Russia 2012

Russian Presidential election

Dmitry Medvedev wins Matryoshka immortality

March 7, 2008

Matryoshka dolls/Sergei KarpukhinIt has been less than a week since Dmitry Medvedev was elected Russian president and he already has the ultimate kitsch accolade: his own matryoshka doll. These are painted wooden figures hollowed out inside to contain a smaller doll, which in turn has an even smaller figure inside, and so on until the penultimate figure opens up to reveal the last tiny doll, usually the size of a fingernail.

The dolls are a Russian folk tradition and a favourite tourist souvenir. Outgoing President Vladimir Putin has long had his own matryoshka. Now his protege does too, selling for 350 roubles ($15) at Izmailovsky market, a vast open-air maze of stalls that sells tourist trinkets.

My wife picked up a Medvedev matryoshka there this week. The stallholder said she ordered the dolls a week before the election. This might have been apic04.jpgn audacious business gamble — if he had lost the vote, there would not be much demand for the dolls. In reality it was just sensible planning. The contest was so one-sided that Medvedev’s victory was never in doubt.

Inside Medevedev nestles a slightly smaller Putin, followed in descending order by Russia’s first president Boris Yeltsin, last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet leader up to the early 1980s, Josef Stalin, Vladimir Lenin and Tsar Nicholas II. Inside him is a figure who might be Peter the Great, but he is so small it is hard to tell.

There is a big debate underway at the moment over who will really be in charge after Medvedev is sworn in on May 7 — the new president or the powerful Putin, who will become prime minister. If, in a dark moment, Medvedev is feeling frustrated that he is still in his mentor’s shadow, he could take comfort from looking at his matryoshka doll. There at least, he is bigger than Putin.

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