tried to cope with unfair elections via street protests. The largest protests (until 2020) followed the 2006 and 2010 elections and included a total of 10,000–100,000 participants (according to different sources); in contrast, the ffth election in 2015 resulted in only a few protesters in the streets. The potential for protesting decreased, frst of all, due to the armed confict in the Donbass region of Ukraine which had followed the 2014 Ukrainian revolution: many Belarusians have preferred stability to changes since then, and state propaganda constantly reminds them that revolution and resistance lead to war. Second, many activists have realized the futility of open protests, which had been violently suppressed by beatings and arrests after previous elections. Many of the previous years’ election candidates were imprisoned, and the protests lost their leaders. Also, the Belarusian government started thinking strategically by detaining the potential leaders of the protests before

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

“There Is a High Probability of the Mustachioed Dude’s Victory”

125

the election, thus preventing the protests. Third, due to the new strategy of the EU and the United States following Lukashenko’s peacemaking efforts for Ukraine, the funds available to all nondemocratic forces participating in the electoral campaign and engaging in potential protests decreased and were thirty times lower than during the 2010 campaign. Pikulik and Bedford also write about the paradox of sponsored opposition in Belarus: by continuously funding and encouraging the opposition’s participation in the Belarusian “election game” featuring “election for the sake of elections,” the promoters of democracy contributed to the creation of an “oppositional ghetto”—a closed ecosystem with clearly established functional divisions focused on pleasing international donors, rather than focusing on their fellow citizens (2018, 9, 13–14). Oppositionists have often been unpopular to follow at the protests. Lastly, the protest energy has largely shifted to the realm of the Internet and materialized in election folklore, giving a safe vent to dissatisfaction. As happens in some other authoritarian countries, the protests are transferred to Internet discussions and speculation where subaltern voices gain the opportunity to network and interact safely (Rahimi 2013, 91). Unable to participate in political processes otherwise, the opponents of Lukashenko may instead post their opinions and disseminate rumors on the Internet. This is why, despite being mostly true to verbal rumors and humor throughout this book, in this chapter, I add the study of Internet expressions—an essential part of Belarusian folk creativity related to elections. Not only has the Internet provided a safe venue in which to express frustration through anonymous communication in a situation of fear; it is now becoming an important environment for invigorating new genres of election folklore. In addition to the data from earlier and later interviews (in particular, jokes and rumors associated with the Belarusian elections), I include several other sources. The frst is the election folklore my Belarusian friends shared via social networks—Facebook and its Russian-language analogue, Vkontakte— at the time of the 2015 election. This is a collection of rumors, jokes, and other genres accessible to an average Belarusian Internet user who can be both an active promoter and a passive receiver. The second consists of Internet posts on Facebook and Twitter with hashtags related to the 2015 Belarusian election: #vybar_by (“election_by”), #выборы_без_выбора (“election_without_ choice”), #выборытут (“election here”), #БеларусьВыбирает (“Belarus elects”), #Выборы2015 (“Elections 2015”), and #naziranne (“observation”). The third source is perhaps the most fruitful of my election humor sources. In 2015, just a few months before the presidential election, the group Grustnyi Kolen’ka (“Sad Kolen’ka”—a diminutive of the name Kolia, Nokolai) opened on the social network Vk​.co​m. Short humorous tweets made to look as though they were written by the youngest son of Lukashenko, Kolia, appeared in the group almost every day, commenting on current events in

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

126

Chapter 6

Belarus and Kolia’s life with his father. Many tweets commented on the election as well (Grustnyi Kolen’ka 2015): Daddy is lucky. I always have to learn different poems at school, while he learns the same inauguration text every time (November 1). Today BATE [the Belarusian football club] plays with Barcelona. The intrigue is comparable to that at the Belarusian election (October 20).

The materials I collected through real-life and Internet feldwork on election folklore in 2015 again illustrate the variety and blurred boundaries of folklore genres, and many of their motifs intersect with the previously discussed ones, such as that of Potemkin show villages.

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

SHOW ELECTIONS: SUPPORTING LUKASHENKO’S HEGEMONY A common description of elections in nondemocratic societies is “rituals of consensus” which involve the affrmation of government legitimacy and mass obedience (Jessen and Richter 2011, 14, 20; Richter 2011, 103; Tsipursky 2011, 88). Elections in a nondemocratic country buttress the regime by showing that the illegitimacies of its practices have been accepted and that no action to undermine it is forthcoming (Zaslavsky and Brym 1978, 371). Choreographing such elections includes impression management to show that the regime is based on mass support (Patzelt 2011, 141)—erecting a democratic façade in front of the dictatorial regime. The citizens’ activities at the elections become indicators of conformity, showing their preparedness to take part in the ritual demonstration of loyalty (Jessen and Richter 2011, 23). Belarusian citizens get involved in collecting signatures for Lukashenko, in making propaganda videos which are supposed to look amateur and authentic, in attracting voters to the polling stations, and in providing an abundant variety of extravagant foods for the polling station where Lukashenko himself votes. On the one hand, people are forced to do so by minor offcials; on the other, they do not openly resist, thus supporting the existing hegemony. Support for the regime during an election is visible at two stages: preparation for the election and Election Day itself. In both cases, those who get involved are primarily the employees of state-funded organizations—schools, hospitals, universities. Their main responsibility before the election is to (re) produce propaganda and lobby for Lukashenko. For instance, as my interviewees reported, they were forced to collect signatures to nominate him for the presidency for every new election. If they collected fewer signatures than

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

“There Is a High Probability of the Mustachioed Dude’s Victory”

127

expected, it caused fear of problems at work. Also, people were forced to make videos lobbying for Lukashenko and Belarus under his presidency. In a typical video, a young speaker with the Belarusian fag is supposed to utter a text similar to the following: “I am going to the election because I have an active civil position, and I will vote for a strong and independent Republic of Belarus!” (Youtube 2015). Although they do not refer to Lukashenko in the video, a strong and independent Belarus, as it is considered to be under Lukashenko, is promoted; these videos also encourage people to vote and thus to support hegemony by participating in the mimicry of democracy. According to rumors, Lukashenko’s main aim is to draw the voters to the polling stations—it is only after they have voted that the results may be falsifed. The videos calling for participation in elections usually look very unprofessional, which is perhaps supposed to be a sign of authenticity—people themselves are seen as striving to agitate for Lukashenko with the resources at hand. Finally, it is often younger people who are involved in the video campaigns. As in the Soviet Union, the Belarusian election becomes a venue for the expression of youth agency, allowing the government to appear as if it conveyed the desires of the next generation, and teaching the youth how to behave according to the political requirements of the state (Tsipursky 2011). On Election Day, Lukashenko’s hegemony is supported at the polling stations via amateur performances, farmers’ markets, free souvenirs (pens, notepads, etc.), cheap alcohol, and food to attract more voters to the staged election. In the Soviet Union too, “thousands of shows, dance performances and concerts were put on to entertain the voters” (Jessen and Richter 2011, 9). One of the major images of the Belarusian presidential election in 2015 was that of the food in the polling station in which Lukashenko himself voted. Many pictures on the Internet demonstrated the ostentatious abundance of dishes available in the buffet there at unbelievably low prices (Naviny​.​by 2015). The citizens themselves created these images of prosperity and plenty for the president of Belarus at the polling station where he voted. Election foodways have been distinctive in several countries; White (1993) describes the historical tradition of Election Day Cake that U.S. citizens used to bake at home and shared with family and friends on Election Day. Baking the cake was associated with the pride of successfully completing a diffcult culinary task and glory in symbolically representing American ideals of democracy and freedom. Whether by baking an elaborate cake or by decorating a roasted pig, both Belarusians and Americans have been voluntarily involved in political participation on Election Day. Election foodways legitimize the systems in which they emerge, although one system celebrated the possibility of choice and the other presupposes the complete lack of it. One should not assume that Belarusians do not realize this, and jokes give vent to this realization. According to a 2015 election joke on Twitter,

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

128

Chapter 6

“The question of the day is: are chips expensive in the canteen?” (Twitter 2015). The canteen is obviously at a school, where the polling stations are often housed, and, according to the joke, there is no intrigue in the elections per se: even trivial foods, such as chips, are of more interest. The interest in food rather than election results is also described in the following Twitter joke: A dialogue in a buffet: “Why is everything so cheap?” “In honor of the elections!” “Oh, I am going to vote for Karatkevich then [the second most popular candidate after Lukashenko in the 2015 election]. I want a second tour and the same prices again” (Twitter 2015).

Among other things, the prices for alcohol decreased to attract more voters, and this became another subject for multiple Twitter jokes: “At one of the polling stations, everyone who voted gets 1.5 liters of beer! And everyone who voted correctly also gets a dried fsh [typical snack to go with beer in Belarus]” (Twitter 2015). In Belarus, this is certainly not a case of simply trading alcohol for votes, which has been a common practice in many countries (Sarvis 1998; Watts 2006); it is a way to attract more voters to support the legitimacy of the elections. The incompatibility of two constituents—the location of polling stations in schools and alcohol—also becomes a target of humor:

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

One of the voters decides not to stint, buys a bottle of vodka, hides it under his jacket, and asks whether he can buy cigarettes too. “Of course not,” the saleswoman answers, expressing her indignation. “We are at school after all!” (Pikabu 2015).

Whether cooking special food, selling cheap alcohol, or preparing performances, Belarusians participate in staging an “election without choice”—a common reference to elections in authoritarian regimes (Hermet, Rose, and Rouquié 1978). This has been the legacy of many other post-Soviet countries, where elections legitimate power rather than providing an opportunity to challenge it (Ó Beacháin 2011, 209). Generally referred to as a “rubber stamp election” or a “show election” (Sarvis 1998), in Belarus, a sham election held without any signifcant political choice received the hashtag #выборы_без_выбора (vybory bez vybora, “elections without choice”—as vybor is a homonym for both choice and the elections). The lack of choice and the impossibility of change is one of the constant topics of discussions and conclusions about the presidential election results, also refected in humor:

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

“There Is a High Probability of the Mustachioed Dude’s Victory”

129

There is a high probability of a victory of a dude with a moustache (Twitter 2015). Grustnyi Kolen’ka 2015: Kolen’ka: Daddy asked me to write “Lukashenko” in cubes of ice [this is a reference to Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy-tale The Snow Queen, in which the Snow Queen gives a task to the little boy she kidnapped, Kai, to form the word “eternity” from cubes of ice]. I say: “Perhaps, ‘eternity’?” He: “Did I say something else?” (August 20). Kolenka: On October 11, 2015, there is an election of my daddy. Oh, I mean, the president. Although . . . That is right . . . Of my daddy (July 3). The election in Belarus resembles a game in which the participants must run around a chair [the game “musical chairs”], but in Belarus, somebody already sits on this chair (September 17).

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Belarus holds a referendum: “Do you want Lukashenko to become President again?” The answer choices are: “Yes, I am not against this”; “No, I am not against this.” Recorded in Tallinn (male 2012). The head of the Central Election Commission turns to A.G. [the abbreviation for Alexander Grigor’evich—the frst and patronymic names of Lukashenko]: “I have two pieces of news for you: a good one and a bad one.” “Start with the bad one.” “Nobody voted for you.” “And the good one?” “You are the president anyway.” Recorded in Vitebsk (female 2011). For a version about Putin, see (Arkhipova 2012, 307). The results of the beauty contest “Miss Belorussia 2002” amazed everyone; the jury was conferring for a long time, productively though. The winner was Lukashenko. Recorded in Minsk (female 2012).

The Belarusian show election is a routine ritual Lukashenko performs to satisfy both international observers and his own citizens. The latter have to actively participate in the performance, demonstrating their loyalty.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

130

Chapter 6

LUKASHENKO ELECTORAL FRAUD The demonstration of loyalty in staging the election without choice reaches its zenith in the polling place shenanigans: according to the rumors, citizens voluntarily employ dishonest activities during the election to alter the vote in Lukashenko’s favor. Lukashenko has once confrmed these rumors in a slip of a tongue at a press conference after the 2006 election: Yes, we falsifed the latest election—I have already said it to the Westerners. 93.5% of people voted for President Lukashenko. It is said that this is not a European fgure. We turned it into 83%. This is the truth . . . This is because the Europeans told us before the election: “If you have approximate European fgures in the election, we will recognize it.” We tried to make the numbers European. But also, you see, it did not work. They promised that all will be fne if the fgures are European. We made them European—and this is not fne (YouTube 2006).

Although according to Lukashenko, the manipulation of the election was meant to understate the high percentage of people who voted for him, this confession was shocking. Interestingly, it has turned into a joke, similarly to other slips of Lukashenko’s tongue (see the section “Unconventional Forms of Jokes” in chapter 2 for more examples). When I asked the interviewees to tell me Belarusian jokes, one of the respondents retold Lukashenko’s statement, among other classical political jokes:

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

After the election, I think after the previous election . . . He said that he got the highest percentage, but nobody believed him. And the percentage of those who voted for Lukashenko was not to the taste of some observers, perhaps, from the European Union. Then he said: they did not like such a high percentage, and we changed it to, let’s say, 75%, and they are still not satisfed. Recorded in Tallinn (male 2012).

This content is circulated in different forms, and the genre border between quotes, news, and jokes becomes indiscernible. In addition, Lukashenko’s confession became the foundation for more rumors, for example, “You know, I heard the following fact from the election commission: they were forced to decrease the votes—to hold back, as there were too many for Lukashenko” (recorded in Minsk, male 2013). The offcial confrmation that the elections had been falsifed, even if to understate the percentage of votes for the authorities, undoubtedly posed many more questions, leading to the understanding that fraud in the other direction is also possible, if it is so openly recognized by the leading power. The majority of rumors and jokes are about the shenanigans increasing

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

“There Is a High Probability of the Mustachioed Dude’s Victory”

131

the offcial number of votes for Lukashenko. According to the narratives I recorded, people employed a variety of techniques to increase the offcial number of votes for Lukashenko: changing the ballots at night, faking the election protocol, throwing an extra pile of fake pro-Lukashenko ballots into the ballot box. None of the rumors can be verifed in contemporary Belarus, but even if not all of these have taken place, the rumors refect the possibility of fraud and the preparedness of the citizens to manipulate the election. It is a hundred percent certain that all the elections since 1994 have been falsifed to various extents. During the latest election, a rumor dominated in the intellectual and expert circles that voters were now not even needed for falsifcation: while before the ballots were changed at night, at one point this became unnecessary. What they did was flling out the protocol at the polling station in pencil and, on the way to the district election commission, writing in necessary numbers with a pen. Somewhere the falsifcations happened this way, somewhere—through a throw-in. Recorded in Minsk (male 2012).

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

According to the interviews I conducted, like shows on Election Days, local shenanigans to support Lukashenko are believed to be pushed from above by higher offcials. One of the most common plots is related to forced voting at universities when the teaching staff and administration press students to take part in the preliminary vote—intimidating them or promising an extra day off. Again, many believe that thanks to preliminary voting, there is enough time to falsify the votes received before Election Day. Studying in state universities, students are a primary target for being pushed to cast a preliminary vote. The intimidation of students who do not go to the preliminary voting started. In BSEU [Belarusian State Economic University], the students who vote tomorrow will get a day off on Saturday. There are rumors in the Polytechnic University that classes will be cancelled starting from Friday, so that everyone could leave for home on Thursday [the election is on Sunday] (Livejournal 2015). I worked for the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] during the last election, that is how I know. There were humorous cases when an observer from the OSCE comes and a university lecturer is telling someone in the corridor how today or yesterday she made her students vote at the preliminary election. How she threatened them and so on. Why all this is needed—it is clear—to change the ballots at night. That is why he [Lukashenko] has a boost of about 25% from this preliminary vote fraud. Recorded in Minsk (male 2012).

