Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Review of Russian History through the Anthem

It is very important to understand the history of the country when people discuss foreign policy. National anthems can tell about the country more than hundreds of books. As Bruce Lee said, “don’t think but just feel” the country. Few nations have experienced regime changes so drastic as those of Russia, from czarist, communist, to capitalist. Even current capitalist Russia is in the process of drastic change as commented by Professor Andrei Zorin, Oxford University.

In order to feel Russia, let me review the anthem chronologically.

First, I hereby would like to introduce the anthem of czarist Russia, composed in 1830. Just watch the following video and feel it.

This is a very beautiful song. It hardly sounds national anthem. I feel this more like a hymn of Christian church. The title of czarist anthem is “God Save the Czar”, which is quite similar to that of British anthem, “God Save the Queen (or King)”. However, British anthem does not sound so religious. Apparently, it is an anthem of a modern and secular nation state of constitutional monarchy. But czarist Russian anthem sounds strongly religious.

There is nothing strange about religious tone with this anthem. Historically, Russia has a strong tie with the Byzantine Orthodox Church since Grand Duke Vladimir Ⅰ of Kiev converted to Christianity in 988. After the collapse of the Byzantine Empire, Moscow Grand Duke Ivan Ⅲ married Prince Sophia, niece of the last Byzantine Emperor Constantine Ⅺ. Since then, Russian emperor inherited the chief of the Orthodox Church.

Although I am deeply moved to hear this beautiful music, I feel feudalistic backwardness of czarist Russia on the other hand. History proves it right. Alexander Ⅱ emancipated serfs so late in 1861. Russia was defeated by rapidly modernizing Japan in 1905. Czar’s army was no rival to Kaiser’s Germany in World War Ⅰ.

The second video below is the communist anthem with English subtitles. This is a mighty and impressive song. Numerous Soviet athletes stood proudly on the stage with this Leninist anthem at medal reception ceremonies in the Olympic Games.

When you read the lyric of this anthem, you will understand that it is propaganda of the Communist Party in Moscow. I am surprised to find a phrase, “Sing to the Motherland, home of the free”. Is communism free? No! Never!

However, peoples of 15 republics believed in the ideal declared in this song during the Soviet era. Also, it is important to keep it in mind that patriotism and devotion to communism were identical in the Soviet regime.

Another version of Soviet anthem in English was sung by an American singer Paul Robeson, in order to commemorate the victory against the Nazi Germany. See the video below.

This is nothing but a flattery to Josef Stalin. “Long live our people, united and free”? Stalin was one of the most dreadful autocrats in history. Even Soviet citizens felt scared to hear his name.

The Soviet Union has collapsed finally in 1991, and the anthem changed accordingly.

This anthem lacks beauty of the Romanov song and might of the Soviet song. It sounds like just a banal music, as if symbolizing shrinking power of Russia during the Yeltsin era.

When Vladimir Putin was inaugurated to the president in 2000, he restored the Soviet anthem, but changed the lyric. In the video below, you can read the lyric in English and Russian.

As you understand, communist propaganda has been eliminated. Russia has become a capitalist nation, but people yearn superpower might of the Soviet era. Strangely enough, the Russian public takes pride in both Czarist tradition and Soviet power.

The above video is the concert at the Red Square in Moscow on the Russia Day, June 12 in 2005. President-then Putin sings the anthem with Russian pop stars. In the film, you will find the Romanov emblem of double-headed eagle around the top of the arch covering the stage. In terms of ideology, the Soviet melody and the Romanov emblem are at odds each other. This is unlikely set symbolizes Russian nationalism today.

I hope videos in this post will be helpful to feel nationalism in Russia under the leadership of Vladimir Putin. Also, I hope them helpful to feel Russian history. Don’t think, just feel!