New National Anthem

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Subject essay: James von Geldern

On January 1, 1944, Radio Moscow broadcast a new Soviet national anthem, written in the spring of 1943, and adopted officially on March 15, 1944. The music, by General Aleksandr Vasilievich Aleksandrov, conductor of the famous Red Army Chorus, had been originally composed for the Bolshevik Anthem (1937), and new words were supplied by the famous children’s writer Sergei Mikhalkov, and the Soviet Uzbek poet Garold El-Registan. Although the songwriting team reflected the multi-national composition of Soviet society, the lyrics conveyed a message of Russian primacy. The first stanza sang the glory of the

Unbreakable union of freeborn republics
Great Russia has welded forever to stand!
Created in struggle by the will of the people,
United and mighty, our Soviet land.

The odd exchange in the which the old Soviet anthem, The Internationale, became the party theme, and the new anthem, bursting with Russian national pride, became the Soviet theme, reflected the shift towards Russian-centered national pride that characterized the wartime years. Although contrary to the internationalist spirit of Marxism-Leninism, the new official line bolstered public morale, at least in the Russian areas of the Union.

The long history of Soviet national anthems reflects the Communist Party struggle for a Soviet identity acceptable to most of the population. Adopted in 1917 to replace the official tsarist anthem, “God Save the Tsar,” the Internationale, had been written in 1888 by the Frenchman Felix Degeyter as the anthem of the Second Internationale. The elevation of Russian national pride as an official value in the mid-1930s rendered the song a bit old-fashioned, and the unofficial national anthem, played at the start of Radio Moscow broadcasts, became Song of the Motherland, composed by Isaak Dunaevskii and Vastly Lebedev-Kumach for the movie Circus (1935). Although the theme remained the official Soviet anthem until the country broke apart in 1991, the unfortunate references to Stalin in the original lyrics made them unacceptable after Khrushchev’s denunciation of the Cult of Personality. The song was played without lyrics until new words were approved in 1977. Post-Soviet years saw several provisional solutions. Gold-medal winners at the 1992 Olympics, who still represented an amalgamated post-Soviet team, listened in confusion as the Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was played. Later the Russian Duma adopted Glinka’s tsarist-era Russian anthem. In the year 2000, president Vladimir Putin and the Duma successfully pushed for the adoption the old Soviet anthem as the anthem for the Russian Federation. Although many were dismayed by the symbolism, others were gladdened, including the by now very old Sergei Mikhalkov, who was commissioned to write new lyrics.

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