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'Brothers, They Didn't Like Our Faces': Pro-Kremlin Songsters Croon Against Sanctions


Oleg Gazmanov (left), Alla Perfilova, and Iosif Kobzon sing against sanctions on Russian state TV.

Oleg Gazmanov (left), Alla Perfilova, and Iosif Kobzon sing against sanctions on Russian state TV.

Iosif Kobzon does not take European travel bans lightly.

After Latvia banned him -- along with pop stars Oleg Gazmanov and Valeria -- from performing in a Russian music festival in Jurmala last summer, he promptly filed an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights for "moral and material damage."

The possibly toupeed crooner, who's best known for his Soviet-era performances, has irked the West with his open support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, which included a "charity" concert held in rebel-controlled Donetsk.

Along with Gazmanov and Valeria (real name: Alla Perfilova), who have supported Russia's annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, Kobzon took to Russian state TV's New Year's Parade of Stars to express his disgust in song.

"Brothers, they didn't like our faces, and thanks to sanctions we can't sing for the people," the trio sings in the main refrain, noting also that "people can't live without songs."

"Remember how many songs we'd sing in Jurmala," they add, while standing behind a mock border gate. "But now? But now?"

The performance, apparently meant as satire, is set to the tune of Yellow Leaves -- a well -known late Soviet-era song by the Russian-speaking Latvian duo of Ivars Kalnins and Laima Vaikule.

Set in a variety show format, the spectacle is made more bizarre with awkwardly staged cutaways to audience VIPs who wink, blow kisses, and laugh way too hard.

On social media, the performance, which has been viewed nearly 400,000 times on YouTube, has been met largely with derision (at press time, in the battle of YouTube "likes," it was 693 for to 4,896 against), but it has also been the subject of controversy in Ukraine.

After Inter, a nationally broadcast channel, streamed the song live, National Security and Defense Council head Oleksandr Turchynov called for Ukraine's telecommunications authority to consider revoking the station's license.

European and Western sanctions tied to Moscow's support of separatists in eastern Ukraine and annexation of Crimea contributed to a weakening economy in Russia in 2014, which saw the ruble fall by 50 percent against the dollar. And other performances during the 90-minute variety show also touched on Russia-West tensions.

Another featured a caricature of U.S. State Department Spokesman Jen Psaki, who has been the subject of a relentless ridicule campaign in Russia, speaking in American-accented Russian to an actor playing nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky (himself known in Russia and the West as something of a clown).

-- Glenn Kates

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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