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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

An Anthem for a New Russia

If Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has his way, Russia will soon have a new national anthem, set to the music of the great Russian composer Mikhail Glinka with a text selected from the people.


Chernomyrdin has decreed the formation of a committee of 27 poets, musicians and other leading lights to examine the texts of more than 4, 000 amateur poets to try to match the best parts to an as-of-yet unnamed work by Glinka, the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets reported.


The commission will be headed by Sergei Mikhalkov, 80, who wrote the words to the tune that became the Soviet Union's national anthem in 1944, replacing the previous hymn, "The International":


An indestructible Union of free republics/ Was joined together for the ages by great Russia.


Mikhalkov won a Hero of Socialist Labor award (and the composer, Alexander Alexandrov, an Orden of Lenin) for that effort, but it is unlikely that he will be called upon to pen something quite so grandiose this time.


Instead, the commission has been instructed to sift through the amateur texts sent to the government as part of a competition begun in 1991. The winner will not get an Orden of Lenin this time; once the new text is approved by the Supreme Soviet, its author will merely be paid.


Chernomyrdin suggested in last week's resolution that the new hymn be "as exact in concept" as the old, prerevolutionary one, "God Save the Czar", but asked that the text show "no specific ideology".


That might explain why Chernomyrdin has ordered the creation of a new hymn, rather than re-establishing the old one. Composed for Nikolai I by the poet Vasily Zhukovsky in 1833, "God Save the Czar" is nothing if not ideological:


0 God, save the Czar/Strong and powerful/Reign over us in glory, in glory/Strike fear into the hearts of our enemies.


This would not quite be the right message to send to a world that is already worried about Russia possibly reasserting its imperial ambitions.


By drawing on Glinka and folklore, two indisputable classics of Russian culture, for the new hymn, Chernomyrdin appears to be taking no chances that legislators might disapprove of his text.


The prime minister's resolve is a good sign for a country that, one year and two months after independence, still has only one of the official symbols of a country: a flag.


At the last Olympics, victorious Russian athletes looked on with blank faces as the Olympic hymn was played.


Russia's leaders have also failed to agree on a new state symbol, which has held up the issue of new Russian passports and the implementation of the country's new, liberal emigration law.


In December the Congress of People's Deputies rejected a proposal to replace the Soviet hammer-and-sickle seal with the traditional Russian symbol, the double-headed eagle.


The new anthem commission can only hope its work will be greeted more kindly in Congress when the time comes. For now, it has other problems. Two of its most renowned members, songwriter Bulat Okuzhava and poet Robert Rozhdetvensky, found out they were on the commission by reading Moskovsky Komsomolets.


They wrote a letter to the editor to complain, but the paper calmly responded: "Chernomyrdin signed the decree. Go ask him".