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Russian Coin Honors -- Some Say Co-Opts -- Bard Vysotsky

New 25-ruble silver coins issued by Russia's Central Bank to mark the 80th birth anniversary of Russian poet, actor, singer, and songwriter Vladimir Vysotsky

Russia now has a coin commemorating the iconic Russian musician, actor, and poet Vladimir Vysotsky, who would be 80 years old on January 25 if he were still alive.

The Central Bank launched the issue of a 25-ruble coin bearing an engraved portrait of the storied Soviet-era balladeer, who is pictured strumming a guitar and with the top two buttons of his shirt undone.

A total of 1,500 of the silver commemorative coins, worth about $0.44 at current exchange rates, will be released.

Vysotsky has been revered since the 1960s, when he gave voice to a generation of Soviet citizens straining under the tight control of the authorities.

Recordings of his songs, often challenging or questioning Soviet regulations and mores imposed from above, circulated on bootleg tapes made at his concerts and performances in the apartments of friends.

A monument to Vladimir Vysotsky in Simferopol
A monument to Vladimir Vysotsky in Simferopol

Some Russians saw irony in the idea of a government that critics say is determined to quash dissent and stifle individualism honoring Vysotsky, suggesting his memory was being co-opted by the state.

"Typical Russia -- celebrating long-dead dissident actor/singer Vladimir Vysotsky jubilee while keeping one of the best current theatre directors, Kirill Serebrennikov, under arrest for political reasons," journalist Leonid Ragozin tweeted on January 23.

Serebrennikov was arrested in August and accused of embezzling some $1 million in state funds, a charge he and supporters say is absurd.

Vysotsky, who was also a popular stage and screen actor, died of heart failure in 1980, at age 42. His alcohol and drug abuse is believed as a critical factor in his early death.

The coin's release comes ahead of a March 18 election win which President Vladimir Putin, who was a KGB officer in the Soviet era, is seen as certain to secure a new six-year term.

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