Back in the 1980′s, Yuri Shevchuk was a cutting edge performer in Russia, pushing the limits of what could be tolerated on the Soviet entertainment scene. He performed in underground cafes and private apartments as the lead singer for DDT, a group with a huge following all across the former USSR.
Now that the former Soviet Union has fallen apart, Yuri Shevchuk remains active in his music as well as politically. As a high profile Russian musical star, Shevchuk is on the radar of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin not only because of his musical achievements but because of his public criticisms of the new post communist Russia.
Last month, Shevchuk was invited to the office of Prime Minister Putin for a round table discussion that was recorded. Surprisingly enough, the event was not a scripted photo op but a frank exchange of views. The New York Times reported as follows on the unusual meeting.
“Last month, he put his preaching into practice, stunning Russians by making an off-the-cuff speech against official abuses during a meeting with Mr. Putin himself.
“I have questions, honestly speaking,” Mr. Shevchuk told the prime minister at the meeting. “They’ve accumulated for some time, and I will use this opportunity.”
The confrontation was broadcast on government-controlled television, and the video uploaded to Mr. Putin’s Web site, sending Kremlinologists into a tizzy.”
Yuri Shevchuk compared Vladimir Putin to previous leaders of Russia, both communist and czarist, suggesting that Putin had fallen into past patterns of misrule.
Prime Minister Putin was reportedly not amused, and displayed some irritation at the impertinence of Shevchuk, who was probably protected by his celebrity status from government harassment.
Under Soviet rule, Yuri Shevchuk lost his job teaching and had to dodge the KGB. In the new Russia, the tactics are different. Shevchuk has not been arrested, but there is an unwritten understanding that musicians who want radio and television air time should go light on criticism of the government. Shevchuk is not interested in such accomodations with the ruling authorities. He remains a voice of dissent in capitalist Russia as much as he was under Soviet rule.
To the credit of Putin, the Russian government did not sweep the unscripted exchange under the rug. The government web site even released a transcript in Russian and English. Such exchanges would have been unthinkable during the communist era.
Perhaps the meeting between Putin and Shevchuk was a a calculated gamble on Putin’s part that he was popular enough that he could afford to indulge a disgruntled musician. Shevchuk himself also got some exposure from the meeting. It is in any case a sign of Russia’s political and social health that people like Yuri Shevchuk can still speak their mind, even if they annoy the prime minister.
Phot from Wikimedia Commons