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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Let Them Sing Songs

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I didn't much feel like joining in the general hysteria back when everyone was writing about the national anthem. But now the new symbols have been adopted, the debate has died down and I am suddenly overwhelmed by the desire to express my opinion about these now official state symbols.

During the anthem debate, the liberal intelligentsia argued that Alexander Alexandrov's music had been the "hymn of the Soviet Communist Party." In reality, the Party's hymn was "The Internationale," which was also the anthem of the Soviet Union until 1942. In the middle of the war, Stalin made a series of decisions intended to break with the old communist-revolutionary symbols and traditions. He returned epaulets to army officers and replaced the "people's commissars" with ministers. He came to terms with the Russian Orthodox Church and disbanded the Comintern.

The Alexandrov hymn was intended from the beginning to openly signal the return to the style and methods of the old monarchy. It was a Party version of "God Save the Tsar." By joining this hymn to the tsarist double-headed eagle, President Vladimir Putin has merely finished what Stalin began. The return of the Soviet anthem is intended to strengthen the present regime, just as the return of tsarist symbols was designed to bolster Stalin and give legitimacy to Soviet power.

In this regard, the terms "Soviet" and "socialist" not only do not correspond, they contradict one another. Putin is all for "Soviet-ness" although he is also a capitalist. "Soviet" symbols are supposed to maintain the rule of the new private owners (who, not incidentally, sprang out of the old party elite).

I think the intelligentsia seriously believed that the restoration of the Soviet anthem would somehow herald a return to Soviet methods. In reality, though, the state has restored the anthem precisely because it is not possible to restore anything else. The authorities offered up the hymn as compensation.

The Soviet Union is far in the past and the point of no return was passed long ago. The people sitting in the Kremlin have absolutely no interest in undoing the "results of reform," which made them rich and powerful.

On the other hand, the majority of the population does not long for Soviet times because back then we imprisoned dissidents, had a huge army, sent military advisers to Africa and so on. They long for the free (and, possibly, world's best) educational system. They remember how they received their wages regularly and how — after standing in line for an hour or two — they could use that money to actually buy something.

So, for all those with no food and no money, here is Alexandrov's national anthem. Twice a day, at the least. The people won't be any less hungry but the familiar strains may help them remember the taste of long-forgotten foods. Isn't that touching?

The authorities will not return the Soviet standard of living. To do so, they would have to expropriate their own property and put themselves in the dock. The authorities are torn somewhat between the desire to proceed with the next phase of neo-liberal reform according to the plan of Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref and a wish to just leave everything as it is. After all, the present situation of Russia is perfectly fine from their point of view.

However, the people need to be soothed with illusions. The authorities can't make them any promises, because no one believes in words anymore. All that remains is to sing songs.

Boris Kagarlitsky is a Moscow-based sociologist.