Author ORCID Identifier

Degree Year


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Russian and East European Studies

Committee Member(s)

Thomas Newlin
Nicholas Romeo Bujalski


Egor Letov, Siberian punk, Totalitarianism, Soviet dissidents, Soviet Union, 1980s, Slavic Studies


The Siberian punk movement of the 1980s is often regarded as the Soviet Union’s most aesthetically and politically iconoclastic rock underground. Amidst the numerous bands the scene produced, none has matched the notoriety of Grazhdanskaia Oborona (Civil Defense) and its leader Egor Letov. At first glance, Letov’s songs declaring hatred for the “totalitarian” Soviet Union and its destruction of the individual evoke associations with the previous generation of Soviet dissidents, who used the term “totalitarianism” to contrast the Soviet system with the Western democracy they admired. Yet Letov, who rejected democratic reforms and after the collapse of the USSR proclaimed himself as an ardent communist, described totalitarianism not as a form of government but as an inborn state of being. Accordingly, resistance toward the Soviet state became a manifestation of the struggle against human nature. Totalitarianism thus serves as a lens through which to examine the role of radical politics in Grazhdanskaia Oborona: a reflection of existential rebellion. By analyzing his interviews and musical output in the mid- to late-1980s, I argue that Letov manipulates listeners’ understandings of what it meant to be “against” in the Soviet Union by drawing from existing rhetoric of political protest, replacing the image of the liberal dissident with that of a rebel whose radical politics reflect an existential struggle. I demonstrate his conception of totalitarianism as a line of continuity between his “anti-Soviet” and “pro-communist” years. In doing so, I present Letov as a figure whose works defy conventions of liberal political resistance traditionally employed by Western scholars of the Soviet Union.