In Honor Of His 63rd, Putin Plays Hockey And Is Painted As The Buddha

Oct 7, 2015
Originally published on October 8, 2015 11:11 am

Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated his 63rd birthday Wednesday, amid a controversial bombing campaign in Syria, a weakening economy and tensions with the U.S. and its Western allies. The Russian leader made a point of taking it all in stride — including adulation from his fans.

He occupied an even more prominent place than usual on Russian state television on Wednesday. Putin was shown receiving a briefing on the Russian military operation in Syria, including the news that Russian warships in the Caspian Sea fired more than two dozen rockets at targets in Syria.

Then, as if to demonstrate that 63 years haven't slowed him down, he was shown taking part in a hockey game, playing alongside Russian stars of the National Hockey League.

In the meantime, Putin's fans arranged tributes, including a song by a pair of popular Russian rappers. It's called "My Best Friend is President Putin."

"This is our destiny," they rap. "Everything for him and freedom flows like a river." The song calls Putin "a tough superhero."

The rappers also remind listeners that the president is no longer married, saying, "All the girls are just crazy about him."

The theme of Putin as a superhero was also promoted at a small art gallery in Moscow's Arbat district, hosting an exhibition called "Putin's Universe."

It features paintings depicting Putin as various leaders and heroes, from Alexander the Great to Batman. One shows Putin as Sherlock Holmes, complete with deerstalker hat and magnifying glass.

"This is an artistic view of Vladimir Putin's personal character," says Milos Kojic, one of the organizers. "Probably the artist saw him as an investigator and brilliant-minded man who can resolve difficult puzzles."

Kojic says the paintings were chosen from the best submitted to the biggest Facebook fan page devoted to the Russian leader.

Portraits are displayed of Putin as the god Thor, as Che Guevara and as the Brazilian soccer star Pele — kicking a ball drawn with the face of President Obama.

Putin is portrayed as a peace hero, too — as Mahatma Gandhi and Buddha.

"Here is Vladimir Putin presented like Martin Luther King," Kojic says. "He was the most famous fighter for human rights. Also, Vladimir Putin is a fighter for human rights and he is protecting his people, especially in Crimea."

While I was at the exhibit, there was only one other visitor, a 70-year-old pensioner who said no Soviet leader would've allowed himself to be portrayed this way.

Does this mean that a cult of personality has developed around Putin?

"I think there is a sort of a cult," says Vasily Ivanov, a 27-year-old engineer in Moscow. "But it's because of the personality of the president, because who else besides him is worthy to lead the country?"

But, Ivanov clarifies: "It's not to make a god of him. He's not God or Stalin or something else. He's president."

Asker and Galina Madmedov, a Moscow couple, say they don't care what people in the West think.

"It makes no difference to us," Galina says.

"When people in the West make same-sex marriages or dye their hair red, we ignore it," says Asker. "This is our business. We love and respect Putin."

Adds Galina: "He is a magnificent man."

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Russia's president likes a good photo op, and there were a few today. It's Vladimir Putin's birthday. He turned 63 amid a bombing campaign in Syria, a weakening economy and tension with the U.S. But he made a point of taking it all in stride, including admiration from his fans. Here's NPR's Corey Flintoff from Moscow.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: President Putin occupied an even more prominent place than usual on Russian state television. He was shown meeting with his defense chief and hearing that Russian warships in the Caspian Sea have fired more than two dozen rockets at targets in Syria. Then, as if to demonstrate that 63 years haven't slowed him down, he took part in a televised hockey game, playing alongside Russian stars of the NHL.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking Russian).

FLINTOFF: There were also tributes to him, including a song released today by a pair of popular Russian rappers. It's called "My Best Friend Is President Putin."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY BEST FRIEND IS PRESIDENT PUTIN")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Speaking Russian).

FLINTOFF: The song calls Putin a tough superhero and says this is our destiny, everything for him and freedom flows like a river.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY BEST FRIEND IS PRESIDENT PUTIN")

TIMATI: (Rapping in Russian).

FLINTOFF: The theme of Putin as a superhero was also promoted at a small art gallery in Moscow's Arbat district. Milos Kojic is one of the organizers of an exhibition called Putin's Universe. It features paintings depicting Putin as various leaders and heroes from Alexander the Great to Batman. One shows Putin as Sherlock Holmes with the deerstalker hat and magnifying glass.

MILOS KOJIC: This is an artistic view of Vladimir Putin's personal character. Probably artist saw him as a investigator and brilliant-minded man who can resolve difficult puzzles.

FLINTOFF: Kojic says the paintings were chosen from the best sent into the biggest Facebook fan page devoted to the Russian leader. Kojic leads the way past portraits of Putin as the god Thor, as Che Guevara and as the soccer star Pele kicking a ball drawn with the face of President Barack Obama. Putin is portrayed as a peace hero, too, as Mahatma Gandhi and Buddha.

KOJIC: Here is Vladimir Putin presented like Martin Luther King, and he was the most famous fighter for human rights. Also, Vladimir Putin is fighter for human rights, and he's protecting his people down in Crimea, especially at Crimea.

FLINTOFF: While we were at that exhibit, there was only one other visitor, a 70-year-old pensioner who said no Soviet leader would have allowed himself to be portrayed this way. Does that mean that a cult of personality has developed around Putin? We met Vasily Ivanov, a 27-year-old engineer, outside a busy metro stop in Central Moscow.

VASILY IVANOV: (Speaking Russian).

FLINTOFF: "I think there is a sort of cult," he says. "It's the personality of the president because who else besides him is worthy to lead the country? But it's not to make a god of him," he says. "He's not God or Stalin or something else. He's president."

Asker and Galina Madmedov say they don't care what people in the West think.

ASKER MADMEDOV: (Speaking Russian).

GALINA MADMEDOV: (Speaking Russian).

FLINTOFF: "It makes no difference to us," Galina says. "When people in the West make same-sex marriages," Asker adds, "or dye their hair red, we ignore it. This is our business," they say. "We love and respect Putin, and he's a magnificent man." Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.