Thursday, November 20, 2014


Tatar-Bashkir

Russian Folk Singer Greeted Coldly By Tatars In Kazan

Since the early 1990s, Zhanna Bichevskaya's music has become increasingly nationalist and unabashedly Orthodox Christian.
Since the early 1990s, Zhanna Bichevskaya's music has become increasingly nationalist and unabashedly Orthodox Christian.
By Rimma Bikmukhametova
KAZAN, Russia -- Popular Russian folk singer Zhanna Bichevskaya is marking her 40th year performing with a national tour. But when she swung into Kazan for a show on March 27, not everyone in Tatarstan's capital was rolling out the red carpet.

Some Tatar residents of the ethnically mixed city of 1.1 million people have criticized Bichevskaya's lyrics as overtly nationalistic and offensive. Local Tatar media have been reporting on the controversy for weeks.

Mikhail Shcheglov, deputy director of the Russian Cultural Center in Kazan, says that many fans were dismayed by the reaction. "People are surprised at the flow of negativity that is coming from the media and other places," he says. "This woman has managed to convey some pure Russian culture."

The controversy stems from what critics claim are Bichevskaya's aggressively Russian-nationalist and Orthodox Christian lyrics. Tatar writer and activist Fauzia Bayramova last month filed a complaint with the republic's prosecutor's office asking that officials declare Bichevskaya's 2001 song "Kulikovo pole" extremist and guilty of inciting interethnic discord.

Critics say the lyrics -- written by Bichevskaya's husband, Gennady Ponomaryov, who accompanies Bichevskaya in concert -- glorify Russians and belittle other nationalities. It even calls for Russians to take over Crimea, now part of Ukraine, as well as Turkey and Israel:

Russia will take back Russian Sevastopol
The Crimean Peninsula will be Russian again,
Our mighty Bosphorus, our Constantinople,
And the glory of the world -- Jerusalem.
Our mighty Bosphorus, our Constantinople,
And the glory of the world -- Jerusalem.

Crimea is also home to a large Tatar community that suffered deportation and other repression under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, making the reference particularly sensitive in Tatarstan.

"I have a lot of friends there and my concerts are well received because I am not a nationalist," Zhanna Bichevskaya said ahead of her concert in Kazan.
"I have a lot of friends there and my concerts are well received because I am not a nationalist," Zhanna Bichevskaya said ahead of her concert in Kazan.

Prosecutors forwarded Bayramova's concerns to the local branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB), which issued a terse reply that there was no evidence of anything illegal in the song. "The representation of historical fact in the song cannot be assessed as incitement of racial, ethnic, or religious hatred or enmity," the letter said.

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Speaking to RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service before the March 27 concert, Bichevskaya noted that she had performed in Kazan many times and that there had never been any controversy. "I have a lot of friends there and my concerts are well received because I am not a nationalist. I like everyone just fine," she said. "I have good relations with good people and I try not to have any relations at all with bad ones."

'We Are Russians'

Bichevskaya began giving concerts in the 1970s, performing her own ballads and love songs, as well as the songs of leading bards like Bulat Okudzhava and traditional folk songs. She was frequently compared to the American folk singer Joan Baez.

But since the early 1990s, Bichevskaya's music has become increasingly nationalist and unabashedly Orthodox. In 2001, she released an album of songs written by Ponomaryov titled "We Are Russians" that, in addition to the title song and "Kulikovo pole," included numbers with titles like "To Russians," "The Anthem of Autocratic Russia," and "Russian March":

The Russians are coming.
Moving forward with hearts of the highest standard.
The Russians spit on the power of America and Europe.
The Russians are coming.
Moving forward with hearts of the highest standard.
The Russians spit on the power of America and Europe.
March, march, march, Russian march...

Ilfak Shigapov, a Tatar songwriter known for the Tatar nationalism of his lyrics, says the activists protesting Bichevskaya's lyrics are making a mistake, attracting attention to her that she otherwise would not receive. Shigapov adds that the protests could raise Bichevskaya's profile and introduce her lyrics to new audiences in Russia.

Shigapov believes the protesting Tatars "don't understand that they are making a huge mistake that will have a negative impact on Tatars. Before, nobody was interested in her concerts in Kazan; now the Russian media will write that 'some Tatars are concerned.' That will make Russian nationalistic ideas and ideas of Russian imperialism even more popular among those who have never heard of Bichevskaya before."

Robert Coalson contributed to this report from Prague

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