The songs of a city in protest What Yekaterinburg and its musicians are singing and saying about the fight against a new cathedral
Days of protests against the planned construction of St. Catherine’s Cathedral have not only put the social tensions of Yekaterinburg on display; they have served as a reminder that the city is one of the most musical places in Russia. Many of the locals protesting at the cathedral’s planned construction site have brought musical instruments along with them or blasted their favorite songs through Bluetooth speakers to get the crowd to sing along. Local musicians have also begun speaking out about plans to build the cathedral in place of a central square. Meduza collected the opinions of several of the city’s major artists alongside the songs they have dedicated to their hometown.
Monetochka: “Farewell, my Yekaterinburg!”
Just before she moved to Moscow in 2017 and became a nationwide star, Monetochka composed a touching tribute to her hometown. In the accompanying music video, the singer-songwriter takes a stroll through her favorite spots in the city.
Yelizaveta Gyrdymova (a.k.a. Liza Monetochka)
I always knew that the people who live in my hometown are extremely responsible. They know what they want, value what is dear to them, and are willing to fight for it… This isn’t the first time the residents of Yekaterinburg have set an example by showing they recognize their right to steer the fate of their own city, and it’s not the first time they’ve put in the effort to act on that right no matter what.
The music video for one of Sansara’s biggest hits was filmed using a drone flying over Yekaterinburg. The panoramas it captured included a view of the square that city officials planned to replace with the new cathedral.
Everything has its place. That includes the cathedral. But not in a settled urban area where people have made their homes for a long time. There’s no historic justice here. The [previous] cathedral looked different, and it was located in a different place.
Take the lot across the Makarovsky Bridge, where what you have now is an open, desolate scrapyard. Pick a “dead” area, not one that’s in demand with the people living here — in demand with me personally and my kids. Expand the open space in our city center. Make Yekaterinburg even better than it already is.
No matter what anybody says, there’s a zone of estrangement around any religious building. People don’t dance the salsa or ride their skateboards around a cathedral. It’s obvious that a cathedral built instead of the square would change the atmosphere in the area entirely.
Chaif: “Dogs from the Outskirts of the City”
A quarter century after this song was composed to describe the tensions that ruled Russia’s city streets in the 1990s, Chaif made a music video recasting it as a tribute to the Ural region’s graffiti artists.
People have always built cathedrals in the city, both in the distant past and the recent past, but it’s only now that they’ve faced active resistance. That means certain powers have come into play who needed this right now. In my artistic work, I’ve had some experience manipulating the public consciousness. Any concert, any show is a manipulation in some way or another. In the current situation with the protests against building St. Catherine’s Cathedral, I see obvious signs of exactly that kind of manipulation of the masses. I won’t go so far as to say who ordered this manipulation or what its end goal is — that’s not within my expertise — but it’s entirely obvious who’s behind this.
Kurara, led by Kolyada Theater actor Oleg Yagodin, created what has become a kind of unofficial anthem for contemporary Yekaterinburg.
I was with my family at the Drama [on the square near Yekaterinburg’s dramatic theater] after a show around 11:00 PM. We took a hit from the tear gas. It’s clear that this isn’t a war between ecology and religion anymore — it’s a matter of defending human dignity, if you’ll excuse my pathos. People shouldn’t be treated like donkeys, everybody gets it… What’s important is the number of people who came, not who thinks what about the government, the church, the trees. Though it’s clear that people have gotten extremely pissed off, and anyone who has a brain knows that the people who rocked the boat weren’t the State Department and Navalny — they were you, all you comrades higher up… The problem is that the people who got this going just can’t believe that this is really one of the most widely beloved places in the city.
Smyslovye Gallyutsinatsii: “Forever Young”
The cult film Brother 2 was directed by another Yekaterinburg native, Alexey Balabanov. The biggest hit from the film’s soundtrack has been a favorite among protesters in the contested square.
Nobody can just get up and walk away from this. Nobody. The fact that replacing the square with a cathedral is entirely unnecessary and the fact that it would be a lot more useful in any of the city’s more “godforsaken” neighborhoods are both obvious. After the clashes, we really don’t need this [cathedral]. It won’t be good karma… Yekaterinburg is a city full of good, intelligent people. And that’s how it’s going to be.
Chekist Town: “Outskirts”
The stars of the movie About Rock also make up Yekaterinburg’s most successful post-punk band. They have their finger on the pulse of the city’s industrial zone and its apartment districts.
Nobody knew what to do: some people walked around the fencing, some people started yelling, some people started holding hands and dancing in a circle. Other people chewed on their sunflower seeds and chatted quietly amongst themselves. The air was saturated with tension, as though everyone was waiting for the sparking sound of a lit match. And the police had already left: at some point, I looked at the road, and I didn’t see a single flashing light. That was when it got scary. The unseasonably warm city was scary. The yellow streetlights, the black water. We went home — how many of us are really daredevil heroes. And I only remember the looks on the faces of one group, and another, and another, and a very bad feeling that something was about to happen. It was that kind of night.
Nautilus Pompilius: “On the Bank of a Nameless River”
Vyacheslav Butusov has admitted on multiple occasions that the nameless river is the Iset, which flows directly past the square where protesters have clashed with the cathedral’s supporters in recent days.
I’m in favor of building a cathedral for the city’s patron saint. That’s the most important, most necessary component of urban planning, and I’m saying this as an architect and an urban planner myself.
The soundtrack of the square
We compiled the songs protesters are singing and playing in Yekaterinburg.
Translation by Hilah Kohen