Russians snap up Medvedev portraits ahead of vote
( Reuter )- President Vladimir Putin's icy blue gaze may soon be replaced by the softer brown eyes of his protege Dmitry Medvedev in the portraits that stare from the walls of tens of thousands of Russian offices.
Bureaucrats and businessmen have been snapping up Medvedev photographs ever since Putin -- whose eyes famously gave President George W. Bush "a sense of his soul" -- backed the former corporate lawyer as his successor last December.
Now sales of pictures of Medvedev are soaring ahead of Sunday's presidential election, in which he is set for an overwhelming victory.
Russians hang framed pictures of the Kremlin chief in government offices, businesses and even schools in a show of public fealty that portrait sellers say has its roots in Tsarist history and the Soviet Union's personality cults.
"Since it was announced Medvedev was the official successor, we immediately started getting inquiries about him and now Medvedev has really overtaken Putin in sales," said Vladimir Tyshko, who sells photographic portraits of politicians.
"With the elections approaching, Medvedev is selling very well. About 70 percent of people want portraits of Medvedev and 30 percent want Putin now. Before, Putin was of course the absolute leader by sales. Now it is Medvedev," he said.
Tyshko's www.vRamke.ru Internet shop sells a giant 1.2-metre (3.9 ft)-high Medvedev portrait for 20,000 roubles ($830). Smaller portraits, showing a benevolent-looking Medvedev, go for 2,000 roubles.
Russians have been putting up portraits of their tsars, general secretaries and presidents for centuries, though the tradition weakened slightly after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Now Putin's image is everywhere. Some officials even put up several photographs of the former KGB spy to show their loyalty. But authorities are eager to emphasize it is voluntary.
"The sales of presidential portraits are nothing to do with us -- it is purely a private business which entrepreneurs engage in and I repeat we have nothing to do with it," a Kremlin spokesman said by telephone.
Putin, who plans to work as prime minister alongside President Medvedev, said this month he saw no need to hang his successor's portrait in his office.
"In order to establish my relationship with Dmitry Anatolyevich (Medvedev) I won't need to hang his portrait on my wall if he is elected president," Putin said.
"I don't see anything shameful in the fact that bureaucrats have the portrait of their leader in their offices. I don't see any servility or groveling. This is an element of statehood in the same way as a flag or emblem."
But local officials are preparing for a new president.
"Representatives of the region took 40 of them not long ago," said Alexander Smirnov, whose photography studio in the Sverdlovsk region has been supplying local bookshops with pictures of Medvedev for 500 roubles each.
Under Putin the president's face has turned into a mini-industry, with thousands of framed photographs sold and even watches, necklaces, carpets and "matryoshki" -- traditional carved wooden dolls -- bearing his portrait.
Many observers say Putin could remain the power behind the Kremlin throne after he steps down as president.
"The Medvedev ones have sold out," said one shop assistant in a Moscow bookshop. "Buy the Putin one -- he is still the boss."