The 1991 Project. October. Through the Satirical Looking Glass: Krokodil Takes on The Soviet Economy

By Izzy Tice

Alongside The Moscow News and Pravda, the satirical magazine Krokodil was also continuing to publish during the time of the Soviet Union’s dissolution. Three times a month, Krokodil provided a humorous perspective on the events of the USSR and the publications during the month of October 1991 are no exception. Three comics, depicted below, are all by the well-known caricaturist Vasily Dubov, and allude to worries about money and the need for frugality as the Soviet Union began to collapse.

            The first of these cartoons shows a barefoot man at a shoe store who asks a worker to just give him one boot out of a pair. He explains that he will buy the second shoe after his next payday. As the Soviet economy continued to be volatile and unpredictable, indicated by the high price of the boots, Krokodil readers could easily relate to the man’s plight.

“Give me just one boot for now, the second I’ll buy next payday”

Dubov’s second cartoon shown here depicts two citizens in a fine dining setting, one of whom tells a waiter bringing a bottle that Cognac negatively affects one’s eyes, as when you drink a bottle of it, you can no longer see your money. Unlike the shoeless man from the previous cartoon, the restaurant patrons seem well-off, not really worrying about the price of dining out, and making a joke about prices to a visibly unamused waiter.

“Cognac has a negative effect on the eyes, you drink the bottle, and then you can’t see money”

Last is Dubov’s cartoon that takes place at a boat ride station, when a man asks the box office attendant to give him a boat ride, and in exchange, he will leave his party card for a deposit. Again, Dubov focuses on the theme of finance in the context of October 1991. In this particular scene, it is evident that the ruble had lost value, but so too had a person’s party card. Dubov’s cartoons serve as snapshots that capture the unmaking of the Soviet economy as the USSR itself was dissolving.  It is clear that the role of money in Soviet society, along with what has value, has drastically changed over the course of a few months.

“Young lady, give me a boat ride, and for the deposit I’ll leave you a party ticket”

After the coup attempt, the Communist party of the Soviet Union had its activities suspended on August 29, 1991. Just over a month later, Dubov’s cartoon illustrates how party tickets (red cards) were of no more use than rubles. Either the man has no money and hopes his party card still has value or he continues to believe that others will still think it has value. Regardless of how you view it, Dubov’s caricature perfectly captures the unraveling of Soviet society.

Izzy Tice is a senior majoring in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies and Geography.

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