Windows in the Iron Curtain

The legendary colored inserts, hidden behind the wrappers of the no less legendary Donald chewing gums, destroyed the Soviet Union, perhaps no weaker than the foreign cars that were sometimes imported into the country, issues of glossy magazines, Modern Talking songs, jeans, tape recorders and the first personal computers. All these attributes of a beautiful life influenced mainly the psyche of adults. They were able to learn from their own experience that the objects of Western culture, contrary to the dogmas of Marxism-Leninism and the Soviet struggle against cult of things, not only did not spoil the surrounding reality, but also improved the life and mood of the broad masses of the people, whom the Communist Party constantly promised to make happy by the onset of a bright communist future.

 

As for the bright colorful inserts with the American cartoon characters depicted on them, they destroyed the belief in the immutable value of the socialist system in the minds of the children. In this regard, it is very symbolic that Walt Disney who invented Donald Duck drake in the 1920s and 1930s was a convinced anti-communist and an FBI agent for a long time, and after the war with all his might helped a special commission looking for ideological enemies of America, to identify in Hollywood all the hidden communists.

 

Symbolic was the way which these chewing gums with inserts got into the hands of schoolchildren - it was necessary to go to the central market, to come up to the gypsy women standing in a certain place and buy from them for 10 rubles a transparent cellophane package with ten cherished sweet plates. Thus, goods that were alien in every sense to Soviet culture got to the Soviet territory through unofficial channels, were sold illegally and created a children`s ideological underground, where the young consciousness was sheltered from the pressing it propaganda red-kumach horror. Strange as it may seem, all this agitational Octobrist-Pioneer sludge, pumped from somewhere above and being a children`s version of state ideology, lost the battle hopelessly to the soundless colored inserts, which, among other things, were filled with scenes from cartoons completely unknown to that kids.

 

Sometimes these comic pictures were not funny or witty but they did not call to fight with someone, did not demand to swear allegiance to the communist idea, to give someone a solemn promise, sacrifice oneself to the collective and carry out other ritual actions peculiar to the Soviet torture machine. They simply portrayed the adventures of Disney characters, but they were not perceived as just funny pictures. The mere fact of their existence, their glossy smooth reality filled with heroes printed at a high level of typography, eloquently and convincingly said that somewhere there was another world, not covered by the gloom of thoroughly false propaganda and full both of other symbols and other values - more natural and human.

 

Today, when the heroes of those comic pictures can finally be seen in action at YouTube, having launched a Disney cartoon, the inserts that have been preserved for a long time have not lost their cultural value and even acquired a historical one. Limited by three or four episodes, not accompanied by sound and animated by imagination alone, they nevertheless continue to transmit those meanings hidden between the frames that were so clearly felt in the gloomy Soviet era. Perhaps, these inserts now remind that even small thin sheets of paper can burn holes through the Iron Curtain and without a single word and sound convey information about the fact that the surrounding world is not limited to party slogans, two TV channels, the program "Time", communist idiocy, Pioneer marching, collection of waste paper, Komsomol meetings and increased production obligations.

 

I remember once in the middle of the 2000s a line in the local newspaper of the ads drew my attention to someone`s desire to buy inserts from Donalds, as well as from Turbo chewing gum and some other imported cultural and food artifacts of the Soviet era. Calling to the specified number, I received an invitation to come to the local Youth Creativity House, which, as it is easy to guess was called the Palace of Pioneers in Soviet times. And, it must be admitted, it really was a Palace - a magnificent foyer with birds in a large aviary, wide corridors, a huge number of rooms for sections, several wings and floors, a giant telescope on the roof unequivocally said that communists really cared of the leisure and professional education of the youth.

 

At the entrance to the House a young man was standing who turned out to be the head of the radio fans` section, we went up to him to the second floor, and when he saw the collection which I had brought, he gasped with delight. Inserts carefully being saved the long time ago in a small album for postage stamps, having lain there without movement for twenty years, were preserved as if they had just been extracted from the chewing gums purchased from the gypsy women. The young man immediately sat down at the computer and told someone via the Internet that the Donalds appeared in the state of "ideal of ideals". Apparently, the reaction of the interlocutor did not keep itself waiting, because the guy expressed a desire to buy all the inserts, but at the same time, he specified that he would not give extra-large money for them.

