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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

Thursday, Aug. 21


Time is running out to see the fantastic creations on display at the 2014 Sand Castle Festival on the beach at the Peter and Paul Fortress. Adhering to the theme of Treasure Island, visitors can wander amongst larger-than-life interpretations of pirate life or attend one of the workshops held to educate a future generation of sand artists. The castles will remain on the beach until Aug. 31.



Friday, Aug. 22


Get ready to pledge allegiance to the flag during National Flag Day, paying tribute to when, 23 years ago today, the iconic hammer-and-sickle was replaced with the tricolor that now flutters in the wind. Petersburgers will be treated to a free concert on Palace Square, a military parade and a culminating air show featuring Russias Russian Knights stunt pilots.



Saturday, Aug. 23


Uppsala Park plays host to Fairy Noon today, a performance of five separate fairy tales ranging from folk classics to more haunting selections. There will be three different renditions of the tales throughout the day and tickets start at 500 rubles ($13.80) for adults and 300 rubles ($8.30) for children.


Classic Finnish cartoon characters the Moomins expect to receive a warm welcome from Russian fans during todays Moomin Festival at the Pearl Plaza Shopping Center at 51 Petergofskoye Shosse. Become a kid again or introduce a new generation to the beloved creation of Finnish writer Tove Jansson.



Sunday, Aug. 24


The tortured genius of Dutch master Vincent van Gogh gets his day in the centers Konnushnaya Ploschad during Make Art Like Van Gogh, a daylong celebration of the artist that will allow amateur artists to try and replicate the work that made the famed painter world-renowned.


Experience a variety of dances highlighting the diversity of the world around as at the final day of the Ethno-Dance International Dance Festival that has been at the St. Petersburg Humanitarian University of Trade Unions this past week. Tonights performance will feature Egyptian dancers accompanied by local orchestras.



Monday, Aug. 25


Today kicks off the Elena Obraztsovoy International Competition for Young Vocalists in the large hall of the Shostakovich Philharmonic. Talented youngsters will showcase their range over the next six days before a winner is chosen on Aug. 30.



Tuesday, Aug. 26


Love movies but hate all those words? Then check out Rodina Cinema Centers Factor of Consensus film forum this evening. Silent movie classics from the beginning of the 20th century will be screened and accompanied by a pianist, who will provide the soundtrack for the ongoing action. The screenings begin at 7 p.m. Check Rodinas website for more details.



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