MOSCOW: While patriotic fervor grips Russia over its takeover of Crimea and President Vladimir Putin’s approval ratings soar, some of the top names in the Russian rock scene have emerged among very few high-profile voices of dissent inside the country.
Those who have criticized the intervention in Crimea include several grizzled veterans of the perestroika-era rock scene as well as younger stars.
Among the most outspoken critics is Andrei Makarevich, the vocalist who led the hugely popular Soviet-era band Mashina Vremeni (Time Machine), known for melodic songs about personal freedom.
“Everything that is happening in our country today – the rabid propaganda, the frenzy of jingoism, even the Olympics – are very reminiscent of Germany in the late 1930s,” he wrote in a series of Facebook posts. “When the mass psychosis ends (and it will), we will all remember that Ukraine is our neighbor and closest relative.”
The 60-year-old singer – who until now was not seen as an anti-Kremlin figure and even sat next to Putin at a Paul McCartney concert in 2003 – has faced a backlash.
When Makarevich attended a peace march down a Moscow boulevard in late March, wearing ribbons in Ukrainian colors, state television zoomed in on his face with a disapproving comment.
More than 21,000 people have signed an online petition calling for Makarevich to be stripped of his state decorations, including the title of “People’s Artist” for marching “with murderers from the Maidan” protest hub in Kiev.
In response, writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya and Russia’s top pop diva Alla Pugachyova were among those to sign an open letter comparing his “hounding” to the treatment of Soviet dissidents such as the physicist Andrei Sakharov and writer Boris Pasternak.
The Kremlin has a cohort of stars ready to turn out in support.
For Red Square celebrations after Crimea’s annexation, rock band Lyube – said to be a favorite of Putin’s – swiftly updated a patriotic hit to sing that Russia stretches “from Crimea to the Yenisei,” a Siberian river.
A host of popular stars signed a Soviet-style public letter organized by the Culture Ministry in support of Putin’s position on Ukraine.
Among them were squeaky-clean pop singer Valeriya and patriotic singer Oleg Gazmanov, both listed in Forbes Russia’s top 50 entertainment figures and regularly shown on state television.
Rock band Alisa this week canceled a tour of Ukraine planned for May, calling it in a state of “coup d’etat and anarchy.”
Yet Makarevich is not alone in breaking ranks on Ukraine.
Cult rock singer Boris Grebenshchikov reacted furiously when state television used one of his hits as the soundtrack to footage of Kiev protests it aired.
“This land was ours until we got bogged down in the fight,” the lyrics go. “It will die if it belongs to no one. It’s time for us to return this land.”
In retaliation, Grebenshchikov, the lead singer of Aquarium, posted a simple anti-war song on YouTube called “Love in a Time of War.”
“Stop setting one people against others,” he wrote on Facebook. “Stop lying to your people for the sake of the semblance of profit today. Tomorrow it will lead to immeasurably worse losses.”
One of Russia’s most mysterious stars, rock singer Zemfira, who fiercely guards her privacy, also chose to put out a pro-Ukrainian message.
On March 2, the androgynous singer’s official site posted a video of her covering a song by ultrapolitical Ukrainian band Okean Elzy, which staunchly backed the uprising against President Viktor Yanukovych.
“I want to support, say hi and to thank and join all Ukrainian musicians,” she wrote on VKontakte social networking site.
Okean Elzy has had its concerts in Russia canceled following the crisis.
Other more predictable figures to speak out include Yury Shevchuk, the leader of rock band DDT who is a regular at protests against Putin.
In an entry he titled “Don’t shoot!” – a hugely influential song DDT performed in the early ’80s inspired by the Soviet war in Afghanistan – he wrote on his blog, “Each of us must simply do everything he can to avoid a fratricidal war.”