The time Mikhail Gorbachev starred in a Pizza Hut commercial

In 1997, Mikhail Gorbachev, the final leader of the Soviet Union, needed some cash. So he made a Pizza Hut commercial. Of course there was more to the story than that, but not really so much. He reportedly received $1 million for the spot. "I thought that it is a people' s matter -- food," Gorbachev told the New York Times after the filming. "This is why if my name works for the benefit of consumers, to hell with it -- I can risk it." Over at Foreign Policy, Paul Musgrave tells the tale:

Gorbachev had suffered the same fate as many Soviet retirees, who had looked forward to generous pensions only to find themselves forced to hustle and scrape to get by as the Russian economy collapsed around them—shrinking by 30 percent between 1991 and 1998. The foundation, too, was tottering, with even Gorbachev’s significant lecture fees unable to sustain both his family and the foundation and its staff, let alone any projects he might want to pursue to leave a legacy. Even generous donations from Ted Turner only went so far.

Gorbachev was determined to stay in Russia and fight for reform, not to take up a life of well-compensated exile abroad. To do that, he would need money to fund his center, his staff, and his activities—urgently. As Gorbachev later told France 24 when asked about the ad, “I needed to finish the building. The workers started to leave—I needed to pay them...”

(After months of negotiations,) Gorbachev finally assented—with conditions.

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Cold War Soviet gas masks available on Amazon

For just $15, you can have your own GP-5 Original Soviet Civilian Protective Gas Mask. The seller reassures us that the standard issue asbestos filter has been replaced by activated charcoal. Shipping is free. From the product description:

It is one of the most popular and truly reliable civilian gas masks produced in the Soviet Union from 1970 to 1989. The GP-5 was made famous for its apparent use in Chernobyl after the nuclear disaster. It can operate in all weather and withstand temperatures from −40 degrees (Celsius and Fahrenheit) to 114 °C (237 °F). The GP-5 also comes with sealed glass eye pieces. They were originally made to protect the wearer from radioactive fallout during the Cold War and were distributed to most fallout shelters. They have recently been tested to see if they have NBC (Nuclear, Biological and Chemical) protective capabilities. It was concluded that the mask will last in an NBC situation for 24 hours.

GP-5 Original Soviet Civilian Protective Gas Mask (Amazon via Daily Grail) Read the rest

The strange tale of Runescape's Communist republic

In 2007, a group of players in Runescape -- once billed as the world's most-played massively multiplayer game -- declared a Communist republic on Gielinor's Server 32, amid a revolution that saw 5,000 characters killed off in the fighting. Read the rest

Latvia opens up its KGB files and names 4,000+ "informants," many of whom claim they were framed

When Latvia attained independence in 1991, the retreating KGB left behind two sacks and two briefcases containing indexed records of the secret informants who had been paid to turn in their neighbors for offenses including anti-Kremlin activism and watching pornography. Read the rest

What 'Independence Day' Is Like In Transnistria, An Unrecognized Country Inside Moldova

Transnistria, officially the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, is an Eastern European territory with a strong Soviet vibe. Technically, the country does not exist. Transnistria is considered a part of the Republic of Moldova, and isn't an officially recognized nation of its own, despite declaring independence in 1990, followed by a war in 1992. I attended this year's Independence Day celebrations in Transnistria, hoping to understand what the place and the people are all about. Here's what I saw. Read the rest

Kickstarting Soviet Daughter, a graphic novel memoir of coming of age in Ukraine after the Revolution

Elly from Microcosm publishing writes: "Our next book has been in the works for years, but as we launch our Kickstarter we find it's become terrifyingly current: Soviet Daughter is a rather swashbuckling story of her great-grandmother Lola, who came of age in the Soviet Ukraine, in the wake of the October Revolution." Read the rest

Watch the (very weird) first USSR television commercial

This surreal advertisement for corn from 1964 is reportedly the USSR's first TV commercial.

Over at r/ObscureMedia, amer_amer kindly offers this translation:

If you would like to be healthy, fed for a hundred years, ask with a kind word at restaurants and cafeterias (and) recieve dinner wait, sit down, don't rush wait... (and) recieve dinner. Chef: where are you from? Corn: (unintelligible)... We were grown in azerbaijan, in a southern warm country, in the virgin lands of kasakhstan. Chef: understood. so what do you want? Corn: we want to get on the menu. Chef: i'm sorry, and i'm not kicking you out, but i'm not changing the menu. (The dishes start sliding) And the salads, and the soups, and (dishes) made from maize groats, and with sugar: porridge, pudding and cakes, and appetizers and garnish. Peace for all (i think). What a dish, absolutely spectacular! Every day will be prepared! Chef: and let me tell you something, all these dished can be made easily by any hostess (as in housewife).

