The Psychedelic Underground which Outlived the System
The hippie movement which turned hundreds of thousands of youth towards the cult of sex, drugs & rock’n’roll in the West wasn’t absent on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Stalin’s repressions were followed by the Khrushchev Thaw, which allowed a breath of fresh air in various forms of non-formal and underground arts. As foreign radio helped to keep fingers on the pulse of the outside world, Soviet Estonia by the Baltic Sea gained its nickname “The Soviet West”. Eager minds of the Soviet youth were engaged with the golden records of the Western hippie era sold here on the black market.
Yet Brezhnev’s dictatorship didn’t leave much hope or personal freedom. In the curse of contemporary politics, the generation that grew up in the late 1960s had nothing else but to accept that the world is a big lie and it’s better to deal with your own things. The freedoms of the West were highly desired, with Eastern-influenced spiritual inspiration. Thus the Soviet hippie culture emerged, though it remained strictly underground.
The hippie movement in Soviet Estonia is not a clearly defined phenomenon, but a rather peculiar flow of the era, expressing a certain sensibility that could unite vagrants and academics. Soviet hippies expressed themselves through rock music, cults of love, pacifism, physical and mundane traveling and with an appearance certainly not suitable for a Soviet citizen. A mere trend towards hippie fashion was already a political statement in the Soviet regime. Hippies were inspired by local spiritual gurus and banned literature that was circulating in the form of samizdat. In order to cheat the militia, some walked around for months with their hair licked “decent” with sugar water. Tailors refused to make trousers wider than the officially prescribed 33cm. Lonely dreamers and drifters on the streets were caught and punished for vagabondage. Some longhairs had to bear regular visits by KGB officers, seeking any excuse to get the ‘freaks’ in the tortures of the mental hospital.
But the stricter the rules of order, the more fanatical the Soviet flower power grew. Psychedelic rock festivals in the Soviet military border zone or wicked trade for Central Asian hashish in return for the Holy Korans printed in the basement of the KGB office in Tallinn were possible. This was another secret history about to be revealed.
KIWA & Terje Toomistu
The hippie movement that captivated hundreds of thousands of young people in the West had a profound impact on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Within the Soviet system, a colorful crowd of artists, musicians, freaks, vagabonds and other long-haired drop-outs created their own underground system that connected those who believed in peace, love and freedom for their bodies and souls.
More than 40 years later, a group of eccentric hippies from Estonia took a road trip to Moscow where the hippies still gather annually on the 1st of June to commemorate a tragic event in 1971, when thousands of Soviet hippies were arrested by the KGB. The protagonists ride their minibus to the country which is no longer their own and tends to resemble more and more that of the Soviet Union, while it still holds the memory of the best days of their life and a long history of the pacifist movement in Russia.
The road trip of the main protagonists along with the stories of the Sistema hippies from Ukraine, Petersburg and elsewhere form a journey through time and dimensions. Observational documentary shifts between historical storytelling in a creative combination of interviews, photographs, Soviet animations and rich archive footage, drawing the viewer into the psychedelic underground world in which these people lived.
The film is 90 minutes long and is produced by Kultusfilm. The estimated date of the premiere is in spring 2016.
Share your footage!
We are extremely grateful for any hints on archival footage and photography related to the theme of Soviet hippies. Please spread the word and contact soviethippies (at) gmail.com
The film crew: Terje Toomistu (director), Liis Lepik (producer), Taavi Arus (cinematographer), Indrek Soe (sound recordist), KIWA (artist), Priit Tender (animator), Martin Männik (editor), Marika Alver (archive work coordinator), Juliane Fürst, PhD (research consultant), Irina Gordeyeva, PhD (research consultant), Martin Pedanik (grafic disainer), Karin Kahre (public relations) and many others.
We started our research about the hippie movement in 2011. As a result an exhibition “Soviet hippies: the psychedelic underground of 1970s” was created by Kiwa and Terje Toomistu, including the video production by Kultusfilm. It was first shown at the Estonian National Museum, hosting 12 000 visitors, and then travelled the world.
Journey of the exhibition
- 15 March-25 August 2013 at Estonian National Museum, Tartu, Estonia. “Soviet Hippies: The Psychedelic Underground of the 1970s Soviet Estonia”
- 14 September-13 October 2013 at Moderna Museet Malmö, Sweden. “Soviet Hippies: The Psychedelic Underground of 1970s Estonia”
- 15 February-11 May 2014 at Uppsala Konstmuseum, Sweden. Soviet hippies were presented as part of the exhibition “Peace and Love?”
- 29 May-24 August.2014, at Estonian Museum of Applied Arts and Design, Tallinn, Estonia. “Rhizope 2014 – Art and Science: Hybrid Art and Interdiciplinary Research”. A section of our exhibition was presented here under the title of “Flower Power Soviet Power”
- 7 June-3 August 2014. Presentation House Gallery, Vancouver, Canada. “Soviet Hippies: The Psychedelic Underground of 1970s Estonia”