I've decided to devote a post to a Soviet cartoon character that I discovered a few years ago, and did some research on. This character has an amazingly rich cultural history (that actually continues today), and deserves more attention from the international community.
As many of you know, I lived in Moscow for a year, after I graduated from college.
One of my favorite places in Moscow was a huge underground market called “podzemlianniki” which was located inside an old abandoned metro station.
My favorite booth was full of vintage Soviet toys. I went a few times, and picked up a small collection. I lost a lot of these toys when I moved back to the states; the package that I sent from Moscow never arrived in Illinois.
I went to this booth so many times that I became friendly with the shopkeeper, an old woman named Margarita Mikhailovna. One weekend, she surprised me with a small brown bag that had my name on it. She whispered “this toy is especially for you.” And then winked at me. I had no idea what she meant. I probably assumed that it was going to be some dumb “American” themed toy. But then she showed it to me.
It was a small plush figurine with a molded plastic head. I asked her what it was and she was totally surprised. She said: “what do you mean? But of course this is Golubkin.” Then she started singing a song. I found a recording of this song, which you can listen to here.
I had heard this song before, but I had never listened to the lyrics carefully. The central refrain is:
Все выше, и выше, и выше
Стремим мы полет за радуг,
Голубкин из космоса дышит
Он будет наш голубой друг...
Which translates roughly as:
Let’s go higher, higher, and higher.
We’ll strive to fly past the rainbow
For Golubkin whispers from the Cosmos
That he wants to be our blue-skinned friend.
This translation needs a little explanation. The character’s name is “Golubkin” which derives from the word for “blue,” so his name and skin-color are almost the same word.
The other thing that’s important to know is that this same word, “Goluboi” is one of the accepted colloquial terms for a gay male. So the idea of this little blue-skinned alien cosmonaut wanting to be my “goluboi friend” or “gay friend” was really funny to me. I bought the doll and brought it home to do some research.
Poster for “The Sixth International Cosmos Day.” April, 1967. (Artist: B. Lebedev).
Searching for Golubkin online, I discovered an enormous collection of posters and references, but only through Russian google. As far as I could tell, nothing about Golubkin had ever been translated into English.
From what I could understand, Golubkin was created for propaganda posters in the late 60s, a sort of cutesy cosmonaut who could be the alien counterpart to Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space. I think Golubkin’s creators were also looking for an ideologically correct character that they could make cartoons with. Soviet animation was taken very seriously, but even in the Brezhnev years, it was hard to get approval for new cartoon characters. Most creators were recycling old material.
This little welcoming alien had an instant cult success, but he never really stuck in the nostalgic memories of the time. It may have been because of his weird appearance, or the fact that he wasn’t technically “Russian,” I don’t know.
Illustration from “Golubkin Priletaet v Kosmos.” DETGIZ, 1970. (Artist: I. Kratkaya).
Poster for “The Twelfth International Cosmos Day.” April, 1973. (Artist: N. Simonov).
Poster for “Golubkin Day.” June, 1979. (Artist: K. Lebedev).
Motif for “The Moscow Institute for the Study of the Cosmos.” 1983. (Artist: A. Voronin).
I never solved the mystery of why Margarita Mikhailovna had selected the toy especially for me. That is…until last weekend, when I was trying to assemble this presentation. That’s when I stumbled across this poster on the internet:
This was released in May 2009, a few months before I went to Russia. It was put out by a GLBT rights group called AKTSIIA, which was foremost in advocating for a Moscow Pride Parade. The government banned the parade, but AKTSIIA threw a demonstration anyways.
The demonstration actually used the motto from the Golubkin song “я ваш голубой друг,” which, in this case, clearly meant “I am your gay friend.” The demonstrators also held posters of Golubkin, along with more standard iconography such as rainbow flags and banners reading “gay equality—no compromise.” Unfortunately, the protestors were arrested and violently detained by the riot police within minutes of starting the demonstration.
According to one of the organizers, Nikolai Aleksandrov, the riot police were “needlessly violent”, and even smashed his face to the pavement as he shouted “Golubkin Forever!” In a little twist of irony, the riot police in Russia is called OMON, which, in cyrillic letters looks like this:
Every time I see this…I think about what it would look like in a mirror.
I'd like to imagine that Margarita Mikhailovna had this political re-tooling of Golubkin in mind when she set aside the doll for me. I cannot be certain. Either way, though, I am very eager to see where the Golubkin legacy leads us next! Let me close this post with a final nod to this forgotten Soviet character and its historical legacy: Golubkin Forever!