Punky Samizdat

This essay was written for the 33rd Ljubljana Biennial of Graphic Arts in 2019 curated by Slavs and Tatars.

‘Idiots just like us’

Punk arrived in fits and starts in Eastern Europe in the late 1970s. In some places, it sprouted from little more than a misheard rumour or an accidental encounter on the airwaves. In Leningrad, Yevgeny Yufit, later known for his lickerish Necrorealist films, recalled, “The only source of music information was a shortwave radio that I would use to listen to the BBC. In 1977 I heard a new group—the Sex Pistols—and I remember telling Svin (Andrei Panov) ‘In England there are idiots just like us!’”[1] Michael Kobs of the East German band Planlos (No Plan or Aimless) also recalls tuning into the BBC’s World Service: “I listened to western radio in the 70s—mainly John Peel’s show. That was a new musical world. At some point I got a Clash poster, don’t remember where from. Only then did I see pictures depicting Punk.”[2] Sometimes, proto-Punks in Eastern Europe pieced together their understanding from hatchet jobs in the official press. Typically, Punk was presented as a symptom of the degeneracy of ‘the rotting West’ in state media.[3] But Eastern European readers living under communist rule were well-versed in reading ‘against the grain’, i.e. reversing the claims of state propaganda or, as we’ll see, taking reports at their word. Robert Brylewski, founder of Kryzys, an early Punk rock outfit in Poland, recalled reading a report mocking British Punks in a Warsaw daily. He decided to adopt the chief object of ridicule—the safety pin worn as jewellery—and went out into the city wearing 15 of them. Encountering a man in a trench coat, the tell-tale uniform of the ubek (secret policeman), he imagined his own imminent arrest, only to find that his observer pulled open his collar to reveal his own collection of Punk pins.[4]

Across the former Eastern Bloc and Yugoslavia, punk sounded as a patchy signal. Some settings had better reception than others: the young had more opportunities to connect in Yugoslavia and Poland than the more closed worlds of Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. The London post-Punk feminist group The Raincoats played an early gig in Warsaw in 1978, for instance. And when Punk gestures were made, they were always acts of adaption in which sounds, images, and fashions with alien origins were given ‘local’ forms. Incomplete knowledge stimulated a kind of heightened imagination too. After all, for citizens of the Eastern Bloc, Punk and later New Wave belonged to what Alexei Yurchak has called the “imaginary west … that [for Soviet citizens] was simultaneously knowable and unobtainable, tangible and abstract, mundane and exotic.”[5] Reviewing the first wave of industrial bands in East Germany in 1985, Christoph Tannert, a young promoter and musician, claimed that having never seen groups from the West like Einstürzende Neubauten and Test Department perform ‘saved’ his compatriots from ‘epigonism’ and the ‘rust’ of copying the ‘old metalworkers’.[6]

Soviet proto-Punks, more isolated than their Polish, East German, and Yugoslav counterparts, had little to go on and all the more to fill in. They seemed more inclined to embrace Punk as an attitude. Ivan Gololobov writes:

… the very late 1970s saw the first few signs of a new anti-aesthetics emerging among scattered handfuls of young people in Moscow and Leningrad. They could not be categorised as the by-now familiar bitniki, stilyagi or Soviet hippies, and did not share their admiration for Western culture. They wore their hair short and preferred Soviet-brand clothes, which they wore proudly, in often unusual ways: a stained old jacket with a tie on a bare chest; a naval shirt with smart trousers a few sizes too small; a long coat with white pumps and a ladies’ fancy scarf. Some wore badges, various self-made accessories, safety pins or key rings. The common denominator among such absurd variety was that, in the eyes of the average citizen, they looked like idiots and their behaviour tended to match their clown-like dress style. Loud-mouthed, grimacing and awkward-moving, they celebrated all shades of teenage dysfunction. Demonstratively ignoring the concerns and behavioural codes of respectable citizens, these young people seemingly enjoyed being regarded and treated as imbeciles.[7]

