• oskar@thereunionproject.com
The Reunion Project: Beatles From Behind The Iron Curtain

The Reunion Project: Beatles From Behind The Iron Curtain

© Igor Karash 1975
© Igor Karash 1975

From behind the Iron Curtain, in the U.S.S.R. or its Eastern European satellites, we viewed the Beatles very differently than the fans from the Western countries. For the fans behind the Iron Curtain, they were some kind of cultural, or even anti-cultural icons from the very start.

For starters, the communists have outright prohibited them and there was no way to legally acquire or play their music. However, soon the communist censors had to deal with the fact that the Beatles music. Photos and articles managed to get to the people via black market, foreign radio stations, and other underground ways. So they started to ridicule the Fab Four in the press for their long hair and “primitive” rhythms. They condemned otherwise wrong and evil influence upon the young communist generation.

For the young fans all that official noise had an opposite effect. They shared the Beatles music between friends, sang and danced, exchanged photos and treated Beatles as Gods, spirits of freedom.

While in the West, the Beatles were just one band of many others, albeit extraordinary and arguably the very best one. But they were still a pop music band. They were prominent on the billboard, performed at the concerts, had TV appearances. They were subjects of the celebrity chatter, and everything typical of any other band. Only many years later they became a cultural phenomenon.

But in the communist countries, they became the cultural phenomenon from the very start.

From behind the Iron Curtain, the communists allowed only rare people to travel abroad to the West, and they had very little money to exchange to bring back gifts for their family and friends. With the little money they had, and LPs being not the first priority for western goods, they bought absolute very best there was. That was the Beatles. Only later the other bands started to show up – the Rolling Stones, CCR, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and many others.

The rock music became a new anti-soviet wave of fandom, after jazz being the first wave in the early 60s.

The Beatles Fans after Perestroika

Perestroika in the late 1980s and early 1990s brought open markets, free travel and freedom of speech to the former Soviet Union. Classic rock became extra popular with all the hits, CDs, LPs, cassettes flowing into the market as if the levee have broken. The Beatles were one of many classic rock bands, but always close to the top. All the Beatles catalogs, bootlegs, and each individual catalog from Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr became available, individually or on Mp3 CDs.

The souvenir production also bloomed, see below the Beatles themed restaurant menu, Beatles matryoshka dolls and All You Need Is Love mug. Several Beatles dedicated projects came about, such as sculptures or even a project of a John Lennon temple in St.Petersburg, see its souvenir sketch below.

The last two pictures above illustrate the fact how difficult it was for the rock bands in the U.S.S.R. to get electric guitars. You could only dream about Fenders or Gibsons, those were not available for pretty much any price. So most of electric guitars were handmade or even self-made, sometimes parroting the shapes of known brands or given some weird designer shapes.

The Beatles and Putin’s Russia

In the early 2000’s, Paul McCartney, and then Ringo Starr started to show up in the former Soviet Union with concerts. For their long time fans it was an unbelievable dream come true.

An old joke in the Soviet Union was as if the Beatles planned to visit the U.S.S.R. The visit had to be approved by Mr. Brezhnev, Secretary General, a very senile head of the state. Now, the word Paul in Russian language sounds like a Half, hence the joke.

Brezhnev asks, “Who the hell are these Beatles?”

“Sir, they are Paul McCartney, John Lennon…”

“Paul McCarttney?! Half McCartney?! These damn capitalists didn’t even want to send us a Whole McCartney? Also, is that second guy’s name mocking Lenin? Request denied!”

But in 2003 Paul McCartney performed a magnificent concert in the Red Square, attended by 100,000 fans. Back then, Putin was in the beginning of his rule. Although even by then he demonstrated many evil treats of a former KGB operative, Paul McCartney probably couldn’t avoid meeting him and even singing “Let It Be” for him personally. Putin even showed up in the middle of the concert and took his seat in the first row.

Interestingly, a couple of years after that, Eric Clapton decided to arrange a concert in the Red Square. But soon he found out that the concert would happen not in the major Red Square in front of the Kremlin, but at its far side behind the Saint Basil’s Cathedral. He swiftly cancelled the concert, and looking at Putin’s atrocities now, he might have been less naïve than Paul McCartney.

Speaking of naïveté, the Beatles song “Back In The U.S.S.R.” was considered with a grain of salt by many fans in the communist countries. It was a great rock-n-roll tune, singing, sound effects, excellent song all around. But the lyrics sounded too rosy and optimistic compared to the harsh reality these fans faced.

Interestingly, following current events of Russia starting a war on Ukraine, Paul McCartney cancelled “Back In The U.S.S.R.” from his set list for time being, which was a laudable gesture. See below a quote from “Mirror”.

“Sir Paul McCartney axes Beatles hit song Back in the U.S.S.R. from all live shows”

Sir Paul McCartney decided to drop the hit 1968 song – about a Russian spy returning home – ahead of his recent Get Back tour.


Nyet It Be… Sir Paul McCartney is making a stand over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – by ditching classic Beatles song Back in the U.S.S.R from his gigs.

It will be missing from all his shows for the foreseeable future, including his headline performance at the ­Glastonbury Festival next Saturday.

A source said: “The song is such a massive crowd favourite but with the horrors unfolding in Ukraine, it was a simple decision by Paul to make.

“It would be perverse to be singing a jaunty rock’n’roll song about Russia.

“Paul couldn’t in all conscience sing those lyrics when so many are being brutally massacred at the hands of Russia.” The song, written by Macca in 1968, is about a Russian spy returning home from America.


In The Reunion podcast, we use an interesting cover of “Back In The U.S.S.R.” which emphasizes its arguable duplicity. All the music used is described in general in the “Reunion Podcast Music” post.