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Russia: Rock's Revolutionary Influence

  • Julie Corwin

http://gdb.rferl.org/5BC4864E-35FC-4F42-A2CE-59417E9F145D_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/5BC4864E-35FC-4F42-A2CE-59417E9F145D_mw800_mh600.jpg Ukraine's Viktor Yushchenko speaking before a rally during last year's presidential campaign Last year, the Ukrainian pop artist Ruslana, a brunette scantily clad in a leather and fur ensemble, won the Eurovision song contest with a song featuring traditional Ukrainian instruments. At this year's contest, another Ukrainian group, GreenJolly, vied for the top honor on home turf in Kyiv. But the trio of pale, plumpish men from Ivano-Frankivsk placed only 20th out of 24 with their rap song "Razom Nas Bahato." Contributing to their weak finish were poor marks from the Russian and Belarusian judges who awarded the group two and zero points, respectively.

Journalists speculated that the judges panned the song not because they didn't find it catchy enough but because of its role as anthem for Ukraine's Orange Revolution. Its original lyrics, "Machinations, No. Falsifications, No. Yushchenko, Yushchenko," had to be changed for the Eurovision contest to the ostensibly less political, "We won't stand for this -- no! The revolution is on! Because lies are the weapons of mass destruction!"

Following the Orange Revolution, rock music, like many things associated with young people, is being subjected to new scrutiny in Russia.
"They have learned from the events in Ukraine that popular music can be a very powerful force. And they hope to cooperate with this force. Therefore they are trying to attract to their side our rock elite, which is up for sale."


Ukrainian rock musicians played an energizing role not only by singing anthems to tent dwellers on Kyiv's Independence Square during the Orange Revolution but also during the presidential campaign.

According to the lead singer of Vopli Vidoplyasova, Oleg Skripka, the band's music soothed raucous crowds in eastern Ukraine that supported presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych during a 30-stop campaign tour by eventual winner Viktor Yushchenko.

Skripka told "The Irish Times" on 22 January that "we would go out and there were young guys in the front row throwing stuff at us.... Luckily they were too drunk to throw straight." "Those guys were bandits -- but they like hard music. So we played a very strong concert and the problem was solved," Skripka recalled.

In an interview with "Novye izvestiya" on 12 November 2004, Skripka said that "businessmen" tried to pressure him to participate in the Ukrainian election campaign on the side of then-Prime Minister Yanukovych. According to Skripka, they tried to use "contracts, threats, courts" to coerce him to side with them. He also said he had to engage in two court battles to prevent the seizure of his apartment, which was the only property he had that the businessmen could go after. The band resisted, and Vopli Vidoplyasova's efforts on behalf of Yushchenko eventually extended even to Moscow. Three groups gathered in front of the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow last November to show their support for Yushchenko: Yabloko, the Union of Rightist Forces, and members of Vopli Vidoplyasova's Moscow-based fan club, gazeta.ru reported on 28 November.

In March, Vladislav Surkov, deputy presidential administration head and putative mastermind behind the new youth group Nashi, summoned a dozen of Russia's best known contemporary musical artists to his office for a meeting. Details of the gathering remain sketchy, as it was held behind closed doors and none of the participants have spoken about it on the record. However, a variety of sources reported that Boris Grebenshchikov, founder of Akvarium; Zemfira; Sergei Shnurov of Leningrad; Vyacheslav Butusov of Yu-Peter; Vladmir Shakhrin of Chaif; and Chaif's producer, Dmitrii Groisman, were among those in attendance. Writing in "Afisha" on 28 March, journalist Oleg Kashin reported, citing meeting participants who wished to remain anonymous, that Surkov did not ask for anything specific. Surkov allegedly said that the authorities wanted to help musicians decide any problems they may have, and to be able to count on them to keep neutral, at the least, in the event of an uprising of the people.

