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Friday, 8 December, 2000, 17:20 GMT
New anthem reopens old wounds
Russia State Duma
The old anthem proved a popular choice in the state Duma
By Russian affairs specialist Malcolm Haslett

Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma, has voted by a large majority to restore the music of the old Soviet national anthem, with new words.

But in spite of the large parliamentary majority, the move has provoked bitter opposition and created some strange alliances.

Joseph Stalin
The national anthem was originally composed for Stalin
The music of the old Soviet anthem is undoubtedly stirring and popular with many Russians. And President Putin saw its restoration as a way of uniting Russians.

Opinion polls have shown consistently that the reintroduction of the music, with new, non-communist words, was supported by about half the population - far more than any other option.

Uniting the people

And to make it even more palatable Mr Putin suggested it as part of a compromise package: the Soviet-era anthem would be brought back, but the imperial two-headed eagle would be retained as the national emblem, and the familiar pre-revolutionary white, red and blue tricolour would also stay.

The theory was that symbols from different periods of Russia's history would bring people together. But it hasn't quite worked like that.

Fierce opposition

Many Russians, communist and non-communist, do welcome Mr Putin's proposals.

Support has come from groups like the Russian Orthodox Church and war veterans. They see the anthem as the one that inspired them to victory in the Second World War.

President Putin and ex-President Yeltsin
Yeltsin has spoken out against his successor for the first time
But opposition, especially from the intellectual elite, has been fierce and bitter.

Critics point out that the Soviet anthem was originally written for Joseph Stalin, and although the words were altered several times, they say it is still indelibly linked with Stalin and the repression of millions of Russians.

Symbol of repression

The issue has united liberal politicians and intellectuals with some traditional Slavophiles like the writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who himself spent years in Soviet labour camps.

Russia's first post-Soviet president, Boris Yeltsin, has also - for the first time - come out in public against the man he designated as his successor.

A president, says Mr Yeltsin, should guide public opinion, not just slavishly follow the wishes of the majority.

So though the vote has been taken, and the proposals approved, wounds have been reopened in Russia which will take time to heal.

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See also:

04 Dec 00 | Europe
Soviet anthem set for comeback
01 Dec 00 | Media reports
Anthems out of tune with people
23 Jul 00 | Europe
Russians rule anthem offside
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