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The Moscow Times

Parliament Opens Debate on State Symbols

By Andrei Shukshin, Reuters

Friday, December 8, 2000

Russia's parliament opened debate Friday on President Vladimir Putin's proposal to give the country a mixed bag of state symbols ranging from the tsarist eagle to the Stalin-era Soviet anthem. Nine years after the collapse of communism, Russia is still living without an official crest, flag or hymn. Its current double-headed eagle, the red-white-and-blue tricolour and an arcane 19th-century tune are no more than temporary stand-ins. Putin, keen to boost Russia's nationhood, has asked the State Duma lower house of parliament to resolve the issue quickly by backing his proposal to reinstate the old Soviet anthem along with the imperial emblem and the tricolour. The notion of restoring the music of an anthem approved by Josef Stalin has enraged liberals who have called for a complete break with the Soviet era as a mark of respect for the millions of victims of his totalitarian rule. "We are certain this is a serious political mistake," Grigory Yavlinsky of the Yabloko party told NTV television. "It is our duty to ensure that this does not happen." As debate got under way, Yabloko party activists gathered outside Moscow's main post office, urging passersby to send telegrams to Putin denouncing the president's proposals. The debate also raised the ire of former President Boris Yeltsin, who said Putin, the man he chose as prime minister and his preferred successor in 1999, should act on public opinion and ensure a new anthem was composed. The liberal daily Sevodnya said the likely outcome of the debate amounted to Putin breaking with Yeltsin and the liberal ideas that brought him to power as communism crumbled. "The Yeltsin era has effectively run its course," it said. "In 10 years the pro-Western democrats were no more able to adopt an anthem any more than they were able to present an attractive ideological programme or break imperial traditions." Restoring the anthem will please the communists, the Duma's largest group. Observers say that despite their aversion to imperial panoply Putin's laws seem likely to pass easily and Russia will begin 2001 with old-new symbols of statehood. ANTHEM THE FOCUS OF CONTROVERSY At the centre of the argument is the rousing "Unbreakable Union" tune by Alexander Alexandrov, composed at the time of some of the bloodiest battles of World War Two. Putin defended the restoration of the anthem in a television address this week, saying his choice of symbols was meant to unite Russians by taking the best from their tumultuous history. He said he had the backing of Russians. Yeltsin stepped into the fray on Thursday to make a rare jab at his hand-picked successor. The former president quoted Anatoly Chubais, a longtime Kremlin adviser and now head of a giant power utility, in saying it was immaterial that opinion polls showed many Russians favoured the old anthem. "Chubais was quite right on this score: the president of a country should not blindly follow the mood of the people. On the contrary, it is up to him to actively influence it," he said in an interview to the mass-circulation daily Komsomolskaya Pravda. Putin said he would not be fazed by the comments. In the likely event of the old Soviet tune being approved on Friday, the stirring melody will have to remain wordless for some time while famed children's poet Sergei Mikhalkov re-writes the lyrics, for the third time in his life. Mikhalkov, who wrote the original "An unbreakable union of free republics the Great Russia has sealed" in 1943, amended the lines after Stalin's death to drop any mention of the dictator.

See also:


Grigory Yavlinsky: approval of the music by Aleksandrov as the hymn for Russia represents a step towards a split in society

Yabloko and the SPS oppose restoration of the symbols of the Soviet Union

Yabloko proposes the march “Farewell of a Slavic woman” as a new hymn of Russia

The Moscow Times, December 8, 2000