The program Vesti [News] was the very first news program of the post-Soviet era. It debuted on 13 May 1991, almost exactly one month before the first-ever Russian presidential elections, and aired on the brand-new RTR channel, successor to Soviet central television — now Channel One Russia, the state propaganda channel. It simultaneously insisted on its rupture with Soviet-era reporting practices and positioned itself as a throwback to the nineteenth century. The show's name, an old-fashioned word for "news," would be more at home on the pages of a novel than in a hard-boiled news context; meanwhile, the opening sequence, with its animated hand-drawn troika, hearkens back to the final pages of Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls (1842). This particular episode is wedged between past and future in a similarly ambiguous manner. As host Vladislav Fliarkovsky reports, the Soviet Union has already formally dissolved, with 11 of its 12 constituent republics forming the still-extant Commonwealth of Independent States. And yet — as Fliarovsky reveals just a few seconds later — a public opinion poll showed that nearly 70% of Russians couldn't name a single person who might adequately represent the new, post-Soviet era. Even newly elected President Yeltsin snagged just 19% of respondents.
The popular show "600 Seconds" was a late- and early post-Soviet news program that aired between 1987 and 1993. Over ten minutes (the titular "600 seconds"), the host (much of the time it was journalist Alexander Nevzorov) would summarize the news of the day, focusing especially on the corruption of governmental officials. This particular episode furnishes an example of chernukha, the "pessimistic neo-naturalism and muckraking" popularized during and after the advent of glasnost'.
On 19 August 1991, a group of hardline members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) attempted to seize power back from reformist General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, who at the time was away from Moscow at his Crimean dacha. Eight high-level officials within the Soviet government, CPSU, and KGB, popularly known as the "Gang of Eight," formed the State Committee on the State of Emergency (Gosudarstvennyi Komitet po Cherezvychainomu Polozheniyu or GKChP). Before their ignominious defeat two days later, the GKChP held a press conference that was inexplicably (given their anti-glasnost stance) open to all foreign and domestic journalists. Self-declared President Gennady Yanayev's hands famously shook throughout, betraying his lack of conviction. One of the press-conference's most compelling moments comes at 29:38, when 24-year-old Tatiana Malkina of the Nezavisimaya gazeta (Independent Newspaper, which at that time had existed for less than a year), asks "Do you understand that last night you committed a coup d'état?" This direct challenge came on the heels of half an hour of anodyne questions and equally anodyne answers, and its effect was electrifying. Emboldened, the assembled journalists dispensed with their softballs and turned the remainder of the event into serious reckoning for the would-be putschists. The highly-charged GKChP press conference clearly signaled — to the Soviet leadership as well as to the Soviet citizenry — that the tide of Gorbachev-era changes could not be turned back.
Throughout the 1990s, the show "Glance [Vzgliad]" (1987-2001) was one of the most popular programs on television. Before the USSR's collapse, it aired on Central Television; after 1991, it moved to ORT (Russian Public Television) — now Channel One Russia, the Putin regime's main propaganda outlet. Its most frequent hosts were Oleg Vakulovsky (seen here), Dmitry Zakharov, Aleksandr Liubimov, and Vladislav Listyev, who became one of the first casualties of an increasingly politicized and dangerous journalistic landscape when he was murdered by unknown culprits in 1995. This particular segment, which aired a week after Vzgliad's October 2 debut, exemplifies the muckraking so typical the perestroika era. Taking aim at one of the best-known and most reviled features of daily life in the Soviet Union — the endless queueing for basic necessities — it surveys groups of Muscovite shoppers waiting hopefully for a chance to purchase shoes. The segment is notable for its digs at destructive late-Soviet economic practices like hoarding, as well as for the journalists' obvious compassion for their subjects. At 1:31, the interviewer (credited as O. Naichuk) asks one woman about her position is the line. When the woman responds, "I'm number 3,350," Naichuk says, "Oh my god."