(Thanks, UPSO!)

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Wacky dudes in Russia open 1940s war ration can and eat it because Russia

According to the uploader's description, these jolly Russian gentlemen here are opening what is identified as a 70-year-old package of Soviet fighter pilot war chow. Read the rest

Ad-hoc museums of a failing utopia: photos of Soviet shop-windows

Photographer David Hlynsky took more than 8,000 street photos in the Eastern Bloc, documenting the last days of ideological anti-consumer shopping before the end of the USSR

The art of the Soviet propaganda poster

After the Russian Revolution in 1917, the Soviet Union was flooded with striking posters spreading communist propaganda. Read the rest

Soviet Ghosts: photographing the abandoned USSR

Photographer Rebecca Litchfield's gorgeous and haunting photo series and book, Soviet Ghosts: A Communist Empire in Decay, documents abandoned towns, factories, prisons, hospitals, theaters, and military bases in the Soviet Union and former Eastern Bloc.

Whilst some may look at the decay in these places as simply reflecting the destruction of the Soviet Union and the moral bankruptcy of a flawed ideological system. In reality they will cease to exist very soon and as the memories fade, these places and the communities who once gave life will be forgotten and deserve to be recorded for posterity too. This book documents the strange interval caught between modernity and antiquity.

(via Huh) Read the rest

E-Stonia: where the free internet now flows like water

Photo: Bruce Sterling

First things first: oh, you world travelers, for pleasure or for work, never, ever fly Baltic Airlines. First they will stiff you by making you pay sixty euros to carry regular-sized hand luggage. You will note their particular eagerness to pounce on innocent non-Baltic travellers, especially haplessYankees with credit cards.

During the flight you can expect to be charged for the air you breathe, since they don't even give free water.

Finally, god forbid if something goes wrong with your flight and ticket, for Baltic Airlines will gladly maneuver you into buying a heavily-priced new one. Fleeing home via Baltic Airlines beats prison and deportation, but not by much. Read the rest

Whatever happened to Russia's Moon lander?

The United State won the race to put a man on the Moon. But we weren't the first to land anything on the Moon. That prize went to the Soviet Union, which successfully put Luna 2 on the surface of the Moon in 1959.

Their later missions were less successful and the USSR never made it past unmanned moon landers. Even some of those failed. Last week, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spotted the remains of two of these Luna missions, still sitting on the Moon. At Vice, Amy Teitel talks about the Luna program and what NASA has learned about why it failed.


Luna 23 met a similar fate. Launched on October 28, 1974, it malfunctioned halfway through its mission and ended up crashing on the surface in the Mare Crisium (the Sea of Crisis in the northwest on the Earth-facing side). The spacecraft stayed in contact with Earth after its hard landing, but it couldn’t get a sample. Mission scientists expected the spacecraft had tipped over as a result of its landing, but without a way to image the moon at a high resolution, they weren’t able to confirm, and the mystery endured.

It turns out they were indeed right. The whole spacecraft is still on the surface, its ascent engine never fired, and high resolution image from LRO’s cameras show the spacecraft lying on its side.

Read the rest at Vice Read the rest

One more response to Boing Boing post on "Police Pad" gadgets in Georgia, by Some Guy from Georgia

People walk past graffiti on a street in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, Jan. 13, 2012. (REUTERS)

Editor's Note: In response to an anonymously-sourced wisecrack we published about police corruption in former Soviet states, the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs responded with a statement, which we published in full. A Boing Boing reader from Georgia also asked to respond to the anonymously-sourced wisecrack, with which he takes issue. Like the wisecracker, this person requests anonymity.

The police in Georgia are definitely not fat or lazy. They are not corrupt on the street level, either. But the whole system still retains elements of corruption  (in enforcement, in the judiciary, and in the legislative realm). The problem lies more in the definition of corruption: the fact that you can no longer bribe the policeman in the streets or at the sovereign borders does not mean everything is crystal-clean.

