Vesti News reported on the encore of a concert a professional choir performed in the largest Orthodox Christian cathedral in St Petersburg, St Isaac’s:
The concert, held about one week ago on Defenders of the Fatherland Day, February 22, got picked up in The New York Times. As one might expect, hearing a choir sing in a Russian Orthodox cathedral about aiming 100 megaton warheads at Washington, D.C. did not go over well in the West.
Vesti, amazingly, tried to defend this action with the above video published on YouTube on March 3rd, with this catchy headline: “Orthodox Choir Group Trolls Humorless Liberal Media with ‘Nuke Washington, DC’ lyrics!”
The story was picked up in the West, in The New York Times and on Fox News, as well as Russian news site Pravda.ru, and many other publications in the West, and the reaction was predictable. From Fox’s site we read:
During its performance to mark Defending the Fatherland Day, the choir sang an untitled song from 1980 that described Soviet submariners and bomber pilots preparing to launch a nuclear strike at the U.S. “for three rubles.” The lyrics include the lines:
On a submarine with an atomic motor
And with a dozen bombs of a hundred megatons
Crossed the Atlantic and I call on the gunner:
‘Aim, I say, at the city of Washington!’
In a statement, the choir said it routinely performs songs as originally written and refuses to “rewrite lyrics for the sake of political correctness.” The song was performed as an encore, St. Isaac’s Cathedral said. It does not approve of the song.
Critics of the performance said that while the song is meant to mock the weapons buildup of two world superpowers, the satire may be lost on some amid the sharp rhetoric coming out of Moscow. the New York Times reported.
This is a very fair assessment, and the Fox piece and Radio Free Europe do note that the ruling hierarch of the St Petersburg churches expressed regret over this performance:
“Choir performances are held regularly in St. Isaac’s Cathedral, and the fact that appropriate music is performed is not a problem,” the press office of the Petersburg metropolitan said on February 26. “But this song performed by a fairly well-known choir, of course, is surprising.”
“We regret that this happened in St. Petersburg, and particularly in St. Isaac’s,” the statement concluded.
Pravda noted also the more-to-the-point issue of singing such a song in an Orthodox Christian temple:
The song, which was originally written as a piece of satire to Soviet propaganda, sounds particularly ominous against the background of recent statements from Russian President Vladimir Putin about the targets for Russia’s new missiles…
The satirical song is about the atomic bombing of Washington, which Soviet soldiers were ready to do for just as little as three rubles. Many in Russia did not find the performance of such a song appropriate, especially in an Orthodox temple and suggested calling those responsible to criminal account for insulting the feelings of believers.
Vesti News, regrettably, tried to defend this action in their video piece, shown above.
Its report suggests that the opinion of their press corps is that this was just a joke and that the liberals in the West got outraged over nothing. They then entered into the defense of the nature of the song as satirical humor from the Soviet era (which it indeed is), but worst of all, they defended singing this in an Orthodox temple under the excuse that St Isaac’s is (presently) a museum.
What Vesti misses (perhaps on purpose?) is that their support of this stunt creates problems.
The Western press has been beating the Russophobe drum for years, since 2014 at the very least, and with story after story, containing allegation after allegation of things like collusion with the American presidential candidate Donald Trump, the scapegoating of Russian company Kaspersky Lab, which has only been helpful to Americans and everyone else in catching hackers (even American hackers!), the continuous demonization of President Vladimir Putin, and worse, the narrative that the Russian Orthodox Church is somehow the instrument of the “evil” President Putin as the Russian leader strives for world domination.
While all of these allegations are false, perhaps the people at Vesti do not realize that the American consciousness is saturated with this propaganda, to the point where it is difficult-to-impossible for them to believe anything different.
This is not to speculate that the choir or its director had a desire to express ill will towards the United States. But given the context of relations between the two countries, the choice to do this could not have possibly been worse, especially in the fact that performing this piece in one of Russia’s most important centers of Christian worship gives the impression that everything that the American media wants to press in its propaganda narrative about Russia is actually true.
Now, any Russophobe can point at the video and the three-day delay in the Metropolitan’s response to it as deliberate provocation and only a politically-correct response. The potential of stunts like this to prevent the reconciliation of nations that both President Trump and President Putin do want, is enormous.
Alternatively, it could be laughed off by both sides, as it ought to be, and as it would be if relations were better between the two countries. But in this it appears that Vesti’s take on this matter is disgusting and employing of the very most disrespectful of excuses to people in both countries and especially to the Orthodox Church.
St Isaac’s was not built to be a museum. It was built as a Church, and it is the largest capacity church in Russia, with the ability to accommodate 14,000 faithful in any given service. The fact that the Communists desecrated the building once by turning it into the Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism is only partly rectified at present. Following the end of Communism, the Church began conducting services at the left-side altar only, and a 2017 offer to transfer the building back to the Russian Orthodox Church was not answered. Presently the Church serves as a museum most of the time, but with only occasional services in the main body, usually on feast days.
Vesti played games with this status in the most pathetic of all excuses, and in doing so they missed the point. A house of God is always a house of God. And in trying to equivocate this, the people at Vesti displayed utter disdain for the Orthodox Christian Church which has suffered more in Russia than anywhere else in the world.
Further, Vesti cared nothing about the large number of Russian Orthodox Christians living in America, many who are emigres from Russia, but many more who are part of the Church in its exarchy in the United States. This could call down open hostility in a country that is admittedly hysterical concerning Russia. While the hysteria is unfounded, it is no less real and no less dangerous.
What happened in this cathedral was indefensible. Regardless of geopolitics, this was wrong. But added to the context of present day geopolitics, this stunt was stupid and potentially dangerous.