It started with a kiss

(Six male-male kisses, of different sorts and with different sociocultural meanings, plus a general suffusion of homoerotic content and undercurrents throughout, so this posting is not to everyone’s taste — but there’s nothing raunchy enough to make it plainly unsuitable for kids or the sexually modest.)

It started with a kiss in a poster (from Hana Filip on Facebook, long ago — 2/23/19) apparently signifying the union of the Soviet Army and Navy, but it turns out to be sheer invention, the work of the artist Igor Baskakov, whose specialties include a very uneasy blend of official Communism and high-commercial capitalism:

(#1) The caption: ‘Support/Strengthen the union of the Army and Navy’

Three things about this poster. First, it alludes to (as Hana put it) the fraternal socialist kiss trope, the most (in)famous of which is the kiss between Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev and East German leader Erich Honecker (1979):

(#2) (more on socialist fraternal kisses below)

Second, the flags in the background are, yes, the Soviet (red) flag, but also the  Finnish (blue and white) flag:

(#3a) Soviet — USSR — flag

(#3b) Finnish flag

(#3c) Plus the (modern) Russian flag, whose colors figure significantly in Baskakov’s art (below)

The Finnish flag might be a sly allusion to the homoerotic art of Tom of Finland, whose hypermasculine subjects were given to kissing a lot (as well as enthusiastically engaging, often in public, in all manner of sexual acts), as here:

(#4) There’s a Page on this blog on Tom of Finland and his art

Third, Hana noted that the military uniforms are generically right (army cap, naval jacket with collar), but inaccurate in details (Baskakov has the collar as a shade of white instead of clearly blue, for instance).

Socialist fraternal kisses. From Wikipedia:

The socialist fraternal kiss or socialist fraternal embrace is a special form of greeting between the statesmen of Communist countries. This act demonstrates the special connection that exists between Socialist states.

The socialist fraternal kiss consisted of an embrace, combined with a series of three kisses on alternate cheeks. In rare cases, when the two leaders considered themselves exceptionally close, the kisses were given on the mouth rather than on the cheeks.

The socialist fraternal embrace consists of a series of three deep hugs, alternating between the left and right sides of the body, without kissing.

… This ritual originated in the European practice of cheek kissing as a greeting between family members or close friends. It has also been associated with the Eastern Orthodox Fraternal or Easter Kiss, which through its entrenchment in the rites of the Orthodox Church carried a substantial strength of expression and so found use in daily life.

As a symbol of equality, fraternity and solidarity, the socialist fraternal kiss was the expression of the pathos and enthusiasm of the emergent Workers’ movement between the middle and end of the 19th century. In the years after the October Revolution and the subsequent Communist International, a ritualisation of the so far spontaneous gesture succeeded into an official greeting between Communist comrades. The symbolic reinforcement of the feeling of camaraderie also gained success through the fact that many Communists and Socialists had to make long, arduous and dangerous trips to then the isolated Bolshevik Russia. That way the much-experienced international Solidarity found expression in stormy embraces and kisses.

With the expansion of Communism after World War II, the Soviet Union was no longer isolated as the only Communist country. The fraternal socialist kiss became a ritualised greeting among the leaders of Communist countries. The greeting was also adopted by socialist leaders in the Third World, as well as the leaders of socialist-aligned liberation movements such as the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the African National Congress.

On the photo in #2, from the Rare Historical Photos site:

The socialist fraternal kiss became famous via Erich Honecker and Leonid Brezhnev, who were photographed exercising the ritual. During the festivities of the 30th anniversary of the German Democratic Republic of East Germany in 1979, photographer Regis Bossu was able to take a photograph of the decisive moment wherein Leonid Brezhnev and President Erich Honecker were practicing a socialist fraternal kiss. After the photograph was taken, a lot of magazines used it immediately with one magazine captioning it as “The Kiss”.

The title of this posting. From Wikipedia:

(#5) It Started with a Kiss is a 1959 Metrocolor film in CinemaScope starring Glenn Ford and Debbie Reynolds. It was directed by George Marshall.

The artist Baskakov. First, from an enthusiastic fan site, Creative East (“Creativity from the former Eastern Bloc”) (posted here without editing):

Igor Baskakov is a Russian artist, who is really hard to track down. Never the less he has created some AMAZING art pieces. His style could easily be categorised as pop art. When looking at his work it is clear that he finds his inspiration in Soviet Union propaganda posters and Western advertising logos and brands. The outcome of all of that is a sinister outlook on the Soviet society with a hint of sarcasm.

Main colors that he uses are red, which obviously represent communism and blue and white. All together they form the three colors of the Russian flag [(#3c above)]. That doesn’t mean that he ignores all of the other colors of the spectrum but the ones he uses are bold and contrast each other.

