IT IS HARD to believe three years have passed since Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev hit the campaign trail in Russia, each boasting his own army of scantily clad young women to solidify wavering voter support; now — at the centre of an international trouble spot and an icy impasse with the West following the MH17 disaster — Putin has renewed the enterprise. The “Putinkini” is now a bona fide symbol of Russian nationalism.
It’s a funny old world, as Margaret used to say. But the more things change, the more they stay the same.
And if you’re Vladimir Putin, you need all the pleasant publicity you can get.
Readers know it’s been a fairly torrid week in politics, and there is still a great deal to discuss; indeed, I will be posting again this afternoon or early this evening on more serious matters.
But just as I did three years ago — when Putin and his seat-warming stooge, Dmitri Medvedev, faced off in a presidential election campaign with armies of pretty, scantily clad girls hitting the hustings on their behalf — I wanted to post something a little more light-hearted to kick the weekend conversation off with.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that something like this should emerge from the personality cult that Russian politics consists of nowadays; but I think it’s important that we keep…er, abreast…of what passes for debate in Russia.
Certainly a great deal of space has been occupied in this column where the serious side of the tragedy of the Malaysia Airlines disaster is concerned, replete as it is with the sinister undercurrent of growing, freezing tension between the West and Russia over Ukraine and the so-called “separatists” threatening to ignite a war there.
But if you’re an authoritarian tyrant, armed to the hilt with nuclear weapons and determined to reclaim superpower status for your country, you first need to win the hearts and minds of the folks at home — especially when, as a result of carefully crafted tactical moves and rhetoric that have sent relations with the West to Antarctic temperatures, you might find yourself at the epicentre of a war that could spiral dangerously out of control.
In this sense, there is nothing lighthearted about the latest incarnation of “Putin’s Army.”
Readers should check out this article from the British edition of the Daily Mail. Unlike the first appearance of “Putin’s Army” and the “Medvedev Girls” in 2011, there are no videos to accompany the hype this time.
I think it’s creepy (to say nothing of rather sinister) that social and political norms in Russia would dictate it as acceptable for young, attractive women to get around with pictures of Vladimir Putin printed on their bikini tops, not coincidentally I would suggest precisely where their breasts are.
Yet there you go: apparently this ensemble is called the “Putinkini,” and is the latest and most potent symbol of Russian nationalism a woman can don.
Apparently these women have resolved to “show a photograph of V.V. Putin as one of their attributes — on their breasts” in order to “not hide their patriotism,” and aim “to say with their swimwear” that they “fully support the political course of head of the state (sic) Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.”
“Volodya (Putin), we are with you,” a statement for the “Putinkinis” says on the website of the event at which the bikinis were recently launched.
The obvious point to make — and yes, those in Australia who derive their satisfaction from arbitrarily banging on about misogyny will love this — is that the exploitation of reasonably pretty young girls in this manner, in the name of personality politics, is grotesque; to do so in favour of an ominously bellicose and increasingly belligerent dictatorial figure is particularly disturbing.
But the use of propaganda of this kind, whether officially commissioned and/or sanctioned or not, is especially sinister, given what could potentially be at stake in any conflagration between Russia and the West.
It conjures up the old wartime concept of keeping up morale on the home front as a distraction from the atrocities that take place (or may do so) in the theatres of any conflict that erupts; and the use of sex — something the Russians seem to be unperturbed by — could provide a pointer to the old Soviet strategy of dumbing down the population with material that appeals to it at its basest level.
Still, we can be thankful: just like the theme adopted by Diana of “Putin’s Army” three years ago to “whip ’em out” for Vladimir, this latest girl-based publicity stunt in Putin’s name (or, more correctly, in his image) doesn’t go as far as actually doing so despite the very clear allusion that attractive women, breasts, and (presumably) having sex with them are all pillars of the benevolent society Putin’s regime is working to create in Russia.
Unlike last time, there’s no free iPad to be won by ordinary girls seeking to emulate the “Putinkinis” by sending in pictures of themselves in the “branded” apparel being promoted.
Oh, those Russians…
Back to Australian Politics — and, again, to reality — a bit later in the day.