For more than a year, since his troops invaded Ukrainian territory and illegally annexed Crimea, Vladimir Putin has spent much of his time trying to boost the nationalistic feeling of the Russian people. He’s given soaring speeches about the “Russian bear” refusing to be caged and opened a theme park celebrating the Russian military. And in more sinister moves, his political party has announced plans to have vigilante groups patrolling the streets of Moscow and has passed laws that all but criminalize dissent.
Now, according to Russian media reports, the next step being considered by the Kremlin is to encourage patriotism through pop music.
The Russian business daily Vedomosti reported on Monday that an investment holding company had agreed to sell its ownership stake in Russian Media Group to Goskontsert, a state-controlled concert organizer attached to the Ministry of Culture. RMG controls multiple radio stations broadcast throughout Russia and neighboring countries, reaching a reported 200 million listeners.
The deal, according to Vedomosti, was done to further a scheme within the Kremlin to create an “incubator” for “ideologically right-minded” musical artists. The originator of the plan is apparently Vladimir Kiselyov, a former drummer with the Soviet-era “space rock” band Zemlyane.
Zemlyane, which translates as “Earthlings,” was known for its patriotic songs about space exploration, and its hit “Trava u Doma” (“The Grass Of Home”) has been carried into space by Russian cosmonauts.
And we dream not of thunder at the cosmodrome,
Not of the ice-cold blue of the sky -
But we dream of grass - the grass beside our house
Green, green grass …)
Kiselyov more recently has become the director of a Russian charity, Federatsiya, which ran into controversy a few years ago after the proceeds from a promotional tour of international celebrities were not completely accounted for.
Putin himself has a complicated relationship with pop music. He has dabbled in singing popular tunes (though “Blueberry Hill” may more properly be considered an oldie). Earlier this year, he sang the Russian national anthem with a famous former pop star in a ceremony celebrating the annexation of Crimea.
Some pop stars love Putin. Earlier this year, Siberian singer Mashany’s song “My Putin” and its accompanying video gained international attention. Singers Iosif Kobzon and Alla Perfilova were subject to calls for a boycott when they played in London last year because of their vocal public support of the Putin regime.
However, the punk band Pussy Riot has been a thorn in Putin’s side for years, singing public protest songs naming him personally and criticizing his policies. In a particularly embarrassing episode, members of the band were publicly horse-whipped by Cossacks loyal to Putin after they began singing one of their more controversial numbers at the Sochi Olympics.
The Russian government has become increasingly repressive in both the political and cultural spheres in the last decade, as well as more aggressive about asserting control over what the public can and cannot see, read, hear and listen to. Taking over pop music may just be the obvious next step.