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Duma Hymn Sparks Controversy, Ridicule

Duma deputies standing for the hymn on June 11.
Duma deputies standing for the hymn on June 11.
The lyrics are archaic. The melody is reminiscent of the old German national anthem. And overall, the ditty is a bit "strange, funny, and absurd."

Those were a few of the more polite assessments that appeared online in reaction to the Russian State Duma's decision this month to resurrect an old tsarist hymn in its honor.

The hymn was played on June 11 to a standing ovation at a Duma session in advance of the Russia Day national holiday. It was sung by the 75-year-old crooner Iosif Kobzon, a toupee-sporting Soviet-era icon with alleged ties to organized crime who is now a lawmaker with the ruling United Russia party.

Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin said the hymn is meant to symbolize the historical continuity from the first tsarist-era parliament that was convened in 1906 to today's Duma.

"The music is written in the best traditions of the fatherland's classical school," Naryshkin said. "The lyrics evoke unbroken ties with the past, the values of democracy and freedom, the continuation of the fatherland's parliamentary traditions and, of course, the greatness of the country to which the name Russia was once and for all returned in 1990."

WATCH: Naryshkin talking about the hymn's symbolism followed by the playing of the song in the Duma (in Russian) at around the 1:30 mark:

Introducing Kobzon, Naryshkin said the hymn represented "another page in his bright artistic biography" and "a unique investment in the history of the country's parliamentarism."

The reception among Russia's chatty online community was, to say the least, less charitable.

Writing on LiveJournal, one blogger using the handle "ivanpodeda" took issue with the hymn's opening line, which reads: "To you, the people’s elected, Rus bows to the ground" in a booming baritone.

"It's awful and there is no other word for it. I personally didn’t elect anyone and moreover have never bowed to anyone and I think many others haven’t either. It is a fairly strange, funny, and absurd hymn," ivanpodeda wrote, in an apparent reference to widespread allegations of vote fraud in the December 2011 Duma elections.

On YouTube, where videos of Kobzon's rendition of the hymn were posted, commenters posted profanity-laced alternative lyrics.

Mikhail Denissov, a musician and blogger, claimed on LiveJournal that the melody sounds suspiciously like the German national anthem: “It turns out that the State Duma hymn was plagiarized from Deutschland uber alles,” Denissov wrote, referring to the "Song for Germany," which has been that country's national anthem since 1922. At the end of World War II, the stanza including the line "Deutschland uber alles" ("Germany above all") was removed from the anthem due to its perceived chauvinism.

In response to questions about Denissov's claim, Kobzon told reporters that "people who look at the Internet and read blogs are idiots."

The hymn's melody was actually composed by Aleksandr Glazunov, a Russian composer from the late 19th and early 20th centuries who was a teacher of the renowned pianist Dmitry Shostakovich. The words were written by the poet Nikolai Sokolov and first published in a newspaper on April 27, 1906, the day the tsarist-era Russian State Duma first convened.

Naryshkin played a key role in the hymn’s resurrection. When the Duma marked Parliament Day on April 27, Naryshkin reportedly distributed copies of an old recording to lawmakers and expressed hope that Kobzon would perform a new recording.

-- Tom Balmforth

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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