Russia’s Biker Problem and the Final Days of the Soviet Union

Vladimir Putin and a Russian biker at a bike rally in Moscow
Vladimir Putin and a Russian biker at a bike rally in Moscow

The last two decades of the Soviet Union saw a corrupt and rotting government and society implode on itself from within. The control that the Soviet government had used on their country for decades was finally falling apart with the cultural and political undertakings of “glasnost” which saw the final opening up and liberalization of Soviet society. On its last legs, Soviet society was finally starting to experience an wide array of social and cultural groups that had previously been suppressed by the Soviet government such as punk rock bands and expanded cinema content. One of these groups was the Russian bikers, or “rockers”. Similar to the American biking phenomenon after the Vietnam War, their ranks were filled with disenchanted youths and veterans that weren’t able to connect with their government and were unable and unwilling to submit to a single authority like the government. Instead, they lived their lives a day at a time with reckless abandon opposing all attempts at restricting them and their escapades. What started as a bunch of individuals riding motorcycles soon resulted in “gangs” being formed where these rockers rode together in formation and rode around town. In Moscow especially, these rockers scoffed at all the laws and chose to rode their motorcycles primarily at night, breaking the curfew of the city. Although these motorcycle gangs “were supposed to be organized into registered motorcycle clubs which would rule out nocturnal escapades” (17 Moments) but this was one first of many rules they broke. In Moscow, motorcyclists weren’t even allowed to travel in groups but they almost immediately defied this law and no one took any action against them. When a bunch of “hooligans”, as they were referred to, rode together there was bound to be trouble. They often had run ins with the law and often fought militia and police members. When these run ins occurred, the rockers often portrayed themselves as the victims. For example, in Moscow one man “throws himself at the militia’s car windscreen and is taken to the hospital” (17 Moments) and later the gang signed a letter claiming that he was assaulted by the militia. These rockers also often broke the law and one out of every ten of them were in jail at some point for all manners of crimes. The anger and violence that was rampant in the rocker gangs was a direct result of these youths growing up in an era that was past the times and could not connect with the expanding interests and cultural modernization of the youth population.

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8 thoughts on “Russia’s Biker Problem and the Final Days of the Soviet Union

  1. I never realized that Russia had this sort of thing as well. I would imagine that these bikers were very tough, especially in regards to the weather conditions in Russian.


  2. Nice post! I find it very interesting that a social fad in the United States could be echoed in Russia as well. Their reckless abandon, however, is much different, I feel, than bikers in the United States in their defiance of the law. Great use of media as well, thanks for sharing!


  3. It is so funny to see the idea of biker gangs crossing borders into a completely different culture. So many things contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union, and this Westernized ideal of riding motorcycles around as “rebels” is so ironic because it seems very American. Great post!


  4. I loved the documentary (even though it is about the contemporary situation rather than the 80s)! The appropriation of western culture (Mad Max, steam punk ) in the name of national redemption is so interesting and important. As Alex notes, lots of irony fueling these rebels! It would be interesting to see how bikers were covered in the press in the eighties.


    • I had some trouble finding a youtube video from back in the 80s but I just thought it was really interesting/ironic how nationalistic the Lone Wolves biker gang is and how much they love Putin.


  5. I like the connection you made with the American biking movement after Vietnam and how they both formed under very similar situations. I find it interesting how discharged soldiers moved from a life of strict order and stringent chains of command to a life of rejecting government and laws.


  6. Really cool post! these guys are pretty much the opposite of what I wrote my post about its really cool that this week we get to see both sides of the coin. The biker situation in Europe has really exploded and many are considered Neo-Nazis now I wonder if some of the groups in the USSR started this way?


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