Sunday, April 6, 2014

A softer Putin allows divorce as long as no one knows

by Ava Jaulin

On the morning of April 2nd, internet scourers raised eyebrows to record heights. After 30 plus years of marriage, Russian President Vladimir Putin divorced his wife Lyudmila (so that’s her name). Shocking! Oh, not the part about the breakup. They announced the breakup last June, in a public Russian broadcast. In fact, according to the Associated Press, Putin said it was a "joint decision," and that the couple "practically never saw each other." Lyudmila herself added, "We will eternally be a very close people." The divorce remains intriguing. It’s a testimony to the ageless (*cough* sixty-one *cough*) ex-KGB spy’s softer side that he would allow her to break from him in the traditional documented way, as opposed to the somewhat prevalent “accidental” Russian morgue way. They have two adult daughters, Mariya and Yekaterina. Maybe that matters here.

Kremlin spokesperson and whimsical mustache keeper, Dmitri Sergeyevich Peskov (spell check?), emotionally announced via Russia 24: "The divorce has taken place." And that was all he announced, in what was, probably, a flippant tone. Then came the chuckle-worthy headlines, such as the Huffington Post’s “Vlad is Officially Single Ladies,” or Time.com’s “From Russia Without Love,” and of course, the obligatory teasing from late night hosts. David Letterman “premiered” ABC’s The Bachelor’s new ad featuring Putin as the title character. Jimmy Fallon rattled off the pros and cons of dating the President, after showing the director’s cut of a phone conversation between Putin and “next door neighbor,” Sarah Palin.

Hopefully, rumored girlfriend—Olympic rhythmic gymnast, parliament member, and Sochi torch bearer—31 year-old Alina Kabayeva, took the time to watch. Then again, she’s supposedly been with him since 2008. She may already be a Putin partner expert.

But Putin is not the only political figure who has dealt with a less than traditional marital status. Nicholas Sarkozy, France’s less than statuesque past president, received flack for marrying model/singer—the notably younger—Carla Bruni. American Vice-President Al Gore, and his wife Tipper Gore, surprised us in 2010, when they announced their separation, weeks after celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary. Current French President, Francois Hollande, left his companion, and mother of his children, for a newscaster. Then, he allegedly replaced her with a younger model, actress Julie Gayet. Now, he is rumored to be courting Royal once more. And those are the clean-ish breaks. If the wobbly marriages (Berlusconi), and the convenient marriages (Bill Clinton, Anthony Weiner) were added, the list would go on and on. But the fascination with these marital train wrecks isn't surprising.

Much like celebrities, these leaders sell the public not only their ideas/ideals for votes, but also themselves. The public expects a say in their policies, routines, and private lives. Privacy? What Privacy? Firedoglake.com said it perfectly: “One of the structural problems of running for president in the early 21st century is that we have this bizarre idea that presidents have to be perfect to be effective or even just mediocre at their jobs. We are far too concerned that they must be ‘like . . . .”

This expectancy makes Putin’s media ban on his private life seem drastic, archaic . . . wrong. It seems unfathomable that the Russian people have never seen a picture of the first daughters, when it’s so easy for the American public to follow the Obama girls through major milestones (congrats on getting your license Sasha!). But they have not. It seems unlikely that the news of the divorce first “broke” in a staged encounter outside of an opera house, with a lone female journalist, who was kept to a strict script. Don’t expect an eminent “tell-all,” or even a blog post from Alina Kabayeva, unless, of course, she enjoys looking over her shoulders. Putin is famous for requiring the outside world to keep their "snotty noses" out of his private affairs or else. And what Vlad wants, Vlad gets. Just ask the Moskovsky Korrespondent, which folded shortly after leaking the rumor, or Ukraine.

Photos by Sean Gallup/Getty Images (couple); Darren England/ALLSPORT; Mike Powell /Allsport
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