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This sequence of advertisements, which aired in 1994, enticed millions of people to purchase MMM shares they hoped would produce instant wealth amid the instability of economic "shock therapy" in the early Yeltsin years.
The Russian United Democratic Party or "Yabloko" (meaning "apple") was a social liberal political party founded in 1993. Its leader, Grigory Yavlinsky, has been campaigning for President ever since — currently, he is planning his 2018 run. During the hotly contested election of 1996, Yavlinsky ran this series of ads to bolster his campaign. In the ads, people of seemingly every demographic, gender, class, and age declaim rhyming couplets in support of their preferred candidate and person — "Grisha" Yavlinsky. The older lady at 9:55 even claims that she will vote for him because he is a "real man." Yavlinsky did not win.
Russian advertisers in the 1990s operated in largely uncharted territory. Tasked with appealing to a public at once eager to participate in the global economy and unsure about how to navigate it, corporations went all-out in their efforts to entice the new, post-Soviet consumer. With social codes, cultural signifiers, and Russia's very sense of self seemingly up for grabs, advertisers were free to experiment. One of the most exciting campaigns of the era belonged to the now-defunct Imperial Bank (1990-1999), which hired future Night Watch director Timur Bekmambetov to create an ad series called "World History: Imperial Bank." Each commercial depicted a single, seemingly insignificant detail of a dramatic episode in Russian or world history — like the clipping of swans' wings in Tsar Alexander II's gardens during his emancipation of Russian serfdom in 1861. Though the ads only rarely touched on financial themes, Bekmambetov's lavish production values and momentous tone ensured that his creations would be remembered long after Imperial Bank had shut its doors.
Singer Boris Grebenshchikov of Akvarium, one of Russia's oldest rock bands, features in this 1986 episode of "Musical Ring [Muzykal'nyi Ring]" (1984-1990; 1997-2001), а Leningrad-based show that sought to acquaint its viewers with the latest trends in popular culture. It is notable for the polemic on performative aesthetics between Grebenshchikov and an elderly woman from the audience, who speaks up at 27:27. After complimenting his music and "nice eyes," she admonishes him for wearing clothing that "expresses disrespect for the audience" — an objection Grebenshchikov deflects by proclaiming his allegiance to "the traditions of rock culture."
Glasnost' liberated not only hard-hitting muckrakers and scholars with unflattering opinions of Soviet socialism, but also figures like Anatoly Kashpirovsky, a psychic "healer" and fixture of perestroika-era central television. Like Ponzi scheme operator Sergey Mavrodi (see MMM), Kashpirovsky was able to exploit the experimental nature of very late-Soviet and early post-Soviet public discourse for personal gain. Also like Mavrodi, Kashpirovsky capitalized on his television fame to gain access to public office, gaining a seat in the Russian Duma in 1993 as a representative of the far-right LDPR (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia). In this episode of his "Wellness Sessions with Psychotherapist and Physician Anatoly Kashpirovsky," the good "doctor" regales a relaxed-looking studio audience with his signature combination of word salad, rhythmic counting, and soothing music. "In addition to the healing of the body," he notes, "I seek to inspire a healing of the soul."
This infamous segment aired mere months before the collapse of the Soviet Union on the Leningrad-based news show "The Fifth Wheel" (1988-96). In a historic blurring of reality with satire, journalist Sergey Sholokhov "interviewed" experimental musician and writer Sergey Kuryokhin on the subject of one of the USSR's most sacred figures: V.I. Lenin. In tones of unassailable expertise, Kuryokhin gradually "revealed" to the audience that Lenin had consumed so many hallucinogenic mushrooms over the course of his life that he eventually became one himself. Millions of Russians, accustomed to the earnestness of Soviet television, took the hoax at face value. The following day, according to Sholokhov, a delegation of Old Bolsheviks approached Galina Barinova, head of Agitprop at the Leningrad Regional Party Committee. They wanted to know whether Lenin really was a mushroom — after all, they had just heard it on TV. "No," answered Barinova. "A mammal cannot be a plant."