THE SOVIET KISS
The passing of Mikhail Gorbachev received considerable news coverage though it was generally overshadowed by the noise of Putin in Ukraine. Nonetheless, if the images of all the historical leaders of the Soviet Union were placed in a Hall of Honor representing accomplishments for mankind, it would be a small exhibit as Gorbachev would be the only one who deserved such recognition. The remainder of them would best be displayed in the loo. One of the images of Gorbachev in the New York Times was him placing a kiss on the lips of Erich Honecker, the leader of East Germany in 1987, which reminded me of our kissing history in Russia.
We were early pioneers in the privatization of Russian oil properties and were there from 1992 for more than ten years when we sold our business in the Perm region to Lukoil. One of the leaders of Lukoil, Maganov, whom we knew, recently decided to fly out of his hospital window in Moscow. Several our Gazprom acquaintances and a handful of oligarchs whom we knew also decided it was time to leave the stage of life with finality. Needless to say, Russia has always been a dangerous place as we experienced periodically over our time there. Nonetheless, there is an interesting evolution over the period from the time of Stalin until today regarding the proper greeting of men.
When we initially went to Moscow, things were extremely desperate in terms of food and even vodka was better sourced from the reliable liquor sources of duty-free shops. Our Russian translator was close to the artist community, and we became guests of several members of the Russian art colony. We brought vodka and they fixed food. It was great fun and a wonderful way to get a grasp of the community and escape the boredom of the Russian oil sector. I did notice that the leading artist seemed to have a penchant for kissing Joey as shown here.
Do I look happy here suited out in my winter Russian clothes to fly to Perm, Russia, to then take a train to Solikamsk in the north followed by a long drive to the dacha of the General Director of Permneftegas – all to sign our agreement to jointly develop a series of oil fields? My uniform consisted of wearing everything warm that was possible, to carry a few essentials and travel light. The first time I flew to Perm, I noticed everyone brought their own sausage and vodka. When the flight attendant came by with a plastic cup of some mysterious fruit drink, I found it strange she waited for me to drink it. I then realized she merely refilled the cup from a dirty pitcher and gave it to the next passenger. Oh well, how many germs can survive an artic environment and who would not follow the sign language of a huge babushka?
The further north one goes in Russia in the winter, the dimmer the light gets and the greater the snow drifts become on the roads. When the train finally reached Solikamsk, and we began our drive to the General Director’s dacha, the snow drifts were over eight feet tall. The driver pushed the car to the limit but there was little danger of a car crash as the drifts would protect us from any mishap.
Once I knocked on General Director Cherkasov’s door, I realized there was something strange about this experience when he attempted to kiss me on the lips. I successfully dodged the approach though my cheek suffered severe whisker burns. We signed the agreement, his wife served wonderful slices of lemon with caramelized sugar on them which we chased with ice cold vodka. When it came time to leave, he held my face with both hands and attempted another lip lock. I struggled free and once back in the car I asked my friend, Boris, what was going on. He replied that it was Brezhnev era behavior which defined it all. Bear in mind that my colleague, Boris, offered the following solution to one of the Russians who was causing great difficulty – “Why don’t we kill him.”
Four years ago, Radio Free Europe published an article entitled The Soviet Kiss, Gone But (Mostly) Not Missed that documented the history of this practice from the time of Stalin. Men locking lips in public became all the rage until modern times. Stalin looked a bit unsure here in 1936 when pilot Valery Chkalov leans in toward Stalin.
By 1937, Stalin had gotten into the kissing swing of things when he makes the advance on pilot Vasily Molokov. Maybe he just had a passion for pilots.
The kissing academy award goes to Brezhnev who preferred three kisses with one on each cheek followed by a closer kiss on the lip as shown with East German leader Erich Honecker in 1979. There is an old Russian joke about Brezhnev’s deep devotion to a particular African leader because he was a good kisser.
In the final analysis, our “Man of the Year” Gorbachev was caught in a similar entanglement with East German, Erich Honecker, who seemed to play the field.
It seems even today’s villain, Vladimir Putin, could pucker up as needed to close a deal with his mates. On the other hand, not all these kissers can be trusted and this one fits the pattern.
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