 

He explained that it turns out, these comic pictures have long since become in the space of the former Soviet Union cult objects for those who are nostalgic for the pioneer childhood that took place in the 1980s. With all this, the number of well-preserved Donalds is not so great - he showed on the computer pictures for sale, which were clearly not the "ideal of ideals". Apparently, crumpled and discarded, and then picked up and smoothed, sometimes quite severely torn, they were nevertheless offered for considerable money. The guy said that in Moscow the prices for these inserts rushed vertically upward, and, as the interlocutor explained to him at the other end of the web, sometimes you have to go through the whole city to see a semi-torn Donald on arrival, for which you are asked to pay as much as fifty dollars.

 

The young leader of the radio fans` section immediately warned that he would not pay such money for the inserts. It was decided to sell him all of them for very low price, while keeping for myself a dozen Donalds from that collection. The young man was sympathetic to my desire to keep some pictures for my memory, the transaction took place, and he was clearly pleased with it. It is not known for which price he resold the comic pictures to the Moscow buyer, but I think the collector from Moscow did not miss his profit and offered them on the same forum for the same fifty dollars that caused him so much bitterness. Today, some Donalds cost $200, and, most likely, this is far from their last price.

 

The release of that legendary chewing gum stopped around the beginning of the 1990s, and therefore there is no reason to believe that the inserts which have survived since then will not go up. Judging the speed with which their price is rising, someday the reality will be a thousand dollars apiece. It seems that the strings touched by the silent and immobile Disney heroes playing the static pantomime were rather sensitive ones. And surely you can pay any money for the happiness of hearing the melody that they extracted in the children`s hearts in that terrible time.

 

First posted in the Memories and Reflections newspaper on the Media collection Driving Idea website.

There you can see those Donald bubble gum inserts from my collection that I left for myself.

 

 

Comments

Unrepentant Added Feb 7, 2019 - 1:42pm
@ Webmaster - Very, very interesting post. I can only imagine what a more skilled and vicious propagandist would have done with Disney characters, lol. I can only imagine what kind of word problems were part of the lessons:
 
"The worker mined 16 tons of coal for the evil capitalist exploiters who took 99% of it. How much does he have left for himself and his family."
Webmaster Added Feb 7, 2019 - 2:14pm
Jolly Roger, many thanks, you`ve got a nice sense of humor, by the way I tried to discuss this article at Pikabu (Russian Reddit) site, but its readers did not like it as being schoolchildren they did not see ideological underground in Donald inserts but just played with them. As for me, I saw through Donalds the coming end of the Soviet power, which after the death of Brezhnev, was engaged in nothing more than self-destruction by immersion in ideological insanity. I even begin to believe now that Andropov was really no one but Henry Miller, who was recruited by the KGB and then used in the struggle for power and money to destroy the USSR through absurd ban on going to the cinema during office hours. How else to explain that Andropov could sing songs by missing Henry Miller and collected his musical records?
As for the very ridiculous mathematical problem that you quoted, I can say that the labor achievements with which Soviet propaganda called people for hard work were almost all fake. For example, a well-known miner himself allegedly mined a record amount of coal per shift, and in fact a team of 14 people helped him. His labor achievement was widely advertised, but he got drunk and died, as he probably could not stand undeserved fame and was well aware that he was simply used for propaganda purposes.
Dino Manalis Added Feb 7, 2019 - 2:27pm
 Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika betrayed communists, it was supposed to improve the communist system, but the opposite happened.  First, Soviet troops left Eastern Europe, leading to democratic movements, and Gorbachev allowed the Baltic republics to secede, causing calls for independence in the other republics.
Webmaster Added Feb 7, 2019 - 2:51pm
Dino Manalis, you are right, it was Gorbachev or Gorby like he was called in the West, who started reforming the stuck in the Stalinist time state ideology. But it was his greatest mistake as the chief communist to relieve pressure upon minds as the same time fresh air filled them. It turned out that further on it was impossible to stop exemption from ideological prohibitions and dogmas. Video cassette recorders, IBM PCs, jeans (even fake Levis`), high quality toys began to penetrate the country of victorious socialism. So the new world has opened itself breaking the Iron Curtain and even military attempt to regain power in August 1991 when armored vehicles filled the streets of Moscow could not make everyone agree to become obedient slaves of the communist gang again.
Neil Lock Added Feb 7, 2019 - 5:10pm
Webmaster: Thanks, good article.
 
