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What Must Be SaidBoris Grebenshchikov in London

Boris Grebenshchikov, front man of the Soviet-then-Russian folk-rock megaband Aquarium, gave a fiftieth anniversary concert in London on March 2. Russians-in-London magazine “Winter” reports that he began the concert so:

I pray that during this song even one bullet could fly past, that even one shell could miss a home. Молюсь, чтобы во время этой песни хоть одна пуля пролетела мимо, чтобы хоть один снаряд не попал в дом.

Then he sang a poem of Alexander Vertinsky, the famous Kiev-born, Russian-then-Soviet cultural icon, “That Which I Have to Say”. It dates from 1917, more than a century old.

This rather hasty, direct translation’s my own.

I’ve noted Grebenshchikov’s interpretations in brackets.

That Which I Have To Say
I don’t know for what or who this is needed Я не знаю, зачем и кому это нужно
Who sent them to die with an untrembling hand Кто послал их на смерть недрожавшей рукой
Only so without mercy [so uselessly], so evilly and unnecessarily Только так беспощадно [бесполезно], так зло и ненужно
Left them to eternal peace Опустили их [Отпускали их] в Вечный Покой
Indifferent onlookers silently stood wrapped in furs Равнодушные зрители молча кутались в шубы,
And some woman with a distorted face И какая-то женщина с искажённым лицом
Kissed a dead man on his blued lips Целовала покойника в посиневшие губы
And pelted the priest with an engagement ring И швырнула в священника обручальным кольцом
They covered them with spruces, mixed them [covered them] with dirt Закидали их ёлками, замесили [закидали] их грязью
And took off for home, on the quiet to expound И пошли по домам — под шумок толковать,
That it might be time [it's already time] to put an end to the scandal Что пора положить бы уж [уже] конец безобразью,
And so already soon, they say, we will start to starve [we will as the countryside (?) starve] Что и так уже скоро, мол, мы начнем голодать [мы селочнью (?) голодать]
And no one thought it through, just to take to their knees И никто не додумался просто стать на колени
And to tell these boys, that in a talentless country И сказать этим мальчикам, что в бездарной стране
Even bright feats, they’re just footsteps, Даже светлые подвиги — это только ступени
In a bottomless abyss, toward an unreachable Spring В бесконечные пропасти — к недоступной Весне

Grebenshchikov had earlier made public social media posts and a video address calling the war “insanity” and the people who started it “a shame upon Russia”. Even calling the war “a war” conflicts with official censorship, which continues to demand the term “special operation”, now antiseptically shortened “spec-op”.

Yesterday, March 3, both houses of Russia’s legislature passed a new law criminalizing “public actions intended to discredit the use of the armed forces of the Russian Federation to defend the interests of the Russian Federation and its citizens and supporting international peace and security”. The crime carries sliding-scale fines, risk of arrest, and up to three years in prison.


I recalled today that Grebenshchikov performed the poem also following the initial 2014 invasion of Ukraine.

Your thoughts and feedback are always welcome by e-mail.

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