Vladimir Putin and the case of the disappearing Motherland

Stolen from Alexey Druzhinin of AFP. Sorry as always. Clearly not that sorry, but...!

“Hello, ladies!” Picture stolen from Alexey Druzhinin of AFP. Sorry, as always. Clearly I’m not that sorry, but…

First things first, I don’t work for an intelligence service looking to undermine Russia! I should probably say that given recent comments from the Kremlin.

Second things second, I’ve written a lot about Russia’s national anthem before – both on here and in my book – because its story is amazing, especially the fact that one of the first things Putin did when he came to power was change it back to the anthem Russia had used during the Soviet Union.

It was a shrewd move, symbolising to every Russian he was bringing back the glory days.

But what I haven’t mentioned before is that he also apparently changed the lyrics. This is the anthem’s Soviet chorus:

Sing to the Motherland, home of the free
Bulwark of peoples in brotherhood strong
O Party of Lenin, the strength of the people
To Communism’s triumph lead us on

Obviously the Lenin bit needed a makeover, and definitely that bit about Communism triumphing. I mean, you can’t have oligarchs running around with those lyrics in place.

But how about that first line; that Motherland? Seems perfect for Mother Russia, doesn’t it? Well, this is what the anthem says today:

Be glorious, our free Fatherland
Age-old union of fraternal peoples
Ancestor-given wisdom of the people
Be glorious, our country. We are proud of you

I’ll let you jump to your own conclusions about what that change means.

I only realised this had happened last weekend while listening to an interview with Bridget Kendall, the BBC’s retiring diplomatic correspondent (from 31 minutes in).

“When I first went to the Soviet Union in the mid-1970s, I was a student…propaganda was in full swing and you heard the anthem all the time,” she says, before discussing how its use is one of the best ways to trace how the country’s changed.

She’s surprisingly even-handed during the interview and doesn’t remotely criticise Putin. “I’m a long-term optimist when it comes to Russia,” she says at one point. “They’re on a difficult political twist at the moment, but you think what they’ve been through over the past 30 years. Of course it’s going to take decades to sort it out.”

Update: I’ve been told this actually might just be Kendall’s mistake and there was no change at all. A sign of every people’s prejudices of Russia? That’s just as interesting a story.

5 thoughts on “Vladimir Putin and the case of the disappearing Motherland

  1. New proposal:

    Be glorious, our free Fatherland
    Ancestor-given wisdom of the people
    Sing to the Motherland, home of the free
    Be glorious, our country. We are proud of you

  2. I’m wondering which word changed from Motherland to Fatherland. The first two lines of the chorus are exactly the same, but the English lyrics as presented are somewhat different. (I couldn’t’ even find a word in either anthem that corresponds to the word “Motherland” or “Fatherland”). I emailed a Russian friend of mine who also studies national anthems for clarification, I merely suspect it’s the exact same words but different official English translation provided by the Kremlin. (BTW, my site has “Motherland” for both)

      • My Russian friend did agree that the line is the same and here’s the gist of what he said:

        The Russian word “Otechstvo” is derived from the word “otets” = a father. So “Otechestvo” means literally the land of your fathers.
        There is another form of the word Otechestvo in our language – Otchizna. It means also the Fatherland, but is feminine gender.
        The Russian word that is usually translated into English as Motherland is “Rodina”. “Rodina” is derived from the verb “rodit’sya” = to be born. So we can translate Rodina as the Land of birth.

        No surprise, I suppose that some of the lines are completely unchanged from the Soviet version.

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