The eternal Russia, the Russia of Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky is alive and well. And the Russians have survived as a nation that clearly understands what is art and what men in the arts (or stars) should be like, and why the nation needs them. This is clear from the results of an opinion poll conducted by the Russian Public Opinion Research Centre (VTsIOM), one of the most authoritative social monitoring services in Russia. The poll was conducted in the wake of a scandal involving Russian pop star Filipp Kirkorov. This affair is probably little known outside Russia, whereas virtually everyone in this country knows that Kirkorov is being sued for offending the honour and dignity of a woman reporter at his press conference in Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia. Since the journalist launched her legal action, the trial's developments have rarely left the front pages of all the Russian tabloids.
The singer's lawyers argue that their client was outraged by "the lack of professionalism" of the reporter and therefore his choice of words to respond to the girl, which have always been regarded as obscenities in Russia, was justified. The lawyers mean to say that his verbal attacks like "I'm sick of your tits and your pink blouse" were only natural under the circumstances.
However, Svetlana Aroyan who had until recently been an utterly unknown person was supported by 47% of 1,500 individuals surveyed in 39 regions, while as few as 6% supported the pop idol. The scandal was like a hot iron in the open wound of Russians who blame free market reforms and other events that have taken place in the country since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992 for moral decadence.
Russians criticise the privatisation campaign of the early 1990s. They have no sympathy for the Yukos oil company owners who are now on trial as they acquired huge assets for nothing. However, the collapse of morals and, hence, a growing crime rate, plummeting birth rate, the mass dismissals of older people and many other things are much more serious than fraudulent privatisation deals and even Chechen terrorism.
The logic of traditionally thinking Russians is rather simple: "if the new Russia is a country that does not differentiate between what is decent and what is not, then the free market will undermine the fundamentals of the Russian nation's existence. If a pop star thinks he can talk to a journalist in such a manner in the new Russia, this is not the Russia we want to live in."
In this saga, Filipp Kirkorov seems to embody an entire generation of younger, unscrupulous Russians who do not hesitate to misappropriate public assets, throw fountains of mud up driving in their Mercedes, or to tell a reporter, a la Kikorov, "you walked the streets yesterday and today you're sitting in the stalls."
There is a specific feature of the Russian mindset that was not reflected in the VTsIOM survey. A male reporter would have had to behave differently under such circumstances. Russian society has a strong internal conviction that, in this case, the offended reporter would have been obliged to climb the stage and kick his offender's teeth in rather than take him to court.
However, the offended party was a woman. By the way, Russians find the image of an athletic, aggressive woman walking sprightly around her office, as you might see in American TV commercials, very unattractive. A young girl drinking beer from the bottle in the street is an equally unappealing image for the majority of Russians. The State Duma, the lower house of parliament, even held discussions on the matter. Russian women must be womanlike, while men, i.e. the Fatherland, or a court of law, must protect them, which is the case with Svetlana Aroyan.
In trying to persuade the judge that the words used by their client were not indecent, the defence team is doing an ill service to him, the emerging adversary trial and the independent judiciary. They are undermining the as yet uncustomary concept of trials relating to abuse of honour and dignity. They should have explained their client's misbehaviour through his frayed nerves and insisted that he was sorry for what he said. That would have produced a more favourable psychological effect. Indeed, Kirkorov is not just popular, he is a superstar, which only complicates things for him. About 40% of respondents regard show business and TV stars as ordinary people who must observe proper standards. Only 6% of respondents believe that "creative, extraordinary" personalities can behave badly on occasions, unlike lesser mortals. However, according to VTsIOM, the majority of Russians believe that moral standards for TV stars must be even higher than those for ordinary people, as the former are role models for many young boys and girls.
And finally, the survey addressed another acute problem for Russia, i.e. what the English-speaking world calls "four-letter words" (or rather three-letter words in Russia). As many as 80% of Russians believe that obscenities and culture are incompatible.
The latter figure is rather surprising, as Russians, men as well as women, have excelled in the use of indecent expressions in everyday life. Whole essays written in obscene words that have no end of meanings and subtexts are published on the Internet.
However, Russians' attitude to the use of obscenities in Art and Culture is totally negative. According to 80% of Russians, obscenities in movies, books or music shows are a sign of immorality and a lack of talent, VTsIOM reports. And this is without mentioning directing your invective at a woman in public.
Dmitry Kosyrev, RIA Novosti political commentator