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

132

Chapter 6

The university administration also compels the students to leave Minsk before Election Day due to the youth’s high potential for protest. Students were forced to take part in the preliminary vote. I know that some students were forced to go home before Election Day, they closed the ­ ­dormitory, forced students to vote earlier and to leave, to not be in Minsk on Election Day. In other faculties, students could stay sometimes; in the Belarusian history faculty this was not possible: we had a lot of potential for the protest. Recorded in Stockholm/Tartu in a phone interview (female 2018).

The threats by the university offcials are similar to the activities of those providing luxurious food and performances at the elections. On the one hand, they themselves are also forced to do so; on the other, they do not resist these illegal practices either. Additional reasons are well described by one of the interviewees: I think that in case of power domineering, there are always cases of election falsifcation, even when there is no central directive to do that. There are always people at their places who want to curry favor [vysluzhitsia] or understand that this power is benefcial for them. Recorded in Minsk (male 2013).

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Election fraud and polling station shenanigans have become a topic for many jokes. A popular joke tells about Lukashenko being invited to Venezuela (or the United States) to help the leaders with organizing an election—and winning their election himself. Hugo Chávez has another election in Venezuela, but his popularity is very low, so he invites Lukashenko to help with his experience. In a week, Lukashenko receives the letter, “The situation in Venezuela has changed dramatically. You won the election!” Recorded in Minsk (males 2013 and 2014), see versions about Lukashenko invited to Venezuela (Minsk, males 2013, 2014, 2015) and the USA (Minsk, female 2012, male 2013). For the version about Putin sent to the United States to help Obama, see (Pravda 2012).

Another Belarusian joke employs the recurrent frame of three characters coming to see God: Once, God invites three presidents to heaven, of the USA, Russia, and Belarus, and says, “Dear presidents, I invited you to tell you very unpleasant news: in

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

“There Is a High Probability of the Mustachioed Dude’s Victory”

133

two weeks, the end of the world is coming. I want you to deliver this news to my favorite peoples with honor.” Bill Clinton talks on the TV and radio, “Brothers and sisters, I have two pieces of news for you: good and bad. First, God exists. Second, the end of the world is coming in two weeks.” Boris Yeltsin talks on the TV and radio, “Ladies and gentlemen, I have two pieces of news for you, both are bad. First, God exists. Second, the end of the world is coming in two weeks.” Lukashenko talks on the TV and radio, “Ladies and gentlemen, I have two pieces of news for you. Both are good. First, God acknowledged me as a president. Second, I will rule you till the end of the world.” Recorded in Minsk (male 2012) and Vitebsk (female 2015). For a version about Bill Clinton, Fidel Castro, and Vicente Fox, see (Schmidt 2014, 219–220). For a version about Dmitry Medvedev, Alexander Lukashenko, and Victor Yushchenko, see (Rzhom​.r​u, n.d.).

Belarusian political and election-related jokes range from the subtle to the obscene. In another joke, Election Day is just a setting to demonstrate an openly hostile attitude toward Lukashenko and his rule: The voters are being interviewed at the polling station. The journalist asks, “Hello, who are you going to vote for?” The voter replies, “Hello, I came to vote for the new term of Lukashenko. If possible, this should be the life term and with confscation of property.” Recorded in Vitebsk (female 2014). For a version about Putin, see (Anekdot​.​ru 2011).

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

The social network group publishing in the name of Lukashenko’s son, Kolia, has many jokes on election fraud (Grustnyi Kolen’ka 2015): I was exploring daddy’s table and found the [upcoming] results of the 2015 election. They are quite ok. I think daddy will like them (June 26). My hand is so tired of ticking off the ballots (October 11). I understood that daddy would defnitely win when he had ordered to bring 200 tubes of correction fuid to the election stations (October 11). Why the hell are the sacks with ballots supposed to be kept in my room? (October 11). Daddy asked me which number sounded more credible: 79% or 86%. (October 11).

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

134

Chapter 6

Daddy explained what the secret of his success was. It turned out that one vote for him is counted for two . . . million (August 3).

Conversational jokes on the fraud topic are also frequent in the interviews: I have a friend who has a friend. So his acquaintance knows someone who voted for Lukashenko. Recorded in Minsk (male 2012).

The content of the latter joke marking the incongruence between perceptions about the elections and the offcial results announced by the state was recycled by rumors occurring in other interviews. The following example, for instance, touches upon the same topic—disbelief in the election results caused by the fact that only a few acquaintances of the interviewee voted for Lukashenko: The elections were falsifed. I have not counted myself, but I consider it to be so. Out of my environment, only a few mentioned that they voted for Lukashenko. That is why I consider the elections to be falsifed. Recorded in Vitebsk (male 2012).

The content circulating in both jokes and rumors about election fraud leads to serious reactions: disillusioned with the system, many call for a boycott of the election.

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

All the authorities need is that people come and throw a piece of paper today; then it is a matter of skills [to falsify the election]. I am not going, and hundreds of my acquaintances in Belarus will not. No reason. (Facebook status of one of my friends, 2015).

According to many social network posts, neither their authors nor their families “participate in legitimizing the regime” and in “playing a shell game with the power.” Interestingly, the participation of candidates other than Lukashenko in the election rarely softens such attitudes; on the contrary, many oppositionists argue that these are allowed only to create the illusion of choice and a fair election. GLADIATORS FOR LUKASHENKO Another thing which makes all Belarusian elections the same is the number of candidates and the distribution of votes for them. In 2010, for instance, ten

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

“There Is a High Probability of the Mustachioed Dude’s Victory”

135

candidates competed in the election; Lukashenko won 79.6 percent of votes, while the second most popular candidate, Andrei Sannikau, received 2.43 percent (other candidates got less than 2% of votes each). Such a distribution is similar, for instance, to that of the Central Asian post-Soviet elections. Along with the incumbent, several oppositionist contenders, rather than one serious challenger of the hegemonic regime, are allowed to participate in elections; the vote is then relatively evenly divided between these multiple contenders so that the margin between the incumbent and losers becomes overwhelming. Donnacha Ó Beacháin compares the role of the contenders to that of warmup gladiatorial acts providing an opponent for the star of the stage and dying gracefully before the public view (2011, 218, 233). This product of the communist past combined with the communist-trained present (ibid. 224) is also the case in Belarus, where according to the results of the presidential election, the alternative candidates offcially receive an extreme minimum of voices each compared to the large majority Lukashenko receives. Vernacular creativity has taken note of the importance of these gladiators for the imitation of democratic elections. For instance, there have long been rumors in Belarus that the authorities have helped the alternative candidates to register despite the fact they did not fulfll the signature requirement (Pikulik and Bedford 2018, 9). Among other unusual Internet election folklore genres, there is a game available on Google Play called “Lida: Save the Election.” The aim of the game is to stop all the presidential candidates from escaping from the elections on air balloons. A player needs to shoot the balloons on behalf of an “election wizard,” Lidia Yermoshina, the chairwoman of the Central Election Commission of Belarus since 1996, often accused of arranging election fraud in favor of Lukashenko. Her job in the game is to keep all the candidates to create a fake democracy and the impression of choice. The description of the game concludes, “Remember: election results depend on you. Only on you:)” (Google Play 2015), mocking the agency of Belarusians: the election results depend on them only in the computer game. There is plenty of vernacular joking on that topic: Ulakhovich [an alternative candidate in the 2015 election] and his wife voted at one of the election stations. The frst vote for Ulakhovich! (Twitter 2015).

Kolen’ka’s posts (Grustnyi Kolen’ka 2015): The wife of Ulakhovich refused to vote for her husband, now he has half as many votes (October 11). I offered daddy to vote for Karatkevich. We laughed for about 5 minutes (October 11).

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

136

Chapter 6

At every election, however, there is a leading candidate among the alternative ones who receives somewhat more votes than the others. He or she becomes the protagonist of election folklore along with Lukashenko, as it happened to Tat’iana Karatkevich in the previous joke. Tat’iana Karatkevich, the frst female presidential candidate in Belarus, gained the offcial result of 4.44 percent of the votes in the 2015 election—a majority after Lukashenko. Her relative popularity, soft opposition, and active campaign attracted plenty of attention and also condemnation. According to many rumors, Karatkevich was a project of the KGB, a candidate created to fake democracy and an honest election in Belarus. These rumors were spread by her political opponents and also by oppositional activists, who were reluctant to unite around her as an alternative candidate and who condemned her activity. Unable to participate in the Belarusian political system, they often denounce those who are allowed to do so, by defnition reproducing the illegal system. “KGB hire” (statystka ad KDB), “political fake” (palitychny feik), “clown”—these are only a few of the negative labels people attach to her on her public Facebook page (Facebook 2015). Sometimes the fact that she was female was stressed, whether seriously or jokingly, undermining her ability to become president. Political scientist Usov (2015), for instance, claimed that Karatkevich was not ready for serious struggle due to her vulnerability—being a mother whose child may become “a hostage in the hands of authorities.” Another symptomatic attitude was expressed in a Twitter joke: “Karatkevich should not be elected just because one day she will refuse to govern the country as she has nothing to wear” (Twitter 2015). These beliefs and humor point not only to the popular attitude toward the alternative candidates but also to the attitude toward women and their active participation in the political life of Belarus. At the same time, Karatkevich did not only become another gladiator; she was the lone female candidate, which again helped Lukashenko to project even more false equality at the election. The lack of knowledge about what is legal or normal at the election and what is not and the absence of offcial information, rules, and accountability produces plenty of questions and consequent vernacular theorizing, as my own experience of voting in the Belarusian embassy did. A mixture of direct testimony, legendary accounts, and humor about the Belarusian elections emerges in the interplay of jokes, news, and rumors. As feldwork records show, the borders between different genres do not only fuctuate; they become almost irrelevant. Just like rumors about Potemkinism or jokes, Belarusian election folklore becomes an expression of paternalist culture and a ritualistic demonstration of loyalty, even when it is mocked. Moreover, just like Potemkin village narratives, the election fraud rumors and jokes are subject to ostension: people may actually perform them by reproducing the pictures of plenty at the polling stations, participating in election fraud, or

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

“There Is a High Probability of the Mustachioed Dude’s Victory”

137

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

presenting folk dances and other shows on Election Day to attract visitors. Jokes and rumors about fraudulent elections circulating in abundance normalize these practices for others. Rather than defying and challenging the corrupt system, they make both passive and active bearers of such folklore feel that it is a normal part of everyday life, just like other realities: surveillance, the personality cult of the president, or Potemkin villages, all of which are widely discussed in rumors and jokes.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved. Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Conclusion Every Joke Has Only a Shred of Joke to It

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Belarus presents a perfect counterexample to the popular lament according to which political jokes have gone extinct along with socialist dictatorships. At every new visit, I did not even have to ask for jokes from people: humor is so deeply embedded into everyday life that jokes emerge naturally, commenting on every new political tendency in the country. For instance, I recorded two versions of the following modifed Soviet joke in just one week in 2019: Animals in the forest need to build a bridge across the river. They decide they need to go to the ministry and ask for money for it. Who shall go? They decide to send a bear, as someone who is very imposing and has good oratory skills. The bear comes back and shrugs his shoulders: no money, he has failed. Then the animals decide to send a fox: she is sly and must be able to get the money. The fox, however, comes back from the ministry empty handed too. Finally, the animals decide to send a hare. The hare looks so miserable, they think, that the ministers will pity him and give the money. But even he comes back with no money. The animals are desperate; they see a donkey rambling around the forest. As they have nothing to lose, they send him. The donkey comes back with the money! The animals can’t believe their eyes and ask the donkey: how did you manage? He replies, “This was easy. I entered the ministry and found out these are all my family members sitting there. So, I got the money for the bridge immediately. The only question they asked was whether we want to build the bridge across or along the river.” Recorded in Vitebsk (female, male 2019). In the other version, there was a goat who helped the other animals in the forest to clear the customs for imported carrots, as he had relatives in the ministry too. For a Soviet version, see (Melnichenko 2014, 510).

139

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

140

Conclusion

Hearing the joke twice in just one week is symptomatic: its popularity and the multiplicity of its versions mean that the piece really resonates with people; they fnd it meaningful. This is because the joke is a perfect refection of the current Belarusian political and social life: nepotism, corruption, and a shadow economy which results in terrible unprofessionalism, especially from those employed in the state apparatus. At the same time, the popularity of the joke coincided with massive show trials enforced by the president against high offcials for corruption, which made the offcials scared yet not much more professional. Along with the joke, rumors circulated about persecution for corruption, which happened to a friend of a friend who had only committed a minor economic offence, while those who had been stealing a lot from the state remained safe. Both rumors and jokes about corruption are a matter of everyday life and discussion: rather than making people feel indignant, this becomes a normalized reality that everyone regularly faces. The normalized reality of authoritarianism is a surprising issue for those who come from democratic countries. Many non-Belarusians in the course of my study have sincerely wondered: how can people just lead everyday life in an authoritarian country, how do they simply go to work or go shopping and not plan an uprising, a coup d’état or simply a protest against such an absurd system? It is indeed amazing that people under authoritarian rule do not only learn to adapt to the situation but also to survive, learn, and beneft from it. I believe, however, that this is not just the decades of living under an oppressive system which nurses the situation but also the rich political folklore around it. On an everyday basis, surveillance rumors and jokes about the fears of oppression remind people of the danger of persecution and advise them on how to avoid it (mainly by avoiding any open dissent). Jokes and rumors about the ruler’s cult of personality contribute to this cult by normalizing it and embedding into everyday discourse even more fully. Folk narratives about Potemkin villages and election fraud even become a matter of ostention—people reproduce the rumors they have heard through new window dressing or show elections. Contrary to the idea of a joke or a rumor as a tiny revolution or a sign of the collapse of the system, my feld research into Belarusian political folklore demonstrates that it does not signify a crack in the system. In fact, it is quite the opposite, as recirculating fears through jokes and rumors helps to maintain hegemony. I cannot think of a better metaphor for this situation than the following joke: People sit quietly in a puddle of shit up to their upper lip. Several hours pass. One of them is fnally out of temper and he says: “Perhaps, it is enough with sitting in the shit. We should get out of it! We must do something!” The rest of people say: “Shh! Don’t cause waves!” Recorded in Stockholm (male 2018). For a Soviet version, see (Melnichenko 2014, 446).

