“Putin is stability!”, “Putin is peace in Chechnya!”, “Putin is the Olympics!”, “Putin is an eagle!”, and “Putin, we are with you!” These are some of the slogans 10,000 Nashi activists from over 20 regions shouted as they paraded down Moscow’s Taras Shevchenko Embankment on Sunday to celebrate Putin’s 55th birthday. The procession ended at a stage where Vasilii Yakemenko, Nashi leader and new appointee to head the Kremlin’s Youth Commission, rallied the crowd to the glories of Putinism with techno remixes of Soviet pop hits blaring in the background.
“I want to say that I remember the 1990s, when bandits ruled the streets, the country’s budget was approved by Americans at the International Monetary Fund and Berezovsky and Khodorkovsky declared war in Chechnya.” Yakemenko told the crowd giving his own version of history. “And I want to say that we cannot allow that to be repeated and the election f the national leader depends on us!” He then praised Putin’s heading United Russia’s federal electoral lists in the upcoming Duma elections. “Putin must take no some 30 percent or even 50 percent of votes. He must win decisively and unconditionally. And we the Nashi movement will help him in this!” Putin lives. Putin will always live.
As if unquestionable adulation of everything Putin wasn’t enough, later that day a representative from Nashi, Kristina Potupchik, presented Putin with a “peace blanket” decorated with symbols of many of Russia’s ethnic cultures. “Nashi wants this blanket to be a symbol of the multinational and grand Russia,” she explained. To make sure Putin wasn’t just covered in the material world, Nashi made sure he was nice and snug in the spiritual one and asked all of Russia’s churches to pray for Putin’s health.
Nashi’s presents to Putin made me think about other presents to Russian leaders over the decades. Be sure, whatever Putin got for his 55th pales in comparison to what Stalin was to receive from the Moscow Babaiev Confectionery Factory for his 60th birthday in 1939: A huge chocolate bust of himself.
As a teenager, the writer Valerii Agranovskii, witnessed the chocolate Stalin with his own eyes, and eventually lips, while on an excursion of the factory with his orphanage. Here is his account of the cocoa wonder:
[I]n a small hall in front of the director’s office where a huge bust of Stalin, made of chocolate, was exhibited. It was perhaps ordered by someone, but, most likely, made by the factory as a gift to Stalin for his sixtieth birthday.
I don’t know who touched the pedestal where the bust was seated. The fact remains that Stalin’s bust tottered and fell down, breaking into many large and small pieces. Our teachers were stunned. And the director, when he jumped out of his office and saw what had happened to the chocolate Leader of All the Progressive Humanity, went completely white, then looked at us with suddenly empty eyes, then looked behind him for some reason, and uttered almost without any voice and with only half of his mouth open (I don’t remember, left or right): ‘Eat it!’
We heard his command, and not just heard it but correctly understood it – and jumped… on the Best Friend and the Teacher of All Soviet Children.
The first thing that struck me (and, maybe others as well, but we did not share these thoughts) was that Stalin turned out to be empty inside… I got a huge ear of Joseph Vissarionovich, of the size of my two feet at that time…On another occasion we would have luxuriated on this ear for the whole day… but now we finished Stalin quickly… Nothing was left of Stalin, not a single crumb: the director, we think, even forbade sweeping the floor – which would be an extra blasphemy… – not that there was anything left to sweep; it was Stalin, after all.
Now that’s one chocolaty holy communion! I’d like to see those Nashi kids try and top that.
The chocolate Stalin was not the last, nor of course, the strangest gift the Man of Steel received from worshipers. In 1942, a group of Native American tribes presented the Soviet ambassador to the United States a full feathered head dress for the dictator to commemorate his “election as the honorary chief of all Indian tribes.” I remember seeing the head dress in the Museum of the Revolution in 2001. I couldn’t help picturing Stalin convening Politburo meetings wearing the damn thing.
Gifts to Stalin were so numerous for his 70th birthday that a special exhibition of the gifts was opened at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. The exhibit remained open until Stalin’s death in 1953.
Now that Putin appears to be sticking around for a while longer, one can’t help wonder: Is there a chocolate visage in his future?
Update: For more on Nashi, Putin’s B-day, and a translation of the Kommersant article on it, check out Lyndon’s post over at his Scraps of Moscow.