Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Power Vertical

Rock Against The Vertical

Yury Shevchuk, front man for the Russian rock group DDT
Yury Shevchuk, front man for the Russian rock group DDT
This is definitely not pokazukha. Not even close.

This is real.

At a concert Sunday at Moscow's Olympic Hall, veteran rocker Yury Shevchuk, front man for the band DDT, lit into Russia's rulers. In a four-minute monologue between songs, Shevchuk ranted furiously (albeit poetically) about the corruption, impunity, and brutality at the heart of the regime Vladimir Putin built over the past decade:

The system that has been built in our country is brutal, cruel, and inhumane. People are suffering, not only in prisons and camps, but in orphanages and hospitals as well. So many bastards are feeding themselves on power. With epaulettes on their shoulders and with flashing lights in their heads, they are robbing us, running us over on the road, and shooting us in stores. And nobody is being held accountable.

Judging from the loud cheers Shevchuk received, he had a receptive audience.

(A video of the speech in Russian, which is burning up the Russian Internet, can be found here.)

Shevchuk also took fellow musicians to task for cozying up to the Kremlin, participating in corporate-sponsored concerts, and performing frivolous songs at a time when the country is in crisis. He called on musicians to lead what he called a "revolution of the soul."

In an interview today with RFE/RL's Russian Service, Shevchuk said despite the fact that many musicians are co-opted by the regime, there is also a small revolution brewing below the decks. He compared the situation to the underground Soviet rock scene in the 1970s and 1980s:

I know there are thousands of wonderful musicians who sing songs about civil themes, who do not agree with what is happening in this country. There are a lot of wonderful young people who are playing in cellars. And all this is gaining some critical mass.

How significant is this? On one hand, Shevchuk, whose grandparents were Stalin-era political prisoners, is a well-known critic of the Putin regime who has spoken up before. He has attended a March of Dissent here and there. He has spoken out against Russia's August 2008 invasion of Georgia.  He has even written a song, "When All The Oil Is Gone," that mocks the Kremlin's economic dependence on energy commodities.

Nevertheless, by speaking out so forcefully in such an official venue as the Olympic Hall in Moscow, Shevchuk has ratcheted up his opposition a notch or two.

And apparently, Shevchuk is not alone in his attempt to nudge Russia's artistic and cultural elite into more open defiance of the Kremlin.

On Monday, day after Shevchuk's comments, the popular actor Aleksei Devotchenko -- star of popular TV crime shows like "Streets Of Broken Lamps" and 'Bandit St. Petersburg" -- posted a diary on the Internet criticizing his colleagues for cozying up to the Kremlin and making "pseudo-patriotic" propaganda films.

And "Vedomosti" is reporting today that a group of 13 cultural figures, including music critic and media personality Artyom Troitsky, have penned an open letter to President Dmitry Medvedev calling for an investigation into an automobile accident involving LUKoil vice president Anatoly Barkov in which two women, 36-year-old Olga Aleksandrina and 72-year-old Vera Sidelnikova, were killed.

Witnesses said Barkov's armored Mercedes caused the accident by driving into the wrong lane to avoid a traffic jam. Barkov and his driver were unharmed and police have attempted to blame the crash on Aleksandrina.

The rapper MC Noize, who a close friend of Aleksandrina's sister, posted a protest song on the Internet condemning Barkov, LUKoil, and the Russian authorities.

Musicians and actors. Disgruntled cops. Frustrated workers. Rechnik. Kaliningrad.This drip drip drip of social dissent is building -- slowly, surely, and clearly.

Whether or not the battles at the top in Russia are just pokazhkha, the rumblings in society are very very real.

Will these nascent, scattered, and fractured roots of a social uprising  reach critical mass and become a catalyst for real political change? Will they get crushed in a Kremlin crackdown? Or will it all fade away, leaving people discouraged and disgusted? Stay tuned.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: yury,shevchuk,devotchenko,culture,protest,aleksei

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
March 10, 2010 16:24
Evidence of mass social protest? Impending collapse? Be careful what you wish for. Putin's Russia does not look so bad compared with two of our more recent exercises in spreading democracy (Iraq and Afghanistan). Moreover, I'm not sure that there's a link between greater political involvement of the proles and popular entertainment. Last night, I watched the award-winning movie "The Hurt Locker," and wondered why millions of Americans were not out protesting in the streets against the criminal activities of the Bush administration that instigated this ill-fated venture in Iraq. Has entertainment now become the easy catharsis to show we 'care'?

by: La Russophobe from: USA
March 11, 2010 18:11

Your perspective is rather demented. Why do you compare Russia to Iraq and Afghanistan? It's a country that has put men in space! Why not compare Russia to Japan after it was crushed by the USA in World War II? Today, Japan is a world leader politically and economically.

You may have missed it, but Americans tossed the Republicans out of office in the last election, and now the new government is reversing Bush's policies. Do you expect Russians do do anything similar any time soon? If not, then social upheaval is the only way Putin will be brought down.

Your patronizing haughty attitude towards Russians, as if they were helpless children incapable of civilized behavior, is deeply offensive. You ought to reconsider it.

by: Knockout Puncher
March 12, 2010 23:23
Japan received a good deal of Western (particularly American) propping after WW II.

Regarding the above blog post, someone forwarded to my attention these thoughts:

As for the "rocker", I read the original, and, of course, the translation, from what I remember, has upped the antagonistic tone in its nuances. If we were to quote some of OUR rock community (especially from the 60's and 70's) one could readily surmise that we live in a totalitarian police state, no less repressive than the USSR. It's the role that these artists play, and sometimes itss mostly done to be in the role of the "progressive enfant terrible" and get huge PR (as some sa,y theress no such thing as bad publicity). Russia is no exception. Furthermore, just as the Communist world (and local left)supported and lionized these Western leftists, some influential forces in the West today support "rebels" of today's Russia. If they ever ventured out like this in the actual Soviet times, they and their families would move into the Gulag.


Keep piling on the BS RFE/RL. It shows in the overall selection of linked blogs.

by: Knockout Puncher
March 13, 2010 00:18
To underscore my previously submitted set of comments:


Berlin 1939 - reminds me of the states in the present time.

by: LBPSlava from: USA
March 14, 2010 04:53
Please, note, Knockout Puncher (posting of March 12): while everything you say is true, the point is not the motivation of the rockers but the temperature of the audience: when the audience is not receptive to such anti-establishment sentiments, the rocker does not express them at a stadium. This was true of the 60s in the US, and it is true of today's Russia. That's why we pay attention to what these musicians say.

by: Knockout Puncher
March 15, 2010 00:29
A politically selective relativity in some instances.

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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