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Conclusion

141

Perhaps, because of this, at the time of publishing this book which coincided with the 2020 presidential election followed by unprecedented protest against Lukashenko’s authoritarianism, jokes were not that relevant anymore and were replaced by actual protest aiming to actually undermine Lukashenko’s hegemony. Having the opportunity to analyze jokes and rumors circulating in real life and documenting their context, the situations in which they emerge, and the intertextual links they form allows us to see them as something much more substantial than merely a tiny revolution or a protest. The emic perspective on political jokes is much wider than the traditional scholarly perspective, as the vernacular understanding also includes very unconventional forms and themes which scholars have not usually included in the standard notion of political jokes. An average Belarusian might include the slip-of-a-tongue citations ascribed to a president or ethnic jokes in the category of political jokes. Political jokes are such a popular and signifcant part of Belarusian life under authoritarianism that even jokes about jokes, or metajokes, appear. The punchlines of popular jokes serve as recognizable metaphors, references, and comments for everyday encounters and situations in Belarus. Doing feldwork in Belarus allowed me to document the conversational spur-ofthe-moment (meta)joking, sometimes based on well-known jokes. It is not just their forms and themes that, studied from the vernacular perspective, appear to be much wider but also their functions. The use of political jokes as cautionary tales, constantly reminding people of their fears and reinforcing hegemony, rather than overthrowing it, serves as a perfect metaphor for the situation in the country. “Every joke has only a shred of joke to it,” as Belarusians often say, and unlike the more international “There is a grain of truth in every joke,” the Belarusian saying conveys that humor is only a minor part of joke, while the main part communicates serious meaning. In addition to the basic function of being humorous, jokes in authoritarian regimes expand their value to the status of informative genres. Remembering the classic international jokes about a kangaroo walking into a bar, we may be used to the idea that a joke is fction. In political authoritarian jokes, however, truth and fction merge, and one cannot distinguish between humor and seriousness anymore. Because of this, it might be also extremely diffcult to distinguish between jokes and rumors, another capacious genre of political folklore bearing essential information. As such, it is hard to determine, for instance, whether the stories about absurdist Potemkinist constructions are truthful accounts, fctional narratives, or bitter jokes about a farcical reality. The precise genre defnition is diffcult because it is hard to determine where the border between truth and fction lies. Undoubtedly, the boundaries between rumor, humor, and other genre frames fuctuate far beyond authoritarian regimes. It is little wonder that the term “posttruth” has emerged lately to describe a seemingly recent

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

142

Conclusion

phenomenon of transcending borders between the domains of fact and fction to determine the destabilization of this epistemological certainty (Marsh 2018). The authoritarian states, however, have yearned for such a term much earlier than when it came into vogue in Western democracies with the rise of populism. In such states, even the offcial point of view may change overnight, like in Orwell’s 1984, and folk genres capture this instability perfectly. Jokes and rumors in authoritarian states may in fact be much more informative about the vernacular perspective on the political situation and the situation itself than the offcial discourse or the accounts of international observers. This fnal example should serve to convince even a doubtful reader that jokes cease to be merely jokes in the authoritarian regime:

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

I remember the following joke from the Soviet times. One man decided to play a trick on the KGB. He called the KGB from a public phone, said a lot of nasty things to them, and in the end said: “You don’t do your job!” He wanted to hang up the receiver then, but he felt someone touching his shoulder, “We do our job as well we can . . .” Recorded in Vitebsk (male 2017). For a Soviet version, see (Melnichenko 2014, 360).

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

References

Abrahams, Roger D. 2000. “Narratives of Location and Dislocation.” In Folklore, Heritage Politics, and Ethnic Diversity: A Festschrift for Barbro Klein, edited by Pertti Anttonen, Anna-Leena Siikala, Stein R. Mathisen, and Leif Magnusson, 15–20. Botkryka, Sweden: Multicultural Centre. Abrahams, Roger D., and Charles Wukasch. 1967. “Political Jokes of East Germany.” Tennessee Folklore Society Bulletin 33: 7–10. Ackermann, Felix, Mark Berman, and Olga Sasunkevich. 2017. “In Search of Agency: Examining Belarusian Society from Below.” Journal of Soviet and PostSoviet Politics and Society 3(1): 1–19. Adami, Elisabetta. 2012. “The Rhetoric of the Implicit and the Politics of Representation in the Age of Copy-and-Paste.” Learning, Media, and Technology 37(2): 131–144. Adams, Laura. 2010. The Spectacular State. Culture and National Identity in Uzbekistan. Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press. Agrofon. n.d. “Prikol’nye anekdoty [Funny Jokes].” Accessed April 20, 2018. http:// agrofon​.narod​.ru​/main2​/sub8​.html. Akudovich, Valiantsin. 2007. Kod adsutnasci [The Code of Absence]. Minsk: Lohvinau. Alekseevsky, Mikhail. 2010. “Anekdoty ot Ziuganova: folklor v sovremennoi politicheskoi bor’be [Jokes from Ziuganov: Folklore in Contemporary Political Struggle].” Antropologicheskii Forum 12: 1–36. Alexievich, Svetlana. 2017. The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II. Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. New York, NY: Random House. Allcott, Hunt, and Matthew Gentzkow. 2017. “Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 31(2): 211–236. Amosova, Svetlana. 2013. “‘Poimaiut, ubiut, krov vytiagnut i pribavliaiut eto v matsu’: rasskazy o krovavom navete v Latgalii [They Catch, Kill, Suck Blood and Add It to Matzo’: Stories about Blood Libel in Latgalia].” In Utrachennoe sosedstvo: evrei v kulturnoi pamiati zhitelei Latgalii. Materialy ekspeditsii 143

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

144

References

2011–2012 gg. [The Lost Neighborship: Jews in the Cultural Memory of Latgale Inhabitants. The 2011–2012 Expedition Materials], edited by Svetlana Amosova, 191–217. Moscow, Sefer: The Moscow Center for University Teaching of Jewish Civilization and “Jews in Latvia” Museum. Andrejevic, Mark. 2007. ISpy: Surveillance and Power in the Interactive Era. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas. Anekdot​.ru​. 1996. “Anekdot [Joke] №431200010.” Accessed April 20, 2018. https:// www​.anekdot​.ru​/id/​-431200010/. ———. 2001. “Anekdot [Joke] №10016266.” Accessed April 20, 2018. https://www​ .anekdot​.ru​/id/​-10016266/. ———. 2002. “Anekdot [Joke] №9933119.” Accessed April 20, 2018. https://www​ .anekdot​.ru​/id/​-9933119/. ———. 2004. “Anekdot [Joke] №123125.” Accessed April 20, 2018. https://www​ .anekdot​.ru​/id​/123125/. ———. 2005. “Anekdot [Joke] №144618.” Accessed April 20, 2018. www​.anekdot​ .ru​/id​/144618/. ———. 2006. “Anekdoty iz Rossii [Jokes from Russia].” Accessed April 20, 2018. https​:/​/ww​​w​.ane​​kdot.​​ru​/an​​/an06​​02​/j0​​60223​​;1​0​,100​.html. ———. 2011. “Anekdot [Joke] №536938.” Accessed April 20, 2018. https://www​ .anekdot​.ru​/id​/536938/. ———. 2014. “Anekdot [Joke] №708450.” Accessed April 20, 2018. https://www​ .anekdot​.ru​/id​/708450/. Anekdotovstreet. n.d. “Anekdoty o poliakah [Jokes about Poles].” Accessed April 20, 2018. https​:/​/an​​ekdot​​ovstr​​eet​.c​​om​/na​​ciona​​lnost​​i​/​pol​​yaki/​. Anisimov, Evgenii. 1999. Dyba i knut: politicheskii sysk i russkoe obshchestvo v XVIII veke [Rack and Whip. Political Detective Work and Russian Society of the XVIII Century]. Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie. Applebaum, Anne. 2003. GULAG. A History. New York, NY: Doubleday. ———. 2006. GULAG. Pautina bol’shogo terrora [GULAG. The Spiderweb of a Great Terror]. Moscow: Moskovskaia shkola politicheskih issledovanii. Arkhipova, Aleksandra. 2012. “Jokes about Putin and the Elections Ten Years On, or, Is There a Folklore of the ‘Snow Revolution’?” Forum for Anthropology and Culture 8: 303–336. Arkhipova, Aleksandra, and Mikhail Melnichenko. 2011. Anekdoty o Staline: teksty, kommentarii, issledovaniia [Jokes about Stalin: Texts, Commentary, Research]. Moscow: OGI. Arkhipova, Alexandra, and Manolo Alejandrez. 2013. “Politicheskii iumor ostrova svobody: chto kubintsy rasskazyvaiut o Fidele Kastro [Political Humor of the Freedom Island: What Cubans Say about Fidel Castro].” Antropologicheskii Forum 21: 192–251. Arkhipova, Aleхandra, and Mikhail Alekseevsky. 2014. My ne nemy. [We Are Not Numb]. Tartu: Nauchnoe izdatelstvo ELM. Ash, Konstantin. 2015. “The Election Trap: The Cycle of Post-Electoral Repression and Opposition Fragmentation in Lukashenko’s Belarus.” Democratization 22(6): 1030–1053.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

References

145

Astapova, Anastasiya. 2014. “‘Igrushko mitingue’: nanomiting v Rossii i Belarusi [“A Toy Protests”: The Nanomeeting in Contemporary Russia and Belarus].” In My ne nemy [We Are Not Numb], edited by Aleхandra Arkhipova and Mikhail Alekseevsky, 293–306. Tartu: Estonian Literary Museum, University of Tartu. ———. 2016. Sovremennye studencheskie anekdoty: siuzhetnyi sostav i tematicheskie osobennosti [Contemporary Student Jokes: Plots and Themes]. Doctoral Dissertation, Russian Academy of Sciences. ———. 2019. “He Who Must not be Named: (Nick)names for the Authoritarian Leader.” In Folkloristics in the Digital Age, edited by Pekka Hakamies and Anne Heimo, 56–72. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, Academia Scientiarum Fennica. ———. 2020a. “Rumours, Urban Legends, and the Verbal Transmission of Conspiracy Theories.” In Routledge Handbook of Conspiracy Theories, edited by Michael Butter and Peter Knight, 391–400. New York: Routledge. ———. 2020b. “Soviet Meta-Jokes: Tradition and Continuity.” European Journal of Humour Research 8(3): 60–82. ———. 2021. “Chernobyl Conspiracy Theories: From American Sabotage to the Biggest Bluff of the Century.” In Conspiracy Theories in Eastern Europe: Tropes and Trends, edited by Anastasiya Astapova, Corneliu Pintilescu, Onoriu Colacel, and Tamas Scheibner, 29–47. New York: Routledge. Astapova, Anastasiya, Vasil Navumau, Greg Nizhnikau, and Leonid Poleshchuk. 2021. “Cooptation of Civil Society by Authoritarian Regime: The Case of Belarus.” Europe Asian Studies, in press. Ayling, Douglas. n.d. “How Do Political Jokes Differ between Totalitarian, PostTotalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes?” Accessed October 5, 2018. http:​ /​ / www​​.ayli​​ng​.co​​m​/con​​tent/​​docum​​ents/​​Acade​​mic​​/U​​niver​​sity of Notre Dame/How do political jokes differ between totalitarian, post-totalitarian and authoritarian regimes​.pd​f. Badarneh, Muhammad A. 2011. “Carnivalesque Politics: A Bakhtinian Case Study of Contemporary Arab Political Humor.” Humor 24(3): 305–327. Banc [pseud.], and Alan Dundes. 1986. First Prize: Fifteen Years! An Annotated Collection of Romanian Political Jokes. Rutherford, NJ and London: Fairlegh Dickinson University Press. Barkun, Michael. 2003. A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America. Berkeley, CA and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.​ BBC. 2001. “Belarus Vote ‘Neither Free nor Fair’.” BBC, September 10, 2001. Accessed October 5, 2018. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/1534621.stm. BBC. 2005. “At-a-Glance: ‘Outposts of Tyranny’.” BBC, January 19, 2005. Accessed October 5, 2018.http:​/​/new​​s​.bbc​​.co​.u​​k​/2​/h​​i​/ame​​ricas​​/41​87​​361​.s​​tm Beckmann, Petr. 1969. Whispered Anecdotes: Humor from Behind the Iron Curtain. Boulder, CO: Galem Press. Bedford, Sofe. 2017. “‘The Election Game:’ Authoritarian Consolidation Processes in Belarus.” Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization 25(4): 381–405. Bekus, Nelly. 2010. “Nationalism and Socialism: ‘Phase D’ in the Belarusian NationBuilding.” Nationalities Papers 38(6): 829–846.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

146

References

BelaPAN. 2010. “BelaPAN vyiasnil, pochemu izmenilas data rozhdeniia Lukashenko [BelaPAN Figured Out Why Lukashenko’s Birth Date Changed].” BelaPAN, September 1, 2010. http:​/​/bel​​apan.​​com​/a​​rchiv​​e​/201​​0​/09/​​01​​/40​​7760/​. BelarusFeed. 2019. “Glass Ceiling and Sticky Floor. Why Women in Belarus Are Paid Less Than Men.” BelarusFeed, September 14, 2019. https​:/​/be​​larus​​feed.​​com​/ m​​en​-wo​​men​-g​​ender​​-wage​​-gap​-​​belar​​us/. Belousov, Alexander, ed. 1989. Uchebnyi material po teorii literatury. Zhanry slovesnogo tvorchestva. Anekdot [Teaching Material on Literary Theory. Genres of Oral Art. Joke]. Tallinn: Tallinn Pedagogical Institute. Belova, Olga. 2005. Etnokulturnye stereotypy v slavianskoi narodnoi traditsii [Ethnocultural Stereotypes in Slavic Folk Tradition]. Moscow: Indrik. Belsat. 2018. “V Gomele k priezdu Lukashenko vysushivaiut luzhi [In Gomel, Puddles Are Dried for the Visit of Lukashenko].” Belsat, June 24, 2018. http:​//​bel​​ sat​.e​​u​/ru/​​in​-fo​​cus​/v​​-gome​​le​-k-​​priez​​du​-lu​​kashe​​nko​-v​​ysu​sh​​ivayu​​t​-luz​​hi/. Ben-Amos, Dan, Dov Noy, Ellen Frankel, Leonard J. Schramm, et al. 2006. Folktales of the Jews, Vol. 1: Tales from the Sephardic Dispersion. Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Publication Society. Bendix, John, and Regina Bendix. 2003. “Introduction to Sleepers, Moles and Martyrs.” Ethnologia Europaea. Journal of European Ethnology 33(2): 1–55. Bendix, Regina. 1997. In Search of Authenticity: The Formation of Folklore Studies. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press. Bennet, Brian. 2011. The Last Dictatorship in Europe: Belarus under Lukashenko. London: Hurst. Bennett, Gillian. 1988. “Legend: Performance and Truth.” In Monsters with Iron Teeth: Perspectives on Contemporary Legend III, edited by Gilliann Bennett, Paul Smith, and John David Allison Widdowson, 13–36. Sheffeld, UK: Sheffeld Academic Press. ———. 1993. “The Color of Saying: Modern Legend and Folktale.” Southern Folklore 50: 19–32. Bentham, Jeremy. 1843. The Works, Vol. 4: Panopticon, Constitution, Colonies, Codifcation. Edinburgh: William Tait. Berezhkov, Vladimir. 2008. “Muhi i gazety [Flies and Newspapers].” Pressball, May 29, 2008. https​:/​/ww​​w​.pre​​ssbal​​l​.by/​​artic​​les​/a​​uthor​​/krys​​​ha​/26​​450. Berry, Lynn. 2013. “A pro Putina i holodets anekdot slyshali? [Have You Heard the Joke about Putin and Meat Jelly?].” Inosmi​.ru​, 2013. https​:/​/in​​osmi.​​ru​/wo​​rld​/2​​ 00607​​16​/22​​8​836.​​html. Bezformata. 2019. “K priezdu Putina v Smolenske zaasfaltirovali liuki [They Paved Manholes for Putin’s Visit to Smolensk].” Bezformata, January 11, 2019. http:​/​/ smo​​lensk​​.bezf​​ormat​​a​.ru/​​listn​​ews​/p​​utina​​-v​-sm​​olens​​ke​-za​​asfal​​tiro​v​​ali​/1​​69628​​3/. Bibo. 2008. “Kipa.” Bibo, November 27, 2008. http:​/​/bib​​o​.kz/​​kipa/​​26314​​-xxx-​​segod​​ nja​-n​​e​-zab​​ud​-ch​​asy​-p​​ereve​​sti​-​n​​a​-zim​​nee​.h​​tml. ———. 2011a. “Anekdoty pro krizis [Crisis Jokes].” Bibo, October 8, 2011. http:// bibo​.kz​/anekdoti​/krizis/. ———. 2011b. “Kipa.” Bibo, January 19, 2011. http:​/​/bib​​o​.kz/​​kipa/​​39982​​5​-otk​​ryvaj​​ u​-kho​​lodil​​nik​-z​​aglja​​dyvaj​​u​-a​-t​​a​m​-kh​​olode​​c​.htm​​l.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

