Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Was Lenin a Mushroom?

in the early 1990s a spoof made for Soviet TV, persuaded some Russians that Vladimir Lenin's personality had been seriously affected by hallucinogenic mushrooms. The mushrooms in question were the deadly poisonous fly agaric fungi which the programme alleged Lenin had eaten whilst in exile in Siberia. Dina Newman has spoken to journalist Sergei Sholokhov who presented the TV spoof.
Was Lenin a Mushroom?


Dina Newman:

Hello, you’re listening to the Witness history podcast with me Dina Newman. Do you know who Vladimir Lenin was? A Russian politician? A communist revolutionary? All this may be true but in 1991 Russians came up with a different take on their former leader, a special program on Soviet TV claimed that Lenin was in fact a mushroom.

It was the most famous hoax in the history of Soviet media and an example of just how confused many Russians became once the structures and certainties of the communist system began to collapse.

Its May 1991, just months before the Soviet Union began to break apart and elsewhere in Eastern Europe Communism had already died a death over a year earlier. Russians could barely keep up with the drama’s unfolding on their screens. The centralised economic system they’d lived with for decades was unravelling. Politicians were openly attacking the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Hypnotists and spurious healers promoted their talents on state-controlled TV and brash adverts claimed to offer miraculous products.

Then on May 17th a special one-hour program unveiled an entirely new take on the familiar figure of Vladimir Lenin.

Sergei Kurekhin:

Fly Agaric is a hallucinogenic mushroom with a peculiar property. If a human being takes it regularly and for a long time his personality transforms into the personality of a mushroom. Fly Agaric has its own personality and basically, I want to say that Lenin was a mushroom.

Dina Newman:

The person who broadcast this ridiculous statement was a Russian avant-garde musician Sergei Khurekhin. His carefully constructed argument went something like this.

Fly Agarics are poisonous mushrooms but in Siberia they were traditionally used by Shaman’s for their hallucinogenic properties. Khurekhin claimed that during his long exile in Siberia Lenin regularly consumed these mushrooms. And that his glorious Communist revolution was a re-enactment of his hallucinogenic visions. The Soviet symbol Hammer and Sickle symbolized mushroom picking. Because the hammer looked like a mushroom and the sickle a knife.

And finally, the personality of the hallucinogenic mushroom Fly Agaric took over Lenin’s own personality and Lenin himself turned into a mushroom.

Sergei Sholokhov:

Sergei Khurekhin was a leader in Russia’s underground culture, a central figure for creative talent at the time.

Dina Newman:

Journalist Sergei Sholokhov was the presenter of the programme about Lenin as a mushroom. Sholokhov was a trusted and respected investigative journalist. But on that occasion jointly with his friend Sergei Khurekhin, Sholokhov set out to test the credulity of Russian viewers, and to have fun at their expense.

Halfway through the program the pair could contain their laughter.

[Laughing, wheezing, gasps]

Sergei Khurekhin:

Hang on, I have more to say, you have no idea what I’m about to say.

Sergei Sholokhov:

I have a question, are we recording?

[more laughter]

Sergei Khurekhin:

I’m all ears, I’m all ears – calm down! Will all of this be broadcast?

Sergei Sholokhov:

Of course, of course.

Dina Newman:

Struggling to contain their laughter the pair nevertheless managed to interview a biologist specialising in mushrooms, a so-called international organisation Mushrooms For Peace and even an inventor of a humane hallucinogenic bomb containing Fly Agarics.

It was all a spoof of the news stories of the time and despite the laughter many admitted to be perplexed and shaken by the news.

Sergei Sholokhov:

The next day a group of old party comrades went to the head of Communist Ideology in Leningrad region. And asked her if it was true that Lenin was a mushroom. As that’s what they had heard on TV.

The party officials said our theory was wrong because a mammal could not be a plant. But our response was as follows;

“the head of ideology should take upon herself the responsibility for calling Lenin a mammal. But we insisted that mushrooms were not plants they were an entirely separate kingdom.

Dina Newman:

Although ideologically very risky, given that the Communist party was still nominally in charge. The hoax did not cause Sholokov any trouble. During the last months of the Soviet Empire his bosses and State TV were pleased with the programs high ratings and did not care about the Communist party opinion.

Just two months later the absurd story developed further when Sergei Khurekhin who was also a talented musician was invited to play the piano in the radio studios of the BBC’s Russian service.

[Piano music]

In his interview with the Russian service that day Khurekhin suddenly revealed another extraordinary piece of fake news. According to him he had been forced to admit that Lenin was a mushroom under pressure from the US intelligence Agencies.

Sergei Khurekhin:

I’ve been working for the US intelligence service for the past twenty years. There is a reason why I use my fast-staccato technique. It’s a chance to send the maximum amount of sensitive information at super-fast speed. The faster I play, the more information I can send over.

Dina Newman:

An avant-garde musician Khurekhin, was fascinated by the effect of rhythm on his audience. He loved turning everything he came across into beats. Once he even created a musical version of a BBC World Service news story which read “the Russian Government of Yegor Gaider and the team of President Yeltsin have not been able to solve the problem of the Black Sea Fleet. “

[Music and singing]

Dina Newman:

Back in Leningrad, where Khurekhin lived audiences were beginning to appreciate his art. His Avant-garde band called Popular Mechanics a kind of noise orchestra improvised on a variety of instruments. Often found in skips and junkyards.

[Music, very grating]

The BBC recorded one of their rehearsals.

[More Music]

Popular Mechanics concerts were always full to capacity. For Khurekhin and his friend Sergei Sholokov last years of Communism were a time of incredible cultural change offering exciting creative opportunities.

Sergei Sholokhov:

That was the time of great creativity, it was very promising. New names appeared and new film makers showed their work, they were exploring new topics in the new reality. It was a powerful wave which gave us all hope. Khurekhin was able to sense that wave.

Dina Newman:

Sergei Khurekhin died of cardiac sarcoma; a rare cancer in 1996. A talented musician today he’s remembered in Russia mainly for his Lenin was mushroom stunt. Khurekhin’s friend Sergei Sholokov a film maker now lives in Moscow.  That’s it for this edition of the Witness History podcast with me Dina Newman.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Search This Blog

#blog-pager { display: block !important; float: none!important; } .blog-pager-older-link, .home-link, .blog-pager-newer-link { background-color: #FFFFFF!important; }