MOSCOW (Reuters) - Back in the U.S.S.R? Russian musicians have recorded their own “White Album” to show solidarity with opponents of President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB spy who has been president or prime minister of the country for the last 12 years.
Four decades after British rock group the Beatles released the record popularly called the “White Album”, with tracks such as “Back in the U.S.S.R” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, 200 singers and groups from across Russia have launched an online collection of more than 350 tracks under the same title.
The album also takes its name from the white ribbons worn by demonstrators as a symbol of protest at opposition rallies over the last seven months, and is a diverse collection of music ranging from classical to rap, and jazz to rock.
“The idea of this album is that every musician who supports the opposition movement and the resolutions made at rallies ... provided a song for this White Album free of charge,” Vasily Shumov, the producer of the album, told Reuters.
“Because the colour of the protest is white ... and my favourite Beatles album is the White Album - called ‘The White Album’ because it has a white cover - I said why (don‘t) we do a ‘White Album’?”
The album is the latest form of protest by a movement that has found imaginative ways to skirt a ban on unsanctioned rallies. At times Putin’s opponents have strolled around Moscow and held public discussions in parks to avoid arrest by police, who have cracked down on some rallies.
The album was conceived by Artemy Troitsky, an opposition activist who was the leading Soviet rock critic. Initially launched with 60 songs on the website www.publicpost.ru a month ago, it has grown steadily as new musicians added songs.
The only condition for making it on to the album is to declare support for the opposition movement. The quality of the recording, the contributor’s origins, the genre and even the text are less important.
Some of the artists are already well established in Russia and include Yuri Shevchuk, lead singer with the rock group DDT who sang at a protest rally this year, as well as the rock bands Bravo and Krematory (Crematorium) and rapper Noiz MC.
Others are little known.
“We said, ‘Guys, if you support our movement, you can play jazz, you can play classical music, any kind of instrumental music, you absolutely don’t have to sing protest songs - just confirm the fact that you are with us’,” Troitsky said.
Shumov celebrated the fact that the album was bigger than a similar compilation of songs recorded in the United States for the Occupy movement, which protests against social and economic inequality. That album featured 99 tracks.
Shumov, whose eclectic band Centre has been recording since Soviet times, included one of his own tracks on the album and hopes the songs will be released in the autumn as a series of CDs and that concerts will follow.
Many of the songs on the album call for the release of three members of Pussy Riot who were jailed after the all-women punk band burst uninvited into Moscow’s main cathedral and sang a “punk prayer” called “Holy Mother, Throw Putin Out!”.
The three are awaiting trial and could face seven years in prison on hooliganism charges over a performance that upset Russian Orthodox believers but inspired others to protest.
The protests began last December over allegations of fraud in a parliamentary election won by Putin’s party and developed into a movement against him personally, even though he won a presidential election in March.
Putin, who has not commented on the album, could rule for another 12 if he is re-elected in 2018.
“People are losing their fear because they can’t take it anymore. They know that if they are not going to make a statement now, in a few years’ time it will be much worse,” Shumov said.
Shevchuk, one of Putin’s loudest critics, said he was delighted that young people were taking a stand.
“I’ve listened to 200 groups on the White Album, and I liked a lot of them and it reminded me of the time when we started out (protesting in Soviet times) ... which proves that history doesn’t repeat itself but rhymes.”
Additional reporting by Maria Stromova, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Paul Casciato