References

147

———. 2012. “Kipa.” Bibo, November 8, 2012. http:​/​/bib​​o​.kz/​​stish​​ki​/57​​6216-​​rossi​​ yskiy​​-bizn​​​es​.ht​​ml. Bigo, Didier. 2012. “Security, Surveillance and Democracy.” In Routledge Handbook of Surveillance Studies, edited by David Lyon, Kristie Ball, and Kevin D. Haggerty, 277–284. London: Routledge. Billig, Michael. 2005. Laughter and Ridicule: Towards a Social Critique of Humour. London: Sage. Birstein, Vadim J. 2012. “Three Days in ‘Auschwitz without Gas Chambers’: Henry A. Wallace’s Visit to Magadan in 1944.” Wilson Center. Accessed August 1, 2018. https​:/​/ww​​w​.wil​​sonce​​nter.​​org​/p​​ublic​​ation​​/thre​​e​-day​​s​-aus​​chwit​​z​-wit​​hout-​​gas​ -c​​hambe​​rs​-he​​nry​-w​​allac​​es​​-vi​​sit​-t​​o​-mag​​adan-​​1944. Blacker, Coit, and Condoleezza Rice. 2001. “Belarus and the Flight from Sovereignity.” In Problematic Sovereignty: Contested Rules and Political Possibilities, edited by Stephen D. Krasner, 224–250. New York, NY: Columbia University Press. Bloch, Maurice. 1989. Ritual, History, and Power: Selected Papers in Anthropology. London: Athlone. Blogspot. 2006. “KGB Jokes. Do Not Waste Your Time with Bad Books—Kafka Again.” Blogspot, November 19, 2006. http:​/​/ist​​ori​.b​​logsp​​ot​.co​​m​/200​​6​/11/​​kgb​-j​​ okes-​​do​-no​​t​-was​​te​-yo​​u​r​-ti​​me​-wi​​th​.ht​​ml. Bohmer, Carol, and Amy Shuman. 2008. Rejecting Refugees: Political Asylum in the 21st Century. London and New York, NY: Routledge. Borev, Iurii. 1990. Staliniada. Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel’. Botello, Arteaga Nelson. 2011. “Security Metamorphosis in Latin America.” In Security and Everyday Life, edited by Vida Bajc and Willem de Lint, 236–257. New York, NY: Routledge. Bozzini, David M. 2013. “The Catch-22 of Resistance: Jokes and the Political Imagination of Eritrean Conscripts.” Africa Today 60(2): 39–64. Brandenberger, David. 2009. Political Humor Under Stalin: An Anthology of Unoffcial Jokes and Anecdotes. Bloomington, IN: Slavica. Brandes, Stanley H. 1977. “Peaceful Protest: Spanish Political Humor in a Time of Crisis.” Western Folklore 36(4): 331–346. Brandt, Hans-Jürgen. 1965. Witz Mit Gewehr: Bezieltes Lachen Hinter Mauer Und Stacheldraht [Joke with Gun: Targeted Laughter Behind the Wall and Barbed Wire]. Stuttgart: Henry Goverts Verlag. Briggs, Charles L., and Richard Bauman. 1992. “Genre, Intertextuality, and Social Power.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 2(2): 131–172. Brighenti, Andrea Mubi. 2010. “Democracy and Its Visibilities.” In Surveillance and Democracy, edited by David Lyon, Kristie Ball, and Kevin D. Haggerty, 51–68. London: Routledge. Bronner, Simon J. 2009. “Digitizing and Virtualizing Folklore.” In Folklore and the Internet: Vernacular Expression in a Digital World, edited by Trevor J. Blank. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press. Brooker, Paul. 2014. Non-Democratic Regimes. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillian. Brown, Keith S. 1995. “Political Realities and Cultural Specifcities in Contemporary Macedonian Jokes.” Western Folklore 54(3): 197–211.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

148

References

Brownlee, Jason. 2007. Authoritarianism in an Age of Democratization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Bryant, Chad. 2006. “The Language of Resistance? Czech Jokes and Joke-Telling under Nazi Occupation, 1943–45.” Journal of Contemporary History 41(1): 133–151. Bugunova, Irina. 1998. Politische Kultur in Belarus. Eine Rekonstruktion der Entwicklung Vom Groß-Fürstentum Litauen Zum Lukaschenko-Regime [Political Culture in Belarus. A Reconstruction of the Development from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to the Lukashenko Regime]. Mannheim: FKKS. 10 Cal Jelly. 2016. “Why Did the Jelly Wobble?” Twitter, April 12, 2016. https​:/​/tw​​ itter​​.com/​​10cal​​jelly​​/stat​​us​/71​​91681​​7116​9​​68141​​0. Campbell, Joseph. 1949. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. New York, NY: Bollingen Foundation, Pantheon Books. Camps-Febrer, Blanca. 2012. “Political Humor as a Confrontational Tool against the Syrian Regime. A Study Case: Syria, 15th March 2011–15th May 2012. Working Paper No. 2012/8.” International Catalan Institute for Peace. Accessed October 5, 2018. https​:/​/pa​​pers.​​ssrn.​​com​/s​​ol3​/p​​apers​​.cfm?​​abstr​​act​_i​​​d​=220​​5200. Carawan, Guy, and Candie Carawan. 1997. Sing for Freedom: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement through Its Songs. Bethlehem, PA: New South Books. Cash, Jennifer R. 2012. Villages on Stage: Folklore and Nationalism in the Republic of Moldova. Berlin: LIT Verlag. Cashman, Ray. 2008. Storytelling on the Northern Irish Border: Characters and Community. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. Cassiday, J. A., and E. D. Johnson. 2013. “A Personality Cult for the Postmodern Age: Reading Vladimir Putin’s Public Persona.” In Putin as Celebrity and Cultural Icon, edited by Helena Goscilo, 37–64. London: Routledge. Central Intelligence Agency. 2017. “Life Expectancy at Birth.” The World Factbook. Accessed June 24, 2018. https​:/​/ww​​w​.cia​​.gov/​​libra​​ry​/pu​​blica​​tions​​/the-​​world​​-fact​​ book/​​ranko​​rder/​​​2102r​​ank​.h​​tml. Charter’97. 2011. “Tsygan mne ne Bat’ka [A Roma Is Not My Father].” Charter’97, December 7, 2011. https​:/​/ch​​arter​​97​.or​​g​/ru/​​news/​​2011/​​12​/7​/​​45506​/. ———. 2013. “Putin i Lukashenko: kto kogo kopiruet [Putin and Lukashenko: Who Copies Whom].” Charter’97, April 9, 2013. https​:/​/ch​​arter​​97​.or​​g​/ru/​​news/​​2013/​​4​ /9​​/6​​7699/​. Cherkasova, Veronika. 2005. Krasnym po belomu: stat’i, ocherki, esse [Red on White: Articles, Sketches, Essays]. Moscow: Prestizh-Buk. CNN. 2005. “Rice: Belarus Is ‘Dictatorship’.” CNN, April 20, 2005. http:​/​/edi​​tion.​​cnn​ .c​​om​/20​​05​/WO​​RLD​/e​​urope​​/04​/2​​0​/ri​c​​e​.bel​​arus/​. Cochran, Robert. 1989. “‘What Courage!’: Romanian ‘Our Leader’ Jokes.” Journal of American Folklore 102(405): 259–274. Colman, Xan, and Tamara Searle. 2009. “Performing Resistance in Burma.” TDR/The Drama Review 53(1): 141–146. Compromat. 2006. “V Aleksandrii Lukashenko spivaetsia ego rodnia [In Lukashenko’s Alexandria, His Relatives Ruin Themselves with Drinking].” Compromat, November 10, 2006. http://www​.compromat​.ru​/page​_19633​.htm.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

References

149

Cope, Benjamin, and Siarhei Liubimau. 2008. “Muzyka i artikuliatsiia sotsial’nyh raskolov: Buffalo Soldiers mezhdu Belarus’u i Pol’shej [Music and Articulation of Social Divisions: Buffalo Soldiers between Belarus and Poland].” In Belorusskii format: nevidimaia real’nost’. sbornik nauchnyh trudov [Belarusian Format: Invisible Reality: A Collection of Schorarly Works], edited by Almira Ousmanova, 87–110. Vilnius: EHU. David-Fox, Michael. 2012. Showcasing the Great Experiment: Cultural Diplomacy and Western Visitors to Soviet Union, 1921–1941. Oxford and New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Davies, Christie. 2007. “Humour and Protest: Jokes under Communism.” International Review of Social History 52: 291–305. Davies, Sarah. 1997. Popular Opinion in Stalin’s Russia. Terror, Propaganda and Dissent, 1934–1941. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Davis, John, ed. 2013. The Arab Spring and Arab Thaw: Unfnished Revolutions and the Quest for Democracy. Farnham: Ashgate. Dégh, Linda. 1995. “Symbiosis of Joke and Legend: A Case of Conversational Folklore.” In Narratives in Society: A Performer-Centered Study of Narration, edited by Linda Kinsey Adams, 285–305. Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica. Dégh, Linda, and Andrew Vázsonyi. 1983. “Does the Word ‘Dog’ Bite? Ostensive Action as Means of Legend Telling.” Journal of Folklore Research 20(1): 5–34. DiFonzo, Nicholas, and Prashant Bordia. 2007. Rumor Psychology: Social and Organizational Approaches. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Dinkin, Robert J., ed. 2002. Election Day: A Documentary History. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. Draitser, Emil. 1979. Forbidden Laughter: Soviet Underground Jokes. Los Angeles, CA: Almanac. Drozdzynsky, Alexander. 1974. Der Politische Witz Im Ostblock [The Political Joke in the Eastern Bloc]. Dusseldorf: Droste Verlag. Druzhinina, Elena. 1959. Severnoe Prichernomorje v 1775–1800 [The Northern Shores of the Black Sea in 1775–1800]. Moscow: Izdatelstvo Akademii nauk SSSR. Dundes, Alan. 1971. “Laughter Behind the Iron Curtain: A Sample of Rumanian Political Jokes.” Ukrainian Quarterly 27: 50–59. ———. 1990. “The Hero Pattern and the Life of Jesus.” In In Quest of the Hero, edited by Otto Rank, Lord Raglan, and Alan Dundes, 179–223. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Durocher, Bruno. 1965. La Guerre Secrète Du Rire [The Secret War of Laughter]. Paris: Editions Albin Michel. Dynel, Marta. 2017. “But Seriously: On Conversational Humour and (Un) Truthfulness.” Lingua 197: 83–102. Dziarnovich, Aleh (comp.). 2004. Nonkanfarmizm u Belarusi: 1953–1985. Davednik [Non-Conformism in Belarus. A Reference Book], Vol. 1. Minsk: Athenaeum. Early, Lawrence. 1993. “Science, Technology, and Human Rights: The Role of Data Protection.” In Human Rights in the Twenty-First Century: A Global Challenge,

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

150

References

edited by Kathleen E. Mahoney and Paul Mahoney, 801–816. Boston, MA: M. Nijhoff. “Economic Semantics.” 1956. News from Behind the Iron Curtain 5(9). Edmond, Chris. 2013. “Information Manipulation, Coordination, and Regime Change.” Review of Economic Studies 80: 1422–1458. Eke, Steven M., and Taras Kuzio. 2000. “Sultanism in Eastern Europe: The Sociopolitical Roots of Authoritarian Populism in Belarus.” Europe-Asian Studies 52(3): 523–547. El-Shamy, Hasan. 1997. “Hero/Heroine, Folk.” In Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Beliefs, Customs, Tales, Music and Art, edited by Thomas A. Green, 432–437. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. Ellis, Bill. 1989. “Death by Folklore: Ostension, Contemporary Legend, and Murder.” Western Folklore 48(3): 201–220. ———. 2005. “Legend/Antilegend. Humor as an Integral Part of the Contemporary Legend Process.” In Rumor Mills: The Social Impact of Rumor and Legend, edited by Gary Alan Fine, Véronique Campion-Vincent, and Chip Heath, 123–140. New Brunswick, NJ: Aldine Transaction. Erpyleva, Svetlana, and Artemii Magun, eds. 2014. Politika apolitichnykh: grazhdanskie dvizheniia v Rossii 2011–2013 [The Politics of the Apolitical: Civil Movements in Russia 2011–2013]. Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie. Euroradio. 2019. “Deputaty predlozhili povysit’ posobie po bezrabotitse [Deputies Suggested to Raise Unemployment Compensation].” Euroradio, November 5, 2019. https​:/​/eu​​rorad​​io​.fm​​/ru​/d​​eputa​​ty​-pr​​edloz​​hili-​​povys​​it​-po​​sobie​​-po​​-b​​ezrab​​otice​ . Fabre, Genevieve. 1993. “Election Day Celebrations.” In Slavery in the Americas, edited by Wolfgang Binder, 403–420. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann. Facebook. 2015. “Tatiana Karatkevich.” Accessed May 26, 2017. https​:/​/ww​​w​.fac​​ ebook​​.com/​​tania​​.kara​​t​kevi​​ch. Fenster, Mark. 2008. Conspiracy Theories. Secrecy and Power in American Culture. Minneapolis, MN and London: University of Minnesota Press. Ferra, Anselmo Sánchez. 2016. “Los Ciclos Coyunturales de La Narrativa Folclórica. Los Chistes de Franco [The Current Cycles of the Folkloric Narrative. Franco’s Jokes].” Revista Murciana de Antropología 23: 149–172. Fialkova, Larisa. 2001. “Chornobyl’s Folklore: Vernacular Commentary on Nuclear Disaster.” Journal of Folklore Research 38(3): 181–204. Fialkova, Larisa, and Marina N. Yelenevskaya. 2010. Ex-Soviets in Israel: From Personal Narratives to a Group Portrait. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press. Filip, Ota, and Ivan Steiger. 1977. Schwejk Heute: Politischer Witz in Prag [Schwejk Today: The Political Joke in Prague]. Berlin: Universitas Verlag. Finance​.tut​.​by. 2019. “V Belarusi vyrastut minimal’nye trudovye i sotsial’nye pensii [In Belarus, the Minimum Retirement and Social Pensions Will Become Higher].” Tut​.by​, October 28, 2019. https://fnance​.tut​.by​/news659071​.html. Fine, Gary Alan, and Bill Ellis. 2010. The Global Grapevine: Why Rumors of Terrorism, Immigration, and Trade Matter. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

