Friday, July 01, 2005

Wilder Europe Oh My Stalin

The unbearable brilliance of post-Soviet songs

By Edward Lucas

It wasn't tuneful, but it was memorable. I was chairing a conference
about `Empire"' in Sweden and on the final evening I got bored with
the official entertainment and suggested a sing-song. These are big
features of British political life, sometimes staged to raise one's
own morale and sometimes to annoy opponents.

When I was a student, in the days when there were still real
Communists who thought the Soviet Union was a "workers' paradise" we
used to wind them up with what to my mind is the greatest political
song of all time. It is sung to the tune of Clementine and the first
verse goes like this:
In old Moscow, in the Kremlin/In the spring of '39/Sat a Russian and a
Prussian/Working out the Party Line.(Chorus)
Oh my Stalin, Oh my Stalin,/Oh my Stalin Party Line/First he changed
it, then rearranged it/Oh my Stalin Party Line.
(It goes on: anyone interested in the rest can e-mail me). Next came
Rule Britannia – the rarely heard full version, which includes the
proto-Blairite lines:
Other nations not so blest as thee/must in their turn to tyrants
fall/whilst thou shalt flourish brave and free/the dread and envy of
them all.
To my surprise, that proved popular, especially among the Swedes, who
have not had a maritime empire for some time. But as the evening went
on, politics began to intervene. The Brits wanted the Wacht am Rhein
(for those who don't know it, the Nazis sing it in the film
Casablanca) but a senior German journalist vetoed it as "contaminated".
Someone else wanted the East German anthem. Admittedly, it has a nice
tune and unobjectionable words. But my ex-wife was from
Soviet-occupied Germany and this was the song of the state which would
have killed her to stop her escaping. So I squashed that one. We
compromised on Lili Marlene – but only the first verses. The final
stanza, an erudite American objected, was a militaristic afterthought
quite out of synch with the melancholy humanism of the rest of it.
And then came the Internationale. Everyone knew the tune. Most people
knew at least some of the words, in some language or another. But was
it right to sing it? My mind went back to another sing-song, studying
German in West Berlin in the summer of 1984. Someone (I hope it wasn't
me) started up with Wacht auf, verdammte dieser Erde and most people
joined in. But two classmates – Polish nuns, friends since our first
subjunctive three months previously – looked at us with silent disgust
and walked out of the room.
And that's the thing about post-Communist songs. There are some
splendidly catchy ones which are so laden with political baggage that
they are utterly unsingable. Hearing the Anthem of the Estonian Soviet
Socialist Republic (available, if you're interested, on
makes my flesh creep in the same way that the Horst Wessel Lied does.
When this song ruled, the real national anthem (My Native Land, My
Pride and Joy) was banned. Whistling it could lose you your job, or
land you in Siberia.
I think the solution is parody. Anti-Nazi Germans in the 1930s
produced stinging alternative versions of the Horst Wessel Lied and
the Polish politician Radek Sikorski (now a Washington think-tanker)
has a brilliant, unprintably obscene parody of the Soviet anthem. That
way you get the fun of a good tune and none of the bad vibes. So does
anyone know a good parody of the Internationale?
# Edward Lucas is Central and Eastern Europe correspondent for The

oh my stalin

In Old Moscow, in the Kremlin
In the spring of '39
Sat a Russian and a Prussian
Workign out the Party Line

Oh my Stalin, Oh my Stalin,
Oh my Stalin party line
First he changed it, then rearranged it
Oh my Stalin Party Line

Leon Trotsky was a Nazi
We all knew it for a fact
Pravda said it, We all read it
'fore the Hitler-Stalin pact

Once, a Nazi, would be shot see
That was then the party line
Now a Nazi's, hotsy-totsy
Volga boatmen sail the Rhine/
I can bend this spine of mine.

Now the Fuhrer and our leader
Stand within the party line
All the Russians, love the Prussians
Trotsky's laying British mines

Party comrade, Party comrade,
What a sorry fate is thine!
Comrade Stalin does not love you
'Cause you left the Party Line.

Oh my Stalin, Oh my Stalin,
Oh my Stalin Party Line;
Oh, I never will forsake you
for I love this life of mine.

To the tune of Auld Lang Syne

And should old Bolshies be forgot,
and never brought to mind,
you'll find them in Siberia,
with a ball and chain behind.
A ball and chain behind, my dear,
a ball and chain behind…
Joe Stalin shot the bloody lot
for the sake of the Party Line.

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