Parliament Restores Soviet Anthem

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The State Duma on Friday overwhelmingly approved President Vladimir Putin's request to reinstate the tune of the Stalin-era anthem and a tsarist flag and eagle as the country's state symbols.

The Duma pushed through the legislation in less than three hours. The most hotly disputed measure, the "Unbreakable Union" anthem, was backed by 381 votes to 51.

The white, blue and red tricolor and the double-headed eagle coat of arms also passed easily, as did restoration of the Soviet-era red banner for the armed forces.

A delighted Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov said the vote on the rousing anthem music enabled Russians to be proud of Soviet-era achievements.

"We have restored the anthem of the Soviet Union," Zyuganov told Ekho Moskvy radio. "The great music of [World War II] victory, the flag that we planted atop the Reichstag, the anthem that helped us move into space and create a complete system of health care and education."

The legislation will provide Russia with an official coat of arms, flag and anthem for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Liberals, who had demanded a new anthem to break with the excesses of Stalinism, cried foul, saying they had been denied time to speak during the Duma session.

Grigory Yavlinsky, veteran leader of the Yabloko party, said liberals might challenge the procedural violations in the Constitutional Court. He said the vote was a harbinger of terrible things to come.

"We believe this is a signal about where our society is heading and what we can expect in the near future," he told reporters outside the Duma. "It removes all illusions about the medium-term policy of the country's administration."

The rousing melody will replace an arcane 19th-century tune for which no words had been written. That tune, along with the coat of arms and flag, were only temporary stand-ins approved by decree under Former President Boris Yeltsin.

Download the music (mp3 file format) to President Vladimir Putin's proposed national anthem (also the Soviet anthem) or the Mikhail Glinka anthem re-introduced by former President Boris Yeltsin.

The anthem remains wordless for the moment pending a study of proposed new lyrics. Various sets of words have been put forward and among suggested authors is Sergei Mikhalkov, who wrote the original lyrics and has since amended them twice.

The legislation stipulates that those present during the playing of the anthem must stand to attention and men must remove their hats. Those found to have insulted the anthem will be subject to criminal proceedings.



As debate got under way, Yabloko party activists gathered outside Moscow's main post office, urging passers-by to send telegrams to Putin denouncing the president's proposals. News reports said that police had detained several of the protesters at the unsanctioned demonstration, including Union of Right Forces Duma deputy Vadim Bondar, but released all of them by mid-afternoon.

Elderly pro-Communist demonstrators backing the old anthem stood outside parliament and a few minor scuffles broke out as deputies made their way inside.

Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II, another surprise backer of the Soviet-era music, exercised caution after the vote, telling NTV television that state symbols "must not divide our people".

But many Russians seemed unmoved by Friday's decision.

"It makes no difference to me and it certainly doesn't to him," said Anatoly, gesturing toward his young son. "I think we should have one, but whether it's old or new really doesn't matter."

"The problem with Glinka's music is that no one understands it," said Volodya, a taxi driver in central Moscow. "I like Alexandrov's music, but I definitely think they should change the words. It's music, not politics."

Alan Rousso, director of the Moscow Carnegie Center think-tank, said he thought the large majority of people would be somewhere between indifferent and supportive of the decision to reinstate the anthem.

"I don't think it's terribly important, but it does exemplify to a degree the confusion in the Kremlin over the direction in which the country should be moving," Rousso said.

"It also shows Putin as a pragmatist. … [He] is trying to have it both ways, and there is no clearer indication of this than putting together the Soviet-era anthem with the imperial flag," Rousso said.

"But I also think he was ill-advised not to more radically break with the past, as that would help to give the new Russia its own identity."