The socialist fraternal kiss is a special greeting that was used in the USSR and eastern european countries since the October Revolution of 1917. The greeting consists of a hug followed by three kisses on the cheeks. If the people greeting each other were close, it was common for the third kiss to be given on the mouth instead.
The russian custom of greeting people with three kisses on the cheeks precedes the founding of the Soviet Union by centuries, going back to ritual traditions of the Orthodox Church in the beginnings of the Czardom in Russia. The greeting, then, was an allusionto the Holy Trinity. The custom was retaken by the russian worker’s movement at the end of the 19th century, in contrast to the custom imposed by the Czarist regime, where subjects and subordinates had the obligation of kissing the hands of the nobility and aristocracy. By putting the greeters on equal footing, the worker’s greeting became a symbol of equality, fraternity, and solidarity, being incorporated in the etiquette of the bolshevik revolutionaries and being used as an expression of unity amongst the working class.
After the October Revolution, the ritualization of the gesture was consolidated, turning it into a protocol greeting between members of the soviet government—even if the adhesion wasn’t entirely consensual, at first. The symbolic gesture of comradery and socialist solidarity was exported to other countries through the Communist International, becoming especially popular in East Europe. Being more reserved, the socialists of Asian countries adopted a modified version, exchanging the three kisses for three hugs. Cuba, on the other hand, adopted the custom of the three kisses on the cheeks, but did not adopt the kiss on the mouth, due to the amorous implications that a kiss on the mouth had in the western world. The greeting was also adopted by other socialist leaders in the Third World and by autonomy movements aligned with the socialist ideal, such as the Palestine Liberation Organization and the African National Congress.
In the Soviet Union, the intensity of the fraternal greeting served as an indicator of the degree of alignment and commitment between leaders. The omission of the greeting used to mean that the relationships with another country where shaken—a notable example being the absence of hugs, kisses, or even the word “comrade” on diplomatic meetings with the chinese after the Sino-Soviet Split. Leonid Brezhnev was by far the greatest adept of the fraternal kiss, starring in a series of anecdotes about the habit—including a well-known story in which Fidel Castro, in his visit to the Soviet Union in 1974, disembarked the plane already smoking a cigar, as to prevent any “excessive intimacy” from the soviet leader.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the subsequent “westernization” of the russian culture, the habit was abandoned, although it still persists to this day between older citizens and more isolated populations in Russia.
Joseph Stalin greeting the pilot Vasily Molokov in 1936.
“Our army is an army for the liberation of the workers“. Soviet poster from 1939.
A Czech woman greets a soviet soldier after the liberation of Prague, on May 5th, 1945.
Soldiers of the Red Army kiss each other after the declaration of victory over Nazi Germany, in 1945.
A soviet and romanian rowers kiss each other during a sports competition in 1953.
Swimmer Maria Havrish kissing her rival, Elena Kovalenko, who had just defeated her in a competition in the Spartakiad of The Peoples of The USSR, in 1956.
Leonid Brezhnev and other officers greeting soviet cosmonauts returning from a space mission.
Leonid Brezhnev greeting the USamerican choreographer Annie Hallman, member of a US delegation visiting the Soviet Union in 1973.
Leonid Brezhnev greeting East German leader Erich Honecker during the celebrations of the 30th anniversary of the founding of the German Democratic Republic. Berlin, October 4th, 1979.
Soviet swimmers Alexander Sidorenko and Sergey Fesenko kissing after winning, respectively, the gold and silver medals during the Olympic Games in Moscow, 1980.
Ushangi Davitashvili kisses the bust of Joseph Stalin in Tbilisi, capital of Georgia, on December of 2012.
“Fraternity“, sculpture by Karel Pokorný made in 1947, representing a Czech soldier kissing a Soviet soldier, in the Air Force Museum of Moscow.
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