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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

Friday, Oct. 24


SPIBAs ongoing Breakfast with the Director series continues today, featuring Tomas Hajek, Managing Director of the Northwest Division at Danone Russia. Hajek will be discussing collaborations between businesses from different cultures. The meeting is at 9 a.m. at the Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel and all who wish to attend must confirm their participation by Oct. 23.


Get your gong on at Sounds of the Universe, a concert at the city planetarium this evening incorporating six different gongs to create relaxing songs that will transport you upwards into the stratosphere. Tickets are 700 rubles ($17).



Saturday, Oct. 25


AVA Expo, the eighth edition of the event revolving around all things pop culture, returns to Lenexpo this weekend. Geeks, nerds, dweebs and dorks will have their chance to talk science fiction and explore a variety of international pop culture. Tickets for the event can be purchased on their website at avaexpo.ru.



Sunday, Oct. 26


Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the clubs website.



Monday, Oct. 27


Today marks the end of the art exhibit Neophobia at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).



Tuesday, Oct. 28


The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBAs Marketing and Communications Committees round table discussion on Government Relations Practices in Russia this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.



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