The youthful Mukhomor (Toadstool) group of artists in the late 1970s, for instance, might be understood as proto-Punks in this way.[8] They started their activities—actions, amateurish paintings, and improvised sound collages—in the orbit of non-conformist artists Andrei Monastyrsky and Ilya Kabakov, but quickly rejected the subtle lyricism of Moscow Conceptualism in favour of more absurd and even brutal aesthetics that shared much in common with Punk. One action, ‘Raasstrel’ (Execution, 1979), involved a mock execution of a volunteer drawn from the audience that had gathered in a forest to watch the Mukhomor’s artistic action. Alluding to the Bol’shoj terror (Great Terror), the performance disturbed some of the audience, perhaps because of its literalism[9]. Mukhomor’s other works included ‘Zolotoj disk’ (Golden Disk), a sound collage recorded in 1980-1, composed “from assorted tape recordings, from Little Richard to Soviet patriotic marches, Vivaldi symphonies to Central Asian folklore, state anthems to recent pop hits, overlaid with their own wild performance of self-composed poems and short stories.”[10] Copied on reel-to-reel tapes , it circulated throughout the Soviet Union, becoming an underground ‘hit’, even making money for the group according to one report[11]. The Mukhomor Group also laid a claim to be The Beatles in a handmade book in 1982. Posing for the camera in the streets, courtyards, and rooftops of Moscow, they created a photo album which starts with the assertion, “We are two Beatles—Kostya and I.” This is group member Sven Gundlakh’s own description:

At the beginning of the book ‘Beatles’ by the Mukhomor group there was still some sense of subject, but by the third page until the very end it is filled with photographs of bums dancing and uneven lines of sound composition like ‘Bdu, bda, bdla’, which seem to imitate scat singing.[12]

Occupying a space between enthusiasm and self-ridicule, The Beatles is an example of what Gundlakh called “mental pop art”, an attitude in which “philosophy” is expressed in “completely idiotic and banal ideas.”[13] And the dissonance and biting humour of the ‘Golden Disk’ was not only a dismissal of the trite and often sentimental culture promoted by the Soviet state, but also of the earnest and highbrow activities of non-conformist artists. With a deadpan taste for imbecility, the Mukhomor group was one stream of a new wave of Punky attitudes in Moscow in the early 1980s.

Punk Problemi

Punk Problemi
Cover of the third ‘punk’ issue of Problemi, Slovenia, 1983

The responses of the communist authorities to Punk groupuscules was far from consistent, even in the same country, and usually veered between suppression and co-option. In Yugoslavia in 1981 a compilation LP was issued under the title Novi Punk Val 78-80 and Siouxsie and the Banshees were invited to play by the Student Centre in Ljubljana. And yet this was the same year that the authorities in the Socialist Republic of Slovenia sought to extinguish the subculture by denouncing its ‘fascist’ tendencies. In a campaign known as the Nazi-Punk Affair, an obscure band was prosecuted for racist lyrics, and a wave of arrests and interrogations occupied the police for much of the autumn.[14] Supporting the state, major newspapers denounced Punks in hysterical terms, in turn triggering attacks on the streets and expulsions from school. Intellectuals rallied in defence. Three ‘Punk’ issues of Problemi (Problems), an important philosophical journal under the editorship of Mladen Dolar, were published between 1981 and 1983, for instance. Problemi identified closely with its subject, adopting the cut and paste xerox aesthetics of fanzines (see below), and reproducing the lyrics of many of the most openly critical bands including Pankrti (Bastards) as well as newspaper reports of Punk from around the world, and darkly dystopian comic strips. In the first of these three Punk issues, celebrated Neo-Lacanian philosopher Slavoj Žižek supplied an editorial reflecting on Punk (written before the ‘Nazi-Punk Affair’). He describes Punk not as an alien phenomenon imported from the West but as a “symptom [that] reveals an intrusion of the suppressed ‘truth’ of the most calm, most normal everyday life” in Yugoslavia:[15]

Punk literally depicts the deprived vastness of the ‘normal’, and already this ‘liberates’: it introduces some alienating distance. This is why the sadomasochism, irrational violence, ‘anarchy’, etc. of Punk are so emphasised. Yet Punk introduces this distance exactly as it re-enacts these elements, when it ‘resurfaces’ them.

East Germany appears to have been a particularly repressive environment with the state operating a system of licenses to determine who could play music in public, and running informants to manage the emergent Punk scene from within. Following the official line, Stasi files described Punks as being “of weak character,” “disoriented,” easily influenced and shaped by the “Western enemy,” and as “degenerate” with a “lack of belief in socialist ideals”.[16] Punk seems to have been viewed as more of a threat in the GDR than it was in Poland or Hungary. Punk fanzines were a rarity there, for instance. Historian Christian Schmidt has tracked the first East German title to a pamphlet by Jörg Löffler, printed in just three copies in Dresden in 1983, on a typewriter using carbon copying paper.[17] One of the copies sent to the West was intercepted, and Löffler was held on remand for three months. Another, with the title Inside, was printed in 400 copies in Poland. It was confiscated and destroyed by the custom authorities when its editor tried to bring it into the country. Schmidt has only been able to identify two other titles produced in East Germany: Alösa, printed by a Punk congregation associated with an evangelical East-Berlin church as an ‘information sheet’ between 1986-88; and Messitsch, printed in 1987 in a Leipzig darkroom on photographic paper. To avoid the very real risk of being imprisoned for unauthorised publication, East German Punk writers had to be satisfied with sending their articles and images to the West Germany for publication in fanzines on the other side of the Wall.

