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Russia: Duma Votes To Reinstate Soviet Anthem

The Russian State Duma has overwhelmingly approved reinstating the Stalin-era national anthem as the country's official song -- just nine years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and seven years after the anthem was abolished by former President Boris Yeltsin. The Duma also acted to adopt the tsarist flag, the eagle, and the "red flag" for the armed forces as other state symbols.

Moscow, 8 December 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The Soviet Union's national anthem for almost 50 years, before being abolished by President Boris Yeltsin shortly after the collapse of communism, is poised to make a comeback.

Deputies in the Russian State Duma today, following a proposal this week by President Vladimir Putin, voted overwhelmingly to restore the anthem as the country's official song, but with different lyrics. The vote exceeded the two-thirds majority needed to overcome any potential veto, meaning the decision is very likely to enter into law.

The text of the song will be worked out later, probably at the beginning of the year by a special presidential commission. It's expected that lines such as the "unshakable union of free republics" and "long live the USSR, created through the peoples' will," will be dropped.

The Duma also today formalized the two-headed eagle and the tsarist white, blue, and red flag as other official symbols. And, in a last minute addition, Putin threw in a bill making the "red flag of victory" -- that is, the flag flown over the Reichstag when the Russians conquered Berlin in 1945 -- the flag of Russia's armed forces.

Communist Nikolai Gubenko, the head of the Duma culture committee, defended the vote to formalize as state symbols a 70-year old hymn, a 500-year-old coat of arms, and a 300-year-old flag. He said they all symbolize various part of Russian history, with their good and bad elements.

He went as far as to quote poet Aleksandr Pushkin in defense of the Soviet hymn:

"I swear on my honor," wrote Pushkin, "that for nothing in the world would I want to change homelands or have another history than that of our forefathers."

The communist faction of the Duma has been looking to restore the former state symbols for most of the past decade. Yeltsin had thrown out the symbols and replaced them with the tricolor flag, the double-headed eagle, and a new anthem, "Patriotic Song," by the 19th-century Russian composer Mikhail Glinka.

Putin this week said he favored restoring the Soviet anthem. He said that a majority of citizens supported the move, and that both the country's Soviet and tsarist heritages had positive aspects that should be valued. Putin cited Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin as one such example.

Understandably, it was the restoration of the Soviet hymn which provoked the most controversy in the Duma.

About 50 deputies from the Union of Right Forces and the Yabloko factions spoke out against restoring the Soviet anthem.

The head of the Yabloko faction, Grigori Yavlinsky, criticized deputies for not allowing the opposition parties to voice their opinions one more time before the vote. He says the adoption of the new anthem -- which he says was made possible by the presidential administration teaming up with the communists -- reflects nostalgia among authorities for Soviet-era methods.

"We think it is a signal of where our society is heading. It shows what we should expect in the near future. It is revealing, it takes away any illusions in regard [both] to the short- and mid-term policy of this country's leadership."

The issue of the Soviet anthem even provoked ailing former President Yeltsin to criticize Putin for the first time. Yeltsin says he is categorically against the Soviet anthem.

Representatives of the cultural intelligentsia, such as ballet star Maya Plisetskaya, have also called the hymn a "walking ghost."

But there were also some surprising reactions. For instance, writer and dissident Aleksandr Solzhenytsin, who spent years in the Soviet Gulag, did not speak out directly against the anthem. He said only that the debate around it was "shameless" in a country where people are suffering from poverty.

As for the Russian Orthodox church, it has made a sudden turnaround, with its spokesman now supporting the Soviet anthem only weeks after Patriarch Aleksei II spoke against it.

While the Duma moved to adopt the former Soviet anthem, the debate moved into musicology.

In a feeble attempt to dissociate the hymn from its Soviet origins, the head of the pro-Putin Unity faction, Boris Gryzlov, said the Soviet melody was actually inspired from a 19th-century composition and therefore was not born in the Soviet period.

Russian composer Aleksandr Atarov, however, said yesterday that military conductor Aleksandr Aleksandrov -- credited with writing the anthem in 1944 -- simply snitched the melody from Robert Schumann's "Fruhlingsfahrt," an inspirational tune for talking a walk through the countryside.