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Beloved Georgian Singer's Sad Song Hits Wrong Note In Russia

  • Chloe Arnold

"We simply wanted to remind people that we used to be friends," says actor and singer Vakhtang Kikabidze.

"We simply wanted to remind people that we used to be friends," says actor and singer Vakhtang Kikabidze.

MOSCOW -- Against a backdrop of Russian fighter planes bombing Georgian apartment buildings at the height of last August’s conflict, the legendary Georgian singer Vakhtang Kikabidze -- "Buba" to his fans -- speaks of betrayal and "the smell of melancholy" in his controversial new song, "You Disappointed Me."

A video of the tune, which has appeared on the Internet, shows Russians and Georgians in happier times, interspersed with footage of Georgians wounded in Russian attacks, piling their belongings into cars, or crying for help on rubble-strewn streets.

Kikabidze, who performs the song in Russian, says in the chorus, "You haven't betrayed me, you've disappointed me."

The 70-year-old singer tells RFE/RL's Russian Service that the song is aimed not at the Kremlin or the Russian military, but at the Russian intelligentsia, who failed to speak out in Georgia's defense.

“Of course, [the Russian intelligentsia] isn’t to be blamed -- no one is saying that. The point I am trying to make is that politics is one thing, people are another," Kikabidze says. "And this is where the disappointment lies -- because not everyone can say what they feel, you understand. Not everyone allows themselves to speak the truth.”

'Cozy Figure'

The song has provoked outrage among many Russians, who consider the Soviet-era crooner to be one of their own.

As well as being a veteran singer and songwriter, Kikabidze is celebrated in Russia for his acting roles, particular in the much-loved Soviet-era comedy "Mimino," in which he played a homesick Georgian pilot.

We simply wanted to remind people that we used to be friends. That Russians used to come to Georgia; Georgians used to come to Russia.
Anna Malpas, an arts critic at the "Moscow Times" newspaper, says Kikabidze's song likely offends those Russians who grew up with the singer and think of him as a Soviet, rather than as a Georgian, artist.

“In a way, people didn’t think of those Soviet-era figures primarily in terms of their nationality," Malpas says. "I mean, someone like [singer Muslim] Magomayev was from Azerbaijan, but I really don’t think people thought, 'Muslim Magomayev is from Azerbaijan.'

"I guess people just never saw that as any kind of identity, in terms of political identity. And now people actually feel quite threatened by the fact that this cozy figure has suddenly shown that he might disagree with them,” Malpas adds.

Kikabidze first enraged Russians last year when he refused to accept an Order of Friendship award from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Now he has said he will not hold concerts commemorating his 70th birthday in Moscow, as planned, but will perform in Kyiv instead.

RFE/RL’s Russian Service website has been inundated with comments from listeners who stand on both sides of the divide.

One Muscovite, Aleksandr, writes: "I’m disappointed in the Georgians who elected a president" -- Mikheil Saakashvili -- "who is a coward and a traitor. What are we to do when with every decade we have more enemies in Georgia? Ours is a century of disappointment."

Another correspondent says: "There won’t be peace. If we had simply quarreled with Georgia, that would be one thing. But we took their land from them -- so how can Vakhtang, as a Georgian, be on the side of a country which has annexed a part of his homeland?"

A third reader, Yelena in Kyiv, writes: "Politicians should deal with politics. Actors and singers should try to make peace."

'We Used To Be Friends'

Kikabidze says he has been surprised at the outpouring over the song -- which includes clips of Russian poets like Yevgeny Yevtushenko reading lines they've written about Georgia -- and the video that accompanies it.

“We didn’t want to make a music video that was so directed at the war it made people’s hearts break," Kikabidze says. "We simply wanted to remind people that we used to be friends. That Russians used to come to Georgia; Georgians used to come to Russia. We’d have evenings together reading poetry, going to exhibitions and concerts, meeting friends. Georgians were always very good at doing this.”

Kikabidze's song is just the latest sour cultural note in relations between Russia and Georgia.

Earlier this year, Georgia released another anti-Russian song, which is to be its entry at the Eurovision song contest, to be held in May in Moscow. The song, performed by the band Stefane and 3G, makes a play on the English phrase "put in," with the lines: "We don’t wanna put in/The negative move/Is killing the groove."

The Kremlin is furious with the song, which it sees as a direct attack on Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. A Kremlin spokesman accused the musicians of “pseudo-political ambitions or, simply speaking, hooliganism.”

Pro-Kremlin youth groups have protested outside the Georgian Embassy in Moscow, calling for the song to be banned from this year’s Eurovision contest.

RFE/RL's Russian Service contributed to this report.

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