From Beauty Queen to Kremlin Wife

When President Vladimir Putin endorsed Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as his successor, it was not the first time Medvedev had won a popularity contest.

Dmitry Medvedev dated the high school beauty queen, and then married her. Nowadays, that beauty queen is not used to hiding behind the curtains. As the lights go up on the pageantry of power, all eyes are on the role the first lady will play in her husband's opening act. Svetlana Medvedeva graces the intersection of politics, religion and pop culture. She is European-oriented, hands-on in social settings and hands-off in politics, which she leaves to her husband.

She is an advocate of children's causes and Greek Orthodox-style spirituality. In April 2007, she was appointed head of a program called "The Spiritual and Moral Culture of the Next Generation of Russia." The program establishes Orthodox Church orphanages, youth research expeditions, funds pilgrimages and finances youth film-making projects. In 2007, Medvedeva also supported the Russian Arts Festival in Cannes and helped secure funding for an Orthodox film festival.

The beauty and the politician

The Medvedevs are childhood sweethearts and have been together for more than 35 years. The couple married in 1989 shortly after Medvedev received his law degree and Svetlana Linnik graduated from a financial academy in St. Petersburg. In 1996 that their son, Ilya, was born. Medvedeva is used to being in the limelight. According to Dmitry Medvedev's first teacher Vera Smirnova, Svetlana was the school's beauty queen.

As first lady, Medvedeva is unlikely to receive the same level of attention she currently enjoys in social circles. "In Russia, a domesticated husband elicits disdain; that is, in part, what ruined Gorbachev's image. It is not customary to display either tenderness for or a high level of confidence in one's spouse. It's necessary to make joint appearances, but showcasing heartfelt feelings is looked down upon," says Olga Kryshtanovskaya, director of the Center for the Study of Elites at the Russian Academy of Sciences. Kryshtanovskaya asserts that Medvedev's public image is still something short of a self-possessed national leader, something he must build up before the March election. A quiet, obedient wife next to him is one of the techniques he may use to harden his image, she contends.

Fashion versus tradition

In the West, there is a saying that behind every great man there is a great woman. To Russia, this logic is completely alien. The woman is generally perceived as an impediment to her husdand's greatness. In an authorized biography of the current Russian president, Lyudmila Putina described her husband's two golden rules about women: "A woman must do everything in the house," and "One should not praise a woman; otherwise, one will spoil her."

Medvedeva is unlikely to emulate her predecessor's habits. Experts see her being more like Raisa Gorbacheva, who was always in public, than Lyudmila Putina.

Dmitry Medvedev does not appear to believe a woman's place is within the household. Medvedeva makes glamorous appearances at events like the birthday party of pop prima donna Alla Pugacheva and a fashion show in Milan. However, in Russia, the influence of a wife on her husband, even the president, is a domestic matter, better left to pillow talk than aired in the public square. "We'll never know whether or how Medvedeva influences her husband," Kryshtanovskaya says. "What issues do the husband and wife discuss in bed? These things are always a mystery. We only see what the media shows us.

This is why Svetlana Medvedeva's behavior will not demonstrate her real influence, but the role that her image-makers etched for her in the political spectacle."

The Successor and His Wife

The details of Dmitry Medvedev's personal life were long kept out of the public eye. All that was known was that he was married and had a son. That situation changed after his appointment to the post of First Deputy Prime Minister. A detailed article on his early years and youth was published in the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets on November 18, 2005, four days after his promotion. Former neighbors recalled that, even in his childhood, Medvedev "was connected with a flaxen-haired girl," and his first teacher remembered that Sveta Linnik (his wife's maiden name) was "the queen of the school." She studied finance and economics, but worked in that field only for a short time. She now organizes various social events in St. Petersburg.

All the news about Svetlana Medvedeva following that article has been of a social nature. In February 2006, it was reported that she was present at pop star Alla Pugacheva's housewarming on Filippovsky Lane, and in April she was spotted at the singer's birthday party at the Hotel Metropol. She was in Rome with her ten-year-old son from October 27 to November 2 to take part in Russian Language Week in Italy.

From Vlast Analytical Weekly

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