Communist Propaganda Survives at State Museum, Kyrgyzstan

bishkek national history museum
Goose steppin’ in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Life back in the 80’s was Saturday morning cartoons. Russian and American leaders on the news. Dead Kennedy’s and Beastie Boys on the boombox. An inevitable nuclear war that was imminently about to rain down upon us, and give anyone who wasn’t wearing 2 million sunblock a really fucking bad day. Back then, to a teenager in the West, communism was just a bunch of poor nations where mono-browed men drove boxy cars, on the same muddy streets where women wore scarves and lined up for bread.

No, I didn’t experience communism. However, the outlandish communist propaganda murals on the ceiling of Kyrgyzstan’s State History Museum forced the memories of my very Western upbringing to come flooding back. It’s not always rational, but nostalgia can be exquisitely powerful.

Housed in a typically Soviet-era building, and formerly known as the “Museum of Lenin” (of course), the State History Museum in Bishkek is chock full of displays featuring Lenin, Marx, and the whole commie gang. Sure, there’s a decent amount of Kyrgyzstan’s non-Soviet cultural history – however, the Soviet-era propaganda that fills most of the ceiling space is the main event. Images show just how swell life under communism is, capitalism is bad, the evil West is always out for war, communists have tractors and being a worker is so great so let’s all drink wine, and all religions suck.

Of course, there’s a whole lot of fire, brimstone, and skeletons, just to put a little fear into the mind of anyone doubting the party line. Unfortunately, the beautifully painted murals are decaying, and either through lack of money or lack of will, the result will be the same – all of these communist murals will soon disappear.


communist mural bishkek museum
Communism promotes peace. American presidents ride nuclear missiles and wear skeleton masks.
bishkek historical communist mural
Communism will save you from the perils of organised religion.
communist mural bishkek
Communism will save you from the Nazi’s, especially if you’re Jewish.
mural bishkek state museum communism
Fire, black cats, armless dolls, screaming, death. Must be communist propaganda. National Museum of History, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
gay sailor communist mural
That sailor, well, he’s just fabulous. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. National Museum of History, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
bishkek national historical museum
Out the front, things don’t get any less surreal.

click to see an interactive map showing the location of this article


Most contemporary governments would like to forget that whole communist period. Around the world, any evidence of the communist/socialist-era is being actively destroyed, or passively left to quietly decay. From Macedonia removing any reference to the Socialist era of Tito and the former Yugoslavia, to Lenin statutes dropping like flies in the Ukraine, history is vanishing. Ironically, there is currently a huge interest in the history of the communist era, and it’s not just from doe-eyed Western tourists.

There’s a reason so many people in post-communist, post-socialist nations yearn to go back to the “good old days”. It’s not the bread-lines, or having to book a plumber fourteen months in advance. It’s nostalgia. That twisted happiness of pain and longing, reminding them of a time they can never return to. Time travel doesn’t exist, but a fleeting jolt of nostalgia has the same effect.

Whether communism made any sense or not, whether life was objectively better or worse during communism, is not the point. Most westerners would be amazed at the number of people that yearn for a return of the communist era. The emotional power of nostalgia allows people to travel back to a place that in their minds, was utopia. Perception, is reality.

I know, not everyone is a fan of soviet-era communist propaganda art. And that, may be the understatement of the year. However, it’s more than likely that the imagery adorning the ceiling of the National History Museum in Bishkek is seeing it’s last days. So, I thought it would be a good idea to take a bunch of photos of the ceiling, just for posterity. I have a feeling these images will be floating around the internet for some time to come, being dug out whenever someone has a strange nostalgic twang for the good old days of communism.

Personally, I enjoyed the National History Museum so much, I’ve already visited twice.

I may have a problem.



bishkek historical communist mural
Throw your children in the air, like you just don’t care. Communism. National Museum of History, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
cosmonaut soviet mural
Cosmonauts, guitars, flowers, this is what communism is all about. National Museum of History, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
communist kyrgyzstan lenin museum bishkek
Paint and sculpt, but beware the ever approaching flames of capitalism. National Museum of History, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
soviet tractor ussr mural
Don’t doubt progress, little girl, for with communism we have “Fordson” tractors. National Museum of History, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
soviet mural kyrgyzstan
“We shall dig for bread, and young children will supply us with military uniforms in case of nuclear war.” National Museum of History, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
ussr propaganda bishkek museum lenin
“I’d kill for a Big Mac right about now.”
bishkek state national museum
Destruction of royal families is one ideal of communism I’m actually more than OK with. National Museum of History, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
communist propaganda
communist propaganda mural in kyrgyzstan
That kid is smoking a cigarette. The smooth flavour of Communism. National Museum of History, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
Flames, skulls, bullets, guns, cannons, and stabbing an arm-less doll. Hot damn, this is awesome. National Museum of History, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
Flames, skulls, bullets, cannons, pretty blonde, an arm-less doll being stabbed by a gun. 10/10. National Museum of History, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
lenin statue biskek
Just in case the message isn’t clear, out back there’s a star-shaped garden bed full of red flowers in front of a giant Lenin statue.  National Museum of History, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
national museum kyrgyzstan
National Museum of History, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
BTW, I would love to send you the next dispatch, posted from some-where random around this planet (and you'll soon find out why YOMADIC email followers are my favourite followers):

18 thoughts on “Communist Propaganda Survives at State Museum, Kyrgyzstan

  1. I feel like I could hop on a plane to Bishkek just to see this. I might have a problem. And I’ve heard there are cheap flights from Istanbul….and Istanbul is not that far from me….

    1. haha.. we both have a problem :)

      Yes, that’s how I got to Bishkek, a relatively cheap flight from Istanbul. Book ahead, and you can get them really cheap… hmmmm

  2. MY GOD NATE!!!!!

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!!! These images are amazing! Find more and keep ’em coming! Reminds me of the Mucha paintings he did, I think called they were called, ” The history of the Slavs”.


    be well


  3. These murals are pretty hard to find nowadays, I guess depending in which part of the world you are, I think I’m definitely in the wrong one :)

    1. Hi Franca! No matter where you are, these types of murals are hard to find. And yes, unless you’re in the Eastern half of Europe, you’re in the wrong place ;)

  4. Such great images, I can’t wait to check them out in person!

    Looks like my window may be small, so lucky a few of the ‘Stans’ are on our current globetrotting to do list (we just need to finish our time in the Americas and Africa first…)

  5. Really fascinating writeup. I’ve been fascinated by North Korean communist propaganda for years, and this is just as fascinating. What is Bishkek like as a city?

    I’m heading to Georgia and Armenia for my first trip to the former Soviet nations in December, and am thinking Uzbekistan/Tajikistan/Kyrkyzstan next summer. I love seeing the old remnants of Soviet city planning, and know Tashkent will be gold for this — is the Soviet-era architecture similarly compelling in Bishkek?

    1. Hey Nick – I’m heading to Tashkent soon(ish), and it looks like there is indeed some great architecture there. Bishkek definitely has a few good examples, and is a great little city – you will enjoy it. There’s some really good examples in Georgia/Armenia as well, so keep an eye out!

  6. awesome images nate, straight outa the pages of juxtapoz. which makes sense when you think about how its the biggest counter culture magazine in the state that best represents the west.
    now if youll excuse me im late for church. better ride the nuke!

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