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Sergei Mikhalkov dies at 96; author of Soviet, Russian national anthems

The lyricist lauded Stalin and later persecuted dissident writers as part of the Soviet propaganda machine.

August 29, 2009|Associated Press

Sergei Mikhalkov, who wrote the lyrics for the Soviet and Russian national anthems and also persecuted dissident writers as part of the Soviet propaganda machine, has died. He was 96.

Mikhalkov, who fathered two noted film directors, died Thursday in a Moscow hospital. A cause of death was not given.

He was born March 18, 1913, in Moscow. As a young author and war correspondent favored by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, he was commissioned to write lyrics for a new Soviet anthem designed to inspire Red Army soldiers in the midst of World War II.

Mikhalkov's lyrics, co-written with journalist El Registan and set to music by Alexander Alexandrov, lauded Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, who "brought us up on loyalty to the people" and "inspired us to labor and to heroism."

The anthem propelled Mikhalkov into stardom that outlived Stalin and the system he created. After the dictator's death in 1953, the anthem was mostly performed without the lyrics, but Mikhalkov remained one of the most vocal and outspoken bards of Communism.

He received numerous state awards for his children's books, film scripts, plays and fiction. Millions of Russians can recite lines from his 1935 children's poem "Uncle Styopa."

His contributions to serious literature were more controversial.

As a functionary and later secretary of the government-regulated Soviet Writers' Union, Mikhalkov became an integral part of the propaganda machine designed to indoctrinate Soviet citizens and weed out dissidents.

He was part of smear campaigns against "anti-Soviet" authors such as Nobel laureates Boris Pasternak and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who was deported from the Soviet Union in 1974.

In 1977, the Politburo approved adjustments to the national anthem, in which Mikhalkov replaced references to Stalin with phrases glorifying Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin.

After the 1991 Soviet collapse, the Russian government scrapped the anthem, replacing it with an instrumental piece by 19th-century Russian composer Mikhail Glinka.

But after Vladimir Putin became Russian president in 2000, he restored the old anthem and Mikhalkov adjusted the text again.

Mikhalkov's son Nikita won an Academy Award for the 1994 film "Burnt by the Sun," about a family during the Stalinist purges of the 1930s. His other son, Andrei Konchalovsky, who uses his mother's surname, has made a career as a Hollywood director; his films include the Oscar-nominated "Runaway Train" (1985).

In addition to his sons, Mikhalkov is survived by his wife, Yulia Subbotina, a physicist; 10 grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

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news.obits@latimes.com

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