The Hoover Archives Soviet Navy photographs collection (Soviet Union. Voenno Morskoǐ Flot Photographs) nearly doubled in size with a new increment from a source in Poland, a former member of the Soviet-led military alliance of the Warsaw Pact. The black-and-white photographs, most from the 1960s and 1970s, cover all the Soviet fleets: Pacific, Northern, Baltic, Black Sea, and the Caspian Flotilla. As in the earlier group, the photos are mostly of high-ranking naval officers during various official functions or visits, but there are a number of pictures of ships and sailors. Some of the snapshots illustrate the peculiarities, sometimes bizzare, of Soviet culture and ritual.
In 1963 the Soviet Union observed the sixtieth anniversary of the Russian Communist Party with various central and local festivities and parades. The Soviet Pacific fleet organized a parade as well, herding hundreds of sailors off amphibious warfare ships into the icy waters of Vladivostok harbor to honor Lenin and the other patron saints of Russian and international communism in a so-called synchronized swimming parade documented in one of the photos.
Many of the top Soviet and Soviet-bloc leaders annually vacationed in government villas on the Crimean coast, providing the hosts an opportunity to impress their Warsaw Pact partners with the size and might of the Soviet naval forces based in nearby Sevastopol. In August 1971 virtually all of the top East European leaders were present when General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev showed off the latest Soviet naval hardware and recognized outstanding sailors. One picture captures such a moment, when the Soviet leader had just congratulated a young man and is about to plant a ritual kiss on his mouth. Behind Brezhnev is Erich Hoeneker, the East German leader. He is smiling, as he knows full well what’s coming. One of Brezhnev and Hoeneker’s “socialist fraternal kisses” received worldwide attention in a Hungarian 1990 “make your choice” (tessék választani) political poster of the Alliance of Young Democrats (Fidesz). The choice between the drooling kiss of two elderly despots and the loving embrace of a young couple was an easy one for the electorate, sweeping the communists out of power in Hungary and elsewhere in Eastern Europe.
Maciej Siekierski siekierski [at] stanford.edu