Frequent commenter Tatyana has written a brilliant summary of the history of the Russian musical movement known as KSP in Russian, which she calls “the bard scene.” The most familiar name to Americans is probably that of Bulat Okudjava, but there are many more, and the scene comes from various sources, notably the prison camps:

It started in the late 50’s, after survivors from Northern and Siberian camps started to trickle back to populated parts of the country. Very few of them could write like Solzhenitsyn or Varlaam Shalamov, but many more could sing prison songs. The so-called blatnye pesni were written by career criminals, and songs based on the experience of the camps were written by political prisoners, but in form resembled the former (sometimes even using the same melody).

Society’s attitudes towards prisoners changed during the “Thaw” years of the 1960’s. Political “ZK” (inmates), who were previously considered “the enemies of the People,” became human again. Suddenly Pushkin’s line about “mercy to the fallen” was quoted in Pravda; public debates about “physicists vs. lyricists” filled the arenas with audiences. And the first shy voices of social and political dissent started to appear semi-publicly…

She ends with a splendid account of her own visit to a slet, or festival, of the Bard Club of the East Coast; read and enjoy. (Via The Russian Dilettante.)


  1. “Bulat” is Turkish or Mongol, right?

  2. Originally, I presume. But Okudjava was Georgian (Georgian father, Armenian mother), so in the immediate sense it’s a Georgian/Caucasian name. Many Caucasian names are taken from the Muslim cultures that used to dominate the area; Tengiz is another example. (Thanks for sending me off on a name-chase, by the way; I discovered a useful site I just posted about.)

  3. I don’t think that religion of Georgian invaders in this context is relevant. Origins of the names, if I understand it correctly, are ethnical and reflect the language rather than religion.
    The name Bulat, as far as I know, has Turk origins. It means special steel used only for the sword’s blades, it became sort of a brand name in Russian (I don’t know if that’s the case in Georgian) for the sword’s blade itself, very much like ‘formica’ used now as a brand name for plastic laminate even though it is a name of one of the manufacturers and not a product.
    Georgia suffered from various invaders thru it’s history – Persians, Arabs, Seljuk Turks and Mongols. If I’m permitted to speculate here, “Bulat” sound Turkish, while Tengiz is probably mongolian “Chingiz”, adapted for Georgian.
    All of the above – is to the best of my very limited and unprofessional knowledge.

  4. Dawn Steller says

    you guys should put some russion bard songs on youre site. Some popular bards are Gorodnitsky, Kukin,Nikiten. There are many more this is just the most popular bards.

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