The only website that I could find that displayed some of Baskakovs work is  this. Even though its not the official website of the artist it offers the opportunity to purchase his work. So if you have a spare 3000 euros or more lying around you should visit the website but if you don’t you can always just look and drool all over some amazing art.

Then from the Jeremy Noble site:

Catalogue Note: The work of Igor Baskakov is becoming popular with Russian collectors, following the succes de scandale surrounding the exhibition of his works at the First International Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art in 2005. A number of members of the Putin government have since bought his work, which has only increased his popularity.

Literature:  Igor Baskakov received a very traditional art training, in portraits, drawing and landscapes, but his work subverts that tradition. He grew up during the period of Perestroika [roughly 1985 to 1991], when the West — its politics, its business, its culture — was just beginning the assault on the USSR.

As a student Baskakov worked with the Union of Soviet Poster Artists, the industrial arts group that had once been one of the most influential manipulators of communist ideology. Baskakov was at the very centre of this maelstrom, working on the side of Communism while experiencing the onslaught of Capitalism. His work subsumes these two opposing ideologies; he takes the advertising logos and slogans of Western multinationals and refashions them in the Soviet propaganda style. The result appears to be a joke at first, like Warhol’s soup cans, but what it says about the end of an empire is still painful for many Russians, and its commentary on the new empire of Capitalism is perhaps not so funny even for the invading Westerners.

Passport Magazine, Moscow [Russian travel magazine], February issue, 2005

From the Passport Magazine piece “Poster Boys (and Girls)” by Jillian Ong:

They used to throw them away, now Soviet propaganda posters can sell for thousands of dollars. Here’s our insider’s guide to choosing and preserving your Soviet poster.

During the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945), posters were used in the battle against Nazism, mocking Hitler and glorifying the Red Army. Posters calling for bravery, and denouncing Fascism were visible in every city and at the Front. This period marked a hiatus in the fashion for Social Realism, with some of the most powerful icons of the Bolshevik era reappearing, including ‘TASS Windows’ issued by the eponymous news agency that succeeded ROSTA.

Due to Stalin’s earlier purges ([the famous graphic artist Gustav] Klutsis, for example, was executed at the infamous Butovo gulag in the late ‘30s), most posters were produced by younger artists, including the Kukryniksy Group (a trio of students), Viktor Koretsky and Viktor Ivanov. Cartoonists, illustrators and oil painters all contributed to the war effort through military poster design.

(#6) Viktor Koretsky and Vera Gitsevich, Our Motherland is the Motherland of Russian aviation, 1949

Finally, from the Zug magazine site of 6/13/14, in “Sie eint der Wille zur Sozialkritik” by Susanne Holz:

Die Galerie Gmurzynska [in the Swiss town Zug, population ca. 30,000] zeigt zeitgenössische russische Kunst Kakerlaken in Gold oder auch die Ikonen des Kommunismus, untertitelt mit Zauberwörtern des Westens.

Zug – Was haben bloss Marx und Lenin mit Snickers-Schokoriegeln zu tun?

(#7) Baskakov’s Snickers poster (1999); “Snickers is a brand name chocolate bar made by Mars, Incorporated… consisting of nougat topped with caramel and peanuts, enrobed in milk chocolate” (Wikipedia link)

Snickers fürs Volk? Snickers für alle? Vielleicht schmeckt er ja doch süss, der Kommunismus? Kaum anzunehmen, dass der 1964 in Kalinin geborene Igor Baskakov solch eine Aussage treffen will, wenn er auf seinem Ölgemälde die Konterfeis von Karl Marx und Wladimir Lenin mit einem Süsswaren-Logo des Westens untertitelt, das Enkel wie Opa rund um den Globus blind assoziieren können: «Snickers» steht da, in blauen Buchstaben, mit feinem rotem Rand begrenzt.

Wohl eher wahrscheinlich ist, dass Igor Baskakov gleich seinen berühmten Kollegen Erik Bulatow und Ilja Kabakow mit sowjetischer Symbolik spielt. Doch führt Baskakov die Konzeptkunst dieser beiden inzwischen 81-jährigen Künstler in die Moderne: Die Sowjetunion gibts nicht mehr, die Symbole des Ostens und des Westens vermischen sich, Politik und Propaganda auf der einen Seite, Kommerz und Stumpfsinn auf der anderen Seite lachen sich gegenseitig aus. Übrig bleibt: Wo früher das Diktat des Kommunismus das Denken begrenzte, man erinnere sich an Bulatows berühmtes Bild mit dem rot-goldenen Ordensband als Horizont übers Meer gemalt, da steht heute der allmächtige Konsum einem reflektierten Denken im Weg. «Ist das die Freiheit der westlichen Welt?», hat sich nach 1989 so mancher Post-Sowjetbürger gefragt, als er sich plötzlich Snickers und Co. kaufen durfte. Der Mensch folgt seinen Ikonen, man nehme es mit Humor.

