Thursday, 29 March 2012

60s Bards

Bulat Okudzhava - The son of fervent communists from Georgia and Armenia, the Moscow-born Bulat Okudzhava was to see his father executed as a German spy during the purges and his mother sent to a gulag camp for 18 years. Volunteering for the Red Army at the start of Russia's entry into the Second World War in 1941, Okudzhava served until the end of the war. Working in outlying Georgia after the war, Khrushchev's 'Thaw' brought Okudzhava to Moscow and a position as head of the poetry division of the popular Literaturnaya Gazeta ('literary magazine'). It was during this time too that Okudzhava began to experiment with setting his own poems to music, becoming a pioneer of the avtorskaya pesnya, the 'author's song', a unique singer-songwriter tradition of 'the bard' that flourished in the Soviet sixties, whose deep philosophical and poetic lyrics were given simple musical settings that made them easy to master on the guitar and spread by unofficial private performance: a popular pastime for a new generation of Soviet baby boomers.
Okudzhava's 1959 song 'Paper Soldier', at once an apparently apolitical fable and a touching and humanist reflection of his own experiences in the Second World War with its poetics of the helpless and uncertain individual, became an anthem to the 60s intelligentsia.

Paper Soldier

Once there lived a soldier-boy,
None handsomer or braver,
but he was just a children's toy
A soldier made of paper.
He'd change the world, or so he said,
for joy and peace he'd labour,
but he was hanging by a thread,
a soldier made of paper.

He'd bravely go through fire and smoke,
He'd die for you twice over.
But he was just a laughing-stock,
a soldier made of paper.
You wouldn't trust a paper guy,
With secrets or your favour.
And why is that? I'll tell you why,
'cause he is made of paper.

He challenged fate, prepared to die,
Marched on another caper,
"Ready, fire!" was his cry,
Forgetting he was paper.
"Forward march! We stand or fall!"
He, burning into vapour,
Died under fire for nothing at all,
'cause he was made of paper.

Vladimir Vysotsky - The most famous of the 'bards' Vysotsky's impact in Russia (and abroad, playing concerts as far afield as Mexico thanks to his French actress wife Marina Vlady's connections) is hard to overestimate, leaving behind a legacy over 600 songs, numerous films and an iconic image of himself as individualist rebel and truth-teller. Despite the city's being closed for the Moscow Olympics, Vysotsky's death in 1980 at the age of 42 caused the streets to throng with an unauthorised gathering of thousands in tribute to him, noticeably decreasing attendance of the Olympics that day. 

'When I wrote 'Wolf Hunt' it tortured me: I dreamed of that chorus at night. I didn't know what I'd write, but remembered only that 'The hunt for wolves is on, the hunt is on...' - Vladimir Vysotsky

Written in 1968, as the intellectual climate for criticism worsened following the Soviet crackdown on the Prague Spring and 'socialism with a human face', at a time when Vysotsky's films were being banned or heavily edited, and authorisation refused for his concerts and casting in many roles, Wolf Hunt portrays the individual struggle against for liberty against conditioned mental barriers. In December 1969 the Taganka, the most subversive and fashionable Moscow theatre of the 60s, staged the poet Andrei Voznesensky's 'Protect Your Faces', billed as 'an exploration of the way in which the individual face is lost under capitalism and regained under socialism' and climaxing in a performance of Vysotsky's 'Wolf Hunt' as a reaction to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The nominal criticism of capitalism covered and allowed a poetic exploration of the struggle to assert individuality, with Vysotsky shot down against a redlit background after his singing of 'Wolf Hunt' and the actors bringing out mirrors at the finale of the show to show the spectators their own faces. The show was a sensation – and banned after 3 performances. This rare footage of Vysotsky performing the song was recorded during a trip to France.
Wolf Hunt

With every sinew strained I hurtle,
But today like yesterday,
I'm cornered, chased, encircled,
Kept cheerfully at bay.
From the firs the shotguns blast,
In the shadows huntsmen lurk,
On the snow wolves tumble past,
Live targets - easy work.

