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Krokodil Magazine Takes a Big Bite--Soviet Style

May 11, 1986|G. LUTHER WHITINGTON | United Press International

MOSCOW — Americans who see Mother Russia as a humorless land of narrow-minded people should take a look at Krokodil magazine, which thrice monthly lampoons the absurdities of Soviet life.

The colorful, 16-page satirical magazine was first published in 1922 and is put out today by the Communist Party. It contains cartoons, jokes and riddles that take jabs at government problems, promises and procedures.

For example, one recent cartoon showed a high-tech Soviet cosmonaut lamenting that his wife's low-tech new iron wouldn't work.

Another recent entry showed "the little king," a regular Krokodil character, driving a new tractor across a farm field while wishing he had something to pull behind it.

Nothing Off Limits

Nothing seems to be off limits to Krokodil.

The buzzword of Mikhail S. Gorbachev's government, "acceleration," already has come in for a series of cartoon jabs. And lofty official pronouncements that somehow never seem to materialize, never seem to be forgotten by Krokodil staffers.

One article recently told of a cardboard factory being built in the Soviet republic of Moldavia. Although the minister of construction promised to have it finished a year ahead of schedule, a Krokodil reporter arriving on the scene found no workers, just a chief engineer on the verge of tears because expensive foreign equipment was buried in snow.

Reflects Soviet Problems

However humorous, the pages of Krokodil do reflect chronic Soviet problems.

In the capital of the largest country in the world, a simple mop is not to be found. One Moscow shopper, after checking 20 hardware and department stores, finally found a stick with a clamp on the end to which rags could be attached.

A few models of telephones are available, but the most modern and attractive has such sharp edges on the receiver that it cuts the ear. It, like most consumer items, is unreturnable.

Refrigerator production has been increased dramatically, but there are equally dramatic stories about massive recalls because they either freeze everything inside or are so loud the household cannot sleep.

No Random Shot

Nor for that matter was the iron in the cosmonaut cartoon a random shot. A woman recently reported that her new iron leaked and spewed boiling water all over her hand.

Although most of its quips are reserved for internal problems. Krokodil does not hesitate to skewer other nations and world leaders.

President Reagan and spangled American generals are periodically depicted, especially in reference to space weapons.

But Soviet defisitnii , which literally translates to "deficit" or unavailable goods, is Krokodil's favorite subject.

Popular With the Masses

Another recent cartoon showed a guide in an art gallery explaining why construction workers in a painting were just sitting around.

"The heroes on this canvas," she says, "are weary as they wait in vain for cement."

While Krokodil is popular with the Russian masses, one veteran Soviet watcher described it as more of "a release valve" from reality.

"If the (Communist) party can get them to laugh at these problems," he said, "it doesn't have to worry about them rioting."

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