… Russische Gegenwartskunst: Widmete man sich der Welt der Insekten im 18. und 19. Jahrhundert, um malerische Kunstfertigkeit zu beweisen, so eint die Künstler der aktuellen Ausstellung in der Galerie Gmurzynska der Wille zur Sozialkritik. Zurück zu Igor Baskakov: Leidvoll passend zur aktuellen politischen Situation, stimmt einen das 2003 gemalte Bild mit dem Titel «Tampax» sehr nachdenklich. Zwei propere Damen halten hier in ihrer Mitte einen Tampon in Händen, sie teilen ihn sich wobei die eine mit ihren folkloristischen Mustern auf der Bluse der Ukraine zuzuordnen ist, die andere Russland. Blut ist Blut, so einfach ist das. Auch seinen Jean Paul Gaultier in sowjetischer Marineuniform hat Igor Baskakov noch gemalt, bevor es in seiner Heimat so richtig losging mit den Repressionen gegen Homosexuelle – gestört hat ihn der Hass auf Schwule schon 2010.

(#8) Baskakov with his Gaultier poster at the Zug exhibition

In Russland waren die Zeiten für freies Denken schon mal etwas besser – wie wirkt sich die politische Regression auf kritische Künstler wie Baskakov aus? «Ich kann frei arbeiten», sagt dieser, «aber verkaufen muss ich privat, das Ausstellen ist schwieriger geworden.»

Translation of the Gaultier section:

Baskakov painted his Jean Paul Gaultier in Soviet naval uniform before the repression of homosexuals in his homeland started – the hatred for gays had already disturbed him in 2010. … What is the impact of political regression on critical artists like Baskakov? “I can work freely,” he says, “but I have to sell privately, exhibiting has become more difficult.”

Well, there’s always Switzerland. (More on Gaultier below.)

One more Baskakov poster, for Durex condoms:

(#9) Baskakov’s version of Otto von Bismarck in a condom-like Pickelhaube headgear

The actual Bismarck in the actual headgear:

(#10) Otto von Bismarck wearing a cuirassier officer’s metal Pickelhaube

On the headgear, from Wikipedia:

The Pickelhaube (plural Pickelhauben; from the German Pickel, “point” or “pickaxe”, and Haube, “bonnet”, a general word for “headgear”), also Pickelhelm, is a spiked helmet worn in the 19th and 20th centuries by German military, firefighters, and police. Although typically associated with the Prussian Army, which adopted it in 1842–43, the helmet was widely imitated by other armies during this period. It is still worn today as part of ceremonial wear in the militaries of certain countries.

And, finally, on Durex. From Wikipedia:


Durex is a condom brand. It was originally developed and produced in London, Great Britain, under the purview of The London Rubber Company and British Latex Products Ltd, where it was manufactured between 1932 and 1994. The London Rubber Company was formed in 1915, and the Durex brand name (“Durability, reliability, and excellence”) was launched in 1929
… It is one of the best-selling condom brands across the world, with 30% of the global market. In 2006, Durex condoms were the second best-selling brand of condoms in the United States, with Trojan condoms being the first.

Notes on Gaultier and sailors. From my 9/7/20 posting “Le Male, the men’s fragrance”, taking off from a fragrance ad featuring a shirtless sailor and continuing on the openly gay and often outrageous designer Jean-Paul Gaultier:

The sailor-sodomy association … plays a significant role in the homoerotic power of the image in the Gaultier [ad] … Gaultier thinks sailors are way hot, and he doesn’t shrink from the sodomy connection, but instead … celebrates it and revels in it.

His sailors are legendary, especially in his collaborations with the French artists Pierre et Gilles. From the Deconstructing the Constructed blog, the posting “Skin Deep” of 4/19/15:

(#12) Another male-male kiss, intentionally homoerotic: Pierre et Gilles’ Le Baiser (1997)

Pierre et Gilles and Jean Paul Gaultier’s collaboration started in 1976 where they combined talents to create theatrical staged photographs with a style that is heavily influenced by religion, mythology, pop and queer culture. In his advertising he choose to use feminine or presumably gay men as the selling point where traditional media would choose a macho man to sell a scent.

A central feature of Gaultier’s iconography is the marinière. From Wikipedia:

A marinière, or tricot rayé (“striped sweater”), is a cotton long-armed shirt with horizontal blue and white stripes. Characteristically worn by quartermasters and seamen in the French Navy, it has become a staple in civilian French fashion. It is also known as a Breton shirt, as many sailors in the French Navy were from Brittany and, especially outside France, this kind of striped garment is often part of the stereotypical image of a French person.

