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.
More recently, Yelena Milashina, a successor of Politkovskaya at the heroic newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was honored with the International Women of Courage Award by the U.S. State Department — showing that Putin’s bloody rampage against women has not ended their campaign against him. Also still fighting is environmental activist Yevgenia Chirikova, who tirelessly campaigns against Putin’s failure to address Russia’s appalling array of toxic nightmares.
And there are others: Lidia Yusupova, Svetlana Gannushkina, Yevgenia Albats, Marina Litvinovich, and Yulia Latynina come to mind first and foremost.
In Putin’s Russia, one woman is brutally murdered by her spouse every hour — a horrifying 14,000 per year. But heroic women from Pereverzeva to Chirikova are unbowed, and continue to speak out for justice despite overwhelming odds against them.
They get no support from Washington, D.C., however.
Barack Obama has named a second woman to the U.S. Supreme Court and a female secretary of State, but he’s stood mute regarding the war on women in Putin’s Russia. Meanwhile, he has talked about “reset,” which has in practice meant “appeasement,” and has turned a blind eye to all manner of human rights atrocities at all levels of society in Russia.
Giving an award to Milashina is an encouraging sign, but the courageous women of Russia need a lot more than a statue from America if they are going to achieve their goal of tearing Russia from Putin’s KGB horde. They need tangible and open support, the kind Ronald Reagan would have provided. Last week was the 30th anniversary of Reagan’s “evil empire” speech — the world needs much more Reagan-style leadership where neo-Soviet Russia is concerned.
Otherwise, the clock will continue to roll backwards, and Russian women will continue to slide under Putin’s grinding wheel.