How Blue was the Notion of the Blue Kerchief?

“The Blue Kerchief” performed by Siniy Platochek

While romance and love had fallen out of fashion during the onset of the Soviet Union, being widely regarded as facets of bourgeois society, there was a resurgence in courting and the lustful sentiment of mating during the pre-war era. The 1930s experienced a return to traditional family values, however The Great Patriotic War that began on the Russian front at end of 1939 left men and women in romantic frenzies with the notion that they may never see each other again. The onset of World War II allowed traditional familial roles to coexist with non-committal love and romance. This coexistence did have consequences, such as skyrocketed illegitimate birth rates, multitudes of unwed mothers, and increasing numbers of widows. In order to encourage the breeding of the new generation of soldiers and industry workers a tax was placed on childless families, while no financial state-allocated help was given to widows (Source).

Gender roles were also reinforced during this time which conveys a stark contrast from the socialist ideal for men and women to both function at an individual level in order to improve the collective society as a whole, rather than maintaining separate spheres based on gender. However, wartime entrenched gender roles as men fought for their “Motherland” and to protect their women, while women waited at home for their victors to return from war. The vast majority of literature and song at this time reflects this prescription of the absence of men at war and women passively awaiting their return, while in reality most women in the Soviet Union assumed leading roles in factories and kolkhozes, as well and family and community life during the vacancy of their men. They also assumed combat positions such as pilots, anti-aircraft gunners, and transport drivers (Source). Nevertheless, romance and love was a common conviction that was able to contend with the devastating reality of war by keeping soldiers and their lovers hopeful.

blue kerchief.jpg
Painting of a woman in her blue kerchief

One such song, “The Blue Kerchief” by Jerzy Peterburgsky and Yakov Galitsky (1940) demonstrated the anguish of leaving a loved one for war, as told from the male perspective. The kerchief became an emblem of war and separation of lovers at this time. The opening line, “The modest blue kerchief dropped from your neck in despair” signifies the moment couples must say goodbye to each other, the fact that the kerchief is blue is no doubt symbolism for the somber times that are ahead of the situationally estranged man and woman (Mass Culture, 334). The kerchief begins to personify the lover where, “Those nights are gone! Where are you kerchief, so precious, so close, and desired” (Mass Culture, 334). The kerchief is something the soldier could reminisce upon and look forward to during the hardship of war and was a reminder that “It’s [war] for all our loved ones, our nearest and dearest that we go to war, The machine-gunner fights for the blue kerchief that those dear shoulders wore” (Mass Culture, 335). The prospect of reunion portrayed the anxieties of war and the possibility of permanent separation from loved ones, however it also maintained hope that when it was all over the lover would be awaiting the return of her war hero.

The emphasis on fighting for loved ones not only serves to create a patriotism rooted in family values but it also diminishes the German conceptual efforts for war. The Nazi-German fight for fascism and ethnic cleansing was able to be completely undermined by the multicultural and multiethnic union for humanity and love in Soviet states. As we have seen from the outcome of the war, this narrative prevailed with the victory against the Germans at the Russian front.

 

Sources:

Von Geldern, James, and Richard Stites, eds. Mass Culture in Soviet Russia: Tales, Poems, Songs, Movies, Plays, and Folklore, 1917–1953. Indiana University Press, 1995.

http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1943-2/love-and-romance-in-war/

http://accordeonworld.weebly.com/siniy_platochek.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zvso6dv0wbk

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11 thoughts on “How Blue was the Notion of the Blue Kerchief?

  1. This was a really interesting post! I like how you highlighted some of the contradictions and tensions of values during this time. I think it’s interesting how this kerchief became a symbol for this very specific moment that was very strong in the collective memory of the Soviet people during this time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Yeah its definitely interesting and I would have had no idea about the symbolism of the kerchief if I just randomly heard this song without any context

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  2. I like how you used the beginning of your post to talk about gender roles in the early Soviet Union. I think that helps to set up your transition to talking about the song well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, yeah I really liked the focus on gender relations in the article from 17 Moments because its definitely something that gets overlooked at times!

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  3. I love how in depth you went into the history behind the Blue Kerchief and the comparison to Nazi Germany. And, the juxtaposition between the “equality” of socialism and then the subsequent reinforcement of gender roles to help fight the war. Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! I agree it’s really interesting how we see these gender roles come about in a socialist society but also how Soviet sentiment was so strong even during these tumultuous times!

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  4. Nice analysis here! This discussion of the “Blue Kerchief” weaves together some of the broader political messages of the war, along with the purely human drama of separation, longing and loss. And it’s so interesting that the YouTube recording features a woman singing about the Blue Kerchief!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Meant to add: you should include the links to the Weebly site, the YouTube video and any other sources you used in the list at the end.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Thank you, I tried to find the Youtube version of the male one that we see in the Mass Culture book and I couldn’t find one but it is really beautiful to hear it sung from the woman’s perspective! And I’ll add those links to my sources!

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  5. I love the image of the woman waiting for her husband/lover to return when in reality she was also working diligently in the war effort. How do you think this kind of disconnect from the vision versus reality manifested in gender relations post-WWII? That’s a pretty heavy question but definitely one that’s interesting to consider.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think that while there is always a push for the return to normalcy after any war, in the case of this one their roles were most likely more valued than when they were before because so many of their husbands didn’t return and they were forced to either remarry or navigate taking care of the family as single women. Definitely don’t know if this is really what happened but that’s my guess!

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