Russia rocked by beat of a paratrooper’s protest song

A NEW protest song has risen in Russia, sung by thousands at anti-government demonstrations – but it’s the work of a former paratrooper, not a middle-class intellectual.

“You’re just like me, a man not a god. I’m just like you, a man not a sod,” the crowds in Moscow chorused, directing the words at prime minister Vladimir Putin, as he intends to extend his 12 years in power by winning a presidential election in March:

Mikhail Vistitsky, a 45-year-old army veteran, wrote the lyrics after attending one of the first big anti-Putin demonstrations last December.

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“Mikhail had the idea that a song, an anthem, was what the whole protest movement needed,” said Stanislav Baranov, who helped write the song. “The lyrics came straight from his heart in half an hour.”

A video of them and three others performing the song garnered more than one million internet views in the first few days.

“We are not a professional band, we just expressed our discontent,” said Mr Vistitsky.

“My guitar skills are lousy, I’d be ashamed to play the song without the boys.”

During Saturday’s rally, Mr Visitsky sang along to music, unwilling to test his guitar playing in the sub-zero temperatures.

The paratroopers were joined by some of Russia’s most respected cultural figures, who have played major roles in organising the protests along with veteran oposition politicians.

In the last days of the Soviet Union, rock bands that had been banned just years before found a huge audience among those fighting the Communist system. One of those bands was DDT, led by Yuri Shevchuk, whose rousing song closed Saturday’s rally.

Mr Shevchuk caused a sensation in 2010 when he publicly challenged Mr Putin over the loss of freedoms in Russia since he came to power in 2000.

The rally’s organisers and speakers also included some of Russia’s best known writers and novelists: Lyudmila Ulitskaya, Boris Akunin and Dmitry Bykov.

The paratroopers’ song is not in the same artistic league, but its honesty and marching beat has won the hearts of many.

The song has prompted much debate largely because of the performers’ military past. Mr Vistitsky served in a Soviet battalion in East Germany in the mid-1980s, not far from where Mr Putin served as a KGB officer at around the same time.

Mr Putin has counted the secret services and armed forces among his loyal supporters, and the paratroopers are one of the most loyal branches of the Russian military.

The chairman of the Union of Paratroopers said the song runs counter to what Russian paratroopers stand for.

“The union will not march to the beat of somebody else’s drum or guitar,” Valery Yuriev said in a statement.

Mr Vistitsky dismissed the criticism as part of the Kremlin’s effort to portray the protesters as part of a Western plot.

“It’s not offensive at all, because we’re used to seeing dishonest people in power do nasty and mean things,” he said.