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Friday, 15 June, 2001, 14:05 GMT 15:05 UK
Private enterprise meets personality cult

In demand from the new Russian middle class
Just over a year after Russian President Vladimir Putin took office, the Russian media have been reflecting on what some see as a growing personality cult around him.

Russia's TV-6 television has shown a vast choice of portraits of Mr Putin on sale at a shopping mall in an underground passage near Moscow's Park of Culture.

Many are taken from computer-edited photographs printed on canvas and touched up in acrylic paint.

A pensive president

It is considered good taste to display a loyal portrait of the president. The top-selling pose is Putin deep in thought, the TV said.

The television pointed out that, as in real life, the fast-art images of Mr Putin rarely look directly out at the audience.

This contrasts sharply with the wooden, formal and direct gaze of the denizens of Soviet Russia, whose portraits were once obligatory in every office and shop.

I believe that the people's love for Putin is explained by efforts to hide the humiliating reality from ourselves

Obshchaya Gazeta

Russians are themselves hard-pressed to explain the continuing need to come under the leader's authoritative gaze.

Or, indeed, the market for cakes decorated with Mr Putin's face baked in the city of Chelyabinsk and reported on Russian TV news.

Or the mass produced cast-iron busts, t-shirts and small rugs depicting the leader.

All these trinkets cost money, something many ordinary Russians are short of. Profit-hungry sellers are counting on Putin's record-high popularity and the Russian tradition of the cult of personality.

Icon for modern Russia?

Moscow's Obshchaya Gazeta newspaper has tried to work out why Russians feel the need to be seen to love Putin, seeing the emerging cult of personality as a defence mechanism which is intended to save the nation's self-respect.

"I believe that the people's love for Putin is to a significant degree explained by such efforts to hide the humiliating reality from ourselves," the paper said.

A once-powerful society in economic decline which has no alternative leader also has no alternative but to love him. And that's fine as long as Mr Putin's popularity lasts, it added.

However, the paper anticipates an acute crisis of self-respect in Russian society, once people start to think they may have obediently voted for a man it describes as "probably the most accidental ruler in Russian history".

A president selected for them, just as others did before them in times not that long gone.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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See also:

28 Feb 01 | Media reports
Putin's student years
24 Jun 00 | Media reports
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Putin in his own words
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11 Nov 00 | Media reports
Putin becomes model president
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