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Thursday, November 11, 1999 Published at 15:38 GMT

World: Europe

Russian rouble in search of a symbol

All that glisters is not gold: the rouble coin

A campaign has been launched in Russia to rescue the image of the rouble.

The trick, a group of journalists and designers believe, is to give it symbol.

Reliable currencies like the dollar and the pound have one, the thinking goes, and confidence in the rouble might increase if it had one too.

[ image: Echoes of the Mercedes: if only the rouble was as reliable]
Echoes of the Mercedes: if only the rouble was as reliable
Never mind that the currency has lost 99.996 per cent of its value in the last eight years.

A competition for the best symbol, launched in September, has the support of the Russian Central Bank.

By spring, officials from the Bank and the Finance Ministry may have chosen anything from a pretzel to a duck to represent the currency.

There have been more than 400 entries so far.

"By giving the rouble a recognisable symbol, we will give a new face to our economy and our country, and bring Russia from the Third World to a civilised world power," said competition organiser Nikolai Oblapokhin.

[ image: The euro's eastern cousin?]
The euro's eastern cousin?
The English-language Moscow Times newspaper disagreed, describing the search for a symbol as "one of the few bad ideas that isn't state-sponsored".

"In a country where citizens have been repeatedly bankrupted by their government's feckless economic policies, an open-armed endorsement of a saviour symbol would be grotesque," it said in an editorial.

Political analyst Boris Kagarlitsky pointed to the approach of Latin American countries, which adopted the dollar sign to lend their currencies an air of solidity.

"We should use a dollar sign with a footnote at the bottom that says, 'This is not a US dollar'," he said.

[ image: The bread standard: Dmitri Anokhin's pretzel sign]
The bread standard: Dmitri Anokhin's pretzel sign
One of the contestants, Dmitri Anokhin, defended his pretzel-like design, saying that it looked like a delicious bread roll.

"Bread is invaluable to everyone," he said.

Many designs are based on the letter 'R' in the Latin alphabet, or its Cyrillic equivalent, 'P' - the first letter of the word 'rouble'.

"The euro has an 'e' with two stripes like the dollar - maybe an 'r' with two similar stripes would be a good idea for the rouble," said Peter Weston, an economist with the Russian-European Centre for Economic Policy.

"Knowing how fond they are of the US dollar, this is probably what they will choose."

[ image: Hard sign, hard currency]
Hard sign, hard currency
Another suggestion is a variation on a letter in the Russian alphabet, known as the hard sign, which, it is hoped, might lend an aura of hard currency.

Despite the Central Bank's support for the idea of a rouble symbol, it is not overly optimistic about the results.

"We don't expect it to make the rouble a serious currency," said spokeswoman Natalya Galkina.

"Mongolia has a currency sign, but I don't see that it's done much for their economy."

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