January 20, 2001

Old Hymn, New Words


Old Hymn, New Words

On December 8, 2000, the Russian Duma passed a decree in favor of reinstating the music of the, so called, Soviet Hymn, as the official anthem of the Russian Federation. This motion was approved by the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament, on December 20, 2000 and was signed by President Vladimir Putin. Also approved were the current white, blue and red striped flag as the official flag of the nation, the double headed eagle crest of the Tsars as a national symbol and a red banner for the Army. All are intended to tie Russia's past, both Tsarist and Communist, with its present and future, remembering the accomplishments of bygone eras.

Russia's First Lady, Lyudmilla Putina, was quoted by Komsomolskaya Pravda as saying, "We used to say: We're proud to be Soviet. This year in Russia and everywhere else in the world, people are thinking again: It's great to be Russian." There is a renewed national pride in Russia. The approval of the new, official national symbols was met with some opposition and it may seem strange to recall symbols from past eras known, at least in part, for their suffering. President Putin explained, "If we accept the fact that in no way could we use the symbols of the previous epochs including the Soviet one, then we must admit that our mothers and fathers lived useless and senseless lives, that they lived their lives in vain. I can't accept it either with my mind or my heart."

The Soviet Hymn, also known as Unbreakable Union, praised the activities of the Revolution, Lenin and Stalin; reference to the latter was removed in 1977. The new lyrics praise Russia as a holy country, protected by God. On Friday, December 29, 2000, Pres. Putin approved the new lyrics for this 'old' anthem, thus making it possible for the anthem to be sung during New Year's celebrations.

Former President Boris Yeltsin did away with the Unbreakable Union anthem in 1991 due to its association with the Soviet Union. In its stead, he introduced the, hitherto, national anthem, Patriotic Song. It is based on a piece, by the same name, composed by Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka (1804-1857), was officially approved on December 11, 1993, and has no lyrics because of its musical difficulty. Yeltsin voiced is opposition to the reinstatement of the music of Unbreakable Union. The melody is believed, my many, to be forever overshadowed by Stalin's ruthless purges and other horrors. In truth, the anthem was written to celebrate the triumph over Hitler's attempts to conquer Soviet Russia during WWII.

Pushing through the new lyrics in time for Putin's first New Year's Eve speech was no small undertaking. The national anthem is a matter requiring approval from Parliament. There was doubt that Putin could impose the new lyrics without this vote which had been needed to reinstate the music. Finally, Pres. Putin decided to impose lyrics written by Sergei Mikhalkov, the author of the 1943 Soviet lyrics and father of the world acclaimed film director, Nikita Mikholkov.

This 'new' set of lyrics was composed by the elder Mikholkov after the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953. However, the ruling Communists could not tolerate the references to God and anything religious, thus the lyrics were set aside. The last anthem to refer to God was the Tsarist God Save the Tsar. In contrast, Mikholkov's lyrics make no reference to any particular faith tradition; simply God, the god of Christians (Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant), Jews and Muslims.

The new lyrics will be valid until officially approved by the Parliament. It is expected that there will be no difficulty in gaining this approval.

Anthem of the Russian Federation
Music by Alexander Alexandrov
Words by Sergei Mikhalkov
Approved by Putin on Friday, Dec. 29, 2000.
Listen to the Anthem

Russia, our holy country!
Russia, our beloved country!
A mighty will, a great glory,
Are your inheritance for all time!

(Refrain:)
Be glorious, our free Fatherland!
Eternal union of fraternal peoples,
Common wisdom given by our forebears,
Be glorious, our country!
We are proud of you!

From the southern seas to the polar
region spread our forests and fields.
You are unique in the world, inimitable,
Native land protected by God!

(Repeat refrain)

Wide spaces for dreams and for living
Are opened for us by the coming years
Faithfulness to our country gives us strength
Thus it was, so it is and always will be!

Anthem of the Soviet Union
Music by Alexander Alexandrov
Words by S.V. Mikhalkov & G.A. Registan
Approved by Joseph Stalin in 1943

Unbreakable Union of freeborn Republics,
Great Russia has welded forever to stand.
Created in struggle by will of the people,
United and mighty, our Soviet land!
Sing to the Motherland, home of the free,
Bulwark of peoples in brotherhood strong.
O Party of Lenin, the strength of the people,
To Communism's triumph lead us on!
Through tempests the sunrays 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.
[Or, the original way:
Be true to the people, thus Stalin has reared us,
Inspire us to labor and valorous deed!]
Sing to the Motherland, home of the free,
Bulwark of peoples in brotherhood strong.
O Party of Lenin, the strength of the people,
To Communism's triumph lead us on!
In the vict'ry of Communism's deathless ideal,
We see the future of our dear land.
And to her fluttering scarlet banner,
Selflessly true we always shall stand!

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