Russian Punk Rocker Fyodor Chistyakov Defects to U.S.

Today’s Radio Free Europe headline is an eerie reminder of an era when artist defections drew the attention of the free world to the repression of human rights in the Soviet Union.

Fyodor Chistyakov
Fyodor Chistyakov

Russian punk rocker Fyodor Chistyakov, a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, announced he will not return to Russia at the end of his current U.S. tour. His decision was based on the Russian Supreme Court decision July 17 to uphold Russia’s ban on the practice of his religion.

Chistyakov, leader of the rock groups Nol (Zero) and the Fyodor Chistyakov Band, told Novaya Gazeta that he has no other choice but to stay in the United States. “I cannot openly follow my religion [in Russia] now,” he said. “And that is a trauma itself even when I am not in jail, although incarcerations are taking place already.”

Chistyakov, who is known as Dyadya Fyodor (Uncle Fyodor), was described by the JetlagMusic Festival where he performed June 23-25 as “one of the most revered and beloved Russian rock poets and musicians… the Russian spiritual companion of The Pogues and Jim Morrison.”

Freedom of religion is formally guaranteed in Russia but legislation sets out Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism as the country's four traditional religions, and smaller denominations frequently face discrimination.

Jehovah’s Witnesses Russia Fyodor Chistyakov United States