Swedes see the funny side of Soviet power

It may be too late to recommend a Christmas gift, but a new Swedish book deserves to be given special attention in the New Year literary sales.

Two unlikely Swedish authors, Claus Ericson who works with investments in Eastern Europe, and David Cesarini, who is a graduate student in MIT, have recently published a volume entitled “The funny history of the Soviet Union”.

It is perfect for those who are seeking a gift for politically-inclined Swedish friends with a sense of humour.

The cornerstone of the book is the fact that the best way to express discontent in a totalitarian society is to use humour. Ericson and Cesarini give their readers a good understanding of the history of the Soviet Union alongside the jokes that were created to criticize the system.

A judge was walking around during his lunch break and laughing for himself. When a colleague asked him what was so funny the judge answered:

“Haha, I just heard a wonderful joke about Comrade Khrushchev”.

“Well, lets hear it!” the curious colleague asked.

“Are you crazy? I just sentenced a man to three months in prison for telling it!”

The authors have collected a rich flora of regime critical humour and use these jokes to tell the story of the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. The book gives an insight in the tragicomic realities of the Soviet Union.

To add to the humorous elements of the book, the authors have illustrated it with the communist propaganda that stood in sharp contrast to the realities of the system.

The director for a kolchos [a Soviet farming collective] was reporting the year’s harvest:

“The results are so good that if you would put one potato on top of the other they would reach so high that God himself could pick up one of them”.

“But how is that possible?” the visiting party representative asked. “There is no God”.

“Well, there are no potatoes either”.

“The funny history of the Soviet Union” is not only fun to read, but also gives an insight in one of the most important and tragic experiments in human history. The book is well-timed, since there has been an upheaval in interest for the Soviet Union and in how Swedish history and politics have been affected by the proximity of the former superpower.

An example of this is the website “The Silent Country” (“Det Tysta Landet”), dedicated to understanding how the Soviet occupation of Sweden’s neighbours in the Baltic has affected the region.

For many years the Soviet system and its consequences for Sweden’s close neighbours has been a subject few have wanted to explore. But as the former superpower passes into the history books and Sweden continues to be integrated with the Baltic countries, more and more people are starting to ask what really happened on the other side of the sea.

In many ways this is a good thing. Swedes share much of their culture and history with the inhabitants of the Baltic countries and are increasingly being integrated with Eastern European countries.

It is time to develop a better understanding of the Soviet System and how it has affected our neighbours across Europe.


“The Silent Country” project (in Swedish)

“The funny history of the Soviet Union” (in Swedish)

Nima Sanandaji

President of the Swedish free market think tank Captus