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Galich, Aleksandr

(Pseudonym of Aleksandr Arkad’evich Ginzburg; 1918–1977), poet, songwriter, playwright, screenwriter, and prose writer. Born in Moscow and raised in Sebastopol, Galich was celebrated in the 1940s and 1950s for his dramatic works (including Vas vyzyvaet Taimyr [The Taimyr Is Calling You]) and screenplays (Vernye druz’ia [Eternal Friends]; Na semi vetrakh [To Seven Winds]). His lasting fame, however, rested on the songs—widely understood as countercultural and satirical—that he wrote and performed beginning in the early 1960s. Accompanying himself on guitar, Galich staged shows throughout the Soviet Union at universities, clubs, and private apartments.

With Vladimir Vysotskii and Bulat Okudzhava, Galich was a crucial figure in the development of the phenomenon of magnitizdat, the recorded equivalent of samizdat. The resulting displeasure of the authorities ended with the decision of the Politburo to expel him from the Union of Writers (1971) and the Union of Screenwriters (1972), actions that effectively denied Galich the possibility of working in the film industry or of publishing his writings. In 1974, he was forced to emigrate to Western Europe. He settled in Paris, where he died accidentally of electric shock. In his obituary, the literary critic Efim Etkind called Galich “the most popular man in Russia,” and philologist Dmitrii Likhachev described him as “a genuine national bard, the bard of the nation’s life.”

Galich’s political message was rarely expressed openly; instead, he was a master of indirect speech masked in the voices of his characters. His songs constitute an encyclopedia of the Soviet soul, distraught at the difficulties of everyday life, the capriciousness of bosses, and the government bureaucracy, but retaining its common sense, its perseverance, and its wicked, often black humor. Galich’s typical hero is an unlucky “little man” who has an unintended run-in with the authorities. His is a traditional Russian literary character, a staple from Nikolai Gogol to Mikhail Zoshchenko. Thus, in the “Ballad o Klime Petroviche” (Ballad about Klim Petrovich), a top worker tries to win a medal for his factory, which manufactures barbed wire. The song “Oblaka” (Clouds), written from the point of view of an ex-prisoner who spent 20 years in the Kolyma camps, was extraordinarily popular. Galich also often targeted both official and everyday antisemitism (“Poema o Staline” [Poem about Stalin]) and accused the intelligentsia of indifference and passivity (“Pamiati Pasternaka” [In Memory of Pasternak]). The nostalgic song “Kogda ia vernus’” (When I Return), written in Paris, became an unofficial anthem for the third wave of Russian Jewish emigrants in the 1970s and 1980s.

Galich’s ballads are markedly satiric. At the same time, he was able to unite mundane details and conversational forms of speech with a hidden lyricism and tragic sense that denote his songs as high poetry.

Suggested Reading

D. Andreeva, “Rossii serdtse ne zabudet,” Grani 109 (1978); Alexander Galich, “Songs and Poems,” trans. and ed. Gerald Stanton Smith (Ann Arbor, 1984); Alexander Galich, Sobranie sochinenii, 2 vols. (Moscow, 1999); R. Lamont, “Horace’s Heirs: Beyond Censorship in the Soviet Songs of Magnitizdat,World Literature Today 53 (1979); George Sosin, “Magnitizdat: Uncensored Songs of Dissent,” in Dissent in the USSR: Politics, Ideology and People, ed. Rudolf Tökés (Baltimore, 1975); Richard Stites, Russian Popular Culture: Entertainment and Society since 1900 (Cambridge and New York, 1992).



Translated from Russian by Alice Nakhimovsky