The national anthem lyricist Sergei Mikhalkov (1913-2009)

Among the many links between the Soviet Union and Post-Soviet Russia maybe the national anthem is the most symbolic one – here in the 1977 version sung by the Ukrainian group 5’Nizza live on RenTV shortly after midnight on January 1st, 2004:

When Stalin in 1943 wished to replace the “The Internationale” which had until then been the Soviet anthem with a new anthem a competition was announced. Lyrics written by Sergei Mikhalkov and Garol’d El’-Registan and which had been adopted to a melody composed by Alexander Aleksandrov (originally from “The Anthem of the Bolshevik Party” – “Gimn partii Bol’shevikov”) won the competition. Thus the Soviet national anthem “Soiuz nerushimy respublik svobodnykh” (“An unbreakable union of free republics”) was born. The new anthem was first officially broadcast over the radio the night to January 1st, 1944.

Besides promoting a Soviet patriotism the anthem’s lyrics also contributed to Stalin’s personality cult. This made the lyrics problematic after Stalin’s death. As a result of Khrushchev’s de-Stalinazation the anthem was played without lyrics – a state it remained in until 1977. In that year the anthem’s lyrics were rewritten by nobody else than Sergei Mikhalkov by removing the allusions to Stalin and refocusing the lyrics on Lenin.

This version by Igor Ugolnikov and performed by some of the stars of Soviet estrada combines the lyrics from the 1944 and 1977 version – adding a strong dose of either Soviet nostalgia or parody (since the clip is recorded in 1991 it is kind of hard to judge):

After the fall of the Soviet Union the anthem was replaced with Mikhail Glinka’s wordless “Patriotic Song”. However, due to discontent with the anthem (both choice of melody as well as lack of lyrics) a government commission was created by then President Vladimir Putin to explore the options which resulted in Aleksandrov’s melody being reinstated with new lyrics written by (once again) Sergei Mikhalkov in 2000 (the official decrees signed by Putin can be found at www.gov.ru/main/symbols/gsrf4_1.html and www.gov.ru/main/symbols/gsrf4_3.html).

While the poet and (children’s) author Sergei Mikhalkov passed away on August 27th, 2009 the Russian Federation’s anthem lives on – here in a live performance with some of the more known rock singers (Kinchev, Chaif etc.):
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Liube who is often mentioned as one of Putin’s favorite popular music groups has a slightly more energetic version which can be heard at media.vad1.com/temporary_url_20140405ksjrf/anthem-russia-2000-lubeh-rasseya_2005.mp3.

For the lyrics of the different versions as well as numerous audio examples the site www.hymn.ru is the best place to start. Furthermore, J. Martin Daughtry’s article
Russia’s New Anthem and the Negotiation of National Identity” (Ethnomusicology 47:1 2003, p. 42-67) provides a good discussion of the different versions and embeds the anthem within relevant discourses. Finally, also see my post “The Soviet Union in Soviet and Post Soviet popular music“.

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