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November 8, 2014

Socialist Fraternal Kiss: Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker Change Kisses, 1979

The socialist fraternal kiss or socialist fraternal embrace is a special form of greeting between the statesmen of Communist countries. This act demonstrates the special connection that exists between Socialist states. The socialist fraternal kiss consisted of an embrace, combined with a series of three kisses on alternate cheeks. In rare cases, when the two leaders considered themselves exceptionally close, the kisses were given on the mouth rather than on the cheeks.

Since the end of Communism in eastern Europe, the socialist fraternal kiss has died out. However, the socialist fraternal embrace continues to be exchanged between Communist leaders in Asia. In addition, Cuba has also adopted the Asian form of the ritual.

This well-known photograph capturing the famed embrace was taken by RĂ©gis Bossu in East Berlin on October 7, 1979.

On October 4th, 1979 Leonid Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, arrived in East Berlin for the 30th anniversary celebration of the German Democratic Republic’s founding as a Communist republic. He met with leaders, made a speech, and on October 5th “signed an economic accord [that day] that will provide East German with Soviet oil, gas and nuclear equipment until 1990 in exchange for ships, tool-making machinery and chemical equipment”.

Two days later, during festivities, photographer Regis Bossu captured a moment when Erich Honecker, General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of the German Democratic Republic, and Leonid Brezhnev engaged in a kiss. This kiss is known as a socialist fraternal kiss, combining the culture of Europe (cheek-kissing) and the connection between Communist countries. (“Socialist Fraternal Kiss”). This greeting had its meaning in the strength of the connection of between the German Democratic Republic and the Soviet Union. The photograph became a rapidly reproduced image in print.

In 1990 after the fall of the German Democratic Republic, and the Berlin Wall with it, part of the wall was transformed into an open art gallery, the East Side Gallery. Murals and graffiti paintings were put upon these walls. Among the many was Dmitri Vrubel’s mural My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love. This mural is a painted representation of the photograph of the Brezhnev-Honecker kiss that was captured by Bossu. The mural as graffiti is not done out of immediate reaction. Leonid Brezhnev had died in 1982. The German Democratic Republic had collapsed and reunited with West Germany. Erich Honecker was in exile and on the run. The Soviet Union was soon to be overthrown as well. Vrubel’s mural, eleven years after the image, was a late response. It re-popularized the image.

Dmitri Vrubel’s mural My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love.

Along with other murals in the section, the painting continued in display after the wall was taken down, but vandalism and atmospheric conditions gradually led to its deterioration. In March 2009, the painting, along with others, was erased from the wall to allow the original artists to repaint them with more durable paints. Vrubel was commissioned to repaint the piece, donating the €3000 fee he was paid to a social art project in Marzahn.

Photographer Bossu and Vrubel met in 2009 and were photographed together on 16 June with reproductions of their works.

Photographer Regis Bossu, left, and Russian artist Dimitri Vrubel meet in in front of the East Side Gallery. Bossu holds a copy of his photo while Vrubel has a copy of the painting based on the photo.



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