In the People’s Republic of Poland, the chief promotor of Punk was Henryk Gajewski, an artist, filmmaker, and curator who had once announced a visit of Andy Warhol to his Warsaw gallery—a notorious prank.[18] Disdainful of the influence of “dilettantes from the radio and discotheques” and the anaemic fare offered by the state record labels, he called for DIY creativity: “Write a text, form a melody, start a band, organise a concert, buy 100 cassettes and reproduce your recording.”[19] His appeal was heard, it seems. Some tens of Punk fanzines were, for instance, created between 1979 and the end of the regime, sometimes recycling images and reports from the Western music press, or slicing in material from the Polish press, usually accompanied by sardonic comment or an absurd image. Often surviving for less than one or two issues, fanzines like PUNKPost, and Post Remont published by Henryk Gajewski, Kanał Review by Andrzej ‘Amok’ Turczynowicz, Zjadacz Radia and Papier Białych Wulkanów by Jacek ‘Luter’ Lenartowicz, Organ by Tomasz Hornung, Stefan ‘Mikes’ Mikulski’s Szmata, as well as Radio Złote Kłosy by ‘Ada’ Dąbrowska were typically printed illicitly on duplicating machines, and latterly on photocopiers often in workplaces.


Gajewski’s call to action reflected not only his involvement in the networked democracy of Mail Art and his enthusiasm for Punk: it also chimed with the rise of independent media in Poland, which had grown in step with the rise of the anti-communist opposition.[20] By the end of the 1970s, a extensive network of independent publications—known as Drugi Obieg (Second Circulation)—was in place in the People’s Republic, contesting the State’s grip on information. Works of fiction, historical studies, political philosophy and religious studies, as well as newspapers were printed and distributed in large numbers, entirely bypassing censorship. Often printed on thin, pulpy paper, what these publications lacked in terms of design and print quality they made up for by affording thrilling access to prohibited knowledge and ideas. When the independent Solidarity Trade Union formed at the very end of the 1970s, the reach of independent media expanded further: unofficial ‘radio’ broadcasts, for instance, were played through the loudspeakers of state factories. Even after Martial Law was declared in December 1981 to suppress the Union and restore communist authority, production quickly revived—with estimates of 200 underground newspapers being published in 1983, as well as practical guides on how to react when arrested (Maly Konspirator), and even a couple of years later, a comic book version of George Orwell’s Animal Farm.[21]

So well developed was independent publishing in the People’s Republic of Poland that samizdat publishers came from neighbouring countries to learn how to print in volume using the offset machines and screen printing facilities. Gábor Demszky and László Rajk of the AB Kiadó (AB Press) independent publishing house, came from Hungary in 1980 to learn how to print in large volume to improve on the ‘traditional’ samizdat method of copying texts on a typewriter charged with sandwiches of thin paper sheets and carbon copy paper. They came back home equipped for silk-screen printing, stencilling, offset technique, and a Polish speciality, the so-called ramka, which involves stretching stencil paper on a frame and impressing it by hand. Rajk also ran a ‘samizdat boutique’ from his flat on Galamb utca in Budapest. Open every week, visitors could view independently published titles and order copies for collection on their return.

‘Revolutionary politics or flushing toilets?’