References

151

Fine, Gary Alan, and Patricia Turner. 2001. Whispers on the Color Line: Rumor and Race in America. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Fingerroos, Outi. 2006. “The Karelia of Memories—Utopias of a Place.” Folklore 33: 95–108. Fiske, John. 1998. “Surveilling the City: Whiteness, the Black Man and Democratic Totalitarianism.” Theory, Culture & Society 15(2): 62–88. Fitzpatrick, Sheila. 1994. Stalin’s Peasants: Resistance and Survival in the Russian Village after Collectivization. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. ———. 1999. Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ———. 2005. Tear Off the Masks! Identity and Imposture in the Twentieth-Century Russia. Princeton, NJ and Oxford: Princeton University Press. ———. 2008. Povsednevnyi Stalinizm: sotsialnaia istoriia Sovetskoi Rossii v 30-e gody [Everyday Stalinism: The Social History of Soviet Russia in the 1930s]. Moscow: Rossijskaja politicheskaja etsiklopedija, Fond pervogo prezidenta Rossii B. N. Eltsina. Foster, George M. 1965. “Peasant Society and the Image of Limited Good.” American Anthropologist New Series 67(2): 293–315. Foucault, Michel. 1975. Surveiller et Punir, Naissance de La Prison [Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison]. Paris: Gallimard. ———. 1977. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Translated by Alan Sheridan. New York, NY: Pantheon Books. Frank, Russel. 2011. Newslore: Contemporary Folklore on the Internet. Jackson, MS: University of Mississippi. Frankfurter, David. 2006. Evil Incarnate: Rumors of Demonic Conspiracy and Ritual Abuse in History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Free Region. 2012. “Priezd Lukashenko v Polotsk [Lukashenko’s Visit to Polotsk].” Free Region, May 25, 2012. https://freeregion​.info​/413​-luka​.html. Freud, Sigmund. 1960. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Freud, Vol. 8. London: Hogarth Press and the Institute for Psycho-Analysis. Frizell, Sam. 2014. “Is the Government’s Aerial Smartphone Surveillance Program Legal?” Times, November 15, 2014. http:​/​/tim​​e​.com​​/3586​​511​/g​​overn​​ment-​​aeria​​l​ -sur​​v​eill​​ance/​. Frois, Catarina. 2013. Peripheral Vision: Politics, Technology and Surveillance. London and New York, NY: Berghahn Books. Galanter, Marc. 2005. Lowering the Bar: Lawyer Jokes and Legal Culture. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press. Gamber, Wendy, Michael Grossberg, and Hendrik Hartog, eds. 2003. American Public Life and the Historical Imagination. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press. Gamm, Hans-Jochen. (1963) 1979. Der Flüsterwitz im Dritten Reich [The Whispering Joke in the Third Reich]. Munich: Deutschen Taschenbuch. Gapova, Alena. 2008. “O politicheskoi ekonomii natsional’nogo iazyka v Belarusi [On the Political Economy of National Language in Belarus].” In Belorusskii format: nevidimaia real’nost’. sbornik nauchnyh trudov [Belarusian Format:

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

152

References

Invisible Reality: A Collection of Schorarly Works], edited by Almira Ousmanova, 30–70. Vilnius: EHU. Garcia, P. [pseud. of José García Martínez]. 1977. Los Chistes de Franco [The Jokes of Franco]. Madrid: Ediciones 99. Getty, Arch J. 2013. Practicing Stalinism: Bolsheviks, Boyars, and the Persistence of Tradition. New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press. Giroux, Henry A. 2017. “White Nationalism, Armed Culture and State Violence in the Age of Donald Trump.” Philosophy & Social Criticism 43(9): 887–910. Goldstein, Diane E. 2004. Once Upon a Virus: AIDS Legends and Vernacular Risk Perception. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press. Goldstuck, Arthur. 1994. Ink in the Porridge: Urban Legends of the South African Elections. London: Penguin. Golikova, Nina. 1957. Politicheskie protsessy pri Petre I [Political Processes during the Rule of Peter the First]. Moscow: Izdatelstvo Moskovskogo Universiteta. Google Play. 2015. “Lida: Save the Elections.” Accessed May 29, 2017. https://play​ .google​.com​/store/ apps/details?id​=ru​.lanaer​.l​ida. Graham, Seth Benedict. 2003. A Cultural Analysis of the Russo-Soviet Anekdot. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. Gramsci, Antonio. 1985. Selections from the Cultural Writings. London: Lawrence & Wishart. “Grustnyi Kolen’ka [Sad Kolenka].” 2015. Vk​.com​. https://vk​.com​/kolyasik​_prod. Guriev, Sergei, and Daniel Treisman. 2015. How Modern Dictators Survive: An Informational Theory of the New Authoritarianism. Working Paper 21136. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research. Accessed March 23, 2018. http://www​.nber​.org​/papers​/w21136​%0A. Hahn, von Johann Georg. 1876. Sagwissenschaftliche Studien [Studies on Legendry]. Jena: F. Mauke. He, Zhou. 2008. “SMS in China: A Major Carrier of the Nonoffcial Discourse Universe.” The Information Society 24(3): 182–190. Helmy, Mohamed M., and Sabine Frerichs. 2013. “Stripping the Boss: The Powerful Role of Humor in the Egyptian Revolution 2011.” Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science 47: 450–481. Hermet, Guy, Richard Rose, and Alain Rouquié. 1978. Elections Without Choice. London: Palgrave McMillan. Hirche, Kurt. 1964. Der “Braune” Und Der “Rote” Witz [The “Brown” and the “Red” Joke]. Dusseldorf: Econ Verlag. Honari, Ali. 2014. “From Virtual to Tangible Social Movements in Iran.” In Civil Society in Syria and Iran: Activism in Authoritarian Contexts, edited by Paul Aarts and Francesco Cavatorta, 143–168. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner. Huber, Patrick. 2006. “Red Necks and Red Bandanas: Appalachian Coal Miners and the Coloring of Union Identity, 1912–1936.” Western Folklore 65(1/2): 195–209. Humphrey, Caroline. 2005. “Dangerous Words: Taboos, Evasions, and Silence in Soviet Russia.” Forum for Anthropology and Culture 2: 374–396. Hurston, Zora Neale. 2008. Mules and Men. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

References

153

IISEPS. 2010a. “Natsional’nyi opros 2-12 sentiabria 2010 g [Nation Opinion Poll Conducted on September 2–12, 2010].” Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies. Accessed July 24, 2018. http://www​.iiseps​.org/​?p​=2742. ———. 2010b. “Kak otnosiatsia belorusy k national’nym men’shinstvam [What Is the Attitude of Belarusians toward Sexual Minorities].” Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies. Accessed March 26, 2018. http://www​ .iiseps​.org/​?p​=1634. ———. 2014. “Language and National Identity [Iazyk I natsional’naia identichnost’].” Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies. Accessed March 26, 2018. http://www​.iiseps​.org/​?p​=869б&lang=en. Imgur. 2016. “Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton Was on a Plane.” Imgur, August 10, 2016. Accessed March 26, 2018. https://imgur​.com​/gallery​/fd8N6. Ioffe, Grigory. 2007. “Unfnished Nation Building in Belarus and the 2006 Presidential Election.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 48(1): 37–58. Iudin, Iuri. 1978. “Rol’ i mesto mifologicheskih predstavlenii v russkih bytovyh skazkah o khoziaine i rabotnike [The Role and the Place of Mythological Imagination in Russian Tales about the Master and the Worker].” In Mif—folklor—literatura [Myth—Folklore—Literature], edited by Vasilii Bazanov, 16–37. Leningrad: Nauka. Ivanova, Taljana. 2009. Istoriia russkoi folkloristiki ХХ veka, 1900—pervaia polovina 1941 gg [The History of Russian Folklore Studies in the 20th Century, 1900—The First Half of 1941]. Saint-Petersburg: Dmitry Bulanin. Jacobs, Jane. 1961. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York, NY: Vintage Books. Jakobson, Roman, and Petr Bogatyrev. 1980. “Folklore as a Special Form of Creation.” Folklore Forum 13(1): 1–21. Jessen, Ralph, and Hedwig Richter. 2011. “Non-Competitive Elections in 20th Century Dictatorships: Some Questions and General Considerations.” In Voting for Hitler and Stalin: Elections Under 20th Century Dictatorships, edited by Ralph Jessen and Hedwig Richter, 9–38. Frankfurt and New York, NY: Campus Verlag. Johnston, Hank. 2005. “Talking the Walk: Speech Acts and Restistance in Authoritarian Regimes.” In Repression and Mobilization. Social Movements, Protest, and Contention, Vol. 21, edited by Christian Davenport, Hank Johnston, and Carol Mueller, 108–137. Minneapolis, MN and London: University of Minnesota Press. “Jokes from Hungary.” 1964. East Europe 13(10). Kalmre, Eda. 2013. The Human Sausage Factory: A Study of Post-War Rumour in Tartu. New York, NY: Rodopi. Kamalipour, Yahya R. 2010. Media, Power, and Politics in the Digital Age: The 2009 Presidential Election Uprising in Iran. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefeld. Kapferer, Jean-Noel. 1990. Rumors: Uses, Interpretations, and Images. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers. Kaschula, Russell H. 2004. “Southern Africa: Contemporary Forms of Folklore.” In African Folklore: An Encyclopedia, edited by Philip M. Peek and Kwesi Yankah, 866–870. New York, NY and London: Routledge.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

154

References

Kascian, Kirill. 2015. “The Romanization of Belarusian: An Unneccessary Dualism.” Belarusian Review 4. Accessed March 26, 2018. http:​/​/the​​point​​journ​​al​.co​​m​/fa/​​libra​​ ry​/br​​​wp​-04​​.pdf. Kelley, Greg. 2015. “‘The Joke’s on Us’. An Analysis of Metahumor.” In The Folkloresque: Reframing Folklore in a Popular Culture World, edited by Jeffrey A. Tolbert and Michael Dylan Foster, 205–220. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press. Kishtainy, Khalid. 1985. Arab Political Humor. London: Quartet Books. Kokhanovskii, Alexander, and Oleg Ianovskii. 1997. Istoriia Belarusi [The History of Belarus]. Minsk: Historical Faculty of the Belarusian State University. Komsomolskaia Pravda. 1995. “Bat’ka Lukashenko [Father Lukashenko].” August 4, 1995. Korosteleva, Elena, Colin Lawson, and Rosalind Marsh. 2003. “Afterword: The Presidential Election of September.” In Contemporary Belarus: Between Democracy and Dictatorship, edited by Elena Korosteleva, Colin Lawson, and Rosalind Marsh, 193–196. London and New York, NY: Routledge. Kostiukhin, Evgenii. 1987. Tipy i formy zhivotnogo eposa [Types and Forms of the Animal Epics]. Moscow: Nauka. Kostromin, Dmitry. 2003. “Teshcha [Mother-in-Law].” Mitia, March 10, 2003. Accessed April 20, 2018. http:​/​/mit​​ia13.​​narod​​.ru​/h​​umor/​​humor​​02​2​.h​​tml. Kotljarchuk, Andrej. 2013. “World War II Memory Politics: Jewish, Polish and Roma Minorities of Belarus.” The Journal of Belarusian Studies 7(1): 7–37. Kozlov, Vladimir. 2002. “Kramola: inakomyslie v SSSR vo vremena Khrushcheva i Brezhneva [Sedition: Dissidence in the USSR in the Times of Khrushchev and Brezhnev].” Obshchestvennye nauki i sovremennost’ 3: 75–88. Kozlov, Vladimir, Sheila Fitzpatrick, and Sergei Mironenko. 2011. Sedition: Everyday Resistance in the Soviet Union under Khrushchev and Brezhnev. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Krikmann, Arvo. 2004. Internet Humor about Stalin. Tartu: Estonian Literature Museum. Krikmann, Arvo, and Liisi Laineste, eds. 2009. Permitted Laughter. Tartu: Estonian Literature Museum. Kryvoi, Yaraslau, and Andrew Wilson. 2015. “From Sunctions to Summits: Belarus after the Ukrainian Crisis. Policy Memo.” Ostrogorsky Centre. Accessed March 22, 2018. http:​/​/www​​.ecfr​​.eu​/p​​age/-​​/ECFR​​_132_​​​Belar​​us_(May_5_-_version_2).pdf. Kuipers, Giselinde. 2008. “The Sociology of Humor.” In The Primer of Humor Research, edited by Victor Raskin, 361–398. Berlin and New York, NY: Mouton de Gruyter. Kuraev, Andrej. 2012. “Tselibat, piraty i greshnye zaitsy [Celibacy, Pirates, and Sinful Hares].” Livejournal, December 1, 2012. https​:/​/di​​ak​-ku​​raev.​​livej​​ourna​​l​ .com​​/2672​​82​.ht​​​ml​?pa​​ge​=2. Kuromiya, Hiroaki. 2007. The Voices of the Dead. Stalin’s Great Terror in the 1930s. New Haven, CT: Tale University Press. Laineste, Liisi. 2008. Post-Socialist Jokes in Estonia: Continuity and Change. PhD diss., University of Tartu.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

References

155

Laineste, Liisi, and Eda Kalmre. 2017. “Rumour and Humour in #WhereIsPutin and #PutinUmer: Global Media and the Cult of Putin.” Folklore. Electronic Journal of Folklore 69: 91–114. Larsen, Egon. 1980. Wit as a Weapon: The Political Joke in History. London: Frederick Muller. Latyshonak, Aleh, and Jauhen Miranovich. 2013. Historyia Belarusi ad siaredziny XVIII stahoddzia da pachatku ХХІ stahoddzia [The History of Belarus from the Middle of the 18th Century to the Beginning of the 21st Century.] Smalensk: Inbelkult.​ Lenta.ru. 2009. “V Kirove k priezdu Medvedeva zaasfaltirovali zheleznuiu dorogu [For Medvedev’s Arrival in Kirov, the Railway Road Was Paved with Asphalt].” Lenta.ru, May 15, 2009. https://lenta.ru/news/2009/05/15/meet/. Leshchenko, Natalia. 2004. “A Fine Instrument: Two Nation-Building Strategies in Post-Soviet Belarus.” Nations and Nationalism 10(3): 333–352. Levine, Lawrence W. 1977. Black Culture and Black Consciousness: AfroAmerican Folk Thought from Slavery to Freedom. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Lexico. n.d. “Order.” Accessed March 3, 2020. https​:/​/ww​​w​.lex​​ico​.c​​om​/en​​/def​​nitio​​​ n​/ord​​er. Libertarnoe, Soprotivlenie. 2011. “U Belarusau niama paranoii [Belarusians Do Not Have Paranoia].” Vk​.com​. http:​/​/vk.​​com​/s​​oprot​​ivlen​​ie​_br​​est​?w​​=wall​​-2702​​1287_​​​ 4220%​​2Fall​. Lindahl, Carl. 2012. “Legends of Hurricane Katrina: The Right to Be Wrong, Survivor-to-Survivor Storytelling, and Healing.” Journal of American Folklore 125(496): 139–176. Linke, Uli, and Danielle Taana Smith. 2009. Cultures of Fear: A Critical Reader. London and New York, NY: Pluto Press. Liubimau, Siarhei. 2007. “Practices and Discourses of Uneven Development: The Role of Border in Cultural Politics of the Identity of the Belarusian Community.” In Borders of the European Union: Strategies of Crossing and Resistance, edited by Paul Bauer and Mathilde Darley, 84–103. Prague: Centre français de recherche en sciences sociales. Livejournal. 2010. “K priezdu Lukashenko korovam v odnom iz siol pokrasili kopyta [For Lukashenko’s Visit, in One of the Villages, They Painted Cows’ Hooves].” Livejournal, April 28, 2010. https​:/​/p-​​i​-f​.l​​ivejo​​urnal​​.com/​​13082​​​41​.ht​​ml. ———. 2011. “Detskie anekdoty [Children’s Jokes].” Livejournal, November 2, 2011. https​:/​/tr​​oss​.l​​ivejo​​urnal​​.com/​​46226​​8​.htm​​​l​?pag​​e​=2. ———. 2015. “Nachalis’ zapugivaniia studentov za neiavku na dosrochnoe golosovanie [The Intimidation of Students Regarding No-Shows for the Preliminary Voting Started].” Livejournal, October 5, 2015. https​:/​/to​​xaby.​​livej​​ourna​​l​.com​​ /6451​​7​0​.ht​​ml. Lord, Albert B. 1960. The Singer of Tales. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Luray, Martin. 1957. “Bitter Wit from Hungary.” New York Times, April 7, 1957.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

