Soviet Anthem Returns To Russia By Popular Demand

Stalin-era tune returns with new post-Perestroika lyrics.

Oops, they did it again.

Russia has bit the proverbial bullet and brought back a golden oldie. The former Soviet Union's national anthem is back with revised lyrics. Rise and sing "The Hymn of the Russian Federation."

"We've made it through a difficult year," admitted a sullen Russian President Vladimir Putin near the beginning of his annual January 1 state-of-the-nation address. A sunken submarine, bombs in Moscow marketplaces and an ongoing economic crisis scarred Putin's first year in office.

But the crux of the President's speech lay in his desire to replace Russia's wordless national anthem with a lyrically revised version of "The Hymn of the Soviet Union" (RealAudio excerpt) written by Alexander Alexandrov (music) and G. G. El-Registan (lyrics), which was adopted March 15, 1944, during Joseph Stalin's dictatorship.

Most non-Russians recall the Soviet anthem as part of pre-Perestroika Olympics award ceremonies. Back when the Cold War was fought on the athletic field, athletes in red uniforms emblazoned with the Soviet CCCP would mount the awards platform, gold medals around their necks, and sing their catchy, patriotic Communist ditty.

Last year Russian gold medallists were embarrassed during the Sydney Olympics when they had to stand in silence during medal ceremonies.

After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, then-President Boris Yeltsin renamed cities, plazas and avenues and pulled down Soviet-era monuments. He also changed the national anthem to the instrumental (and less politically divisive) tsar-era "Patriotic Song" by Russian composer Mikhail Glinka.

Earlier this month, as Russians removed their holiday decorations, New Year's trees and Grandfather Frost posters (remnants of Soviet-era anti-religious propaganda that replaced Santa Claus with Grandfather Frost and Christmas trees with a New Year version), the revised anthem is the leading topic around Moscow dinner tables. Last month the State Duma (Russia's parliament) decided to bring back the Stalin-era melody but modify its lyrics.

Public reaction has been mixed. Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev supported the action. "If people don't like these lyrics," he stated publicly, "they can always change them later."

The new lyrics proclaim, "Russia, our holy country, Russia, our powerful country, / Tremendous will, great glory is yours all the time. / Glory, our free fatherland, the aged-long union of brotherly people, / The wisdom of people given by our ancestors!"

The original version, however, proclaimed that "Through tempests the sun rays of freedom have cheered us, / Along the new path where great Lenin did lead. / To a righteous cause he raised up the peoples, / Inspired them to labor and valorous deed."

Prior to 1977, however, the final two lines went, "Thus Stalin has reared us, / Inspire us to labor and valorous deed!"

Not everyone is happy with the new anthem.

"Symbols are important," Moscow sociologist Tatiana Karelova argued. "Our 'new' anthem dates back to Stalin's time: an age of political show trials, mass arrests and expansionism. We may be seeing a return of this with the crackdown on a free press and the return of the Soviet anthem. Stalin came to power in a period of economic chaos quite similar to what we face today, and he began by attacking political symbols."

Karelova's sentiment is a minority opinion in a country mired in economic problems two years after the ruble collapsed. Russia now must simply survive a period of intense uncertainty. A recent Moscow News poll indicated that 6 percent of Russians believe 2001 will be a better year than 2000, while 18 percent think it cannot get any worse.

Despite this, President Putin remains optimistic, noting that only 2 percent of the population thought 1999 would be better than 1998 two years ago.

That should give Russia something to sing about.