Punks in Vokno, 1 (1977)

Punk, it seems, ought to have had an affinity with the dissenting cultures which had been in operation in most Eastern Bloc countries for a decade or more, even if none reached the scale of production of Poland around 1980. But Punk, along with the New Wave subculture that followed in its wake, displayed little enthusiasm for authority. And a Xeroxed fanzine or a bootleg tape would simply seem to be a version of samizdat (unlicensed self-publishing) and magnitizdat (recordings on tape, typically of live performances by poets and folk musicians). Often, however, the anti-communist opposition cast a wary eye on Punks, distrustful of what they saw as their nihilistic and hedonistic attitudes. Others saw in Punk a tendency towards compromise and compliance. It lacked the commitment of opposition. Writing under the pseudonym Drahomír Křehký in Vokno, a Czechoslovak samizdat magazine, Paul Wilson contrasted the new phenomenon of Punk and the underground culture which had formed in the early 1970s (in which he had played a part as a member of the underground rock band Plastic People of the Universe). His long article was accompanied by a rogues’ gallery of portraits featuring Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols, as well as other London Punks. Written in November 1977, the year he was exiled from Czechoslovakia, Wilson was already well-informed about the ways that Punk had become pop in the West:


The rejection of the values of the establishment is a common attitude of both movements, but while a nicely wrapped rejection can become a commodity in England, it becomes a crime in Czechoslovakia. The Prague musical Underground preceded Punk by several years, [not because of] any innate characteristics of Czech thought, but rather thanks to the draconian ‘normalization’ policy of Husák’s regime—the policy that forced everyone with really normal artistic expression to hide their existence in the existence of the cracks and crevices of society. The result is that the aesthetic attitude of the Underground is, in comparison, much more stubborn and interesting than the Punk attitude, which, no matter how intransigent, seems to always leave open a possibility to be devoured by a stronger wave. This is quite normal in the West, from today’s rebel becomes tomorrow’s manager, and, in the end, it does not have to be bad because it at least ensures that the official culture [in the West] is again revived through self-serving injections of energy and inventiveness. In today’s Czechoslovakia, this cannot happen, which is the main reason why the official culture is dead.[22]

In his review of Czechoslovak underground publishing, Martin Machovec was reluctant to grant “graphomaniac prattling, babbling rubbish” the status of samizdat. Underground printing—or perhaps, the risk of prosecution—carried a kind of gravitas.[23] It was serious business. The publication of works of literature that had been prohibited (such as the novels of Orwell, Bulgakov, and Kafka for instance) and studies of historical episodes that the authorities would have rather left unexamined (such as the Katyn Massacre, the repression of the Hungarian Uprising in 1956) was a way of writing wrongs. And publishing political philosophy and religious tracts (the Jehovah’s Witnesses were particularly busy underground printers) was a means by which the horizons of intellectual life could be elevated. But seriousness was not the defining characteristic of samizdat. In fact, the term itself was coined in the Soviet Union as a parody of the acronyms given to state publishing houses (like Gosizdat and Gostransidat). It also sounded not unlike a brand of popular Georgian wine (Sam-trest). Some samizdat scholars have been keen to emphasise its engagement with the carnivalesque, noting that Mikhail Bakhtin’s book on Francois Rabelais and the carnivalesque was published in this underground format in mid 1960s.[24] And samizdat publishers in the Soviet Union took pleasure seriously too, publishing the Kama Sutra and other practical sex guides, histories of jazz music and Roksi, a long-running magazine which reported rock music in the USSR and in the West. (First published in just five coverless copies in 1977, each issue probably did not exceed 20 copies in its 15 year history[25]).

Punk zines displayed precisely the graphomaniac qualities which Machovec rejected. Combining collaged, scrawled handwriting and a self-consciously amateur appearance, these black and white publications were generally as difficult to read as their counterparts in the West. Rational discourse was eschewed in favour of absurd humour and raucous design. The first issue of Papier Białych Wulkanów (White Volcano Paper), issued in Warsaw by Jacek ‘Luter’ Lenartowicz, the drummer of Tilt and Białe Wulkany (White Volcanos), was introduced in 1980-81, with a question “What exactly is a white volcano?” The answer was given by Professor Lisol McWhite, a fictional expect in the fictional science of White Volcano Therapy: “White is white, and the volcano is simply a volcano?” Other pages included asemic writing and ‘cut up’ sentences in the manner of William S. Burroughs. Such devices functioned, according to early theorist of Punk Dick Hebdige, as “noise”: promising communication, they refused to deliver a “message”.[26]

Luxus. The international political ‘n fucking magazine Nr 4

This refusal to make direct political statements was particularly striking during periods when the tension between state and society was high. Luxus, a group with a darkly sardonic name, formed during a student strike at the Art Academy in Wrocław, Poland in 1982.[27] That year, Poland was under Martial Law, introduced by the authorities to put an end to the Solidarity trade union: a curfew operated, riot police suppressed protests and strikes, food disappeared from the shops, and letters and phone calls were monitored. The Wrocław group operated as a loose alliance that produced exhibitions by seemingly organising trash; an occasional magazine created with the most primitive means; performances featuring unskilled musicians; and non-camera movies. Luxus was, in effect, a kind of strategy to provide what could not be found anywhere. Speaking in the 1990s Paweł Jarodzki, one of the founders of the group, recalled:


… It was Martial Law, it might have continued for the next fifty years or so for all we knew and perhaps I’d never get to go to America, never get a chance to be as successful as Mr Warhol … or perhaps I don’t feel like it … I don’t know. Anyway, I live here and now, and it is here and now that I need to provide myself with … luxury. Everyone wants to be young, rich, have nice girlfriends and lead a nice life in general, and that is something that you need to achieve yourself. So we started an American magazine. American as a concept. The radio played shit, so we recorded Kaman and released those tapes, and played them back at home.[28]

All of this set them apart from the authors of highly sombre and symbolic art produced in response to the military clamp-down; crosses, saints, and other martyrological symbols prevailed. They rejected the tidy distinction between state and opposition, one recalling, “We were independent and careless because we did not care”—a sentiment which could have been borrowed from The Ramones.[29] Luxus formed brief alliances with musicians in the city including Miki Mausoleum and Zad Gumowego Wieloryba. Their hand-made zine—printed on the pages of army newspapers or stolen blocks of perforated computer paper, and featuring stencils, linocuts, and rub-down and hand lettering—was also a group work. Brimming with colour and exuberant sloganeering in support of the army, pornography, or American cinema, the artzine Luxus approached the curfews, censorship, and shortages of Martial Law and the tasks of opposition with irreverence.

When it first appeared, Punk was usually characterised by its critics as a sign of degeneration and corruption. The State Security services in Czechoslovakia, for instance, launched a campaign against Punks with the code name Odpad (Waste).[30] Parodying early press reports in Slovenia, Žižek wrote: “Lyrics ooze with nihilistic, self-destructive protest, charged with cheap provocations: instead the youth should focus their critical energy in a more constructive direction.” This image of supperation was well observed. Punks frequently embraced abjection, with bands adopting names like Gnile Duše (Rotten Souls) in Yugoslavia, and a Czech fanzine carried the name Sracka (Shit). One of the earliest Punk songs in the Soviet Union invited society to “Shit on my face”.[31] Declarations of self-abasement, images of waste and decay were common in Punk in the West too, but they carried all the more force in the East in societies which claimed to be based on a ‘scientific’, progressive ideology. If Punk was, as Žižek declared, a social symptom, then its interest in waste and entropy might best be understood as another expression of the stagnation (zastoia in Russian) which is so often used to tag the Brezhnev period.

Key Position
László Rajk, Kulczhelyzet, Key Position, 1983, unpblished samizdat.

László Rajk, founder of the Samizdat Boutique in Budapest, brought these themes together when he proposed that AB Kiadó, the independent publisher of Václav Havel and Milan Kundera’s works in Hungary, as well as serious studies into minority rights, issued his comic book, Kulczhelyzet (Key Position, 1983).[32] The history of the improvement of the WC is told in a series of line drawings which combine technical designs with the contours of famous images depicting the battles and class-struggles of the nineteenth century. They include dead communards in their coffins in Andre Adolphe Eugene Disderi’s famous photograph (1871); Jean-Francois Millet’s weary “Man with a Hoe” (1862) and Jean Hippolyte Flandrin’s portrait of Napoleon III (1861). Istvan Bibó’s semi-psychoanalytical study of the failure of democracy and what he called “elmaradottság” (backwardness) in the region, A kelet-európai kisállamok nyomorúsága (The Misery of Small Eastern European States, 1946) forms a typed backdrop to Rajk’s images. Evading a clear message, Rajk seems to ask—What is progress? Revolutionary politics or flushing toilets? Lacking the noisiness of Punk, it nevertheless entertained some of its ironic coprophilia. In the end, Kulczhelyzet was not published, failing to find approval with the AB Kiadó editorial board.


