The style of Russia's new first lady, and the not-so private lives of Finland's politicians.
The wife of new Russian president Dmitry Medvedev has got people talking like no first lady since Raisa Gorbachev. In marked contrast to her matronly predecessors, Svetlana displays a budding flair for fashion. She even smiles.
Amid the tedium and predictability of the Russian election campaign, there was one person who got everyone chattering and excited. It wasn’t Dmitry Medvedev, a man who was so assured of winning he didn’t even debate with his rivals, and who has so little charisma that he himself has admitted he comes across as “Mr Dry”. It was his wife, Svetlana. When she came out to vote on 2 March wearing a neatly tailored, fur-trimmed, all-black outfit, a set of pearls and a broad lipsticked smile, many Russians got their first glimpse of someone they’ll be seeing a lot more of over the next few years.
Svetlana has been a fixture of socialite circles for some time and family friends put Medvedev’s early success in business down to her – apparently she was an active networker and set her husband up with her future business partners. The pair met at school when they were just seven years old, and by the time they left for university, they were an item. Schoolteachers remember that many boys were after Svetlana, but she eventually settled on the shy but persistent Medvedev.
Svetlana is reportedly a fixture at parties of Russian diva Alla Pugacheva and gets on well with Russian designers Valentin Yudashkin and Igor Chapurin. But despite her links to the fashion world, some insiders suggest she still has some work to do. “The outfit is very much an evening outfit – it’s a strange thing to wear during the daytime,” says Ekaterina Dorokhova, fashion editor of Marie Claire Russia, of Mrs Medvedev’s voting day attire. “Both her haircut and her outfit suggest an older woman than she really is – she is only 42.”
Svetlana is a housewife – her husband has said that after the birth of their son in 1996, he told her she should remain at home to look after the boy – but is nevertheless likely to be a far more visible first lady than her predecessor Ludmilla Putin. Russian newspapers have already compared her to Raisa Gorbachev, the extrovert late wife of Mikhail Gorbachev. Mrs Putin rarely made public appearances or accompanied her husband on trips abroad.
“There is a lot wrong with what she is wearing, but there is at least something to work with,” says Dorokhova. “I think it would be easy for professionals to work with her and advise her on style. Mrs Putin was categorically against even trying.”
1. Smile – Like many Russian women, Svetlana is not shy of make-up. Her toothy smile gives an impression of openness very different from the grimaces of previous first ladies, and has apparently helped Medvedev more than once during his career. 2. Pearls – An unusual choice for a morning vote, perhaps, but while Svetlana is bubbly and flamboyant her jewellery tends to be understated, especially by Russian standards. 3. Fur collar – Happy to use fur against the biting Russian winter, Svetlana also has a fondness for mink. She is said to favour Russian designers, who would put fur trim on knickers, given the chance. 4. Handbag – She is as carefully coordinated as Russian politics her all-black turn at the elections was preceded at a fashion event a few weeks before with a white blouse, jacket, skirt and handbag. 5. High Heels – Although her husband is only around 5’ 3” (1.60m) tall, Svetlana is even shorter, allowing her to wear precarious high heels without towering over him. Perhaps they should have a mini summit with President Sarkozy (5’ 5”/1.68m).
Not even a year into his presidency and Nicolas Sarkozy is already making his bid to create a lasting cultural legacy. The president has his sights set on the Île Seguin, 74 hectares of prime land on the Seine about 10km from Paris. Sarkozy wants to turn the entire island, which once housed a Renault car factory, into a massive sculpture park.
Until recently, Sarkozy’s urbane cultural adviser Georges-Marc Benamou was talking up the project as a sort of “open-air museum” incorporating “a large museum, computer-art workshops and playgrounds”. But last month he suddenly quit his post, just as criticism for the project began to heat up. Most damaging was an open letter to Le Monde from three senior French architects ridiculing the sculpture park and suggesting that Sarkozy’s lack of taste would make it look like “a slim-line version of Marie-Antoinette’s hamlet for the 21st century”. But their chief objection wasn’t so much about aesthetics as arrogance.
The French state has no legal claim to the Île Seguin, which is owned by the neighbouring town of Boulogne-Billancourt. Meanwhile, the town’s outgoing mayor has also already signed several building contracts to develop the land. No problem, says Boulogne’s new mayor Pierre-Christophe Baguet (a member of Sarkozy’s UMP party), all the projects can go ahead, but on the mainland instead.
Swedes are known for their healthy lifestyle – a lifestyle that now has a surprising, new recipe. No longer does it mean choosing skimmed lattes or fat-free smoothies for your breakfast. Instead, the Swedes are opting for full fat and naturally sweet products, preferably organic. According to a study by AC Nielsen, the popularity of light food products fell last year, while naturally sweet and fatty products saw a strong comeback. Sales of honey grew by 10 per cent, while sugar substitutes declined 4 per cent.
Something has happened in Finland, a country where the press used to keep a respectful distance to power and treat news about a president’s illness or a minister’s extra-marital affair as a private matter. These days it seems that not a day goes by without a high-profile politician’s personal life being scrutinised by the press. If it’s not Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen’s run-ins with his former girlfriend, it’s the suggestive text messages sent by the foreign minister Ilkka Kanerva, pictured.
Political commentators hardly have the time to focus on pressing issues such as the health care system or foreign policy, and if they do, they’re left wondering if the government ministers are finding time to do their work.
“How this is affecting Finland’s credibility and ability to operate abroad is worth thinking about. When Kanerva arrives in a new country, he might be seen as ‘the text-message-guy’ and have the reputation of a clown,” says Erkki Karvonen, a researcher at the University of Tampere who specialises in the public images of politicians.
The Finnish media started seeing the potential in its leaders’ juicy scandals in the late 1990s, as the tabloid press took off. The difference in Finland seems to be that politicians usually weather the storms, whereas in the US or the UK, resignation would be the most probable outcome.
“Finland comes from a continental tradition, where the state and power are fundamentally seen as positive things. They promote sustainable development and common good. The media mostly wants to make money from the scandals – and they don’t have to disturb the state unless something illegal has happened,” says Karvonen.
There are 90,960 UN operatives (soldiers, police and military observers) posted around the globe. Italy is Europe’s most generous supplier of UN troops, with 2,916 in six conflict zones. Macedonia, meanwhile, supplies just two: a soldier in Lebanon and a policeman in Liberia. But that beats Kazakhstan’s one.