In 1787, Prince Grigory Potemkin erected special villages to impress his lover, Catherine the Great, on her trip to Crimea. Unlike real Russian villages, these were clean and bright and designed to give the impression that the people there were happy. After she passed through, they were were taken down and then up again further along her route.
While scholars dispute the accuracy of these stories, they have become a byword for Russian officials ever since who can always be counted on to spruce up the buildings and roads for tsars, general secretaries, or now presidents. But Vladimir Putin has gone Potemkin one better: he hasn’t just ordered buildings cleaned up, he’s painted happy people in the windows.
“In the windows of old houses in Rostov” in advance of the World Cup, “have been drawn pictures of happy residents greeting participants” in that competition, the Kasparov.ru portal reports and shows a picture of this latest Putin innovation on an old tsarist tradition.
The comments on this report have been savage. Among the most noteworthy so far:
Yekaterina Barabash says that “in Rostov for the World Championship they are drawing people in the windows; they even remembered to include a Jew with a violin … This already is not a Potemkin village: it is a whole Potemkin country.” And she asks: are those behind these windows now “sitting in darkness?”
Semyon Osheverov says that the French have done something similar in the past but in a way quite different: they paint pictures of windows with people in them but not pictures on the windows of places where people actually live.
Yegor Sedov says that this is just one more indication that the World Cup is “a celebration for all except for the Russians.” And these Potemkin pictures demonstrate that “if you can’t make people happy, there is no reason for despair! You simply draw them as happy” and let others assume that they reflect reality.
Andrey Nikulin says that the bosses “wanted to organize ‘a victory of Russian sport,’” but all that remains is again “hope for a miracle.”
Valery Zen says that no one should be coming to a competition in a country where Oleh Sentsov and so many others are behind bars. “Why is the world community silent? It is completely possible that they in their turn will say that they are deeply concerned, will threaten sanctions and then … come to the World Cup anyway … as if everything were normal, as if the Russian Federation isn’t holding in prisons as hostages dozens of Ukrainians, as if there were no Ukraine or Syria. Everything is very simple: business is business.”
And Eva Kantorovich says that she is “certain that one should not conduct sports competitions in a country which engages in international aggression and expansion and in which fundamental human rights are violated and in their place are the understandings of thieves.”
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