Yuri Shevchuk performs unplugged at a protest rally on Pushkinskaya Square in 2010 after police didn’t allow musicians to set up electronic sound equipment. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze.)
“What will become of our country and of us?”
Russian rocker Yuri Shevchuk first asked that question in his song “What Is Autumn?,” written during the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now he’s asking it again in Putin-era Russia.
With the exuberant stage presence of Bruce Springsteen and the activist politics of John Lennon, Shevchuk has been a leading voice of the Russian opposition since well before the start of mass protests in December 2011. It was Shevchuk, after all, who broke up the flow of a televised meeting with Vladimir Putin in 2010 with pointed questions on free speech and government abuse, one of the only times Russia’s leader has been publicly debated in such a manner.
Shevchuk and his band, DDT, are well-known among Russian listeners for a string of classic songs stretching back to the early 1980s. They’ll bring their new concert program, Otherwise, to New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom this Sunday, attempting to get around the language barrier with video art and printed translations of the lyrics.
In an interview with The Nation, Shevchuk discussed youth politics, Pussy Riot and why he’s hopeful the Russian opposition movement will continue to grow. Cynicism and greed are going out of style, and Russia’s youth are asking what will become of their country and of them, Shevchuk says.
KvH: What do you think of the recent ban on American adoptions of Russian children?
Yuri Shevchuk: We’ve got to raise the quality of healthcare, and then perhaps there won’t be any need for Americans to adopt Russian kids. Over the past five or six years, DDT has participated in charity events run by Chulpan Khamatova to improve healthcare for sick kids; we collected money to build a children’s oncological center. We’ve done a lot of work.
KvH: You said in an interview, perhaps it was on Echo [Moskvy radio station], that the new generation in Russia is more politicized.
KvH: I thought so. How can that be?
I’m kidding, of course. The new generation is not exactly politicized. The point is that every generation lives in a given time period, but all people are different.
We’ve taken [this year’s concert program] to over sixty cities in Russia and abroad. Everywhere I’ve spent time after concerts talking to young people. Active young people, the ones with a youthful glint in their eye. They are of course more politicized than the generation of the early 2000s and 2010s. That was a very cynical time, and young people were mostly interested in themselves.
Now, in the 2010s, I think we’ve reached kind of a breaking point with the charismatic part of the young generation, progressive young people. I remember I was hanging out with the leaders of the [radical performance art] group Voina back in 2010, and…I asked them, “What is it that you want to achieve?” [Pussy Riot member] Nadya Tolokonnikova, [environmental activist Yevgeniya] Chirikova and Voina, they replied that they wanted to make politics “fashionable for young people.” It’s true that they’ve succeeded at that.
In the past two or three years, a lot has changed. Young people have started to ask more profound questions. They don’t want to leave the country. The slogan of the 2000s was “Get rich.” Now this has become secondary and the main question is, “What will become of our country and of us?”