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INTRODUCTION

In Soviet Russia a political joke (anekdot) was folk art. Under Communism, with the censorship, it was impossible to find jokes in the newspapers or in the official printed literature or hear them on state television. Nevertheless, jokes were very widespread. Their authors were anonymous and they were passed along by word of mouth among friends and acquaintances, in the street, in the kitchen, at a party, at workplaces, before, during and after drinking.

The first jokes about the Russian revolution surfaced immediately after October 1917. In one, an old woman visits Moscow zoo and sees a camel for the first time. "Look what the Bolsheviks have done to that horse!" she exclaims. As the system became harsher, a distinctive communist sense of humour emerged pithy, dark and surreal reflecting the legal machinery for repressing it.  

At the height of the Stalinist repressions, cracking a joke like the following could land you in a Gulag  a Soviet-era prison camp.

 
A teacher asks his class, Who is your mother and who is your father?'
A pupil replies, My mother is Russia and my father is Stalin.'
Very good,' says the teacher. And what would you like to be when you grow up?'
An orphan.

In the Soviet Union telling political jokes was in a sense an extreme sport: according to Article 58 (RSFSR Penal Code), "anti-Soviet propaganda" was a potentially capital offense. Historian Roy Medvedev looked through the files of Stalin's political prisoners and concluded that 200,000 people were imprisoned for telling jokes, such as this:

 
Three prisoners in the gulag get to talking about why they are there.
"I am here because I always got to work five minutes late, and they charged me with sabotage," says the first.
"I am here because I kept getting to work five minutes early, and they charged me with spying," says the second.
"I am here because I got to work on time every day," says the third, "and they charged me with owning a western watch."
 

 
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