Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Russian National Anthem

National anthems are the musical incarnation of a country’s national consciousness. Embedded in their composition is the essence of a nation—its sense of uniqueness, its cultural heritage, and its sense of oneness. As a national symbol, anthems are usually accompanied by an official flag and emblem, all of which work in unison to identify one state in a world of many.  Given the ubiquitous influence of their symbolic function, national anthems can often take on an active role in the construction of national identity, creating hotbeds of debate and encouraging widespread participation . The active search for a national anthem is archetypical of the essentiality of music in the foundation of a nation’s sense of self.

 What would you say if I told you that Russia's current national anthem--"Russia, Our Holy Power"--retains the same melody as the Soviet national anthem--"Unbreakable Union." If you said "it's probably just because it's familiar to Russians" or "see, I told you that they are trying to become the Soviet Union again" I would say that you are wrong. The entire process behind Russia's post-Soviet national anthem fiasco is so interesting and it tells us so much about how Russia deals with its history and how it envisions its future.

A little bit of history:
Russia's first post-Soviet attempt came in the form of Glinka’s “Patriotic Song,” which was made the state anthem by Yeltsin’s decree in 1993. The hastiness of this decision came as a result of drawn out debates in the Duma, which failed to agree upon a new anthem. As a result, nobody liked the anthem. Interestingly, a public opinion poll conducted in 2000 indicated that only 15% of the public approved of it. The urgency of the ensuing national anthem crisis is best illustrated by a quote from Vladimir Voinovich on the matter:  “what image can we have if we ourselves don’t know who we are? We know what the Soviet Union was, and Tsarist Russia also. But what is Russia today?” Fast forward a few years and the issue comes to the attention of the the newly elected President Vladimir Putin, when athletes complained about the standing anthem's lack of lyrics and patriotism--it embarrassed them. Putin's solution was to submit a bill "On the National Anthem of the Russian Federation," which revived Alexandrov's melody (the melody in "Unbreakable Union") with NEW LYRICS. 

Putin's decision outraged some Russian politicians and it was stated that it created a "split in society," however, I do not think that Putin's decision was entirely inappropriate and I do not think it signals a Soviet revival. On the contrary, this shows that Putin is just really good at recycling things. Utilizing the mechanism of memory, “Russia, Our Holy Power” was a reasonably co-opted piece of symbolic capital that was able to be reinterpreted along less severe Stalinist lines, reminding the Russian people of the great accomplishments of the Soviet Past. With its wealth of emotions, the Soviet melody was better equipped at making a national anthem national. Its re-invigoration of national associations and feelings helped to sequester feelings of doubt and incertitude among post-Soviet Russians, thus generating a more realistic forum for the contemplation of future courses of identity. Finally, music as a communicator of national identity on both the domestic and international level creates a more formal and more widely recognized identity. By avoiding the selection of a completely new national anthem, President Putin was able to re-purpose the already existing national fundamentals ingrained in the Soviet melody. Unlike its failed predecessor, “Russia, Our Holy Power” was able to encapsulate the national community, its psychological associations, and its aspirations. With regards to future renovations to Russian national identity, the process behind the adoption of “Russia, Our Holy Power” indicates that the modern Russian state will continue to favor the reinterpretation of its past, with an emphasis on resurrecting images of greatness and uniqueness. 

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