Queering socialism

Spread from the third ‘punk’ issue of Problemi, Slovenia, 1983

Punk and New Wave often channelled sexual ‘deviance’ too, sometimes in the deployment of the illicit iconography of sexual fetishism or by perverting gender conventions. The third Punk issue of Problemi in Slovenia (1983) featured illustrations of erotic asphyxiation (a translation of an article from the Italian magazine, Fridigaire); the sadomaschostic lyrics of tracks by Borghesia, an early electronic music group; and a set of photographs by Miki Stojković of a man and topless woman playing with a large five-pointed star, the primary symbol of Titoism, under the title “Revolution is a Whore”. Many of the authors of this material in Problemi were associated with FV 112/15, a theatre group established in 1980 by Neven Korda and Zemira Alajbegović. Abandoning the stage, FV 112/15 evolved rapidly into something like a multimedia platform for the production of alternative forms of culture, much in the DIY spirit of Punk. It released records and audio cassettes through its music label, and in 1982 it established a regular club night in Ljubljana, Disko FV; four members (Dario Seraval, Aldo Ivančić, Korda and Alajbegović) formed the band Borghesia, which achieved international success on the electronic music scene in the late 1980s. FV 112/15 also organised the Magnus, a festival of gay and lesbian films in 1984. According to Korda, the group was not interested in shifting mainstream cultural practices and values, instead, it staked out a zone where the conventions of Yugoslav life did not seem to apply, though happily drawing resources from state-funded institutions when needed (for, instance, borrowing the cameras owned by the local student centre).[33]


Viks, issue 2 (1984) entitled ‘Homosexuality and Culture’ issued on the opening day of the Magnus Film Festival.

One of the defining features of the short-format films and videos—akin to pop videos on the then new MTV channel—made by FV members like Korda and Alajbegović… Babara Borčić notes that much of the material that the FV artists snatched for their video projects featured “recognisable political personalities, rituals and manifestations including Tito’s funeral, or popular Yugoslav music stars”, as well as “shots from pornographic movies recorded from private Italian television programmes”.[34]  Early video works like Korda’s ‘Obnova’ (Renewal, 6’, 1983)—compiled from clips emphasizing the industrial rhythms of sex in pornography—and Zemira Alajbegović’s ‘Tereza’ (4’, 1983)—in which TV footage of socialist ceremonies is intercut with popular melodramas—could be filed under the voguish category of ‘appropriation art’. But another way of understanding this material is to see it as a queering of Yugoslav socialism. FV videos and performances sought to unsettle the normative effects of state media, sometimes by eroticizing its heroes and sacred symbols. Recalling her activities in the orbit of FV at the time (particularly the video works made with Šmid), Gržinić writes: “queer positions—every form of non-heterosexual positioning we understood, exclusively and entirely, as a political stance. This queerness—and the word queer means literally “not right/not quite”—demands, of us and of the viewer, a rethinking of the conditions of life, work, and possibilities of resistance.”[35]


Mamyshev-Monroe presenting Monrology on Pirate TV, c. 1990. Leningrad.

The last expression of what might be called ‘Punky samizdat’ in the Soviet Union also embraced queerness. Piratskoe Televidenie (Pirate TV) was a video platform formed by young artists and musicians in Leningrad at the end of the 1980s. With new-found access to VCRs and video cameras, artists Yuris Lesnik, Timur Novikov, and Vladimir Mamyshev-Monroe made improvised and uncensored ‘programmes’ that had the liveliness and busy energy of MTV, if not its production values. Their programmes were self-published, copied on domestic VCR machines and shared in their networks. Assuming a feminine appearance (in make-up and wearing a dress fashioned from black glossy LPs), Mamyshev Monroe hosted two series, “Culture News” and “The Deaths of Famous People” (an inversion of a well-known series of books in the USSR, “Lives of Famous People”). In one, Mamyshev (Marilyn) appears, flirting naked with the video camera in the bath and singing to a figure in a JFK mask: “Miss Monroe, I am paralysed by your beauty,” he says. “Me too,” replies the dead film star.


Mamyshev Monroe’s first appearances had been as an on-stage model with the Pop Mechanics orchestra, a seemingly chaotic ensemble that was formed by piano virtuoso Sergey Kuryokhin in Leningrad in 1984. Mamyshev Monroe would appear as a vision of Marilyn in the midst of a raucous performance featuring troups of Punk and New Wave musicians and Jazz players, as well as military bands and even live animals. Rejecting the fascination with crossdressing pop stars who were starting to appear in Soviet culture (the “quagmire of transvestism”), Mamyshev Monroe started a career an artist by queering the icons of history, politics, and popular culture. Mamyshev Monroe assumed a hybrid persona combining Adolf Hitler and Marilyn Monroe, dissolving “both of them in myself, this appearing as the model of the new man”. “Through all my physical and mental mechanism to embody mankind in all its variety,” he claimed to “experience all these destinies myself, take on myself all these countless sins, neutralise these with countless good deeds, eliminate sexual, national, social differences and remain myself in this singular variety.”[36]

Tempo’s Frenetic Russian Review’, a spread from Tempo (4 April 1987), a West German  magazine.

