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New Russian anthem praises "holy country'

Russia's revived Soviet-era national anthem, which once praised the atheist Communist Party and dictator Josef Stalin, now celebrates Russia as a "holy country" that is "protected by God."

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday approved the new version, written by the same person who co-authored the old lyrics, poet Sergei Mikhalkov.

The Soviet-era music was revived earlier this month by the Russian parliament, replacing the wordless anthem by 19th-century composer Mikhail Glinka that had been in use since the collapse of the Soviet Union nearly a decade ago.

Putin and the legislature agreed to revive the old anthem, but they needed new lyrics, because the old Soviet anthem's praise for the Communist Party was no longer considered appropriate after the 1991 collapse of communism.

The anthem got its first official performance later Saturday at a Kremlin reception.

"The anthem is not simply a symbol. It is impossible to live without it," Putin said at the reception.

Mikhalkov co-wrote the first version praising Stalin, Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin and the Communist Party. He later did another version removing Stalin's name after the dictator's memory became politically unpalatable. Stalin, who died in 1953, carried out political repressions that historians say killed tens of millions of people.

The new lyrics' reference to God would have been unthinkable under the Communists, who enforced a policy of official atheism and persecuted religious believers. The last anthem to mention God was God Save the Czar, used by the regime that collapsed in 1917.

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