Russia and The Other: A Cultural Approach
Slavic 194 (Fall 2003)



Note on the Anthem History:

With Peter the Great, Russian empire, adopted the English "God Save the King." By the early 19th century, it often competed with the native Russian "Glory" by Dmitry Bortiansky. In 1833, the competition for the new anthem was won by a violinist and composer Prince A.F. Lvov (1798-1870), and his music, along with the text by Vasily Zhukovsky, court poet and Pushkin's friend, served until 1917 (Lvov's Bozhe, tsaria khrani).

The runners-up were Mikhail Glinka's "Glory" chorus from the conclusion of his opera Life for the Tsar and what came to be known as his "Patriotic Song."

When the Russian autocracy collapsed in February 1917, the old "Bozhe, tsaria khrani" was replaced by the French Marseillaise, the hymn of the French revolution, but in a very free Russian translation. In a way, this transition was envisioned, if in reverse, in Tchaikovsky's famous 1812 Overture in which La Marseillaise  theme is supplanted by "Bozhe, tsaria khrani." Seal of the Provisional Government


The more official but less performed was the national anthem composed by Alksandr Gretchaninov.

After the October revolution and all the way up to 1944, the official anthem of Soviet Russia and, later, the Soviet Union was The International, an emblem of the Soviet Union's commitment to internationalism and world proletarian revolution, notwithstanding the fact of the 1938 Hymn of the Bolshevik Party   (A.V. Aleksandrov's music to the words by V. Lebedev-Kumach), which was to become the foundation of the 1944 Stalinist Hymn of the Soviet Union.



In the course of WWII, when the ideological creed of the world revolution was replaced by the ideology of Russian nationalism, more consonant with the war effort, a new Soviet anthem was called for (the State Committee on the Anthem, however, had predated WWII; its first chairman was Maxim Litvinov, appointed to the post by Stalin after being sacked as Foreign Minister in 1938 in anticipation of an alliance with Nazi Germany). It was finally produced by  A.V. Aleksandrov. The lyrics were authored by S. Mikhalkov and G.G. El-Registan (edited by Stalin himself). The music of this anthem, as well as the text, were an adaptation of the 1938 Hymn of the Bolsheviks. As the Soviet national Anthem, it was first publicly performed  on 1/1/1944 and officially adopted on 3/15/1944).

After Stalin's death and the de-Stalinization under Khrushchev, the anthem continued to function in its former capacity but because of the now offensive lyrics, it became a "song sans paroles."

In 1977, during the peak of the Leonid Brezhnev era, the lyrics were revised (minor emendations to remove the mention of Stalin), and anthem could be sung once again (click here for the 1977 version, performed by the Red Army Chorus).

After the collapse of communism, under Boris Yeltsin, the music of Glinka's Patriotic Song was declared the national anthem by Presidential decree; the anthem, however, continued to exist in a constitutional limbo:  with the legislature dominated by the old communist, who deeply despised the symbols of post-communist Russia and pined for the restoration of the old order, Yeltsin never submitted the anthem for their approval.

The issue was revived in the early months of Vladimir Putin's presidency. Defeated four times in national elections, communist were no longer a threatening political force, but they could still derail Putin's domestic agenda that required consolidation of Russian society. With his powerful mandate in hand, Putin was anxious to proceed with his plans and put an end to the confrontational politics of the Yeltsin era. The debates and heated passions surrounding the new national symbols of Russia gave him the opportunity to effect reconciliation in one broad swoop. Instead of choosing among various factional versions, he pushed for the adoption of a hybrid set, including some of the sacred Soviet symbols. On December 8, 2000, after much debate and acrimony over competing versions of the "symbolism legislation," the State Duma adopted the music of the old Soviet anthem with the modified text by Sergey Mikhalkov, along with the old Muscovite tsarist double-headed eagle, the reformers' favorite tri-color flag, and the appellation comrade and the old Red Army banner for Russia's new army (see Freidin's article on Putin ).

Copyright 2002 by Gregory Freidin


bulletlaw on the anthem
bullet Freidin on Putin's post-modernist symbolism
bullet Sergey Mikhalkov's reminiscences on composing the original text of the Hymn of the Soviet Union
bulletThe Double-headed Eagle as a Symbol of the Russian State