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Viktor Tsoi And The Russia That Never Was

  • Brian Whitmore

Viktor Tsoi embodied late-Soviet cool before it was overtaken by post-Soviet kitsch and defined late-Soviet hip before it was overrun by post-Soviet glitz.

He epitomized late-Soviet sincerity before it gave way to post-Soviet cynicism and channeled late-Soviet angst before it morphed into post-Soviet nihilism.

Tsoi -- who died in an automobile accident a quarter of a century ago, on August 15, 1990, at the tragically young age of 28 -- would be in his 50s today.

We never got to see Tsoi in middle age. Like all iconic figures who die before their time, the trail-blazing Soviet rocker remains frozen in our minds: iconoclastic and irreverent, clad in black jeans and a T-shirt, a wild mane of black hair flopping in the breeze.

A guitar in his hand and a cigarette dangling from his mouth. Always a cigarette dangling from his mouth.

Tsoi is a reminder of a more hopeful time -- one that probably seems even more hopeful in retrospect. A time of introspection and anxiety, but also a time of promise. A time when anything and everything seemed possible.

Tsoi played the last concert of his life on June 24, 1990, at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium before a capacity crowd of 62,000. He closed the concert with his iconic protest anthem "Peremen" (Change).

Less than two months later he was dead.

No, we never got to see Tsoi in middle age. But we have seen the generation he inspired. And for most of them, the hopes and ideals of their youth died not long after Tsoi did.

Some of them are among those running Russia today. Some are among those cheering them on. And some are still holding out hope for that promise of change that was never truly fulfilled.

And Tsoi remains frozen in time, a symbol of the post-Soviet Russia that never was.

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or


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