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Aunty Valya Awaiting Orders from the Kremlin

Published: November 13, 2007 (Issue # 1323)



  • Governor Valentina Matviyenko taking part in a 10-kilometer run for women through the center of the city, which began on Palace Square in September of 2006.
    Photo: Alexander Belenky / The St. Petersburg Times

  • Governor Valentina Matviyenko being interviewed at City Hall in September.
    Photo: Alexander Belenky / The St. Petersburg Times

Valentina Matviyenko has been called an iron lady, an undemocratic ruler and the woman behind a business boom in the northern capital. But on the streets of St. Petersburg, she is more commonly known as Auntie Valya.

The nickname refers to a much-loved presenter on Spokoinoi Nochi, Malyshi, or Good Night, Kids, a television program that has sent children off to bed since 1964.

The nickname hints at Matviyenkos Soviet roots. She entered politics as a Komsomol youth leader in the 1970s and has managed to remain close to the nexus of political power as a diplomat, minister, presidential envoy and now St. Petersburg governor.

It is a light reminder that we know what she was before, said Anna Petrova, 34, a translator, who did not vote for Matviyenko.

Opponents say Matviyenko, with the Kremlins approval, has secured power in St. Petersburg as ruthlessly as President Vladimir Putin has across the country. Now some people speculate that she is a prime candidate to succeed Putin next year.

Matviyenko has repeatedly denied presidential aspirations, but in a political system as transparent as the Neva River, that means little. Putin would just have to give the order.

Ive answered that question more than once, Matviyenko said in an interview in Smolny, the heart of political power in St. Petersburg. I am completely satisfied with what I do now. I have no plans to take part in the election.

She added: Personally, I think I know who will be president. I think I am not mistaken [but] ... I dont have the right to say it out loud. We dont have long to wait. Lets be patient and wait until March 2008.

Political analysts believe Matviyenko has no chance of running in her own right but could run as a stopgap candidate while Putin waits on the sidelines for a possible return to the Kremlin in 2012. The Constitution bars a third consecutive term.

She is not ambitious and is 100 percent oriented toward Vladimir Putin, said Andrei Ryabov, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center.

One of the few women in the upper ranks of the countrys politics, Matviyenko, 58, encapsulates a visual style that mixes Soviet bombast and Las Vegas lacquer. The style, whose other notable follower is State Duma Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska, combines femininity and power dressing to produce the impression of a formidable Soviet bureaucrat.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Saturday, Nov. 1


The men and women who dedicate their lives to fitness get their chance to compete for the title of best body in Russia at todays Grand Prix Fitness House PRO, the nations premier bodybuilding competition. Not only will men and women be competing for thousands of dollars in prizes and a trip to represent their nation at Mr. Olympia but sporting goods and nutritional supplements will also be available for sale. Learn more about the culture of the Indian subcontinent during Diwali, the annual festival of lights that will be celebrated in St. Petersburg this weekend at the Culture Palace on Tambovskaya Ul. For 100 rubles ($2.40), festival-goers listen to Indian music, try on traditional Indian outfits and sample dishes highlighting the culinary diversity of the billion-plus people in the South Asian superpower.



Sunday, Nov. 2


Check out the latest video and interactive games at the Gaming Festival at the Mayakovsky Library ending today. Meet with the developers of the popular and learn more about their work, or learn how to play one of their creations with the opportunity to ask the creators themselves about the exact rules.



Monday, Nov. 3


Non-athletes can get feed their need for competition without breaking a sweat at the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament this evening at the Cube Bar at Lomonosova 1. Referees will judge the validity of each matchup award points to winners while the citys elite fight for the chance to be called the best of the best. Those hoping to play must arrange a team beforehand and pay 200 rubles ($4.80) to enter.



Tuesday, Nov. 4


Attend the premiere of Canadian director Xavier Dolans latest film Mommy at the Avrora theater this evening. The fifth picture from the 25-year-old, it is the story of an unruly teenager but the most alluring (or unappealing) aspect is the way the film was shot: in a 1:1 format that is more reminiscent of Instagram videos than cinematic art. Tickets cost 400 rubles ($9.60) and snacks and drinks will be available.



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