… Since the 19th century, the telnyashka has been a characteristic part of the Russian Navy uniform.

… Jean Paul Gaultier has been in love with the marinière since the 1980s, in all its forms, styles and the most diverse materials. In 1983, it was the major element of his Boy Toy collection, Gaultier greeting the audience at the end of the show in a “classic classic”, a marinière.

Two more Soviet kisses. First, a Koretsky poster from 1939, between a peasant and a soldier:

(#13) A Soviet WW II propaganda poster (‘Our army is an army of liberation of the workers. J. Stalin’) — with a proletarian variant of the Soviet friendship kiss

Then, a spontaneous (not conventionalized) friendship kiss between men at the end of WW II:

(#14) Friendship Kiss between a Soviet Army officer and an American soldier, Germany 1945 — crossing boundaries of rank as well as nationality in celebrating collaboration in winning the war together

A note on Hana Filip (with whom I started this posting). For the basics, see her homepage as Professor of Semantics in the Dept. of Linguistics at Heinrch-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf. Then, as the featured linguist on Linguist List on 4/1/16 she provided an informal personal essay about her life and career (beginning with growing up in Czechoslovakia and ending with a wonderful Christian Morgenstern poem about tenses)

(Her education: MA in theoretical linguistics, Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich; PhD in linguistics, UC Berkeley.)

[Addendum 1/25/21. Hana Filip makes a major correction:

re #9 Baskakov’s Durex condom ad.  The person in the pic is meant to be Stalin, and he wears the famous revolutionary hat called Budenovka!  Yup, the Budenovka hat resembles the tip of a condom!  It is hilarious.  [Hana sent me a photo of Leon Trotsky wearing it, and another with some other Russian revolutionary dudes, plus some links to pages about Budenovkas.]

I don’t think that it is tied to the Prussian “Pickelhaube”.

Indeed. Stalin in a budenovka (the model for Baskakov’s composition in #9):

(#15) (from a postcard of the time, for sale on eBay)

From Wikipedia:

(#16) From the Bridge to Moscow site, illustrations of budenovkas

A budenovka (Russian: будёновка, tr. budyonovka) is a distinctive type of hat, an archetypal part of the Communist military uniforms of the Russian Civil War (1917-1922) and later conflicts. Its official name was the “broadcloth helmet” (шлем суконный). Named after Red Army cavalry commander Semyon Budyonny, it was also known as the “frunzenka” after the Commissar Mikhail Frunze. It is a soft, woolen hat that covers the ears and neck. The cap features a peak and folded earflaps that can be buttoned under the chin. It has been a very important part of the Russian revolution.

… The hat was created as part of a new uniform for the Russian army [during WW I] by Viktor Vasnetsov, a famous Russian painter, who was inspired by the Kiev Rus helmet. The original name was bogatyrka (богатырка) – the hat of a bogatyr [a stock character in medieval East Slavic legends, akin to a Western European knight-errant]– and was intended to inspire Russian troops by connecting them with the legendary heroes of Russian folklore.

(Note on the plural of budenovka. The word is a borrowing in English, involving a nativizing reshaping of the Russian model, which is transliterated as budyonovka, with  plural budyonovki. As a borrowing in English, budenovka has a regular plural budenovkas — my usage above — though some might prefer to borrow a Russian plural formation scheme, in budenovki.)]

One Response to “It started with a kiss”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Vadim Temkin: a few comments with more of the Soviet context [with some editing by AMZ].

    1. I suspect that there was no allusion to the Finnish flag. It is either a misrepresentation of the Saint Andrew’s cross of the Russian (and Soviet) Navy Flag (which should be diagonal, of course), or just one of the Russian Naval Code of Signals – for the number “9” in this case [a white flag with blue cross, almost identical to the Finnish flag].

    2. The condom (#9) definitely has nothing to do with Pickelhaube headgear. It is a “budenovka”, created by painter Vasnetsov for the Russian army during WWI, but used by the Red Army during the Civil War and all the way until WWII. [See Hana Filip’s correction in the main text.]

    3. The kiss in (#13) is actually from the Soviet invasion of Poland (or the Polish campaign of the Red Army, as it is known in Russia, or “The Liberation of Western Ukraine and Byelorussia” in September of 1939). Yes, technically it is part of WWII, but they hate it in Russia when you point to this little detail. The writing is in Byelorussian, and the kiss supposedly depicts a West Byelorussian worker (or peasant) greeting a Red Army soldier who crossed the old Russian-Polish border and liberated him from Polish lords.

    4. And lastly, à propos of Red Army (but no kisses), my fantasy of Soviet Army conscription commission [Vadim’s gay art piece “Soviet Conscription Committee”]:
    on VT’s New Tumblr account:
    in AZ’s image files:

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