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Sunday, August 13, 2006

In Putin's Russia, Even Rock & Roll is Neo-Soviet

Moscow Times pop music critic Sergei Chernov exposes the Neo-Soviet efforts of "President" Putin's Kremlin to coopt the music industry, exactly the same situation as in Soviet times except that now we see musicians voluntarily selling their souls to the devil even without threats of imprisonment or worse such as were necessary in Soviet times. Far from being part of the solution as it used to be, rock music is now becoming part of the problem. Stand-up stand-out heroes like Ilya Kormiltsev, described by Chernov, deserve international recognition and support. If they don't get it, we are all complicit in the rise of the Neo-Soviet Union and sentencing our children to Cold War II (who knows, maybe even a hot one):

Russian rock, which helped change the face of the Soviet Union in the 1980s, seems to be adrift in the Putin era. As some former rock heroes seek benefits from the state, what was once the Russian rock fraternity has cracked. Perhaps the last straw was the dispute that erupted after perestroika-era rock idol Vyacheslav Butusov played for 5,000 activists of the pro-Kremlin youth movement Nashi on July 24. The activists had come to Seliger 2006, a Nashi summer camp being held at Lake Seliger in the Tver region. Butusov -- who won fame as the frontman of Nautilus Pompilius, one of the leading bands of the 1980s Soviet rock breakthrough -- was then rebuked by his former lyricist, Ilya Kormiltsev, the writer and translator who now heads the offbeat Moscow-based publishing house Ultra Kultura.

Writing in his blog on, Kormiltsev accused Butusov of betraying his and his fans' ideals by playing at a pro-Kremlin event, even if it meant good money."I am against the lyrics that I wrote being performed in the context of political events such as Seliger 2006," wrote Kormiltsev, 46, who co-wrote some of the best-known Nautilus Pompilius songs, including the anti-totalitarian anthems "Chained Together" (Skovanniye Odnoi Tsepyu) and "Khaki-Colored Globe" (Shar Tsveta Khaki)."As a conscious opponent of the present-day Russian political system, I don't want hired young louts having fun on taxpayer money to listen to lyrics that I wrote with my heart and blood," he added.Nashi leaders -- or "commissars," as they call themselves -- were brought to Lake Seliger from around Russia for lectures and seminars led by figures such as Kremlin-connected spin doctor Gleb Pavlovsky and free rock concerts by the likes of Korol i Shut and Ariya. The youth movement, widely seen as the brainchild of presidential deputy chief of staff Vladislav Surkov, was organized last year in the wake of Ukraine's Orange Revolution, the street protests involving young people and rock bands that paved the way for opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko to win the country's disputed presidential election. Many, including Kormiltsev, believe that Nashi was created to prevent an Orange Revolution from happening in Russia. Kormiltsev's blog entry promptly drew over 300 comments. Speaking by telephone last week, the writer explained why he was angry at Butusov for participating in the Nashi event.

"I think it's unworthy for a person who is seen by many as a symbol of a definite period, of a definite era, ... to sell himself like this," he said. "If he takes part in things like this -- whether it's for his beliefs or just for the money -- he must take responsibility for being associated with this kind of scene. For instance, he might expect an expression of disapproval from me, his co-writer, because for me, with my political beliefs, it's a serious blow."

Last year, Butusov was present at an infamous meeting between Surkov and Russian rock stars, including Akvarium's Boris Grebenshchikov and Leningrad's Sergei Shnurov. Kormiltsev sees the meeting -- initially kept secret -- as another part of the Kremlin's effort to co-opt Russian youth."These musicians don't think about their future much, in the first place," Kormiltsev said. "Surkovs come and go, but you can't get your reputation back. I think they acted too hastily and ran gleefully, led by their managers, in the hopes that big state bucks would be given away."

Kormiltsev made similar accusations in a lengthy article titled "The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle 2" that was published last month. In it, he argued that Russian rock stars -- even those who don't necessarily back the Kremlin -- had sold out to politicians."I am 100 percent sure that Vyacheslav Butusov not only doesn't support the position of Nashi, but most likely has no idea what it's about or who they are," he said. "He was told by his managers, let's go there and play, they pay money. So he went and played because they paid money. Acting like this, the man devalues himself."Butusov's manager, Innokenty Mineyev, said by telephone this week that neither he nor the singer would comment on the matter. Kormiltsev said he sent Butusov his criticism via SMS soon after learning about the Lake Seliger concert, and the singer's reply was, "I don't understand the essence of your claims."

Kormiltsev has a long history of defying the authorities. In 1989, he rejected the Lenin Komsomol Award that was given to Nautilus Pompilius, while Butusov and guitarist Dmitry Umetsky accepted it. More recently, Kormiltsev's publishing house has attracted controversy by putting out a wide range of nonconformist literature, from skinhead memoirs to anthologies of American Beat poetry to the prison essays of National Bolshevik Party founder Eduard Limonov. In May, prosecutors launched an investigation of Ultra Kultura for allegedly printing pornography. For Kormiltsev, the investigation of Ultra Kultura and the founding of Nashi are part of the same phenomenon: overreactions by the authorities to perceived threats."There is only one problem: the neuroticism of the authorities, who see a threat to themselves everywhere, often exaggerating its scale," he said." These guys never imagined they could make so much money for themselves, and that's why they're nervous. They act like somebody who finds a suitcase with a million dollars and gets scared of being hunted down the rest of his life. That's why they're so easily, disproportionably irritated. The Ultra Kultura publishing house isn't even the most striking example -- Limonov is the most striking example of the authorities' disproportionate reaction to an irritant."

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