156

References

Lyon, David, Kevin D. Haggerty, and Kirstie Ball. 2012. “Introducing Surveillance Studies.” In Routledge Handbook of Surveillance Studies, edited by David Lyon, Kevin D. Haggerty, and Kirstie Ball, 1–11. London: Routledge. Magliocco, Sabina. 2003. “The Opposite of Right Society: Witches, Terrorists and the Discourse of Evil.” Ethnologia Europaea. Journal of European Ethnology 33(2): 13–22. Marks, Alexandra. 2001. “From Survival Tales to Attack Predictions, Rumors Fly.” The Christian Science Monitor 2(October): 2. Marples, David R. 1996. Belarus: From Soviet Rule to Nuclear Catastrophe. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press. ———. 1999. Belarus: A Denationalized Nation. Amsterdam: Harwood. ———. 2003. “History and Politics in Post-Soviet Belarus: The Foundations.” In Contemporary Belarus: Between Democracy and Dictatorship, edited by Rosalind Korosteleva, Elena Lawson, and Colin W. Marsh, 21–36. London: Routledge Curzon. ———. 2005. “Europe’s Last Dictatorship: The Roots and Perspectives of Authoritarianism in ‘White Russia’.” Europe-Asia Studies 57(6): 895–908. Marsh, Moira. 2015. Practically Joking. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press. ———. 2018. “Believe Me, I’m Joking: The Dialectics of the Legend and the Dialectics of Humor.” Journal of Americal Folklore 131(522): 444. Marshall, Monty G., and Gabrielle Elzinga-Marshall. 2017. “Global Report 2017: Confict, Governance, and State.” Center for Systemic Peace. Accessed March 26, 2018. http:​/​/www​​.syst​​emicp​​eace.​​org​/v​​libra​​ry​/Gl​​obalR​​eport​​​2017.​​pdf. Marx, Gary T. 2012. “Preface: ‘Your Papers, Please’: Personal and Professional Encounters with Surveillance.” In Routledge Handbook of Surveillance Studies, xx–xxxi. London: Routledge. Mascha, Efharis. 2011. “Mocking Fascism. Popular Culture and Political Satire.” In Studies in Political Humour: In Between Political Critique and Political Entertainment, 191–213. Amsterdam and Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamin Publishing. McAllister, Ian, and Stephen White. 2016. “Lukashenka and His Voters.” East European Politics and Societies and Cultures 30(2): 360–380. McCarthy, John, Larissa Titarenko, Clark McPhail, Patrick Rafail, and Boguslaw Augustyn. 2008. “Assessing Stability in the Patterns of Selection Bias in Newspaper Coverage of Protest During the Transition from Communism in Belarus.” Mobilization: An International Quarterly 13(2): 127–146. McVeigh, Brian J. 2012. Japanese Higher Education as Myth. Armink, NY: M. E. Sharpe. Meder, Theo. 2009. “They Are Among Us and They Are Against Us: Contemporary Horror Stories about Muslims and Immigrants in the Netherlands.” Western Folklore 68(2/3): 257–274. Medvedeva, Inna, ed. 2019. Information Society in the Republic of Belarus. Minsk: National Statistical Committee in the Republic of Belarus. Melnichenko, Misha. 2014. Sovetskii anekdot: ukazatel’ siuzhetov [Soviet Anecdote. Plot Index]. Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

References

157

Merl, Stephan. 2011. “Elections in the Soviet Union, 1937–1989: A View into a Paternalistic World from Below.” In Voting for Hitler and Stalin: Elections Under 20th Century Dictatorships, edited by Ralph Jessen and Hedwig Richter, 276–308. Frankfurt and New York, NY: Campus Verlag. Merriam-Webster. n.d. “Order.” Accessed August 2, 2018. http:​/​/www​​.merr​​iam​-w​​ ebste​​r​.com​​/dict​​ionar​​​y​/ord​​er. Meyer, Antoine, and Phillipe Meyer. 1978. Le Communisme Est-Il Soluble Dans l’alcool [Is Communism Soluble in Alcohol]. Paris: Editions du Seuil. Miller-Jones, Edward R. 2011. Belarus: Europe’s Last Authoritarian State. Dortmund: Fastpublishing Books. Miller, David L. 1985. Introduction to Collective Behavior. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. Miller, Frank J. 1990. Russian Folklore and Pseudofolklore of the Stalin Era. New York, NY: M. E. Sharps. Mills, Margaret. 1991. Rhetorics and Politics in Afghan Traditional Storytelling. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. Milspaw, Yvonne. 1981. “Folklore and the Nuclear Age. The Harrisburg Disaster at Three Mile Island.” International Folklore Review 1: 57–65. ———. 2007. “TMI-2: Elements in the Discourse on Disaster.” Contemporary Legend 10: 74–93. Mitrofanova, Anastasia. 2006. “Khrustalnyi sosud ideologii, ili belorusskii proekt [The Crystal Vessel of Ideology, or the Belarusian Project].” Neprikosnovennyi Zapas 3(47). www​.n​​z​-onl​​ine​.r​​u​/ind​​ex​.ph​​tml​?a​​id​=80​​01176​​0. Mould, Tom, ed. 2018. “Special Issue on Fake News.” The Journal of American Folklore 522(131): 398–404. Murakami Wood, David. 2012. “Globalization and Surveillance.” In Routledge Handbook of Surveillance Studies, edited by David Lyon, Kristie Ball, and Kevin D. Haggerty, 333–342. London: Routledge. Muravchik, Joshua. 2013. Trailblazers of the Arab Spring: Voices of Democracy in the Middle East. New York, NY and London: Encounter Books. Musangi, Jennifer. 2012. ‘A Zimbabwean Joke Is No Laughing Matter’: E-Humour and Versions of Subversion. Crisis! What Crisis?: The Multiple Dimensions of the Zimbabwean Crisis. Cape Town: HSRC Press. Nadoel nam etot Lukashenko [We Are Fed Up with this Lukashenko]. 2013. “Rubrika nashi chitateli i ih istorii [The Rubrics Our Readers and Their Stories].” Vk​.com​, June 8, 2013. http://vk​.com​/wall​-18923125​_304845. National Statistical Committee of the Republic of Belarus. 2017. “Gender and Age Structure of the Population of the Republic of Belarus as for January 1 2017 and an Average Yearly Population Number for 2006.” Accessed March 23, 2018. http:​ /​/www​​.bels​​tat​.g​​ov​.by​​/oft​​sialn​​aya​-s​​tatis​​tika/​​solia​​lnaya​​-sfer​​a​/dem​​ograf​​i ya​_2​​/meto​​ dolog​​iya​-o​​tvets​​tvenn​​ye​-za​​-info​​rma​ts​​ionno​​e​-s​_2​​/inde​​x​_733​​4/. Naviny​.b​y. 2015. “Vybory prezidenta Belarusi-2015: onlain-reportazh [The Election of the Belarusian President 2015: Online Report].” Naviny​.by​, October 11, 2015. http:​/​/nav​​iny​.b​​y​/rub​​rics/​​elect​​ions/​​2015/​​10​/11​​/ic​_a​​rticl​​es​​_62​​3​_189​​997/.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

158

References

Nechepurenko, Ivan. 2018. “Peeking Around Corners in the World Cup’s Provincial Cities.” The New York Times, July 14, 2018. https​:/​/ww​​w​.nyt​​imes.​​com​/2​​018​/0​​7​ /14/​​sport​​s​/wor​​ld​-cu​​p​/rus​​sia​-c​​iti​es​​-stad​​iums.​​html. Novozhilova, Kseniya. 2017. “Kakie anekdoty rasskazyvaiut o sebe belorusy [Jokes that Belarusians Tell about Themselves].” Komsomolskaia Pravda, January 14, 2017. https​:/​/ww​​w​.msk​​.kp​.r​​u​/dai​​ly​/26​​626​​/5​​93951​/. Noy, Dov. 1963. Folktales of Israel. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Noyes, Dorothy. 2000. “Authoring the Social Drama: Suicide and the Performance of Self in a French Political Scandal.” Narrative 8: 210–231. ———. 2006. “Waiting for Mr. Marshall: Spanish American Dreams.” In The Americanization of Europe: Culture, Diplomacy, and Anti-Americanism after 1945, edited by Alexander Stephan, 307–336. New York, NY and Oxford: Berghahn Books. O’Toole, Megan. 2014. “Tajik Student Freed, but Charges Linger.” Al Jazeera, September 28, 2014. http:​/​/www​​.alja​​zeera​​.com/​​indep​​th​/fe​​ature​​s​/201​​4​/09/​​tajik​​-stud​​ ent​-f​​reed-​​but​-c​​harge​​s​-lin​​ger​-2​​01​492​​88191​​95553​​17​.ht​​ml. Ó Beacháin, Donnacha. 2011. “Faking It: Neo-Soviet Electoral Politics in Central Asia.” In Voting for Hitler and Stalin: Elections Under 20th Century Dictatorships, edited by Ralph Jessen and Hedwig Richter, 204–230. Frankfurt and London: Campus Verlag. Obrdlik, Antonin J. 1942. “‘Gallows Humor’—A Sociological Phenomenon.” American Journal of Sociology 47(5): 709–716. Omidsalar, Mahmoud. 1987. “A Romanian Political Joke in 12th Century Iranian Sources.” Western Folklore 46(2): 121–124. Oring, Elliott. 2004. “Risky Business: Political Jokes under Repressive Regimes.” Western Folklore 63(3): 209–236. ———. 2008. “Legendry and the Rhetoric of Truth.” Journal of American Folklore 121(480): 127–166. ———. 2016. Joking Asides: The Theory, Analysis, and Aesthetics of Humor. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press. ———. 2017. “On Humor: Considerations, Applications, Interrogations. Discussion.” Paper Given at American Folklore Society Annual Meeting. Orso, Ethelyn G. 1979. Modern Greek Humor. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. Orwell, George. 1945. “Funny, but Not Vulgar.” Leader Magazine, July 28. Panchenko, Alexander A. 2010. “Politicheskii fol’klor kak predmet antropologicheskih issledovanii [Political Folklore as a Subject of Anthropological Research].” Antropologicheskii Forum 10: 1–7. Panchenko, Alexander M. 1999. Russkaia istoriia i kultura: raboty raznyh let [Russian History and Culture: The Works of Different Years]. Saint-Petersburg: Iuna. Parry, Milman. 1930. “Studies in the Epic Technique of Oral Verse-Making. I: Homer and Homeric Style.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 41: 73–143. ———. 1932. “Studies in the Epic Technique of Oral Verse-Making. II: The Homeric Language as the Language of an Oral Poetry.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 43: 1–50.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

References

159

Paruit, Alain. 1978. Les Barbelés Du Rire: Humour Politique Dans Les Pays De l’Est [The Barbed Wire of Laughter: Political Humor in the Eastern Countries]. Paris: Editions Albatros. Patterson, Thomas E. 2003. The Vanishing Voter: Public Involvement in an Age of Uncertainty. New York, NY: Vintage Books. Patzelt, Werner J. 2011. “Elections in Modern Dictatorships: Some Analytical Considerations.” In Voting for Hitler and Stalin: Elections Under 20th Century Dictatorships, edited by Ralph Jessen and Hedwig Richter, 126–145. Frankfurt and London: Campus Verlag. Pearce, Katy, and Adnan Hajizada. 2014. “No Laughing Matter: Humor as a Means of Dissent in the Digital Era: The Case of Authoritarian Azerbaijan.” Demokratizatsiya 22(1): 67–85. Pershái, Alexander. 2010. “Minor Nation: The Alternative Modes of Belarusian Nationalism.” East European Politics and Societies 24(3): 379–398. Pertsov, V. 1927. “Anekdot: opyt sotsiologicheskogo analiza [Joke: An Attempt at Sociological Analysis].” Novyi Lef 2: 41–43. Pi-Sunyer, Oriol. 1977. “Political Humor in a Dictatorial State: The Case of Spain.” Ethnohistory 24(2): 179–190. Pikabu​.r​u. n.d. “Politicheskii anekdot [Political Joke].” Pikabu​.ru​. Accessed April 23, 2018. https​:/​/pi​​kabu.​​ru​/st​​ory​/p​​oliti​​chesk​​iy​_an​​ekdo​t​​_1566​​62. Pikabu. 2015. “Golosovanie prokhodit v tiazhelykh usloviiakh [Voting Is Being Held in Hard Conditions].” Pikabu. Accessed May 30, 2017. http:​/​/pik​​abu​.r​​u​/sto​​ry​/go​​ losov​​anie_​​prokh​​odit_​​v​_tya​​zhely​​ikh​_u​​slov​i​​yakh_​​37038​​14. Pikulik, Alexei, and Sofe Bedford. 2018. “Aid Paradox: Strengthening Belarusian Non-Democracy through Democracy Promotion.” East European Politics and Societies and Cultures 20(10): 1–22. Pinkus, Benjamin. 1990. The Jews of the Soviet Union: The History of a National Minority. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. Polese, Abel, and Slavomir Horák. 2015. “A Tale of Two Presidents: Personality Cult and Symbolic Nation-Building in Turkmenistan.” Nationalities Papers 43(3): 457–478. Porjati​.r​u. 2012. “Anekdoty svezhie [Fresh Jokes].” Porjati​.ru​, July 9, 2012. Accessed April 20, 2018. http:​/​/www​​.porj​​ati​.r​​u​/jok​​es​/50​​141​-a​​nekdo​​ty​-sv​​ezhie​​ -prik​​olnyy​​-i​-ko​​ro​tki​​y​-yum​​or​.ht​​ml. Portela, Clara. 2011. “The European Union and Belarus: Sanctions and Partnership?” Comparative European Politics 9(4): 486–505. Pravda. 2012. “Glava TSIK Rossii priehal nabludat’ za ukrainskimi vyborami [The Head of Russia’s Election Committee Came to Observe the Ukrainian Election].” Pravda, October 8, 2012. https​:/​/ww​​w​.pra​​vda​.c​​om​.ua​​/rus/​​news/​​2012/​​10​/28​​/6975​​ 697​/v​​​iew​_c​​ommen​​ts/. Preiherman, Yauheni. 2013. “Armiia Belarusi: konservativnaia neznakomka [The Army of Belarus: A Conservative Stranger].” Liberalnyi Klub, June 26, 2013. Accessed October 5, 2018. http:​/​/lib​​eralc​​lub​.b​​iz​/en​​/anal​​ytics​​/poli​​tics/​​exter​​nal​-a​​ rticl​​es​/ar​​miya-​​belar​​usi​-k​​onser​​vat​iv​​naya-​​nezna​​komka​. Prezident Respubliki Belarus. 2014. “Poslanie Prezidenta belorusskomu narodu i natsionalnomu sobraniiu [Presidential Address to the Belarusian People and National Assembly].” April 22, 2014. Accessed March 12, 2020. http:​/​/pre​​siden​​t​.gov​​.by​/r​​

