Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Putin: What a Man...

Beware female readers. Putin does it again. In a widely published photo "strip", Russian president Putin poses to the cameras with his shirt off, during a visit to Tuva together with ex-playboy, prince Albert of Monaco. So, should one swoon and - like the pop-group "Singing together" exclaim: "I want a man like Putin"? Probably not. Instead, Putin succeeds in making himself an object of ridicule as a would-be international statesman.

It is becoming embarassingly obvious that Russian president Putin has gone fishing in anticipation of next year's presidential elections. Instead, he seems to be cultivating his image as Russia's strong man in more aspects than one. Thus, during a visit to Siberian republic of Tuva recently, Putin took the opportunity to flex his muscles to photographers on the banks of the river Yenisey.

As recently reported, covering the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic games, Putin's generation is influenced by a cult of strength fostered by soviet sports: "that this cult of masculine strength had homoerotic overtunes --- is still evident in current Russian society. --- It would be quite impossible to even imagine Putin's Western contemporaries - such as Schröder, Chirac, or Blair - posing for 'swimsuit pictures' as a means of improving their political image. Still, this kind of pictures of Putin and other Russian politicians are easily available on the Internet." A funny coincidence this time is that Putin took Monegasque prince Albert on a wildlife adventure in gratitude of his support for Russia's 2014 Olympic bid. One wonders who of them won the playboy competition - Putin or Albert.

So, is Vladimir Putin "Siberia's Marlboro Man"? Well, the image of Putin as attractice to women is far from new. In 2002, Russian girl pop group "Singing together" had a one hit wonder with its "I Want Someone Like Putin" with such catchy phrases like ''If only I could find a man like Putin, full of strength." That the song shot to the top of the charts when launching the Putinist movement "Working Toghether" - a forerunner to today's Nashi - was considered a mere coincidence by Putin aides.

Still, we have seen cases of denial and false modesty many times before, when talk about a Putin cult has been at sway. It is no real secret that Putin's spin-doctors put down a lot of work on cultivating the Russian leader's image as a strong man, even though Putin himself always "reacts" with dismay and calls for restraint in too overt idolisation. This time over, it might well be that Putin - in contrast to most world leaders - simply saw it natural to pose like this to photographers, given the setting. Still, seeing the pictures of Putin, one cannot help asking: What a man of sound judgement would do something like this? Regrettably, most Russian would reply: "What a man, what a man, what a mighty good man."


varske said...

Are you sure it's not just very old fashioned PR? I'm sure I can remember photos of British Prime Ministers etc in the 50s and 60s being photographed swimming on holiday. Macmillan and RAB Butler were certainly more like walruses than pin-ups.

Anonymous said...

Nu har jag hört mig för på kontoret, och vi har kommit fram till att Putin är sötare utan kavaj. Huvudet och hakan blir för små där de sticker ut ur skjortkragen!

Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear Varske,

Very old fashioned indeed. As with Macmillan, one has to go back to the 1950s and 1960s to find similar pictures of Swedish politicians. So, should one therefore conclude that Russia is 40-50 years behind in development? Probably not, but I would think that the identity of Putin's generation has been forged by a cult of strength. Call this old-fashioned or not. It is still a reality in current Russia.



Vilhelm Konnander said...

Anonymous wrote:

"Now I've gone round the office, and we have concluded that Putin is sweeter without a jacket. The head and chin are simply too small when they stick out from under the shirt collar!"

Reply: Well, you do seem to have done a thorough survey. Should we then hope for more pictures like this? Perhaps, you should even organise an exhibition. I am sure that the Russian embassy in Stockholm and the Union of Russian Associations in Sweden would support it.



W. Shedd said...

Yep, ole' Pooty Poot isn't in bad shape for a 50-someting year old guy. I think it is a form of old-fashioned PR (obviously). There was no other reason for a camera to be around.

I tend to think he is a bit vain as well. Just certain aspects of his presentation, clothes, mannerisms, etc.

I've read various things about him suggesting he might have some impaired physical ability due to a childhood ailment. Specifically it's been observed by medical experts that his walk is uneven. His right arm tends to remain stationary while his left arm swings freely. From judo match videos that I've watched with that in mind, he tends to stick or grab with his right arm and pull his opponents with his left arm.

All of this adds up to my impression that he likes to display himself as a physical person, ala Teddy Roosevelt.

Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear Wally,

I guess it is a hopeless cause to argue that I am a person not paying much attention to physical characteristics - given the subject of this piece. Still, I have not given much thought to Putin's potential disability. The comparison with FDR though is interesting. Is Putin's constant inclination to display himself as a strong and active personality a lame attempt cover up some sort physical deficiency? I would not know, and cannot really speculate on this. However, the theme of Russian leaders' health condition is far from new, and I have difficulties to remember who has not become the object for such speculation - with the possible exception of Gorbachev.



Megan Case said...

While I don't especially enjoy looking at Putin with or without a shirt on, I have to agree with anonymous that when fully-clothed his head looks quite small. So these manly poses provide a good counterpoint to his more statesmanly images for his supporting public, a large number of whom are dumb macho guys and the women who love them.

I don't suppose there's anything inherently bad in seeing a politician with his shirt off, even if it seems to be in bad taste. You may be right about this cult of the sportsman, but it's just a part of Russian culture. And not only Russian culture.

In the early days of his presidency, lots of pictures of Bill Clinton jogging were published, where we got to see him in short-shorts (yuck). He stopped jogging outside after awhile, though.

In closing, I have just two words: Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear Megan,

Imagining Putin as Russia's answer to Arnold Schwarzenegger is hilarious. What I really have difficulties with is the cult of strength - a phenomenon frequent in authoritarian regimes. Of course, the world is preoccupied with physical attributes, but the case of Russia is something else in my eyes. The example of Clinton is quite illustrative. Although being in relatively good shape for his age, he gave the impression of being a flabby middle-aged man trying to keep on to his youth and fitness. You probably know the type, and there is not much wrong in this. As for Putin, he obviously wants to symbolise strength and youth. That is something else.



Anonymous said...

An exhibition would be hilarious. One should add photos with Lukashenko in hockey gear and Yushenko in... No, not Yushenko, on second thougth.

Rico said...

Yes, horrible! Politicians and bureaucrats should only be allowed to be outdoor if they wear a white shirt, tie and a suit. The mere thought of these men half naked is disgusting. The only skin they should be allowed to display is the face and their hands. Period!