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Poet Behind Soviet National Anthem Dies Aged 96

Poet Sergei Mikhalkov, 1971
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Sergei Mikhalkov, who wrote the Soviet Union's national anthem under Josef Stalin and then reworked his rousing lyrics for a new generation of Russians under Vladimir Putin, has died. He was 96.

Mikhalkov, also a children's poet, died at a Moscow hospital on August 27, the ITAR-TASS news agency reported, citing his relatives.

The patriotic verses he wrote in 1944, lavishing praise upon Stalin, replaced the communist "Internationale," whose call for global communist revolution sat uneasily with wartime alliances.

Set to music by Aleksandr Aleksandrov, the anthem was dedicated to the might of the Soviet Union and victorious battles to come.

"Great Stalin brought up to serve the people, he inspired us to work and heroic deeds," the anthem declared.

The verses, written with Gabriel El-Registan, were abandoned in the 1950s when Nikita Khrushchev launched his short-lived de-Stalinization campaign.

The hymn was then played without words until the 1970s when Mikhalkov reworked it to replace Stalin with the founder of the Soviet state, Vladimir Lenin.

After the collapse of communism and the Soviet Union, Russia adopted a new tune based on the music of Mikhail Glinka.

Putin’s Condolences

But no lyrics were picked until 2000, when Putin, a newly elected president, decided to revive the Soviet-era refrain, popular among many Russians but detested by liberals as a symbol of Stalin's tyranny.

Mikhalkov was asked to rework the anthem, and references to the "great and powerful Soviet Union" and Stalin's guidance of the nation on the path to communism were replaced with praise of "God-given" Russia.

Recent opinion polls show that few Russians remember the new verses and national politicians often even fail to sing the lyrics at official ceremonies. Older Russians can still be seen singing the original Mikhalkov verses from the Stalin era.

Mikhalkov became one of the most decorated poets in the Soviet Union. Putin last year awarded him the order of St. Andrew, Russia's highest award, for his service to literature.

Prime Minister Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev sent their condolences to Mikhalkov's family, including his sons, popular film directors Nikita Mikhalkov and Andron Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky.