Putin vs. Kirkorov
It’s tough being president. First, you have a country to run and everybody blames you when things go awry. Then you have to compete for the public’s attention with an aging pop star who wears too much make-up – or so says one prominent Moscow pundit. According to a recent poll, President Putin’s confidence rating dropped from 55% to 38% between March and August. Igor Bunin of the Center for Political Technologies believes the scandal caused by Kirkorov’s insulting remarks at a press conference that captured so much attention this summer distracted the populace from the president’s good works. Then again, perhaps a banking crisis, unpopular benefit reforms and a series of terrorist attacks may also have had something to do with it.
Millionaire Tells All.
At last, an oligarch has blown the whistle. Artyom Tarasov, one of the original Russian “success stories,” who long ago bailed out of Russia to enjoy his prosperity in Britain, has just published Millionaire, a riveting and frequently hysterical first-person account of the scramble for wealth and power at the end of the Soviet era and the early years under Yeltsin. Read about how Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin charged $50,000 cash to have a picture taken with him. Learn how Yeltsin would get even drunker than we ever believed. See how Boris Nemtsov fought against corruption and nearly paralyzed Russian oil exports as a result. Tarasov has said he will defend every word he has written in court. Judging by his revelations, he may well have to do a lot of this. So far, Millionaire is only available in Russian (240 rubles at most bookshops), but stuff this good is bound to be translated quickly.
The War on Beer.
Beer consumption has sky-rocketed in Russia over the last few years. Now the government, either concerned for the nation’s health or influenced by the powerful vodka lobby – depending on whom you ask – is going on the attack. As of January 1, beer advertising will be severely restricted by law. The new, vaguely worded legislation not only forbids the use of humans and animals in beer advertising, but bans TV and radio spots altogether between the hours of 7am and 10pm. Furthermore, all promotion of cultural or sporting events by beer companies has been banned. The laws have already lost Russian hockey’s Premier League some $2 million worth of sponsorship from Baltika, while Stary Melnik says it might have to pull the plug on its support of the national soccer team. More laws are pending. A new bill due to be voted on by the Duma would outlaw drinking “on the street, in stadiums, squares, parks, on public transport and other public places.”
Nord Ost Returns
In what is either an act of commercial suicide or a display of astonishing resilience (perhaps both) the producers of the musical Nord Ost are once again mounting the production, two years after the tragic siege in Moscow’s Dubrovka theater. A tour across the country will begin in Nizhny Novgorod on November 19 and travel to 15 cities in the Russian provinces before ending its run several months later in St. Petersburg. The musical, however, is already running into problems. The original plan was to premiere the show in Petersburg’s Music Hall theater on September 24 and play for a month, but the venue canceled its plans to stage the show. The musical’s incensed producers are now suing the theater for 10 million rubles in damages.
The Novy Yorker
“Talent borrows, genius steals,” said Oscar Wilde. If there’s any truth to this statement, then readers of the recently-launched Russian magazine Novy Ochividets (The New Eyewitness) are in for a most stimulating read. The new intellectual weekly bears a striking resemblance to the famed American weekly, The New Yorker. From the cover art to the witty and occasionally unintelligible black-and-white cartoons to the evocative entertainment listings to the specially designed font, everything looks and reads an awful lot like The New Yorker – only in Russian. The magazine also happens to be darn good, with contributions from top names like renowned poet Andrei Voznesensky and frequent New Republic contributor Masha Gessen.