Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Western Celebrities Cuddle Up To The Kremlin

Hmm, I think the Chechen people need a little pleasure
First, the highly principled football player. Former Dutch great Ruud Gullit is heading for the Russian first division to coach Terek Grozny, a club whose president, by a happy coincidence, is Moscow’s Chechen henchman Ramzan Kadyrov. The unelected, authoritarian President of Chechnya has a big reputation in the Northern Caucacus, though unfortunately it’s mainly for reported human rights abuses. Under his regime, dissenters disappear, opponents are assassinated, women must wear headscarves, and houses belonging to the innocent relatives of insurgents mysteriously burn down in the night. Moscow doesn’t have a problem with this, and neither, it seems, does Gullit.

In fact, he draws an apposite parallel, likening his move to Grozny with the decision of the Dutch team to take part in the 1978 World Cup, hosted by the brutal Argentine military junta. “There was a lot of discussion in 1978, but the Netherlands went then for sport,” Gullit told the Dutch daily De Volkskrant. “This is exactly the same. You will always have people for and against. But I don't want to be involved in politics, I want to concentrate on the sport and give the people there a little pleasure in their lives again.”

How noble of Gullit to think of the pleasure that he can bring to others. Anyone being held in one of Kadyrov’s illegal prisons, where torture is allegedly routine, will look forward to their release so they can nip down to the local stadium and forget their forced confession by watching a suave former European Footballer of the Year shouting out instructions to his team.  

Second, the gnat-brained British model, Naomi Campbell, who has done investigative journalism the service of interviewing Russian President Vladimir Putin for GQ magazine.
 Campbell’s no stranger to human rights campaigns, having testified at the war crimes trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor in The Hague last year, despite informing the judge that the trial was a “big inconvenience” for her. She’s also well placed to talk to Putin, because she lives in Moscow with billionaire boyfriend Vladislav Doronin.

Wotcha got for us, Naomi? Questions about press freedom, the right to peaceful assembly, the beating up and/or assassination of journalists and human rights campaigners, the urgently needed reform of the judiciary, the spread of Kremlin-sanctioned extremist right-wing youth movements? Here’s a selection (and if you really want the answers, they’re here):

You're in pretty good physical shape. How do you manage to keep yourself so fit?

I've seen the picture of you doing the butterfly stroke and, since I've been living in Russia, I noticed most people here swim the butterfly. I can't swim the butterfly, but I was just in the Dead Sea in Jordan and it was the first time I floated in my whole life.

You've been known to attend bare-knuckle fights. Ever been in one?

You obviously make a great impression on women. How do you feel about the students who posed for you in the calendar?

The latter question refers to a calendar in which female students posed in lingerie as a tribute to Putin on his 58th birthday. Another group published a rival calendar, dressed in black with their mouths taped. Vladimir says of the second calendar: “In almost any country, probably in Russia in particular, it's fashionable to criticise people in power. If you come out in support of someone like me, you're going to be accused of trying to ingratiate yourself. The girls in the erotic calendar were courageous and they were not scared.” Just like fearless Pulitzer candidate Naomi.

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