...self-destruction by immersion in ideological insanity. Yes, that's what our enemies, the political classes and their cronies, are doing today. Unfortunately, they're doing their best to destroy us, too.
 
And the game-changing cartoons were called "Donalds?" Really?
Webmaster Added Feb 8, 2019 - 1:46am
Neil Lock, thanks, nice to meet you again. You talk of enemies so I guess they are members of Deep State, so it is the same thing as the part of Soviet governement and KGB which in the 1980-s destroyed USSR from within so to privatize national wealth. After 1991 they in the blink of an eye became fabulously rich just through taking away from common property minerals and plants. Today they actively divide into parts Russia, so many political observers affirm that the country will repeat the fate of USSR. These are the so-called oligarchs and the rulers serving their interests. Some of them were members of CPSU, for example Putin joined it in 1975. Now after complete bankruptcy and collapse of communist dictatorship they remain at the helm and formed a new ruling party. 
Your enemies are doing their best to destroy you too perhaps for the same purposes of instant fabulous enrichment. In Greg Hunter`s Watchdog program financial scientists Catherine Austin Fitts and Mark Skidmore talk about missing 21 trillion dollars of US debt, so the party has started and money disappear mysteriously.
Yes! I nociced this wonderful fact toooooo! The game-changing cartoons really were and are called "Donalds" by name of the Donald bubble gum where they were inserted! You can see it yourself by looking at the wrappers which I photographed and placed under this article on my website.
Webmaster Added Feb 8, 2019 - 7:31am
Sorry, surely not Henry Miller, but Glenn Miller, he really looked like Andropov and there is some conspiracy thesis on this fact. This is a very strange coincidence.
Jeff Jackson Added Feb 8, 2019 - 9:19am
Samizdat, in the 1980s I believe, began circulating, which was in contrast to the propaganda of the state-run media. 
Webmaster Added Feb 8, 2019 - 9:46am
Sure, I have seen some papers printed in samizdat, i.e. selfpublication format, but they were of so poor quality and printed in font so small that it was not easy to read them. Moreover they were available mostly in Moscow and probably big cities so readers needed to go there and look where to buy them. What about Donalds and other imported goods they were not so hard to find even in the small towns, but they were sold at high prices.
Even A Broken Clock Added Feb 8, 2019 - 5:12pm
Webmaster, I had never heard this story. Thanks for sharing it. As a long-time collector of Donald Duck comics, this was very interesting.
 
I wonder what the reaction of the populace would have been had the inserts been those of Uncle Scrooge, who kept a huge moneybin and loved to dive into his pool of coins and swim around in them. Talk about your disruptive figure.
Webmaster Added Feb 9, 2019 - 2:49am
EABC, this is an interesting question, the Soviet people have first seen Uncle Scrooge in the second half of 1980s, when the central TV channel started officially showing the episodes of Scrooge`s adventures with professional translation of dialogs made by actors in the studio. Until then Scrooge was known probably to a narrow circle of those who in some ways got the video cassette recorders which were not only expensive but rather hard to find where to buy. Surely Uncle Scrooge caused laughter and sympathy because of his extraordinary focus on enrichment as to get money was a great problem in Soviet economy. The private business was prohibited and considered to be a criminal offense. But surely the idea of personal enrichment through own entrepreneurial initiative hung in the air and quickly ripened for implementation. It seems to me that Uncle Scrooge would be no less popular than Donald Duck as Scrooge was the symbol of future changes in economic life and the emergence of freedom for business. I remember very well how in the cartoon he dived into the huge pool of coins and swam in it, I also remember very well how reverently he kept the first cent or dime which he earned. He surely was a true American billionaire in children's interpretation. Therefore, there is no doubt that the children would have liked Uncle Scrooge very much if he was depicted on the inserts, and perhaps the new ideological and economic era would have come a few years earlier if the children had become acquainted with the image of the American rich man through the inserts to the bubble gum smuggled in the middle of 1980s but not through official cartoon TV broadcast when the days of socialism were already numbered.
Mustafa Kemal Added Feb 9, 2019 - 12:43pm
Webmaster, thank you so much for this window. I do hope you can
write more of these.
 
