Red Menace: Four Deliberately Anti-Soviet Brands

PHOTO by blinow61 / Depositphotos
Jeans, comic books, toys and more

Russian entrepreneurs long ago learned to exploit the nostalgic yearning for the Soviet era, with old-timey chebureki and pelmeni cafeterias, groceries and sweets produced to GOST standards, promising the “taste you've known since childhood.”

Meanwhile, a similar trend is on the rise in the West, with companies capitalising on the Cold War sentiment. SECRETMAG tells the story of the brands that rode the wave of capitalism vs socialism and were popularised by being deliberately anti-soviet.

Rokotoff Jeans

The company was founded by the movie producer Vitaly Alizaer and his partners. To begin with, they released the line of jeans to raise funds for a movie about the USSR, Fartsovshchiki (illegal businessmen who bought consumer goods and currency from foreigners).

The name at the time was Rokotov & Fainberg, but was later changed to Rokotoff.

The brand was well known in Europe and the United States. Yan Rokotoff, a fartsovshchik, was one of the first soviet millionaires. His true wealth was discovered during a search, which uncovered foreign currency and gold to the value of $1.5 million. Rokotov and two of his partners (Vladislav Faybishenko and Dmitry Yakovlev), all under 35, were arrested in 1960 and sentenced to eight years behind bars.

In 1961 Nikita Khruschev started an open war against the black markets. The Rokotov-Faybishenko-Yakovlev case was reopened and defendants were convicted to 15 years of jail time. Khurschev believed this was still too lax. In July of that year, the soviet leader signed the law “On Exacerbation of Criminal Liability for Violating the Rules of Currency Operations,” under which guilty criminals were to receive the death penalty, carried out by firing squad.

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Although the law came into force after Rokotov, Faybishenko and Yakovlev received their initial prison sentences, they were still resentenced once again, and executed. The public outcry was global, with protests occurring all over the world. The case became a symbol of soviet injustice and oppression in the West.

Vitaly Aliser claims that most of his clients are actors, musicians and producers. The jeans are still made using vintage machines, the same technology with which they were manufactured in the 1960s. A single pair costs upwards of $300. The company does not publish its accounts.

The Adventures of Tintin

The Adventures of Tintin is a series of comic books, which are popular in Europe, but were never really published in Russia. The comic books are available in over 70 languages.

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What a lot of people don't know is that the first comics were launched as anti-Soviet propaganda aimed at Belgian youths. The first edition was published in a youth supplement to the Belgian newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle (The Twentieth Century). It was authored by cartoonist Georges Remi, who came up with the plot for the first issue. He wanted Tintin to visit the United States, but his editors insisted that he went to the USSR instead. The resulting Tintin in the Land of the Soviets series was published in 1929-1930, immediately soaring in popularity. Anti-Soviet sentiment only fuelled its following.

There were a total of 24 issues, with the last one published in 1983. After the war, following accusations of racism, anti-soviet bias and snobbery, Georges decided to edit many of original comics, but not the first one. He called Tintin in the Land of the Soviets a mistake of his youth and asked for it never to be published again. By that time, the comics had already made their author a wealthy man. His manuscripts are valued at millions of dollars and, in 2014, sketches for a 1937 comic were auctioned off for $3.5 million.

Raid Over Moscow Video Game

The British computer game Raid over Moscow was released in 1984, finding popularity thanks to a massive controversy in Finland. The player takes on the role of a US spaceplane pilot, which is tasked with stopping a series of attacks on the United States and preventing nuclear war. In 1985, Finnish television carried a report about the game. Within a week Tiedonantaja, a pro-Soviet newspaper, slammed Raid over Moscow and called for a ban on all "anti-USSR" games. The next day, Member of Parliament, Ensio Laine, from the pro-Soviet SKDL party raised the idea of such a boycott during a session of parliament.

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Two weeks later, soviet diplomats called for Finland to boycott not only anti-soviet video games, but also books and movies, citing the Finno-Soviet Treaty of 1948 (An Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance), under which Finland was supposed to support soviet strategic interests. The talks lasted for several months but fizzled out, with no ban being enacted.

Thanks to the debacle, Raid over Moscow became one of the best-selling computer games in Finland in 1985 according to MikroBitti magazine. In 2010 it regained its infamy after the Finnish Foreign Ministry declassified governmental correspondence of 1985.

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‘Anti-Soviet’ Shashlik Cafe

Across from the Sovetskaya (Soviet) Hotel in northwest Moscow, there was a shashlik (kebab) cafe which opened in the 1960s. It’s informal name was given it not just became of its location, opposite the hotel, but also because it was frequented by free-thinking students and bohemians. In 2009 the building’s owner Evgeniy Ostrvovsky opened “Antisovetskaya Shashlichnaya” restaurant to commemorate that establishment. It didn't last long. On Sep. 17, the Moscow Veteran's Council sent a letter to the local prosecutor’s office, demanding the sign to be taken down as it offended the veterans who “respect the soviet period of our history.” The cafe is still operating under the same name, just without the sign.