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Last Updated: Friday, 24 December 2004, 14:14 GMT
Russian MPs told to learn anthem
View on St Basil's cathedral in Moscow
Changes to national symbols have left many Russians confused
Russian members of parliament have been given three days to learn the words of the national anthem.

Sergey Mironov, who heads parliament's upper chamber, said he wanted MPs to sing the anthem at the close of the autumn session on 27 December.

Russian President Vladimir Putin re-introduced the music of the old Soviet times, but ordered new lyrics that reflected modern Russia.

Many MPs don't sing, for fear of mixing up the new words with the old anthem.

The current version of the lyrics was written by poet Sergey Mikhalkov, who also wrote the original text of the anthem back in the early 1950s. He also reversion it after the death of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

In Soviet times, older people often confused the old version with the newer one, which omitted references to Stalin.

In the early 1990s, the new democratic authorities abolished the Soviet anthem and replaced it with "Patriotic Song" by 19th century composer Mikhail Glinka .

But they failed to commission suitable lyrics at the time, leaving the national anthem an instrumental piece.

Three versions

Soon after Vladimir Putin became president, the parliament controlled by his supporters re-introduced the music of the old anthem composed by Aleksandr Aleksandrov.

Mikhalkov, currently 91 years old, won the poetry competition to write the new words.

His new version retains most features of the old one, but avoids the mention of the Communist Party, Vladimir Lenin and the Soviet state.

Most Russians still know the words of the Soviet anthem by heart, but few have bothered to learn the new lyrics.

During the last Olympic Games some officials complained that Russian athletes stood silent when the anthem was played.

Many liberals in Russia oppose or reject the new take on the old anthem. In parliament, some MPs did not stand up when it was played or turned their backs as a sign of protest.

Russia is currently using a combination of the imperial two-headed eagle, the Soviet anthem, and a tricolour flag associated with the democratic February 1917 revolution, as its national symbols.

But correspondents say the flag is often hung upside down, because many people do not know which colour goes on top.

Timeline: Russia
23 Dec 04 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Russia
05 Sep 04 |  Country profiles

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