In the latter half of the 20th century, western culture flooded the Soviet Union. Soviet youth enjoyed denim jeans, rock music, and Coca-Cola. Many of them began to identify as punk-rockers or hippies. The young men of Liubertsy (a suburb outside of right Moscow), however, saw the popularity of western culture as a threat to Soviet society as they knew it. These young men began to call themselves “liubers.” They would travel in packs to Moscow and beat up youths wearing western clothes and hairstyles. Liubers also spent much of their time working out in home gyms in their apartment buildings. They also identified themselves by wearing their signature plaid pants.
An article in Ogonek, called Liubers, the Firm, by Vladimir Iakovlov, brought the issues surrounding Liubers to national attention. In the article, Iakovlov described many encounters with Liubers. When Iakovlov asked a group of Lliubers why they came to Moscow, one of them simply replied, “We come to beat up punks, hippies and metalheads and break dancers too.” In a separate encounter, Iakovlov asked the Liubers why they beat people up. One of them replied, “Hippies, punks and metalheads are a disgrace to the Soviet way of life. We want to clear them out of the capital.”
In the article, Iakovlov uncovered another possible motivation for the Liubers’ violent attacks. When interviewing victims of Liuber attacks, Iakovlov found that many of their belongings, including pins, CDs, and bags, were stolen. Some of the victims found their belongings being worn by their friends a few weeks later. Iakovlov discovered that the Liubers must have been stealing these items with the purpose of selling them. Iakovlov also concluded that hippies, punks, and other youth groups that admired western style were easy targets for the Liubers, because they did not have to worry about them going to the police. All of this makes you wonder whether the Liubers were motivated to commit these crimes by their disgust with western culture, or if they were motivated by what appeared to be a lucrative opportunity.
Liubers were the subject of a song for one of the earliest Soviet punk rock bands, Grazhdanskaia oborona (“Civil Defense”). The 1985 song was called “Hey, Brother Liuber,” and it ironically describes the life and thoughts of a Liuber. One part of the songs says:
We were born and raised in Liubertsy.
The center of brute strength.
And we believe our dream will come true:
Liubertsy will become the center of Russia.
You can listen to the song here. Despite the fact that the song was made by punk rockers who mocked Liubers, the Liubers loved the song and made it their unofficial anthem. Like their love for Sylvester Stallone, their love for the song appeared to contradict everything they stood for. Overall, Liubers represented a reactionary force against the flood of western cultural influence that was sweeping through the entire country.
Geldern, J. V. The Guys from Liubertsy. Retrieved from: 17 Moments in Soviet History.
Iakovlov, V. “Liubers, the Firm.” Ogonek. (January 1987). Retrieved from: 17 Moments in Soviet History.
10 thoughts on “The lads of Liubertsy”
You pose a really interesting question here about their intent! I feel like either side of the argument could be defended but I’m leaning towards the thought that the Liubers were motivated by the opportunity. Despite any possible disgust for western styles appearing in their culture being able to sell a pair of jeans for crazy amounts of money in a society where profit isn’t really a thing was probably a huge draw for these young men.
I found this really interesting as they became a stereotype for the Soviet idea of what a man should be- muscular, willing to fight, and defense to their culture. I really liked how you emphasized the potential economic gain they had by stealing the western-styled clothing, as it shows that they knew that they would still be popular no matter what they did to those that wore them. I also really love how despite their hatred for Western culture the man in the first picture is wearing a Rambo t-shirt, something that was purely American at the time.
What an interesting post! I’d never heard about this group before reading this. It’s really funny that they liked Sylvester Stallone so much, since he was a such a classic American symbol. Even if you hate America, you’ve gotta love Rocky.
Great post! I like how you included the two opposing reasons for why the Liubers might have been motivated to act the way they did. I would say it was more of a convenience thing; they wanted to make money, while also exerting their strength and power.
I still crack up over the Liubers loving Sylvester Stallone but hating things that they see as anti-Soviet. You did a great job outlining the dual motivations for the Liubers. As you and many people in the comments have pointed out, the Liubers were walking contradictions. Great post!
Pretty cool stuff, from your blog post though it seems like the Liubers were just looking for easy targets to beat up and rob. If the police aren’t willing to protect these western culture lovers, then the Liubers had little to no fear of retaliation of any sort. And if they’re selling the items they’re stealing instead of trying to destroy these western cultural item, it just makes the Liubers look like a bunch of convoluted criminals.
What a great topic! I really appreciate the way you’ve teased out the contradictory attitudes and behaviors of the Liubers. I find their appropriation of the counter culture (hippies, punks and break dancers) in the name of their own version of the same to be absolutely fascinating.
Really neat post, I enjoyed reading about the Liubers. It is very interesting to think that this was a reaction to young adult western culture, which in itself was a reaction to the adult establishment. When I think of 1980’s American rock, I think of that loud “stick it to the man” mentality. So it is very interesting how the Liubers are apart of a counter counter culture. I also think it is funny that they sell the clothes to make a profit, how western!
I find it funny how they tried to combat the western influence, but they idolized Sylvester Stallone at the same time. You do bring up a great point about their intent, seemed like they were just petty criminals looking for easy targets to steal from. I enjoyed this post!
I really liked this post! I thought it was very interesting the way you explored their motives, and wether they were for gain or preserving the old culture.