And it was a fun read too, thinking back on old trading cards and bubble gums and their subversive qualities.
 
I went to ebay and searched "Donalds" and you can guess what come up, LOL.
 
Anway, yes, since they dont make that history any more, you never know what price they may sell for.  I have two vintage Fender amplifiers- blackface (oooooops, can I say that?, gol) from 1965
Deluxe Reverb and Princeton Reverb. Last time I looked on ebay
they were going for $4K a piece. I think Ill hold on a little longer.
 
 
Webmaster Added Feb 9, 2019 - 1:34pm
Mustafa, thanks for positive feedback, I really want to write more of these stories, moreover I have found
Nostalgia,
Memories,
SovietHistory
subreddits where it is easy to find many new things and ideas from the past to discuss. Surely you came up T-Shirts with POTUS as now he easily wins search priority with all other Donalds, LOL. But if you search on eBay for Donald Duck Disney inserts then you will quickly find those Donalds which ruined Soviet hardocre socialist ideology in children`s minds. I just have discovered there that condition of Donalds really matters a lot so the worse preserved the insert is the less it costs. So my perfectly preserved inserts have all the chances to go up really high but some more time is needed to get the price I want, LOL. I watched the fluctuations of their prices and it should be noted that for some time they were greatly overvalued, that is why on eBay a collection of Donalds, for which they wanted approximately $ 450, did not find a buyer for a long time, but then it appeared there for $ 120 and either was sold either will be sold now.
You have got really precious amplifiers which can be a great decoration for some cafe made in nostalgic style. I have already met an advertisement of buying old audio cassette recorders to decorate a cafe of such a kind. And I was surprised a lot when not far away from London in Windsor in an antique store I have seen working radio having the size of a large nightstand which was offered for sale for more then 1000 pounds. At some moment those objects of material and spiritual culture coming here from the past start costing very expensive and people having money easily part with cash only to return a few decades ago to their youth through buying those nostalgic things. 1965 was so long ago that in some time your Fenders will cost surely more than 4 thousand dollars apiece. So you are right deciding not to sell them now as you can do it any moment you see higher price.
Spartacus Added Feb 12, 2019 - 7:14am
Webmaster, great article.  Thank you.  Good reminder of how socialism really works.
Ward Tipton Added Feb 12, 2019 - 7:44am
Have you ever heard of Bazooka Joe? Those were the ones we cherished as a kid ... though I have to admit never caring that much for the bubble gum. 
Webmaster Added Feb 12, 2019 - 10:00am
Spartacus, thanks, I really like to remind how socialism really works as recently it has come right to the capital of capitalist world which is NYC and now starts gaining some populatiry in US. Socialists will promise everything including bright future, and there will be many people ready to believe them. Well, very soon after socialist revolution the time will come to cut down salaries in exchange for "free" housing, "cheap" food, "affordable" rent and utilities.
Webmaster Added Feb 12, 2019 - 10:13am
Ward Tipton, no, you are the first person to tell me about Bazooka Joe, for some reason smugglers brougt to the USSR mostly Donald ant Turbo bubble gum, but now I have found some information about Joe in Wiki and surely will try to study it carefully. In childhood, many toys and hobbies seem to be insignificant ones, but later there comes an understanding of the importance of all these little things, which by then are of considerable value as a new generation of antiques.
Ward Tipton Added Feb 12, 2019 - 10:43am
"Well, very soon after socialist revolution the time will come to cut down salaries in exchange for "free" housing, "cheap" food, "affordable" rent and utilities."
 
And the bourgeois luxuries like toilet paper ... and meat ... but lots of booze!  
Webmaster Added Feb 12, 2019 - 11:16am
Sure, Ward, booze will be almost free so not to let some lovers of beautiful life and freedom see that they are cheated and enslaved. Socialism is a communist heaven for narrow ruling circle and slave-holding hell for all the others who work for it.

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