by John Hawkins | July 17, 2006 3:50 am
I was a big wrestling fan when I was a teenager and one of the best “bad guys” in wrestling was Nikolai Volkoff. Back in the eighties, he played a Commie goon who’d walk around the ring waving a Soviet flag and he’d infuriate the fans by singing a “Russian National Anthem” before his matches.
I hadn’t heard much about Volkoff in recent years, but was pleasantly surprised to find that he is running as a Republican in Maryland’s District 7. Unfortunately, Nikolai is going to have a real uphill struggle running against incumbent Elijah Cummings in a district that went 73% to 26% for John Kerry in 2004.
However, he told such a great story on his website that I wanted to interview him for RWN. What follows below is an edited transcript of our conversation from yesterday afternoon. Enjoy!
John Hawkins: You were born in Yugoslavia when it was dominated by the Soviet Union. What was it like living under Communism?
Nikolai Volkoff: Not very good. That’s why I escaped from there. I always considered myself Croatian, not Yugoslavian, but you couldn’t say that because in a Communist country there is no freedom. They think for you. All you have to do is go to work and not get paid.
I decided when I was 15 that I wanted to leave the country. My father said, “Son, I don’t blame you for wanting to leave, but finish school first.” So, I finished…in 2 years.
Then there was another problem. If you don’t finish the army, you don’t get a passport. So, the only way I can get a passport is to become a (champion) athlete. So, I worked out 6 hours a day to become a Yugoslavian weight lifting champion. So, we have a competition, I get my passport, I go to..Canada and I stay there. Then, I went to the United States.
John Hawkins: When you defected, were you able to just walk off once you got to Canada.
Nikolai Volkoff: I just went to the Canadian embassy and said, “I am a weight lifting champion and I finished school,” and they said, “Sure.” I could have gone to South Africa, but I didn’t like there and wanted to come to America. So, I came to the United States in 1969 and since then, I stayed here.
John Hawkins: You say on your page, “I was amazed of just how welcomed I was and how beautiful the USA is.” Why did you say that? Were people really friendly to you when they found out you were defecting?
Nikolai Volkoff: Yes, people were very happy for me. Then, when I got here, I worked with WWWF, the WWE today. At the time, Vince McMahon, Sr. was still alive, and he was a very nice man. He asked me to (portray) a Russian because my mother was Russian, I speak Russian, and they needed someone from Russia.
John Hawkins: Was that strange for you? Being asked to play a Soviet when you obviously didn’t like (them) very much?
Nikolai Volkoff: I didn’t like it. It was very hard because I hated the b*stards, I escaped from there, you know? So, I met Fred Blassie, …we became good friends and he became my manager, and he said to me, “…Nikolai, if you hate those Communists, just pretend to be one of them, and then you can show the people what they are, what they stand for. Just act like them and in the meantime, we can make some money.”
John Hawkins: In your opinion, how much did Ronald Reagan and the US have to do with the collapse of Communism?
Nikolai Volkoff: Ronald Reagan is a good President and…you know what Communism really is?
John Hawkins: What?
Nikolai Volkoff: …Everything is owned by the government and then if you work or don’t work, you get paid the same. On paper it’s looks beautiful, but in reality, it just can’t happen. That’s why they fell apart. The country was going broke. They tried to compete with the United States, in arms, in the Cold War and they couldn’t do it, because Russian workers didn’t make very much money and just couldn’t compete with a capitalistic country where one person could feed a family….while in Russia, you had a hard time trying to feed yourself.
…Americans really don’t know how good they have it here. In Russia, you used to go to a store to buy a car? You’d have to stay on a list there for a couple of months, if you were lucky, and then only something like 10% of the people had a car. Then, if you were looking to rent an apartment, if you were lucky, it would take you 10-15 years. See, the American people couldn’t understand that because it’s one thing to hear something or read something, but it’s another thing to see it and experience something. If you read something, you think it might be one way, it might be another way, but if you experience it, you know.
John Hawkins: (Tell me a little about why you’re running for office.)
Nikolai Volkoff: Since I got to Maryland, now I find out that even here in the United States, in this beautiful country, our taxes are going up, our standard of living is going down; it’s unfair. It’s because people elect the same politicians over and over. Politicians raise their own pay, but (don’t look out for everybody else). It’s a crime to raise taxes, if you can’t help raise the standard of living for the people. That’s what I stand for.
John Hawkins: Thank you, Mr. Volkoff, and I wish you all the luck in the world in your campaign.
Make sure to check out Nikolai’s website here.
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