Government Bulldozer: Protest Songs From Russia

Dec 29, 2011
Originally published on December 29, 2011 4:50 pm

Tens of thousands of Russians took to the streets of Moscow and cities across Russia this month. They're angry over parliamentary elections that they say were rigged by the party of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The protests are the biggest Moscow has seen in two decades.

On Wednesday, All Things Considered host Robert Siegel checked in with a Greek music critic to find out about protest music there. Today, Russian musician, producer and public activist Vasily Shumov shares the soundtrack of dissent in Russia. You can listen to the conversation by clicking the audio link above, and hear the songs they discuss below.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Tens of thousands of Russians took to the streets of Moscow and cities across Russia this month. The demonstrations were sparked by parliamentary elections that many believe were rigged by the party of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

And the protestors' grievances go beyond that. They're against corruption among the country's rich and powerful and they're against efforts by the government to quash free expression.

Yesterday, we checked in with a Greek music critic to find out about protest music in Greece. And today, we bring you the soundtrack of dissent in Russia. Among the new protest anthems is this song, "State Bulldozer," by an elder statesman of Russian rock, Vasily Shumov.


VASILY SHUMOV: (Singing in foreign language)

SIEGEL: Vasily Shumov joins us now from Moscow. Welcome to the program. And can you tell us about the lyrics of "State Bulldozer?"

SHUMOV: Yes. This is a song I wrote based on my conversations with many Russians who was suppressed by the state. For example, if you own a club and you made there some kind of opposition meeting or allowed some opposition politicians speak up there, tomorrow, your club will be shut down because they found you have fire violation or you have some type of electrical hazard there. So, this is a clear example of state suppression of today's opposition.

SIEGEL: I remember the very famous Soviet era protesting of Vysotsky, who was loved by Russians, but he didn't sing. His songs hardly existed in the official broadcast culture of the day. Nowadays, are your songs getting played on the radio or are they publicly acknowledged?

SHUMOV: Oh, no. My songs, my protest songs, not on the radio because the radio has censors by Putin government. Only songs about nothing and stupid love songs that's on the radio on the rotations. There are no protest songs in Russia, because you have black list on the TVs, on the radio and I'm sure my song is blacklisted, as well.

Right now, people can get all music on Internet and they cannot censor Internet yet. So, all my songs available on Internet, among these other protest songs. So we don't actually need the state radio or state TV stations to connect with the audience. People can get everything on Internet right now, including the "State Bulldozer" song.

SIEGEL: So it is like the old days of Vysotsky singing in the communist era, then?

SHUMOV: You know, today, they're more even evil than them because, before in Soviet Union, you know it's a totalitarian state and you know who the government was and they had no illusions. Right now, it's more evil because people have some type of illusion that there's some type of democracy and it's total totalitarian tyranny, so this is the difference.


SHUMOV: (Singing in foreign language)

SIEGEL: Another song of yours is "Forever." This is also a protest song?

SHUMOV: It starts as a very, very unhappy commentary to the Soviet life. I wrote it in 1987 and I mention the symbol of our existence then, vodka, (foreign language spoken) Sputnik and so on. But it's very easy sing-along song, so it was popular. And I played this song, as well, on this rally on December 24th, but I updated little bit the lyrics, put there what they're asking right now. I put independence of the courts, free elections, fair elections and a changeable government.

SIEGEL: Now, I understand other musicians of your generation are making a comeback. There's a song by the band, Televizor, I gather an old song from Soviet times called "Your Father is a Fascist."


TELEVIZOR: (Singing in foreign language)

SHUMOV: This is a song was popular in the '80s. This is a (unintelligible) song and it actually has some relevance to today's life. It's very similar. A lot of people can be considered fascists right now, right here. So people in the government who suppress any opposition, who crashed any (unintelligible) who established censorship and violation of constitution. You know, constitution, in many ways, becomes sort of - as just some type ceremonial book. Have no relevance to our real life. And it's typical fascist state.

SIEGEL: When you denounce people as fascists, do you run the risk of being arrested for that, say?

SHUMOV: No, not really. It's some type of metaphor to all these politicians who's in the power and elected or appointed position who's actually suppressing all freedoms and violate human constitutional rights, like for example, a right for gathering, a right for demonstrations and so on. If you have everything written down in the constitution, but it's totally violated by Putin's government.

SIEGEL: Now, there are some newer styles of music coming into the protest mix. I gather the group Noize MC has a song called "Mercedes 666."


NOIZE MC: (Singing in foreign language)

SHUMOV: This is actually one of the few we can call hip-hop artists who are actually doing some type of protest songs. His stage name is Noize MC and "Mercedes 666," he wrote as a commentary for the gigantic car crash in the middle of the Moscow, where two women was killed in a head-on collision with a big Mercedes driven by high ranked operative from the oil company, LUKOIL, and everything was covered up.

SIEGEL: Now, last Saturday, you sang for the protesters?

SHUMOV: Yes, I do.

SIEGEL: What was that like?

SHUMOV: It was fantastic. I never perform in my life in front so big crowd live. And it was in the middle of this political rally and there was presenters coming maybe like for five, 10 minutes of people doing speeches. Politicians, civil activists, so then I went, here's my two songs among them. So it was great. It was one of the best gigs I ever did right in the middle of Moscow. I born in the city and I can never imagine that I will be performing in December 2011 right in front of 120,000 people live.

SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Shumov, thanks a lot for talking with us and talking a bit about the protest music in Russia this year.

SHUMOV: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's Vasily Shumov speaking to us from Moscow.


SIEGEL: I'm Robert Siegel. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.