Our regular critic. Journalist, writer, author. Works mostly from Central and Eastern Europe and Russia.
USSR: Vivid memories of home-made psychedelic drugs and Soviet revolutionary times are brought to life in Soviet Hippies.

Orginal title: Nõukogude hipid)
Director: Terje Toomistu
Producer: Liis Lepik
Country: Estonia, Germany, Finland

«We don’t know where we are going, but we know exactly what we are running away from,» a female voice-over says over grainy coloured images of a group of disheveled young people walking across an indistinct landscape in the opening shots of Terje Toomistu’s timely documentary Soviet Hippies.

At a time of increasing political polarisation between Russia, Europe, and the West, the notion of Russians as some kind of different species, warlike, aggressive, corrupt, and separate, is popular in the media. What many with no direct experience of Russia themselves fail to understand is the extent to which dissidence – with a small «d» – remains widespread in Russia to this day and that is often exemplified in youth musical and fashion sub-groups.

Rare footage

The idea that there were hippies in the Soviet Union may seem bizarre, but Russia is a big country, with a big soul and its tolerance for embracing different approaches to life is perhaps one of its most enduring well-kept secrets. Not every Russian today is either an Orthodox-observing church-goer or a card-carrying member of Putin-loyalist party United Russia, just as not every Soviet citizen was a Communist or collective farm member.

Toomistu delves back into the archives to unearth rare footage from the 1960s of Soviet Hippies as he embarks on a contemporary road journey from Estonia (which was then a Soviet Union, rather than European Union state) to Moscow with veterans of the Soviet Hippie movement. Although meeting the first of our modern-day protagonists sat lotus pose in front of an Eastern mystical video as they prepare what looks like marijuana spliffs on an old Soviet book entitle «Hippie Slang», may come across as a bit corny, we get the idea immediately that this is a look back from the perspective of those who never really left the hippie movement.

From Beatles to Russian Sci-fi

As music began to shake the foundations of the western world in the late 1960s, ripples of those vibrations began to make themselves felt behind the Iron Curtain, where youngsters – like anywhere, tempted by forbidden fruit – secretly listened to European radio stations and entered the world of western rock.

Soviet Hippies by Terje Toomistu

Just how evocative those sounds were and how revolutionary the message of lyrics only barely understood if at all, is related by characters now in their 70s for whom the alternative lifestyle remains important. Characters with names such as Old Long (from Moscow who remarks, «the overdrive sound started to shake our collective consciousness»), clips of archive Soviet state footage, contemporary psychedelic cartoons and previously unseen home 16 mm footage, Toomistu recreates the extraordinary years known to most conventional historians as the Brezhnev «stagnation» period.

«In 1965 I became a different person,» recalls Kolja Vasin, of St. Petersburg’s Lennon’s . . .

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