Kashin, who reported on the birth of the Nashi movement for "Kommersant-Daily," linked Surkov's interest in rock-music elite with his broader project of preventing revolution in Russia, of which the creation of Nashi is just one part (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2005).

According to Kashin, one participant at the meeting couldn't figure out why some of the others were invited: "These people have been interested in nothing besides money for a long time." In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 2 April, music critic Artem Troitskii agreed: "It's a big illusion that our so-called rockers are somehow different from our poor beleaguered pop-music professional in terms of their attitude toward the powers that be. They are such conformists, so dependent on the authorities. I do not see any principled difference between Iosif Kobzon and Andrei Makarevich, Boris Grebenshchikov and Filipp Kirkorov, Irina Allegrova and Zemfira. All of them cave in to the maximum extent. As regards the presidential administration, naturally they have learned from the events in Ukraine that popular music can be a very powerful force. And they hope to cooperate with this force. Therefore, naturally, they are trying to attract to their side our rock elite, which is up for sale."

According to RFE/RL Moscow bureau's music observer Aleksandr Borokhovskii, Surkov's meeting last March was not an outgrowth of a new policy but a continuation of an old one.

According to Borokhovskii, Kremlin officials conducted negotiations with musician Konstantin Kinchev, actor/director Sergei Bodrov, and even writer Eduard Limonov to involve them in the Walking Together movement, but those talks failed to bear fruit. On other occasions, Kremlin offers have attracted takers. For example, Yu-Peter's Butusov appeared in concert with Iosif Kozon and Oleg Gazmanov in Sukhum in October 2004 at a concert celebrating Abkhazia's Day of Independence, "Kommersant-Vlast," No. 47, reported. Local residents interpreted the concert as a show of support for the Moscow-backed candidate Raul Khajimba in Abkhazia's presidential elections.

Soon after Surkov's meeting, a rock concert in St. Petersburg was cancelled two days before the event was to be held, "The St. Petersburg Times" reported on 5 April. The concert, labeled "Peterskii Maidan" to echo Kyiv's "Maidan nezalezhnosti," featured a number of the "stars" of the Ukrainian revolution such as Vopli Vidopolyasova and Okean Elzy. Dozens of concert posters were vandalized. The concert's producer, Olga Konskaya, told the newspaper that she had received threatening phone calls. An official at the sports hall where the concert was going to be held said that the performance was cancelled because of poor ticket sales, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 5 April. However, Konskaya told the daily that one of the concert's sponsors, a branch of a Moscow bank, whose name she declined to provide, pulled out of the project at the "recommendation" of the intelligence service. The concert promoter, Dream Scanner, told "The St. Petersburg Times" that the concert's main sponsor withdrew "under political pressure from the power structures."

Ukrainian authorities learned from Vopli Vidoplyasova's behavior that threats and pressure do not always have the desired effect. But Russian authorities may have to learn the same lesson themselves. After hearing of Surkov's meeting with rock luminaries such as Butusov and Grebenshchikov, the leader of the group Poslednye Tankov v Parizhe (PTVP), Aleksei Nikonov, decided to turn the band's performance at the 2005 FUZZ magazine awards into a political statement, "The Moscow Times" reported on 29 April. Nikonov said, "The day before the FUZZ concert, I heard that the musicians went cap in hand to the Kremlin and I felt really angry about this. I hoped to hear at least one question about it from journalists at the news conference, but nobody seemed to care."

At the awards ceremony performance, Nikonov performed a punk music rendition of Vladimir Mayakovskii's antiwar poem, "Vam!" rewritten as a commentary about Chechnya. Never a band to shy away from controversy, its 2001 album "Hexogen" questioned the government's version of what happened during the string of apartment-building bombings in Moscow and Voronezh in 1999. According to "Afisha" on 8 November 2004, "several concert organizers prefer to stipulate in advance to PTVP before their performances not to break the microphone stand and leave politics out." But Nikonov finds the latter demand difficult to obey: "I'm concerned about social questions. I am simply trying to reflect reality."
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