Growing up in the Soviet Union presented a number of challenges for youth culture that wanted to be free of the restrictive demands of the state. That’s how things like samizdat literature and bootleg Western music pressed onto old x-ray film happened. Along with these attempts to smuggle in outside culture, internal youth culture developed as well, leading to the phenomenon known as The Forest Lectures.
The Forest Lecture was a way for Soviet teens could try to meet one another and express subversive ideas privately, along with a way to meet romantic/sexual partners. The common method was for a trio of teens to arrange to meet; by having three, suspicions about their potential romantic intent could be allayed, and books and other study materials were used to suggest an academic or political intent. Clothing was formal, also to convey a tone of solemnity.
One of the participants would have expressed a romantic interest in one other, and so the three would drive out to a forest, park in a clearing, and the teen that suggested the meeting would issue a short “love lecture” where they would outline their benefits as a romantic partner. Sometimes charts would be involved. Any of the participants could take the lead here, and same-gender pairings were possible, though at the time far more risky than this practice already was.
If the lecture was well received, the targeted participant could agree to going at it right there in the woods, with the friend/third party keeping watch. If not, firm handshakes were exchanged, and the group would return to town.
Notably, the third party was allowed to object to the lecture, or add their own commentary, pro or con.
This Volga ad is interesting in that it’s one of the only semi-official photographs showing a Forest Lecture scene in action. While never overtly admitted, Soviet teenagers would have recognized the situation immediately, as it makes no sense in any other context: a car parked in the woods, with three young people in formal clothes, one with an armload of books, standing by a tree? What the hell else would it be?
In modern former Soviet states, Forest Lecture re-enactments have become popular for dating as a kitchy form of role-play.