An extraordinary thing seems to be happening in Vladimir Putin’s Russia these days. Even as every other stratum of political opposition falls away, Putin finds himself besieged on an entirely unexpected new front: the runways of Russia’s beauty pageants.
In November of last year, Russian Miss Earth contestant Natalia Pereverzeva gave one of the most stunning answers to a beauty-contest question in history. Asked what made her proud of Russia, she voluntarily added what made her ashamed.
But my Russia — it is also my poor, long-suffering country, mercilessly torn to pieces by greedy, dishonest, unbelieving people. My Russia — it is a great artery, from which the “chosen” few people draining away its wealth. My Russia is a beggar. My Russia cannot help her elderly and orphans. From it, bleeding, like from sinking ship, engineers, doctors, teachers are fleeing, because they have nothing to live on. My Russia — it is an endless Caucasian war. These are the embittered brother nations who formerly spoke in the same language, and who now prohibit teaching of it in their schools. My Russia — it is a winner which has overthrown fascism but bought the victory at the expense of lives of millions of people. How, tell me, how and why does the nationalism prosper in this country? My dear, poor Russia.
The reigning Miss Russia, Elmira Abdrazakova, now has stepped into the political ring as well.
That Abdrazakova dared to walk down the runway at all was a poke in Putin’s eye. As any Slavic Russian can tell from her last name, she’s not “one of them,” but a swarthy “gypsy” of the type routinely lynched on the Moscow subways. Indeed, her victory unleashed a torrent of truly stunning racism across the Russian internet.
This racism brought to mind Russia’s breathtaking hypocrisy in regard to the rebellion in Chechnya. Russians demand that Chechnya remain a part of Russia, even though they view the citizens of Chechnya as third class and unworthy of being accorded equal rights with the Slavs.
In Moscow, apartment and job ads openly state that non-Slavs need not apply.
(One also couldn’t help but be reminded of persistent rumors that Putin has fathered multiple offspring with rhythmic gymnast Alina Kabaeva.)
Abdrazakova, with virtually her first words uttered under the crown, denounced Putin’s persecution of the Pussy Riot art collective. She told a Russian radio station: “I’ve graduated from a Sunday school and a place of worship for me is something sacred. But still, their punishment is too harsh.”
Even Russia’s prime minister has echoed these thoughts, but 60% of the Russian population agrees with Putin that the punishment for singing a few bars of protest song in a church was proper. So Abdrazakova was showing extraordinary courage.
Women have long been a thorn in Putin’s side. Recall Galina Starovoitova, the firebrand parliamentarian who was the leading opposition voice when Putin took over the KGB. She was soon thereafter shot and killed. Then there were journalists Anna Politkovskaya and Anastasia Baburova, and human rights activist Natalia Estemirova, who fearlessly shone light on Putin’s atrocities in Chechnya.
Likewise, all three were soon murdered.