The fact that citizens are still afraid  of police in Georgia as if they were monsters is still an expression of the damage of corruption. The fact that you can be imprisoned for smoking pot weeks before actually being tested by cops (because you might seem suspicious to them, not because you've been caught smoking pot) is a kind of corruption, I believe.

There is a terrible feeling of vulnerability in Georgia. Police are still used as a tool to terrorize people and make money, but these days, paying bribes to individual policemen is no longer normal.

Georgian policemen stand to attention during a daily shift change at the Interior Ministry in Tbilisi, Jan. Read the rest

Response to Boing Boing post on "Police Pad" gadgets in Georgia, from the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia

Editor's Note: In response to an anonymously-sourced wisecrack we published about police corruption in former Soviet states, the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs has responded with a statement, which we are more than happy to publish in full.

Georgian Police: Model for Successful Transformation

The article published on [Boing Boing on] January 12, 2012, about the initiative by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia to introduce new portable field computers (so called “Police Pads”) ends with an anonymous quote declaring that "100% guaranteed those crooked, fat, lazy cops will be using these devices primarily for porn and Russian gambling services."

Stereotypes like this are easy to toss out—but are quite simply incorrect. This quote does not reflect the productivity, effectiveness, transparency, and reliability of the police force in Georgia today, but rather the bygone era of the 1990s, a reality that has drastically changed thanks to an ambitious and successful reform process.

The reform process in Georgia began immediately after the 2003 Rose Revolution. The new government inherited a completely corrupt and bloated law-enforcement system. The systemic corruption and the high level of crime throughout the country resulted in a very low level of public trust: fewer than 10% of Georgians had confidence in the police, according to 2003 polls. And the very low average policeman's salary (approximately $68 per month) made the soliciting of bribes routine. 

Georgia has since made the creation of an efficient and modern police force a national priority, undertaking a series of reforms that sought to rebuild the national police force literally from the ground up. Read the rest

Chernobyl disaster, 25 year later: commemoration around the world

It's early morning on April 26 in Kiev, Ukraine, where the Chernobyl nuclear disaster happened exactly a quarter century ago. On this day in 1986, reactor number four at the plant exploded, setting off a catastrophe that still reverberates far beyond the 30-kilometer exclusion zone.

Demonstrations are taking place throughout Europe. In Tokyo, anti-TEPCO protests mark the occasion and its parallel to the still-unfolding disaster at Fukushima. The "liquidators" who were sent in to clean up the radioactive mess at Chernobyl back in 1986 received medals Monday from Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, but controversy still surrounds the health impact of the dangerous work they performed. The so-called "sarcophagus" surrounding the disaster site in Kiev is leaking, and world leaders have pledged "to provide $780 million for the construction of a shelter designed to house the toxic remains for another century." But even if and when that new container is finally in place, the radioactive mess will remain active—and hazardous—for many thousands of years more.

Maggie pointed to this recent report from Chernobyl for PBS NewsHour by Miles O'Brien— it's embedded above in this post, and worth another view on this day. [video link, or watch on PBS.org, photo gallery].

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Anti-piracy enforcers claiming to represent Microsoft used to shut down dissident media in former USSR

Danny O'Brien from the Committee to Protect Journalists sez, "The Kyrgyz government used anti-piracy heavies (including a guy who is president of 'Kyrgyz Association for Defense of Intellectual Property Rights' and who works with Microsoft) to shut down Stan TV, an independent web TV news channel in Kyrgyzstan. They said they were investigating unlicensed Microsoft software and seized all the journalists' laptops and work computers, shutting down the station. When the President was ousted two weeks later, Stan TV got it all back without explanation. Apparently there's a long history of governments using Microsoft's name and piracy charges to squelch independent media in Russia, too."

Selective enforcement of alleged software infringement is being used with some frequency in the former Soviet republics as cover to harass independent media. Local law enforcement officials have been given broad powers, in the name of fighting piracy, to raid premises and seize hardware. For the most part, Western companies and governments have encouraged this broadening of powers--but they have not insisted on checks to ensure such powers are not misused. As a result, abuses of power are being committed in the names of those companies.

Stan TV employees told CPJ that police were accompanied by a technical expert, Sergey Pavlovsky, who claimed to be a representative of Microsoft's Bishkek office. According to the journalists, Pavlovsky said he had authorization papers from Microsoft but was unwilling to show them. After a cursory inspection of the computers, they said, Pavlovsky declared all of the equipment to be using pirated software.

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