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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Year Kicks Off With Old Anthem

As the hands on the Kremlin clock neared midnight on Sunday, President Vladimir Putin congratulated the country on what he called a year of progress and stability. Minutes later, as champagne toasts were raised, the major television stations broadcast the new national anthem — to which Putin had added lyrics a day earlier.

Putin recorded the traditional presidential address outdoors on the Kremlin grounds amid a light snowfall. The speech was broadcast in each of the country’s 11 time zones as midnight approached on Dec. 31.

"Behind us we leave yet another year — a year of joyous and tragic events, a year of difficult decisions," he said. "Yet, what not so long ago appeared almost impossible has become a reality in our lives. Notable elements of stability have appeared and this means a great deal for politics, economics and for all of us."

The emphasis on stability provided a contrast to last year’s tumultuous New Year’s Eve, when Boris Yeltsin resigned, making then-Prime Minister Putin acting president and forcing snap elections.

Yeltsin paid a visit to Putin in the Kremlin on Sunday, but details of the meeting were not made public.

In an interview shown later on the ORT television channel, Yeltsin said his year out of office was "an atypical year" and that he preferred to be "in the thick of things."

In his brief speech, Putin acknowledged that many chronic problems still need to be tackled.

"You and I know that on this festive night far from everyone has a lavish spread on his table, not all homes have happiness and success," he said. "We must remember that. We must not forget that we have plenty of work to do, but we can only complete it by working together."

When the speech ended at midnight, the major television stations — including NTV — played the national anthem, a Soviet-era tune revived by parliament last month with lyrics approved by Putin on Saturday.

Putin’s choice for the lyrics was the subject of speculation over the past few weeks, with newspapers printing preliminary versions. Ultimately, Putin chose words by Sergei Mikhalkov, the 87-year-old poet who co-authored the original words for Stalin in 1944. He later did another version removing Stalin’s name.

Unlike the Soviet versions, the new lyrics have no mention of Lenin or the Communist Party. Instead, the anthem now celebrates Russia as a "holy country" that is "protected by God."

But the new anthem preserves some of the key phrases of the old one — including the first words of the chorus, "Be glorious, Fatherland!"

One line calls Russia an "eternal union of fraternal peoples" — words similar to the Soviet version, which referred to "an unbreakable union" of "peoples in brotherhood strong."

Some critics, including Vladimir Strekozov, a Constitutional Court judge, questioned the legality of Putin’s decree on the anthem lyrics. The Constitution stipulates that the anthem must be established with the approval of parliament.

The Kremlin lobbied actively for the State Duma to pass a law on state symbols last month. That law revived the Soviet-era melody for the anthem, but left the song without words.

When he came to power, Yeltsin issued a decree replacing the Soviet anthem, with its words by Mikhalkov and music by Alexander Alexandrov, with a wordless piece by 19th-century composer Mikhail Glinka. That piece, titled "Patriotic Song," served as the country’s temporary anthem. Yeltsin also restored the tricolor flag and double-headed eagle coat-of-arms, which were finally ratified by the Duma as part of the bill passed last month.

While the Alexandrov music is familiar to most people, the orchestration of the anthem broadcast on New Year’s was not the rousing arrangement used in the Soviet Union. Critics described the anthem, which was performed by an orchestra and small chorus, as sounding thin and unmajestic.

The anthem was performed for the first time on Saturday at a Kremlin reception hosted by Putin.

"The anthem is not simply a symbol. It is impossible to live without it," Putin said at the reception.

The newspaper Segodnya criticized the president for passing the lyrics by decree, rather than holding a public discussion. It also took issue with the words itself. "The lyrics contain not one word about Russia’s highest values, which the Constitution declares to be man, his rights and his freedoms; nor about the multiethnic citizenry, which the Constitution pronounces the ‘only source of power,’" the paper said in its Saturday issue.

Not all Muscovites were preoccupied with the anthem on New Year’s Eve. Approximately 30,000 people gathered on Red Square to watch a fireworks display there, while 95,000 more people watched from surrounding squares and streets, Interfax reported, citing police.

Many people set off their own fireworks amid the downtown crowd. Police reported 92 injuries caused by pyrotechnics and glass bottles. A total of 26 people were hospitalized, Interfax quoted the police as saying.