The Russian interwebs are abuzz today with talk of a birthday present for Mr. Vladimir Putin’s birthday. It’s a calendar. Of half-naked girls. From the journalism department of MGU, or Moscow State University.
The department is known to be a bastion of liberal opposition. New Times editor Yevgenia Albats is on the faculty there, and people like Anna Politkovskaya (shot in a stairwell for her Chechnya reporting four years ago today) are among its many famous alums. But like any large, prestigious training program for journalists, MGU produces all kinds of journalists, many of whom are not anti-Putin at all. Some may even like the Pres– Prime Minister — like court hagiographer Andrei Kolesnikov. Some may even like him so much that they get down to their uber-lacy, complex skivvies (natch) and stand in front of industrial-size fans for him.
“The journalism department [of MGU] is not a nest of the opposition,” Vladimir Tabak, a 23 year old alum of the place told me. I had called the number listed in December’s word bubble (above), and was surprised to get a male voice. Her pimp? (“Ksenya stepped out,” Tabak said by way of apology.) “Those who are in the opposition are always stating their position; those who are for [the government] don’t really express themselves.”
And so Tabak decided to express himself by shooting his fellow MGU-ettes in happy birthday poses, and, along with a female collaborator (Ksenya Salezneva, sophomore, actress, model; December), composed witty birthday greetings to Vladimir Vladimirovich in slick speech bubbles.
Just in case you thought it was the girls’ idea.
Anyway. Tabak, who says he runs a youth-oriented publishing house called Fakul’tet, told me there were no formal auditions for the thing. He found the girls through people he knew, and, according to him, no one said no. They hired a professional stylist (Sasha Rogov) and a photographer (Arseniy Grobovnikov), and finished a run of a 50,000 copies in under three weeks. It’s unclear where they got the money, though Ilya Barabanov (an editor at The New Times and himself an MGU journalism alumnus) alleges Tabakov is tied to Rosmolodezh, another pro-Kremlin youth amalgam, and was behind the controversial reality show about the department, “Zhurfak.” (The latter is very true.)
One thing Tabak wants to make clear: this is not about politics. It’s about birthdays. And sexy ladies. “It’s not political,” he says. “It’s not even campaign season. It’s just a beautiful present that any man would like.” Indeed.
Here are some of the funnier ones:
Personally, after the initial wave of horror passes, I can’t think it’s anything but political, but I disagree with Barabanov. This is not a pro-Putin thing to his anti-Putin thing, really. It is political, but in the way of the silent, educated, cynical Moscow glitterati: they’re kind of for Putin and the Gang in the sense that they’re not really against him. They just don’t really give a shit, and they like the good life they’ve gotten under his watch. Tabak, for his part, denied his membership in any political group — very characteristic of this group — though he has collaborated on a project with Seliger, the Nashi summer camp in Tver. This bit is also very important: this group knows, like their parents’, Brezhnev-era generation, how to say the right things while striking the important, lucrative alliances with the Kremlin people, whether they agree with the empty rhetoric or not (to them, and to many people here, no one actually believes in that rhetoric anyway, so what are we even talking about?). The rest is just tongue-in-cheek, ironic “design” that doesn’t really mean anything beyond some talented people exercising their creative muscles but not really competing.
Tabak seemed not to know about what the response has been to the calendar — “What are people saying about it?” he asked, dubiously — and has not yet delivered the present to its intended recipient, citing a lack of connections to the man. “It’s enough that he finds out about this,” he said. “We would really like that.”
I’m sure they would.