↑ Scroll to top

Russia’s restyled It Girl speaks and the people start to listen

Published: March 19, 2012 | 7:51 am
Text size: -A +A

MOSCOW: It is tempting, these days, to imagine the political change that took place in Moscow this northern winter was a mirage. With Vladimir Putin’s first-round victory on the books and major anti-government protests called off for the moment, most people seemed to slide back, with regret or relief, to routines they abandoned five months ago.
Not Kseniya Sobchak. The pampered ”It Girl” of Putin’s Russia, author of Philosophy in the Boudoir and How to Marry a Millionaire, has restyled herself as a leader of the opposition. Earlier this month Sobchak hosted protest leaders on her new political talk show, which was cancelled by Russia’s MTV after just one episode and is now broadcast on a website.
She repeated her declaration that she might emigrate if the authorities resist political liberalisation. And she continued – very carefully – to speak out against Mr Putin, a family friend widely rumoured to be her godfather.

It is difficult to imagine a more unlikely standard-bearer than Sobchak, 30, the ubiquitous blonde party girl known as Russia’s Paris Hilton. Most people know her through her raunchy career in reality television, or the scandalous liaisons and broken engagements that make up the basic molecular structure of Russia’s tabloid culture.
Nevertheless, over the course of the past few months, the transformation of Sobchak has begun to seem real, setting off talk she is following the path of her father, Anatoly Sobchak, whose stand against the authoritarian communist regime made him a hero for Russia’s liberals.
”I am sincere in what I am saying now, and I was absolutely sincere then,” Sobchak said when the Ukrainian television talk show host Oleksandr Tkachenko asked if she was the same person.
The story begins with a friendship between two men. In 1990, Sobchak’s father, the reformist chairman of Leningrad’s city council, was a rising political star when he extended a job offer to a veteran KGB officer adrift in a disintegrating Soviet Union. Anatoly Sobchak and his new deputy, Mr Putin, became extraordinarily close.
During the first years of Putin’s presidency, Kseniya Sobchak made herself into an avatar of Moscow’s over-the-top, oil-fuelled high life. She dated millionaires, posed topless for Playboy and lustily embraced the materialism of the age, making no attempt to hide her distaste for the poverty of ordinary Russians.
She also showed flashes of a sharp intelligence. At 21, holding court at a chic nightclub, she said she and her friends knew their worlds were built on shifting sand: ”Fathers,” as she put it, ”are rich today and in jail tomorrow.”
Sobchak’s speech to opposition demonstrators in December did not go over well; knowing of her ties to Mr Putin, many protesters doubted her sincerity and jeered her on stage. The criticism was harsher in some St Petersburg circles, where her stance was seen as a betrayal of Mr Putin.
Sobchak has gone out of her way to avoid personal criticism of Mr Putin, but it is clearly painful for her as well. She has acknowledged she can no longer speak about politics with her mother, a legislator in Russia’s upper house of parliament, whom she called ”the person I love the most”.
”Kinship is a very strong tie, a strong material,” Sobchak told Tkachenko, the talk show host. ”But the ideas in my head are also of very strong material, so I have no choice.”

The New York Times

VN:F [1.9.10_1130]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
More posts in category: World News
  • Republican and Democrat lawmakers alike urge US to ‘stick to plan’ in Afghanistan
  • WRAPUP 3-Syria forces attack town; Annan receives Assad response
  • Syria rebels, Palestinian pro-Assad group clash in Damascus refugee camp
  • Hollande derides Sarkozy plan for needy and fat cats