Governments' reaction to Soviet anthem low-key

  • 2000-12-14
  • Nick Coleman
RIGA - Proposals by the Russian government to replace the country's dud national anthem with its Soviet-era predecessor - for which new words would supposedly be found - have met with a mild response from leaders in the Baltic states, despite the anthem's association with half a century of Soviet occupation and the rule of Joseph Stalin, who gave the anthem his personal approval. But in less official circles the plan has aroused stronger reactions.

Vytautas Landsbergis, Lithuania's famous veteran of the independence struggle appeared unfazed at the thought of Russians belting out the old anthem written in 1943 by Alexander Alexandrov. The current anthem, with its tune composed by Glinka in the 19th century, is considered insufficiently stirring, and efforts to agree on suitable words have failed.

"This does not concern us," said Landsbergis.

"But it is the shadow of the monster. The tune is directly related to Stalin's times and the crimes of that era. It won't benefit Russia's image."

An adviser to Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga said the anthem was a matter for the Russian people, Parliament and government. But Juris Sinka, MP in the right-wing For Fatherland and Freedom party expressed indignation.

"These things are an abomination to the many people who suffered under the Soviet regime," said Sinka.

"This will be very difficult for Czechs, Poles, Slovaks, for all the former Soviet satellite countries, as well as being an abomination for quite a few Russians. It is to be taken very seriously."

Helpfully, Sinka has composed new Russian words to fit the music of Russia's czarist-era anthem. He has sent his version to the Paris-based Russian-language newspaper Russian Thoughts, he says, but has not yet received a response. "My words are perfectly serious and inspiring," he said.

Janis Jurkans, whose For Human Rights in a United Latvia Party draws much of its support from non-ethnic Latvians, also criticized the proposal but said it wasn't for outsiders to interfere.

"Half of Russia is upset by this, let alone Latvia and the Baltic states," he said.

"But I don't think it'll affect us. Putin is playing to those in Russia for whom the Soviet period and World War II were the greatest events in their lives. Instead of having bread and butter they'll have an anthem."

But significant numbers of ethnic Russians in Latvia may also remember the anthem fondly. Tatyana Favorskaya, chairwoman of the Russian Community of Latvia, said the community's members had discussed the issue and found the idea of restoring the anthem acceptable.

"Our members think it has very good music, although the words are out of date," said Favorskaya.

"Why should it be offensive? Every state has bloody moments in its history. But nobody should execute anthems or other symbols for such moments. Only individuals should be blamed."