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

160

References

u​/new​​s​_ru/​​view/​​aleks​​andr-​​lukas​​henko​​-obra​​schae​​tsja-​​s​-ezh​​egodn​​ym​-po​​slani​​em​-k-​​ belor​​ussko​​mu​-na​​rodu-​​i​-nat​​​siona​​lnomu​​-sobr​​aniju​​-8549​/. Propp, Vladimir. 1964. “Zhanrovyi sostav russkogo folklora [The Genre Contents of Russian Folklore].” Russkaia Literatura 4: 28–69. ———. 1969. Morfologiia volshebnoi skazki [Morphology of the Folktale]. Moscow: Nauka. Purs, Aldis. 2012. Baltic Facades: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania since 1945. London: Reaktion Books. Raglan, Lord (Somerset F. R.). 1936. The Hero: A Study in Tradition, Myth and Drama. London: Methuen & Company, Limited. Rahimi, Babak. 2013. “The Politics of Informal Communication: Conspiracy Theories and Rumors in the 2009 (Post-)Electoral Iranian Public Sphere.” In Rumor and Communication in Asia in the Internet Age, edited by Greg Dalziel, 78–93. London and New York, NY: Routledge. Rank, Otto. 1914. The Myth of the Birth of the Hero. A Psychological Interpretation of Mythology. New York, NY: The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. Reuter, Ora John, and David Szhakonyi. 2015. “Online Social Media and Political Awareness in Authoritarian Regimes.” British Journal of Political Science 45(1): 29–51. Rezaei, Afsane. 2016. “‘The Superman in a Turban’: Political Jokes in the Iranian Social Media.” New Directions in Folklore 14(1/2): 89–132. Richter, Hedwig. 2011. “Mass Obedience: Practices and Functions of Elections in the German Democratic Republic.” In Voting for Hitler and Stalin: Elections Under 20th Century Dictatorships, edited by Ralph Jessen and Hedwig Richter, 103–125. Frankfurt and London: Campus Verlag. Ries, Nancy. 2005. Russkie razgovory. Kul’tura i rechevaia povsednevnost’ epohi perestrojki [Russian Talk. Culture and Conversation During Perestroika]. Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie. Roekel, Eva van. 2016. “Uncomfortable Laughter: Refections on Violence, Humour and Immorality in Argentina.” Etnofoor 28(1): 55–74. Rudling, Per Anders. 2015. The Rise and Fall of Belarusian Nationalism, 1906–1931. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. Rudovich, Aksana, and Nancy Waldmann. 2016. “Servants of the Regime.” BelarusVotes.Org. Accessed May 14, 2018. http:​/​/bel​​arus-​​votes​​.org/​​2016/​​artic​​les​/s​​ervan​​ts​ -of​​-the-​​r​egim​​e​.htm​​l. Rzhom​.r​u. n.d. “Anekdoty pro politikov [Jokes about Politicians].” Rzhom​.ru​. Accessed April 20, 2018. rzhom​.narod​.ru​/politiki​.​html. Sánchez, Cazorla Antonio. 2010. Fear and Progress: Ordinary Lives in Franco’s Spain, 1939–1975. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell. Sanders, Jaquin. 1962. “The Seriousness of Humor: Political Satire in the Soviet Bloc.” East Europe 11(1): 21–29. Santino, Jack. 1994. All Around the Year: Holidays and Celebrations in American Life. Urbana, IL and Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press. Sarvis, William R. 1998. “The Folklore and Oral History of Election Fraud in Rural Postwar Missouri.” Mid-America Folklore 26(1–2): 42–70.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

References

161

Savchenko, Andrew. 2009. Belarus—A Perpetual Borderland. Leiden and Boston, MA: Brill. Schmidt, Samuel. 1990. “Elitelore in Politics: Humor versus Mexico’s Presidents.” Journal of Latin American Lore 16(1): 91–108. ———. 2014. Seriously Funny. Tuscon, AZ: University of Arizona Press. Schmidt, Vivien A. 2017. “Britain-out and Trump-in: A Discursive Institutionalist Analysis of the British Referendum on the EU and the US Presidential Election.” Review of International Political Economy 24(2): 248–269. Schmitter, Philippe C., and Terry Lynn Karl. 1991. “What Democracy Is . . . and Is Not.” Journal of Democracy 2(3): 75–88. Schrad, Mark Lawrence. 2014. Vodka Politics: Alcohol, Autocracy, and the Secret History of the Russian State. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Schudson, Michael. 1998. The Good Citizen: A History of American Civic Life. New York, NY: The Free Press. Scott, James C. 1990. Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts. New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press. ———. 1998. Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press. Shehata, Samer S. 1992. “The Politics of Laughter: Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarek in Egyptian Political Jokes.” Folklore 103(1): 75–91. Shelehau, Mikhail. 2007. “Aleksandriiskie tsvety [Alexandrian Flowers].” In “Adsul’ vytok, adsul’ nathnenne . . . ” Shklouschina litaraturnaia [‘Originating from this Place, Inspired by this Place’: The Shklov Region of Literature],” edited by Ales’ Martsinovich, 260–271. Minsk: Mastatskaia litaratura. Sheremet, Pavel, and Svetlana Kalinkina. 2003. Sluchainyi prezident [Accidental President]. Iaroslavl: Niuans. Shklovskii, Victor. 1922. “K teorii komicheskogo [Towards a Theory of the Comic].” Epopeia 3: 57–67. Shuldiner, David P. 1999. Of Moses and Marx: Folk Ideology and Folk History in the Jewish Labor Movement. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey. Silitski, Vitali. 2005. “Preempting Democracy: The Case of Belarus.” Journal of Democracy 16(4): 83–97. ———. 2009. “From Social Contract to Social Dialogue: Some Observations on the Nature and Dynamics of Social Contracting in Modern Belarus.” In Social Contracts in Contemporary Belarus, edited by Kiryl Haiduk, Elena Rakova, and Vital Silitski, 158. Minsk: Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies. Smeshok. n.d. “Armeiskie anekdoty [Army Jokes].” Smeshok. Accessed April 16, 2018. https​:/​/sm​​eshok​​.com/​​main/​​humor​​/anek​​dots/​​army/​​index​​-0003​​​2​.sht​​ml. Smith, Paul. 1984. “On the Receiving End: When Legend Becomes Rumor.” In Perspectives on Contemporary Legend: Proceedings of the Conference on Contemporary Legend, Sheffeld, July, 1982, edited by Paul Smith, 197–215. Sheffeld, UK: The Center of English Cultural Tradition and Language. Snyder, Timothy. 2003. The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569–1999. New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

162

References

Sovetskaia Belorussiia. 1994. “Alexander Lukashenko: ‘menia brosaet v holodnyi pot tolko odna mysl o tom, chto ia ne smogu vypolnit obeshchaniia, dannye ludiam na vyborah’ [Alexander Lukashenko: ‘I Sweat from Even Thinking That I May Not Fulfl the Promises Given to People’].” September 1994. Spiegel. 2012. “‘Better to Be a Dictator than Gay’: Germany Slams Lukashenko over Slur.” Spiegel Online International, March 5, 2012. http:​/​/www​​.spie​​gel​.d​​e​ /int​​ernat​​ional​​/euro​​pe​/be​​tter-​​to​-be​​-a​-di​​ctato​​r​-tha​​n​-gay​​germa​​ny​-sl​​ams​-l​​ukash​​enko-​​​ over-​​slur-​​a​-819​​458​.h​​tml. Spritzer, Dinah. 2013. “Czech ‘Joe Lieberman’ Could Be Europe’s First Jewish President.” The Times of Israel. Accessed July 24, 2018. https​:/​/ww​​w​.tim​​esof​​srael​​ .com/​​czech​​-joe-​​liebe​​rman-​​could​​-be​-e​​urope​​s​-fr​​st​-je​​​wish-​​presi​​dent/​. Stein, Mary Beth. 1989. “The Politics of Humor: The Berlin Wall in Jokes and Graffti.” Western Folklore 48(2): 85–108. Stokker, Kathleen. 1997. Folklore Fights the Nazis. Humor in Occupied Norway, 1940–1945. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press. Svaboda. 2012. “U Viciebsku spynili tramvainyi ruh. Kladuc’ novy asfalt—dlia Lukashenki [The Trams Were Stopped in Vitebsk. The Asphalt Is Paved for Lukashenko].” Svaboda, December 14, 2012. http:​/​/www​​.svab​​oda​.o​​rg​/co​​ntent​​/arti​​ cle​/2​​4788​6​​28​.ht​​ml. Swoboda, Pawel. 1969. Lach Leiser, Genosse. Zweite Folge [Laugh Quieter, Comrade. Second Episode]. Munich and Esslingen: Bechtle Verlag. Talks​.b​y. 2007. “Svezhie Anekdoty [Fresh Jokes].” Talks​.by​. Accessed April 23, 2018. http:​/​/tal​​ks​.by​​/show​​threa​​d​.php​​?t​=25​​32253​​​&page​​=32. Tamir, Yael. 1995. Liberal Nationalism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Tauste, Ana María Vigara, and García P. [pseud. of José García Martínez]. 2006. “Sexo, Política y Subversión. El Chiste Popular En La Época Franquista [Sex, Politics and Subversion. The Folk Joke in the Franco Epoch].” Círculo de Lingüística Aplicada a La Comunicación (Clac) 27: 7–25. Taylor, Archer. 1964. “The Biographical Pattern in Traditional Narrative.” Journal of the Folklore Institute 1(1/2): 114–129. Terts, Abram. 1978. “Anekdot v anekdote [A Joke in a Joke].” Sintaksis 1: 77–95. The Economist. 2014. “Studying Tajikistan Turns Dangerous: A Scholar Faces Treason Charges.” The Economist, June 24, 2014. https​:/​/ww​​w​.eco​​nomis​​t​.com​​/ blog​​s​/ban​​yan​/2​​014​/0​​6​/stu​​dying​​-taji​​kista​​n​​-tur​​ns​-da​​ngero​​us. The Latest. 2008. “A Dictatorship’s Delights.” Accessed August 1, 2018. http:​//​www​​ .the-​​lates​​t​.com​​/a​-di​​ctato​​rship​​s​-​del​​ights​. The President of the Republic of Belarus. n.d. “Biography of the President of the Republic of Belarus.” Accessed July 24, 2018. http://president​.gov​.by​/en​/biography​_en/. Thinktanks. 2016. “NISEPI predstavil rezultaty dekabrskogo oprosa naseleniia s poiasneniiami [IISEPS Published the Results of the December Census with Comments].” Thinktanks, January 6, 2016. Accessed October 5, 2018. https​:/​/th​​ inkta​​nks​.b​​y​/pub​​licat​​ion​/2​​016​/0​​1​/06/​​nisep​​i​-pre​​dstav​​il​-re​​zulta​​ty​-de​​kabrs​​kogo-​​opros​​ a​-bel​​oruso​​​v​-s​-p​​oyasn​​eniya​​mi​.ht​​ml. Thompson, Stith. 1958. Motif-Index of Folk-Literature: A Classifcation of Narrative Elements in Folktales, Ballads, Myths, Fables, Mediaeval Romances, Exempla,

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

References

163

Fabliaux, Jest-Books, and Local Legends. Revised and Enlarged Edition. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. Thurston, Robert. 1991. “Social Dimensions of Stalinist Rule: Humor and Terror in the USSR, 1935–1941.” Journal of Social History 24(3): 541–562. Tsakona, Villy. 2018. “Intertextuality and/in Political Jokes.” Lingua 203: 1–15. Tsakona, Villy, and Diana Elena Popa. 2011. “Humour in Politics and the Politics of Humour: An Introduction.” In Studies in Political Humour: In between Political Critique and Political Entertainment, 1–30. Amsterdam and Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamin Publishing. Tsipursky, Gleb. 2011. “Integration, Celebration, and Challenge: Soviet Youth and Elections, 1953–1968.” In Voting for Hitler and Stalin: Elections Under 20th Century Dictatorships, edited by Ralph Jessen and Hedwig Richter, 81–102. Frankfurt and London: Campus Verlag. TSN. 2010. “V Chernovtsah k priezdu Iuschenko zaasfaltirovali kanalizatsionnye liuki [Manholes Were Paved before Yanukovich’s Arrival in Chervovtsy].” TSN, August 9, 2010. http:​/​/ru.​​tsn​.u​​a​/ukr​​ayina​​/v​-ch​​ernov​​cah​-k​​-prie​​zdu​-y​​anuko​​vicha​​ -zaas​​falti​​roval​​i​-kan​​aliza​​​cionn​​ye​-ly​​uki​.h​​tml. Tumarkin, Nina. 1994. The Living and the Dead: The Rise and Fall of the Cult of World War II in Russia. New York, NY: Basic Books. ———. 2003. “The Great Patriotic War as Myth and Memory.” European Review 11: 595–611. Turner, Patricia A. 1993. I Heard It Through the Grapevine: Rumor in AfricanAmerican Culture. Berkeley, CA, Los Angeles, CA, and London: University of California Press. Twitter. 2015. “#vyborytut [electionhere].” https://twitter​.com/. Underberg, Natalie M. 2005. “The Hero Cycle, Various Motifs in A.” In Archetypes and Motifs in Folklore and Literature: A Handbook, edited by Jane Garry and Hasan El-Shamy, 10–16. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe. United Civil Party. 2015. “Sensatsiia: foto i video ‘karuselshchikov’! [Sensation! Photos and Videos of Merry-Go-Rounders!].” United Civil Party, October 9, 2015. Accessed May 30, 2017. http:​/​/ucp​​b​.org​​/news​​/soci​​ety​/s​​ensat​​siya-​​foto-​​i​-vid​​eo​-ka​​r​ usel​​shchi​​kov. Usov, Pavel. 2015. “Teoriia: pochemu Tat’iana Korotkevich—feikovyi kandidat [A Theory: Why Tat’iana Karatkevich Is a Fake Candidate].” Naviny, May 24, 2015. http:​/​/nav​​iny​.b​​y​/rub​​rics/​​opini​​on​/20​​15​/05​​/24​/i​​c​_art​​​icles​​_410_​​188. Uther, Hans-Jörg. 2004. The Types of International Folktales. A Classifcation and Bibliography, Based on the System of Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson. Helsinki: Finnish Academy of Science. Valentín, Uxío. 1987. “Franco Jokes: The Spaniards Are Still Getting Even with the Generalissimo.” The Journal of Popular Culture 20(4): 83–92. Valk, Ülo. 2011. “Folklore and Discourse: The Authority of Scientifc Rhetoric, from State Atheism to New Spirituality.” In Handbook of Religion and the Authority of Science, edited by Olav Hammer and James R. Lewis, 847–866. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

