All the signs were referring that there was a hippie culture in Soviet Union, but not everybody believed it. Not yet.
Introducing two old hippie souls from Tallinn – Aleksandr Dormidontov and Jaakko Hallas.
Aleksandr Dormidontov, my favourite Sass, trouble with hair since 1968
The directress of Estonian National Museum, for example, encouraged us to meet some prolific cultural researchers, to ask guidance and material. As soon as we had another shooting day planned – as with extremely limited budget, we often had to make 15h working days – we booked the morning for an interview Linnar Priimägi. He’s a recognized art and cultural researcher, but for our mild distress he rather announced that hippie culture was apparent in America only, certainly not here, and then he even added, sounding almost like an apostel, that “it will never return.”
I couldn’t take these words.
Our director of photography Andreas Press, Kiwa, Linnar Priimägi and me
Later on I understood that his rather different understanding from ours was mostly about his rigid definition of what ‘hippie culture‘ is – i.e. living in communes, raising children collectively, dropping lots of acid – all of which indeed was not really apparent in Soviet Union. But which doesn’t necessarily mean that the ‘hippie culture’ was totally absent here. More so, hippie culture emerged most vividly underground and it was not open to public exposure, as this could have been followed by various sanctions by the Soviet authorities (e.g. dropping out from universities, treatment in mental hospital). And even more so, because Soviet hippie culture is something that has not so far been researched and written much about!
But it was Linnar Priimägi, who together with Ants Juske wrote a manifesto of their generation in 1978. The manifesto known as “Tartu autumn” stated their generation as the generation of indolence – taking the long story short, the outside reality is so ridiculous and painful, that you just don’t care nor feel anything about it anymore. And certainly this attitude was part of the local hippie realm.
Meeting Aleksandr Dormidontov, the tailor-Sass
But thank god (e.g. Shiva), already in the afternoon we met some of the living proofs of the Soviet hippie culture – Aleksandr Dormidontov and Jaakko Hallas.
Aleksandr Dormidontov, locally known as tailor-Sass was one of the central character of the hippies in Tallinn, who apparently sewed wide trousers for most of the hippies in Soviet Union. His commune house at Nõmme with its massive book archive of the ninth generation of Estonian Russians – as this is what he is – and record collection dangled intellectuals and vagabonds alike. Sometimes, especially around the 1st of May – which became a legendary meeting point of Soviet hippies in Tallinn, to celebrate the launch of the hitch-hiking season – his house was full of more than 100 people, all longhaired, all into rock’n'roll music from all around the whole Sovietico. Sass explains the relations of Tallinn between bigger Russian cities: “Drugs we got from Petersburg, politics came from Moscow.” I also find his speculation about the collapse of the Soviet Union remarkable: “Lenin didn’t invent rock’n’ roll. That was his trouble.”
Sass’ house at Narva street in Tallinn, opposite to the Tallinn University, is usually open for guests. Gosh, this man is so awesome. Especially I like his beard.
Sass and Jaakko
Jaakko Hallas used to hang out with hippies around 1968-1971 – the time when he experienced emotional high-voltage and enormous inner freedom. His close relationship with hippie world was mainly through his interest in esoterica and Eastern religions. After graduating from university he started learning about everything that was not taught at school or even prohibited. He proudly announces that “Hedonism of the mind is most important.”
As we all sit around the round table, the secret history of the Soviet counter-culture started to leak with some intriguing memories. Sass tells us how once he had a joint in his hand, but had no fire. He then went to ask a lighter from a militia man. The militia just wrinkled his eyebrows murmuring that “This tobacco smells weird…”
Weed was apparently not known as a drug for the authorities back at the time here. So hippies indeed used to smoke quite freely in the cafeterias or on the streets. Only if they had something to smoke – marijuana was certainly not widely available in the 1970s, but it was around, especially when some hippie friends from Petersburg visited Tallinn or someone hitch-hiked as far as Ukraine, Caucasus or Central Asia and brought back a decent handful of weed.
Our director of sound Björn Norralt, Aleksandr Dormidontov, Kiwa, me, and Jaakko Hallas