Russian president Vladimir Putin turned 62 today, and he celebrated the occasion by retreating to the isolated forests of Siberia for a typically rugged vacation. The country's citizens, meanwhile, marked the occasion with some unusual tributes, including fan art that depicted the leader as a mythological Greek hero, and a sentimental, almost surreal video with singing schoolchildren.
Mikhail Antonov, the founder of a Putin fan group on Facebook, organized an art exhibition in Moscow featuring a series of works that portrayed Putin as Hercules. The show included 12 pieces of art that compared Putin's achievements in office to the 12 Labors of Hercules. One image showed Putin chopping off the head of the Hydra, a beast that Mikhail said represented the United States.
Perhaps even more bizarre, a sickly-sweet and rather creepy tribute to Putin titled "Happy Birthday, President of the Russian Federation," was posted on YouTube. Children from the Moscow musical group "Stars of Our City" are shown singing Putin's praises in a utopian Russian fantasyland.
Others were less enthusiastic about the occasion. In Crimea — formerly a region of Ukraine that was annexed by Russia earlier this year amid international outcry — a brand of toilet paper stirred controversy by featuring Putin's initials on the packaging. The Sevastopol News, a local paper, reported that members of Crimea's Russian majority raised a stink about the bathroom hygiene product, which included the letters B.B. (V.V. in the Cyrillic alphabet, possibly short for Vladimir Vladimirovich, Putin's first and middle name) and an outline of the Crimean peninsula on the wrapping.
Elsewhere in Russia, Amnesty International honored the late investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya by organizing ceremonies across the country on the eighth anniversary of her murder. Journalists brought paper flowers fashioned from old magazines and papers to the headquarters of her old newspaper, Novaya Gazeta. Politkovskaya was a vocal critic of Putin's regime, and her reporting exposed widespread corruption in the Russian government and human rights abuses in Chechnya.
Because Politkovskaya was killed on Putin's birthday, some have speculated that her murder was a "gift" to the president, a former KGB agent. Five people have been convicted and sentenced for her killing, but her relatives and former colleagues remain unsatisfied, demanding that those who ordered the murder be identified and brought to justice.
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