164

References

Varga, Katalin. 2015. “Creativity and Humor in the Online Folklore of the 2014 Political Elections in Hungary.” Presentation at Folklore Fellows Summer School 2015, Seili, Finland. Veenis, Milena. 2012. Material Fantasies: Expectations of the Western Consumer World among East Germans. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. Veselye anekdoty [Funny Jokes]. 2013. “Anekdoty pro Azarova [Jokes about Azarov].” Vseanekdotu, January 9, 2013. Accessed April 25, 2018. http:​/​/vse​​anekd​​ otu​.r​​u​/ane​​kdoty​​-pro-​​a​zaro​​va/. Vivre à l’Est. 1977. “Mieux Vaut En Rire. Vivre [It’s Best Just to Laugh. Live].” Vivre à l’Est. Les Temps Modernes 33. Wacquant, Loïc. 2008. “The Militarization of Urban Marginality: Lessons from the Brazilian Metropolis.” International Political Sociology 2(1): 56–74. Waterlow, Jonathan. 2018. It’s Only a Joke, Comrade! Humour, Trust and Everyday Life under Stalin. Oxford: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. Watts, Linda S. 2006. “Election Day.” In Encyclopedia of American Folklore, edited by Linda S. Watts, 125–126. New York, NY: Facts On File. Weddady, Nasser, and Sohrab Ahmari, eds. 2012. Arab Spring Dreams: The Next Generation Speaks Out for Freedom and Justice from North Africa to Iran. New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan. Werrett, Simon. 1999. “Potemkin and the Panopticon: Samuel Bentham and the Architecture of Absolutism in Eighteenth Century Russia.” Journal of Bentham Studies 2: 1–25. Westerman, William. 1996. “The Politics of Folklore.” In American Folklore: An Encyclopedia, edited by Jan Harold Brunvand, 571–574. New York, NY: Garland. White, Joyce M. 1993. “Meaning and Cultural Expression: New England Election Day Cake.” Digest: A Review for the Interdisciplinary Study of Food 13(1–2): 9–15. Wilson, Andrew. 2011. Belarus: The Last European Dictatorship. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. ———. 2016. “Belarus: From a Social Contract to a Security Contract.” The Journal of Belarusian Studies 8(1): 78–91. Witteborn, Saskia. 2015. “Becoming (Im)Perceptible: Forced Migrants and Virtual Practice.” Journal of Refugee Studies 8(3): 350–367. World Health Organization. n.d. “Management of Substance Abuse.” Accessed June 11, 2018. http:​/​/www​​.who.​​int​/s​​ubsta​​nce​_a​​buse/​​publi​​cati​o​​ns​/en​/. World Health Organization. 2010. “Global Alcohol Report. Belarus.” Accessed June 24, 2018. http:​/​/www​​.who.​​int​/s​​ubsta​​nce​_a​​buse/​​publi​​catio​​ns​/gl​​obal_​​alcoh​​ol​ _re​​port/​​prof​​l​es​/b​​lr​.pd​​f​?ua=​​1. Yassif, Eli. 2009. “Intertextuality in Folklore: Pagan Themes in Jewish Folktales from the Early Modern Era.” European Journal of Jewish Studies 3(1): 57–80. Yekadumau, Andrei. 2003. “The Russian Factor in the Development of Belarusian Culture.” In Belarus-Russia Integration, edited by Valer Bulgakau, 169–220. Minsk–Warsaw: Analytical group Minsk.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

References

165

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

Youtube. 2006. “Lukashenko: My sfalsiftsirovali poslednie prezidentskie vybory [Lukashenko: We Falsifed the Latest Presidential Election].” Youtube. https​:/​/ww​​ w​.you​​tube.​​com​/w​​atch?​​v​=g98​​​2KGUc​​rKk. ———. 2012. “Anekdot ot Lukashenko [A Joke from Lukashenko].” Youtube. https​ :/​/ww​​w​.you​​tube.​​com​/w​​atch?​​v​=Ljh​​CGijK​​​yQk​%0​​A​%0A. ———. 2015. “= ‘Ia idu na vybory, potomu chto . . . ’ [‘I Am Going to the Election Because . . . ’].” Youtube. https​:/​/ww​​w​.you​​tube.​​com​/w​​atch?​​v​=Trm​​​PuGZk​​2hs. Yurchak, Alexei. 1997. “The Cynical Realism of Late Socialism: Power, Pretence and the Anekdot.” Public Culture 9: 161–188. ———. 2006. Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Zakalinskaia, Evgeniia. 1958. Votchinnye hoziaistva Mogilevskoi gubernii vo vtoroi polovine XVIII veka [Patrimonial Economics of the Mogilev District in the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century]. Mogilev: Mogilevskii oblastnoi kraevedcheskii muzei. Zaprudnik, Jan. 2003. “Belarus in Search of National Identity between 1986 and 2000.” In Contemporary Belarus: Between Democracy and Dictatorship, edited by Elena Korosteleva, Colin W. Lawson, and Rosalind Marsh, 112–124. London: Routledge Curzon. Zaslavsky, Victor, and Robert J. Brym. 1978. “The Functions of Elections in the USSR.” Soviet Studies 30(3): 362–371. Zharty pa-belarusku. 2011. “My belarusy [We Are Belarusians].” Vk​.com​, November 1, 2011. http:​/​/vk.​​com​/b​​ulbas​​horg?​​w​=wal​​l​-294​​530​07​​_3863​. Zijderveld, Anton. 1968. “Jokes and Their Relation to Social Reality.” Social Research 35: 268–311.

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved. Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Index

Page references for fgures are italicized

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

agency, of the folk, 11–12 Alexandria, 13, 92–94, 108, 113–15, 117 Alexievich, Svetlana, 1 authoritarianism. See dictatorship autocracy. See dictatorship Bat’ka, 94, 102, 118 Belarusian language. See language situation in Belarus bilingualism. See language situation in Belarus biographical patterns of folk heroes, 97–99 Brezhnev, Leonid, 45, 55, 58, 67, 96, 117 Castro, Fidel and/or Raul, 43, 48, 51, 58, 75, 96, 133 Ceaușescu, Nicolae, 51, 58, 73, 75, 80, 82 conspiracy theories, 22, 32, 78, 97, 122. See also rumors cult of personality, 45, 91, 93, 97, 102, 113, 140 Cyrillic. See language situation in Belarus

denunciations, 24–25, 33–34 dictatorship, vii, 53, 85, 89, 98–99, 115, 125, 128, 140–41; Last, of Europe, 2–9 dissidence, 27–31, 34, 38–39 election folklore, 122–23 evil eye, 12, 39–40 fakelore, 46, 93 fake news, 10, 122 fear, 11, 19, 23, 27, 29, 37, 40–41, 47, 67–68, 71–72, 76, 78–79, 82, 84, 112, 119, 125, 140–41 feldwork, methodology of, 12–15 Franco, Francisco, 31, 43, 48, 51–52, 54, 56–58, 75, 83, 96, 108 Freud, Sigmund, 68 friend-of-a-friend stories, 72, 111. See also rumors gallows humor, 67 genre, 11, 17, 21–22, 40, 44–46, 62, 72, 77, 81, 82, 93, 98, 107, 122, 125, 130, 136, 141 Gorbachev, Mikhail, 73, 100, 101 Great Patriotic War. See World War II 167

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

168

Index

Gulag, 1, 32, 34, 45, 76, 82, 105–7 hegemony, 82–83, 103, 108, 112–13, 115, 119, 124, 126–27, 140–41 hidden transcript, 9–12 history, of Belarus, 3, 4, 6, 23–26, 86–90, 123–26 Hitler, Adolf, 43, 48, 54, 96, 101–2

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

intertextuality, 11, 17, 74, 81–83, 141 jokes: Armenian radio, about, 75; autotelic and heterotelic, 70, 81; cautionary tales, as, 1, 33, 72, 82, 141; Chukchas, about, 75; conversational, 76–77; ethnic, 59–62, 64, 75, 141; fear of surveillance and prosecution, about, 67–81; forms, of, 43, 62–64; Internet, on the, 78, 125–26; kernel of truth, in, 65, 70, 81–84, 86, 139–42; KGB creations, as, 83–84; Lukashenko, about. See Lukashenko; Lukashenko, Kolia, about. See Lukashenko, Kolia; metaphors, as, 73, 76, 81–83, 141; moustache, about, 43–45; narrative, 43, 62–64, 72–76, 100; Nazis, about, 51–52, 56, 68, 83, 106; practical, 79–81, 82; prosecution, for, 41, 67–72; references, to, 37, 45, 49, 64, 74, 77, 81, 141. See also punchline, orphaned; refexivity, of, 74, 82, 117; sexist, 136; Soviet political, 1, 44– 46, 51, 58, 64, 67–68, 76, 79–80, 84. See also Brezhnev, Leonid; Castro, Fidel and/or Raul; Ceaușescu, Nicolae; Franco, Francisco; gallows humor; Gorbachev, Mikhail; Hitler, Adolf; jokes and rumors; joketellers; KGB; Khrushchev, Nikita; Lukashenko, Alexander jokes about; Lukashenko, Kolia; metajokes; nicknaming; Propp, Vladimir; punchline; Putin, Vladimir; Stalin, Joseph; trickster

jokes and rumors, relations of, 11, 14, 16, 82–84, 94–95, 102–3, 113, 117, 124–25, 132, 134, 140–42 joke-tellers, 1, 44–45, 47, 73–74, 81–82; gender of, 14–15, 50 KGB, 25–30, 35–36, 71–72, 75, 77, 78, 84, 95, 113, 136 Khrushchev, Nikita, 45, 47, 48, 55, 56, 90, 94, 106 language situation in Belarus, xi, 3, 86–87. See also trasianka legends, 21–22, 98, 103, 105, 107, 110, 136; blood libel, 12, 97. See also rumors Lukashenko, Alexander: authoritarian leader, as, 4, 8, 26–27, 43, 58, 69–70, 109–10, 123–24; biography, of, 86–88, 91–97; electorate, of, 12, 87, 89–90; ethnicity, of, 79, 94–97; jokes, about, 9, 17, 19, 43, 47–49, 53–65, 69–72, 74–76, 86, 89, 96, 99–102, 116–17, 126, 129, 132–35; Museum, of, 113; quotes, of, 63–64; rumors, about, 31, 77, 79, 94–97, 99–103, 109–10 Lukashenko, Kolia, 9, 17, 48, 58, 79, 92, 99, 125–26, 133 metafolklore, 38 metajokes, 65, 74–75, 77, 141 Minsk, 13, 26, 28, 81 nanomeeting, 81, 82 national identity, of Belarusians, 5, 86–88. See also language situation in Belarus nationalism, civic, 89, 90, 92, 100 national symbols, of Belarus, 88 nicknaming, 79 novina, 93 order, in Lukashenko’s Belarus, 6–7, 96, 109, 112, 114–15, 118–19

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Index

ostension, 110–11, 136

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

panopticon, 20–21, 23–26, 28–29, 41, 78 paternalism, 94, 97–98, 136 Pazniak, Zianon, 87–88 Ploshcha, 4, 28, 54 political folklore, 8, 9–11, 14–17, 44, 64, 107, 140 posttruth, 122–23, 141–42 Potemkin villages: Belarus, in, 105–19; Russian Empire, in, 105; Soviet Union, in the, 105–8 presidential election: in authoritarian countries, 126, 134; in Belarus, 4, 5, 123–26, 134–35 propaganda, 7, 11, 16, 29, 30, 85, 92– 94, 102, 106, 118, 123, 124, 126 Propp, Vladimir, 45, 64–65 protest, vii, 4, 14–15, 17, 23, 26, 28, 38–39, 44, 50, 81, 83, 90, 119, 122, 124–25, 132, 140. See also dissidence punchline, 36, 43, 48, 56, 62, 76, 141; orphaned, 77, 82 Putin, Vladimir, 19, 27, 62, 69–70, 90, 91, 94, 99, 101–2, 107, 117, 129, 132–33 referendums, in Belarus, 4, 5, 88, 118, 123–24, 129 rumors: election fraud, about, 130– 32; folklore studies, in, 21–22; Lukashenko, about. See Lukashenko,

169

rumors about; truth/facts, connection with, 98, 108. See also legends; conspiracy theories; evil eye; friendof-a-friend stories; jokes and rumors; ostension; panopticon; Potemkin villages; surveillance Russia-Belarus relations, 86–89, 118–19 Russifcation. See language situation in Belarus Sovietization, 3 Stalin, Joseph, 17, 25, 32, 43–45, 48– 50, 53–56, 58, 73, 74, 80, 93, 95, 96, 101, 102, 107 surveillance: Belarus, in, 19–41; globally, 20–21, 23, 37; phones and the Internet, of, 35–39; Russia, in, 23–25; the Soviet Union, in, 25; studies, 20–23; terrorism, and, 31–33. See also denunciations; dissidence; fear trasianka, 86, 90 trickster, 58–59, 75, 79 Ukrainian Revolution, the impact of, 7–8, 119, 124 variants/versions of jokes, 53–57 Vitebsk, 13, 109–14 World War II, 30, 52–53, 59–60, 87–88, 94–97; cult, of, 95

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved. Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Anastasiya Astapova is a senior research fellow at the Department of Estonian and Comparative Folklore, University of Tartu (Estonia), and a board member of the Estonian Young Academy of Sciences. She defended her PhDs on student humor (Academy of Sciences, Russia 2016) and Belarusian political folklore and nationalism (University of Tartu, Estonia 2015). She has published extensively on these and related topics (e.g., in Journal of Baltic Studies, Ethnologia Europaea, Journal of American Folklore, Journal of Folklore Research, Nationalities Papers, HUMOR: International Journal of Humor Research, Names: A Journal of Onomastics, etc.) and taught at Belgrade University, Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Indiana University, Charles University in Prague, Russian State University for the Humanities, Stockholm University, Umeå University, Sodertörn University (Sweden), and other universities. In 2017–2018, she was a postdoctoral visiting fellow at the Institute for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Uppsala University and, in 2019, she was a visiting fellow at Stockholm University and Romanian Academy of Sciences. At the moment, Astapova is a senior researcher in Estonian Research Council Project “Performative Negotiations of Belonging in Contemporary Estonia” and a board member of European Cooperation in Science and Technology project “Comparative Analysis of Conspiracy Theories.” Astapova’s other monographs include Conspiracy Theories in Eastern Europe: Tropes and Trends (coedited with Corneliu Pintilescu, Onoriu Colacel, and Tamas Scheibner, Routledge 2020) and Conspiracy Theories and the Nordic Countries (coauthored with Eirikur Bergmann, Asbjørn Dyrendal, Annika Rabo, Kasper Grotle Rasmussen, Hulda Thórisdóttir, and Andreas Önnerfors, Routledge 2021).

171

Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook

Copyright © 2021. Lexington Books. All rights reserved. Astapova, Anastasiya. Humor and Rumor in the Post-Soviet Authoritarian State, Lexington Books, 2021. ProQuest Ebook