Springtime in Russia: Eurovision, hockey championships, and the world's most beautiful woman
The country is feeling unusually cheerful as it claims top spots in beauty, talent, and sports competitions.
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A spate of little triumphs in the worlds of sports, music, and glamour may seem like no big deal to less troubled nations, but for Russians they appear to matter a lot.
"For Russians, these victories serve as important indicators that things are going well," says Denis Volkov, an expert with the independent Levada Center, a Moscow-based polling agency. "People think: 'At last, Russia is taking the place it deserves.' "
Sunk in their third crushing economic crisis in two decades, and still uncertain of a post-Soviet identity, tens of thousands of Russians poured into the streets of major cities Sunday after their national hockey team defeated Canada to hold on to the world hockey championship. Many danced in the streets all night.
The victorious hockey team received a phone call of congratulations from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. On Tuesday, they were greeted in the Kremlin by President Dmitry Medvedev, who reportedly told them that the passion produced by the win was just what Russia needs right now.
Former president and now prime minister Vladimir Putin pulled out all the stops to win the 2014 Olympic games for the Russian city of Sochi, even making his first-and-only speech in English to win over the International Olympic Committee in 2007.
Last year, when Russia's hitherto underdog soccer team won a string of unexpected victories, the country went wild with enthusiasm, and political leaders jumped in to bask in the limelight.
Eurovision finals in Moscow Saturday
Russian authorities, who have invested a reported $42 million into staging the Eurovision contest in Moscow, say it's money well spent.
"When there is a festive feeling, people look more optimistically upon life," says Grigory Ivliyev, chair of the State Duma's committee on culture. "There are national symbols and national colors everywhere; the whole atmosphere is different."
Some critics say such blatant politicization of cultural successes bodes ill for Russian society.
"I'm happy for our team, but in a civilized country, a hockey victory shouldn't be treated like a national holiday," says Viktor Shenderovich, a leading satirist and liberal political commentator. "It's just a bit much to see a hockey team being received with full fanfare in the Kremlin."
But plenty of ordinary Russians agree with polls that show the national mood soaring when compatriots make good on just about any global stage.
"These events make me feel really glad," says Natalya Knorre, a Moscow social worker. "Sometimes, things like this make a big difference when it comes to maintaining your spirits."
Supermodels, Eurovision, and Georgia
It doesn't hurt, either, that the reigning Miss World, Kseniya Sukhinova, is a Russian. Her blonde-coiffed and blue-eyed visage smiles gloriously down this week from scores of billboards around Moscow – all part of the Russian capital's lavish welcome for entrants in the iconic Eurovision song contest, which will climax Saturday in finals held at the downtown, 80,000-seat Olympisky stadium.
Eurovision, seen by some as the height of kitsch, but hotly contested among 42 countries from the Atlantic to the Caspian Sea, was won last year by Russian pop star Dima Bilan, earning Russia the right to host this year's event.