The hunt for wolves is on! The hunt is on!
For the predators, the mothers and their brood,
Hounds bark themselves sick, beaters yell and run,
And the snow is red with flags and blood.

The hunter stacks the odds against us,
Fights unfairly, his hand won't shake,
With flags and ropes they've fenced us,
They'll hit squarely, and no mistake!
A wolf can't break with tradition,
Blind suckling cubs learn all is lost,
If you break mother's prohibition,
Ropes and flags cannot be crossed!

The hunt for wolves is on! The hunt is on!
For the predators, the mothers and their brood.
Hounds bark themselves sick, beaters yell and run,
And the snow is red with flags and blood.

Our legs and jaws are quick,
Answer, leader, why oppressed,
Do we stumble poisoned and sick,
Without putting the fence to the test?
A wolf's fate cannot be questioned;
And now my time is done.
The hunter to whom I'm destined
Smiled as he raised his gun.

The hunt for wolves is on! The hunt is on!
For the predators, the mothers and their brood.
Hounds bark themselves sick, beaters yell and run,
And the snow is red with flags and blood.

I burst through the flags in desperation,
The thirst for life is stronger still!
Behind I listened with elation
To yelling, cheated of their kill.
With every sinew strained I hurtle,
But today's NOT yesterday,
I was cornered, chased, encircled,
But the hunter lost his prey!

The hunt for wolves is on! The hunt is on!
For the predators, the mothers and their brood.
Hounds bark themselves sick, beaters yell and run,
And the snow is red with flags and blood.

Another interesting riff on the wolf persona came with the airing in 1969 of the first episode of 'Nu Pogodi!' ('Just you wait!') which was to become the Soviet 'Tom and Jerry', depicting the struggles of an antisocial hooligan wolf (a role originally intended for Vysotsky, whose casting wasn't authorised) to catch a cleancut, model citizen hare. Aside from the nods to Vysotsky's 'bandit song' persona in the character design, the first episode also features the whistling of a few bars of one of his rare radio hits, the 'Song About a Friend', as the wolf climbs the rope to the balcony. Click here to view 'Nu Pogodi!' episode 1.

Taken from the 'Milestones in the History of Russian Culture' evening course. *Just announced!* The course will be available next year. Email the Department of Russian and Slavonic Studies for more information on how to enrol.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Russian Event at St.Patrick's Festival

Russian Spectacular

Mon, 19 March at 7:30 PM, The Helix, DCU, Dublin 9   


A music and dance extravaganza featuring one of the finest musical ensembles in the world, the White Russian Central Band (formerly the Red Army Band) with special guest soloists from The Bolshoi and Dancers from The Belarussian National Folk Dance Academy.
Spectacular Finale ‘Last night of the Russian Proms’. This spectacular programme of music from across the world will feature one of the world’s finest bands who will be joined by traditional folk dancers and guest soloists. From traditional Russian music to the big band sound, there is something for everyone at this special event, which will foster links with Russia through the international language of music, song and dance.
An evening not to be missed! Tickets: €20, €22.50, €25 available from

See the White Russian Central Band march in the St. Patrick’s Festival Parade on 17th March! (source - St.Patrick Festival site)

Saturday, 10 March 2012

New journal of Irish literature in Russian translation

Introducing Ирландская литература / Irish Literature in Russian Translation, a new dual-language journal that is published by the School of Languages, Literatures and Cultural Studies, TCD, and the Gorky Literary Institute, Moscow, with support from Ireland Literature Exchange. It will be published every two years, both online and in print.
For more information, and to read the first issue, see

The journal will be launched on Thursday 22nd March at 7.30 pm in the Irish Writers' Centre, 19 Parnell Square, Dublin 1. All are welcome. RSVP to

Friday, 2 March 2012

New Video: Studying Polish in Trinity

A new video made up of interviews with lecturer Ewa Stanczyk and representatives of the fourth year European Studies course on their experiences studying Polish in Trinity and thoughts on the country.

Click here for more course info.