Mamyshev Monroe even queered the figure who in many ways created the conditions for this kind of hedonistic art to appear, Mikhail Gorbachev. As General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, he had launched the policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) in 1986, introducing an unprecedented degree of permissiveness and cultural autonomy in a country which was better known censorship and control. Ten standard photographic portraits of members of the current Soviet Politbureau were ‘made-over’ by Mamyshev Monroe with lipstick, jewellery, and elaborate graphic hairstyles, and they hung in Evgeny Kozlov’s studio in Leningrad in 1990. There, they attracted the attention of the international press, looking for easily conveyed symbols of artistic freedom in a fast-changing Soviet Union. And so the queered image of a feminine Gorbachev appeared around the world. In fact, they joined a large body of Western reports breathlessly describing the fast changes in the Soviet Union then underway. Frequently, eccentric Soviet Punk and New Wave style featured in these articles, providing a spectacular contrast with the drabness of Soviet streets and homes. Moreover, the Punk phenomenon, already a decade old, was immediately legible to Western readers. [12] This media humanism was an odd conscription of a subculture which had so often aspired to a kind of petrified, paralysed look; it was also strange that the reassurance of familiarity could be provided by an aesthetic which had been designed to cause controversy.



[1] Yufit in What About Tomorrow? An Oral History of Russian Punk (Portland, Oregon: Microcosm Publishing) forthcoming.

[2] Michael “Pankow” Boehlke, interview by Bodo Mrozek, OstPunk!: too much future : Punk in der DDR 1979-1989, ed. Michael Boehlke. (Berlin: Künstlerhaus Bethanien, 2005) 48.

[3] http://www.vladimir-kozlov.com/Eng/Punk.html – accessed February 2019

[4] This account is given by Raymond A. Patton Punk Crisis: The Global Punk Rock Revolution (Oxford: OUP, 2018) 48.

[5] Alexei Yurchak, Everything Was Forever, Until it Was No More. The Last Soviet Generation (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2006) 159.

[6] Tannert writing under pseudonym Britta Lagerfeldt, ‘Coswig 1985’ in David Crowley and Daniel Muzyczuk, eds., Notes from the Underground. Art and Alternative Music in Eastern Europe, 1968-1994 (Łódź: Muzeum Sztuki w Łodzi, 2016) 388.

[7] Ivan Gololobov, Hilary Pilkington and Yngvar B. Steinholt, Punk in Russia: Cultural Mutation from the ‘Useless’ to the ‘Moronic’ (London and New York: Routledge, 2014) 23.

[8] The Mukhomor group was created in 1978 by Sven Gundlach, Konstantin Zvezdochetov, Alexey Kamensky and Mironenko brothers Vladimir and Sergey and operated for c. 6 years.

[9] See Matthew Jesse Jackson, The Experimental Group: Ilya Kabakov, Moscow Conceptualism, Soviet Avantgardes (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010) 213-14.

[10] Artemy Troitsky, Tusovka: Who’s Who in New Soviet Rock Culture (London: Omnibus, 1990) 30.

[11] See Andrew Solomon, The Irony Tower. Soviet Artists in the Time of Glasnost (New York: Knopf 1991) 110.

[12] Sven Gundlakh, ‘APTART. Pictures from an exhibition’ in A-ya, 5 (1983) 14.

[13] Cited by Jackson, The Experimental Group, 215.

[14] See Jones Irwin, Helena Motoh, Žižek and His Contemporaries: On the Emergence of the Slovenian Lacan (London: Bloomsbury, 2014) 31

[15] See Slavoj Žižek, ‘Introduction to Punk Problemi’ in David Crowley and Daniel Muzyczuk, eds., Notes from the Underground. Art and Alternative Music in Eastern Europe, 1968-1994 (Łódź: Muzeum Sztuki w Łodzi, 2016) 412.

[16] See Juliane Brauer, ‘Clashes of Emotions: Punk Music, Youth Subculture, and Authority in the GDR (1978- 1983)’ Juvenile Delinquency, Modernity, and the State, 38, no. 4 (2012) 59.

[17] Christian Schmidt, ‘Meanings of fanzines in the beginning of Punk in the GDR and FRG’, Volume ! [Online], 5 : 1 | 2006 – accessed February 2019

[18] Łukasz Ronduda, Sztuka Polska lat 70. Awangarda (Warszawa, Jelenia Góra: Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Zamek Ujazdowski, Polski Western, 2009) 367.

