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Duma approves old Soviet anthem
MOSCOW, Russia -- The lower house of the Russian Parliament has voted overwhelmingly to restore the controversial Soviet national anthem as the national song.
Currently lacking a crest, flag or hymn, President Vladimir Putin has pushed a mixed bag of state symbols ranging from the tsarist eagle to the Stalin-era anthem.
But the return to Alexander Alexandrov's "Unbreakable Union," has been condemned by liberals calling for a complete break with the Soviet-era.
Thousands of people on both sides of the issue rallied outside the Duma as the vote was taken on Friday with 378 of the 450 seat house supporting the restoration of the song -- with new lyrics.
The issue must now go before the upper house.
Anthem 'best of history'
Since the end of the Soviet Union, Russia has had a "temporary" anthem with music by the Russian classical composer Glinka, but it never had lyrics.
Many people also felt it lacked the historical resonance of the Soviet anthem, introduced in 1944 in the dark days of the "Great Patriotic War" -- World War II.
A government commission had been working fruitlessly since 1992, trying to find a permanent national anthem but it could never settle on lyrics and Russians stood mute as the melody was played.
Players at the Spartak Moscow football club even complained that the lack of a proper anthem affected their morale and performance.
Earlier this week in a television address, Putin defended the restoration of Alexander Alexandrov's rousing tune, saying his choice of symbols was meant to unite Russians by taking the best from their tumultuous history.
Children's poet Sergei Mikhalkov will now rewrite the lyrics for a third time.
Mikhalkov wrote the original, "An unbreakable union of free republics the Great Russia has sealed," in 1943 but amended the lines after Stalin's death to drop any mention of the dictator.
Liberals say his backing of Soviet-era symbols shows a lack of respect for the millions of victims of Stalin's totalitarian rule.
"We are certain this is a serious political mistake," Grigory Yavlinsky of the Yabloko party told NTV television.
It also raised the ire of Boris Yeltsin, who said Putin, the man he chose as prime minister and his preferred successor as president in 1999, should act on public opinion and ensure a new anthem was composed.
The former president quoted Anatoly Chubais, a longtime Kremlin adviser and now head of a giant power utility, in saying it was immaterial that opinion polls showed many Russians favoured the old anthem.
"Chubais was quite right on this score: the president of a country should not blindly follow the mood of the people. On the contrary, it is up to him to actively influence it," he said in an interview to the mass-circulation daily Komsomolskaya Pravda.
The liberal daily Sevodnya said the likely outcome of the debate amounted to Putin breaking with Yeltsin and the liberal ideas that brought him to power as communism crumbled.
"The Yeltsin era has effectively run its course," it said. "In 10 years the pro-Western democrats were no more able to adopt an anthem any more than they were able to present an attractive ideological programme or break imperial traditions."
Reuters contributed to this report.
Yeltsin against Putin on new national anthem
Soviet National Anthem
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