- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 6, 2000

MOSCOW Russian reformers told President Vladimir Putin yesterday that his plan to establish a national anthem that retains the tune from the Soviet hymn is a "mistake" that will sow division in the country.

But the president won backing from the Orthodox church, former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and, not surprisingly, Communist party chief Gennady Zyuganov for the bill that is expected to be adopted by parliament later this week.

Mr. Putin, a former KGB colonel and one-time head of Russia's domestic intelligence agency, asked parliament Monday to give second reading to legislation bringing back the booming Stalin-era tune, only with new words.

Anatoly Chubais, a key economic reformer under former President Boris Yeltsin, said the move smacked of populism and kowtowing to a group that "supported lies, injustice and death" under the Soviet regime.

Against a backdrop of nostalgia for Soviet-era stability in chaotic post-communist Russia, recent polls show that 49.9 percent of Russians favor reimplementing "Gimn Sovetskogo Soyuza," or "Hymn of the Soviet Union."

"The truth is not shaped by the majority. The majority, as we well know from our history, supported lies, injustice and blood bath," said Mr. Chubais, who now heads the state electricity monopoly UES.

"Yes, Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin], this is a time when you are making a mistake together with the people," he added.

A group of artists and intellectuals also warned against adopting the old Soviet hymn, saying it would reopen dangerous divisions within society a decade after the collapse of communism and breakup of the Soviet Union.

"The debate raging around the anthem has divided society precisely at the time when a process of consolidation and reconciliation was starting," they said in an open letter published on the front page of Izvestia daily.

"The head of state should realize that millions of citizens, including people who voted for him, will never respect an anthem which tramples on their convictions and insults the memory of the victims of political repression by the Soviet regime," the signatories said.

They included ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, film director Gleb Panfilov and Yury Shevshuk, lead singer of top Russian rock group DDT.

But sensing victory, communists and Soviet-era politicians insisted that the move was long overdue.

"I am sure that the anthem will be adopted. The music is lyrical, given birth to by a victorious nation at a time of unprecedented progress, discoveries and achievements," said Mr. Zyuganov.

"I think all the citizens of Russia, the young and the elderly, will be grateful for this measure," he added in comments broadcast on state-run ORT television.

Mr. Primakov, a former Soviet spy chief, added: "It is not ideology. It is patriotism, the love of the fatherland. Of course the words must be quite different, but the music is splendid."

Mr. Putin also got the backing of the Russian Orthodox Church, which said his initiative established "the continuity of Russian history," including the Soviet period "in which there were terrible tragedies, but also many good things."

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