[19] Gajewski cited by Raymond A. Patton Punk Crisis: The Global Punk Rock Revolution (Oxford: OUP, 2018) x

[20] See H. Gordon SkillingSamizdat and an Independent Society in Central and Eastern Europe (Columbus: Ohio State University Press. 1989), Friederike Kind-Kovács and Jessie Labov, eds, Samizdat, Tamizdat, and Beyond: Transnational Media During and After Socialism (New York: Berghahn Books 2013).

[21] Czesław Bielecki, Jan Krzysztof Kelus i Urszula Sikorska, Mały konspirator. poradnik dla dorosłych i młodzieży (Lublin: 1983); Folwark zwierzęcy (Według Orwella) edited and illustrated by Maciek Biały and Karol Blue (Warsaw: ReKontra, 1985).

[22] Drahomír Křehký, ‘Punk Rock’ in Vokno, 1 (1977) 43.

[23] Martin Machovec, ‘The Types and Functions of Samizdat Publications in Czechoslovakia, 1948–1989’ Poetics Today 30:1 (spring 2009), 6.

[24] See Ann Komaromi ‘The Material Existence of Soviet Samizdat’, Slavic Review, Vol. 63, No. 3 (Autumn, 2004) 597-618

[25] Polly McMichael, ‘After all, you’re a rock and roll star (at least, that’s what they say)’: Roksi and the Creation of the Soviet Rock Musician’, Slavonic and East European review 83(4) pp. 664-684.

[26] Dick Hebdige, Subculture. The Meaning of Style (London and New York: Routledge, 2002) 99-100

[27] The group had a shifting line up over its history (1982 to 1995) but the most active members was Paweł Jarodzki (who gave its name), Ewa Ciepielewska and Bożena Grzyb-Jarodzka, as well as Jerzy Kosałka, Marek Czechowski, Artur Gołacki, Małgorzata Plata, Stanisław Sielicki, Jacek Jankowski, Szymon Lubiński, Andrzej Jarodzki and Krzysztof Kłosowicz (aka Kaman).

[28] “Rzeczywistość się penetruje,” Wojciech Bockenheim’s interview with Paweł Jarodzki, bruLion, no. 16, (1991) 74–75 cited in Anna Mituś and Piotr Stasiowski, eds., Agresywna niewinność. Historia grupy LUXUS (Wrocław: BWA Galerie Sztuki Współczesnej, 2014) x

[29] Ewa Ciepielewska cited by Anna Markowska, ‘Laughter at War’ in Ann Murray, ed., Constructing the Memory of War in Visual Culture since 1914: The Eye on War (London and New York: Routledge, 2018) x

[30] Miroslav Vaněk, Ostrůvky svobody: kulturní a občanské aktivity mladé generace v 80. letech v Československu (Praha: Ústav pro soudobé dějiny AV ČR, 2002) 193

[31] Egor Letov ‘Nasrat’ na moe litso’ [‘Shit on my face’] from the album ‘ Totalitarizm’ ‘ [Totalitarianism’], 1987).

[32] Gábor Demszky, László Rajk and Edit Sasvári, Földalatti vonalak (Budapest: Jelenkor Kiadó, 2000)

[33] Neven Korda, ‘FV and the “Third Scene” 1980 – 1990’ in Liljana Stepančič and Breda Škrjanec, eds. FV Alternativa osemdestih (Ljubljana: Mednarodni grafični likovni center, 2008) 312.

[34] Barbara Borčić, ‘Video Art from Conceptualism to Postmodernism’ in Dubravka Djurić, ed., Impossible Histories. Historical Avant-gardes, Neo-avant-gardes, and Post-avant-gardes in Yugoslavia, 1918-1991 (Boston: MIT press, 2003) 514.

[35] Marina Gržinić, ‘The Video, Film, and Interactive Multimedia Art of Marina Gržinić and Aina Šmid, 1982–2008‘ in Marina Gržinić, Tanja Velagić, eds., The Video Art of Marina Gržinić and Aina Šmid, trans. Rawley Grau (Vienna: Erhard Löcker GesmbH, 2008) 48

[36] Vladislav Mamyshev (Monroe-Hitler), ‘Where the Heck am I? Where are my things?’ in Viktor Mazin, ed., Kabinet. An Anthology (St. Petersburg: Ina- press and Amsterdam: Stedelijk Museum, 1997) 110.


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