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Russia: Music Battle Over the Khimki Forest

Sergey Shnurov at a concert, photo by LaFleur

Sergey Shnurov at the concert, photo by LaFleur

About two weeks ago, a popular Russian ska punk band Leningrad released its first song and video after almost two years of silence, mocking the scandal over the Khimki Forest near Moscow, where for years local environmentalists have been trying – unsuccessfully up until recently – to stop the construction of the Moscow-St. Petersburg motorway.

Another popular Russian rock musician, Yuri Shevchuk, was among those who took an active part in the campaign against the destruction of the forest. On August 22, 2010, at the pro-Khimki Forest concert in downtown Moscow, he had to sing with his equipment unplugged, because the local authorities had not allowed the musicians to use electricity at all. Later on, he performed on stage with U2's Bono, and together they sang a famous Bob Dylan song, “Knockin’ on Heaven's Door.” On the day before the performance, Bono met with the Russian president and talked to him about poliomyelitis and HIV/AIDS in Russia, but failed to mention the Khimki Forest dispute because he was not aware of it then.

After the Bono-Shevchuk joint performance – and due to the public outcry – president Medvedev decided to postpone the Khimki Forest construction.

All these events seem to have inspired Sergey Shnurov, Leningrad‘s ex-frontman, to re-unite the band and write a new song on this issue:

Leningrad used the imagery of Nikolay Kopeikin [RUS], a Russian underground artist, famous for his pictures filled with dark humor and provocative messages. The main hero of the video is a mean snowman with a balalaika, standing in front of a forest. Around him are various cartoon characters (e.g., the Simpsons as well as some famous Russian ones), fighting with each other. Political figures like President Dmitry Medvedev, PM Vladimir Putin and ex-mayor of Moscow Yuri Luzhkov also appear in the video.

In his song, Shnurov is making fun of those musicians who support the campaign to save the forest, implying that they take part in the protests only in order to earn money and fame.

Покупайте билеты братья, я последний певец демократии. Химкинский лес!
Про бесчинства все эти не заткнете мне рот,
И поеду гастроли, я концерты давать
Буду петь про “доколе им страну продавать”
Так и я не в накладе получаю процент, и живу в шоколаде, громко капает цент

Brothers, buy the tickets, I am the last singer of democracy! Khimki Forest!
You won’t shut me up, [I'll keep singing] about all this lawlessness,
And I'll go on tour, will be giving concerts,
I'll be singing about “their selling off the country that's gone long enough”
Sure, I'm not losing anything, I'm earning my interest and [benefiting from it]. [Hear the ring of the falling cents]…

The new song and its video have triggered a strong reaction in the Russian blogosphere. Many bloggers assumed that this song was a mockery of Shevchuk and that the line “I am the last singer of democracy” referred to him. The video on YouTube has received more than 418,000 views and 1,700 comments from users over two weeks. YouTube user The1chico1 wrote [RUS]:

Ну как же, как же, это ведь ты у нас самый крутой певец правдоруб один […] Зависть взяла банальная, что это Шевчук выступил, а на его фоне все остальные оказались ничтожествами и Шнур так же говно, как и все остальные, и вот вернувшись с очередных теплых стран где уже давно привык наслаждаться жизнью, решил заявить о себе

Well, well, well, it's you [Shnurov] who is our coolest truth-teller singer […] You were simply envious that Shevchuk had spoken out, and everyone else turned out to be nonentities compared to him, and [Shnurov] is as much crap as anyone else, and now he has returned from the warm countries where he's long used to enjoying his life by now, and decided to let himself be heard.

In his interview to the Russian Newsweek, Shnurov claimed [RUS] that he had nothing against Shevchuk personally and liked his honesty. He said that he was not making fun of Shevchuk in the video and there was not a single word against him in it.

Russian rapper Noize MC [RUS] made a video response called “Shave a Star” (the name is a reference to Leningrad’s song “Shave a Pussy”). Shnurov’s face is on the masks that Noize and his band are wearing in the video. They perform on stage together with the main character of Shnurov's video – a person in a snowman’s costume:

Using a lot of curses and offensive gestures, Noize MC implied that the song by Leningrad had been written on Kremlin orders.

Dmitry Bykov, a renowned Russian writer, pointed out [RUS], however, that Shnurov was not serious about anything; he was making fun of Shevchuk, environmentalists and the Kremlin fans all together. But, according to Bykov, the period of mockery and political irony has long gone, and the frontman of Leningrad has missed this trend. The quantity of absurd has turned into quality and ironic non-participation will not help in this case.

This battle is probably not over. Shnurov may write a response after he finishes his concert tour. This debate has raised sensitive issues for the society and once again showed that music and arts can highlight the underlying problems and controversies. In this regard, a YouTube comment on Leningrad’s video by user Woltch85 would be more than appropriate:

ЭЭЭйййййй!!! Господа очнитесь!!! Неужели в России кроме Химкинского леса больше нет проблем! Посмотрите на улицы нашей необъятной Родины, толпа беспризорников, голодных стариков, да и вся остальная масса в ж***е, но зато всех нас волнует вырубка леса, все вдруг резко об экологии задумались.

Heeeeey!!! Sirs, wake up!!! Aren't there no other problems in Russia than the Khimki Forest! Have a look at the streets of our immense Motherland, there are crowds of homeless children, starving old men, and the rest of the population [are in dire conditions, too], but we all worry about the cutting down of forests, everyone is suddenly concerned about the environment.

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