Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Походите на Путина!

This is kind of old news, but I don't think any Russian Studies blog would be complete without a discussion of it: back in August, Putin made international headlines not with an intimidating speech or military maneuver, but with a series of pictures from a recent outdoor excursion. These pictures, in most of which he was shirtless, caused a sensation in Russia and provoked a myriad of reactions in the West.

Reactions to the photos in Russia were generally positive and, in my view, quite overly enthusiastic. While Putin's incredibly muscular physique and sculpted abs are very impressive for a head of state in his fifties (George W Bush is a mere six years older and is considered one of our most physically fit presidents, but I doubt anyone would be impressed with shirtless pictures of him), many Russians used his hot bod as a symbol of Russia's strength and national vitality. The popular tabloid Комсомольская правда featured the images on its front page with the caption "Походите на Путина" (Be Like/Look Like Putin), and included a diet and exercise regimen to help all proud Russians build their torsos like their president's. Russian women and men alike immediately voiced their attraction to their half-naked leader; some of the latter went so far as to suggest that Putin released the photos to show his solidarity and support for the beleaguered Russian gay community.

In North America and Western Europe, which have recently faced Putin's figurative muscle-flexing in the form of claiming Arctic territory and reviving Cold War-era bomber runs, experts mostly looked at the photo release with a mixture of perplexity and bemusement. Some claimed that the Russian president, who is constitutionally mandated to step down from the post next year, put out the pictures to assert his continued political strength and express his intention to hold on to power. This opinion seemed to be proven false the following month, when Putin named Victor Zubkov as the new Prime Minister (and presumably, his choice for a successor); however, Putin went on to reveal that he was seeking to restructure the nature of the Russian government to siphon power away from the Presidency and into the Prime Minister's office, which he plans to run for next year. So, one can clearly see that Putin plans to grasp the reins of the Russian government as long as his ripped biceps will let him.

Despite all the discussion, Putin himself says he simply thought it would be nice to show people that he likes to relax like anyone else, and just wanted to let them know how he "проводит свободное време" (spends free time). I will say that, given the option, I'd prefer my head of state to be able to take down anyone else's with a sweeping judo hip throw (Putin's got a black belt) and noogie rival leaders into submission.

1 comment:

Dr. Michael A. Denner said...

yeah -- this episode in russian cultural life is illustrative of so many things and really just fascinating... you can see why the man has 70%+ popularity, particularly in a country that has ALWAYS loved its bullies and tough guys.

excellent post!