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Russia: Pro-Kremlin YouTube Sensation Gets Own TV Show

Sometimes, a 90-second online video can change lives. Svetlana Kuritsyna [ru] was just nineteen last December, when she became an Internet sensation thanks to a laudatory and rambling interview celebrating the political records of Vladimir Putin and United Russia (the nation's ‘party of power').

A Moskovskie Novosti reporter conducted the impromptu interview, catching Kuritsyna on her way out of the metro, after she had participated in a counter-demonstration against the anti-Kremlin opposition. The YouTube video now has over two million views. Kuritsyna is an accounting student in Ivanovo, home to some of the former USSR's biggest consumer products industries.

Her story, not unlike the sudden promotion of Putin ally and tank-factory worker Igor Kholmanskikh, looks like old good Soviet fairytale. In May, Kholmanskikh was made the presidential envoy to the vast Urals district, months after offering on live television his assistance in the repression of anti-government street protesters.

Meanwhile, in what also appears to be a reward for a public display of loyalty to the Kremlin, one of Russia's biggest TV networks, NTV, recently hired Kuritsyna to star in her own show (which is something of a cross between reality television and a talk show). The program, titled “Luch Sveta” (“A Beam of Light”), even features a play on words involving the twenty-year-old's first name. (The short form of Svetlana is “Sveta,” which is identical to the genitive form of the word for “light.”)

The upward mobility enjoyed by both Kholmanskikh and Kuritsyna embodies a perverse version of what might be called ‘bottom-up democracy.’ Each of their careers have enjoyed rapid advancements, but of course only after very public demonstrations of their devotion to country's elite. In her YouTube debut, Kuritsyn's fiery, however scattered, speech was not without language mistakes, which actually helped establish her as a sincere, if rather foolish, celebrity of the RuNet.

Those same qualities have become a liability, now that Kuritsyn is at the center of a formal television show. Kuritsyna has, in any event, provoked wide discussion online. Belonging to a subsidiary of the pro-Kremlin youth group NASHI, she has at times galvanized various spheres of the Russian Internet. Indeed, many have enjoyed teasing Kuritsyna for her rather innocent-seeming straightforwardness. For instance, journalist and blogger Polina Alexandrova writes [ru]:

Ведь Света, как ребенок, любому может сказать, что король голый. Я так понимаю, на ТВ приличные люди уже давно не работают.

Sveta, like a child, can tell anyone that the “king is naked.” As I understand it, decent people haven't worked for TV for a long time.

nomina_obscura, a nationalist blogger, has mentioned  [ru] eugenics in reference to the show, and says that people like Sveta should not be allowed to procreate. Another journalist and blogger, eugenyshultz, defends Sveta since she is always positive, never blames the regime, does not envy her more successful colleagues, and so is an example of a “simple folk figure” that simply appreciates life  [ru]:

А видим мы простую девчушку, добрую и наивную. Которая хлопая глазищами с радостью делится частью своего мировозрения с корреспондентом. При этом, хоть ее представления о политике смешны и наивны – они не несут агрессии …

We see a simple girl, naive and kind. Who, eyes wide open , cheerfully shares a part of her world view with the interviewer. At the same time, despite the fact that her conceptions of politics are hilarious and naive – they are not aggressive …

Shultz added that Sveta is a good PR move for NTV. On the other hand blogger mixmaxov says [ru] it is a PR mistake:

И если первую передачу все смотрели смеялись, а в Иваново возмущались, то вторая передача, несомненно вызвала жалость, и несомненно эта жалость перерастет в гнев против НТВ.

While everybody watched the first episode and laughed, and people in Ivanovo were indignant, the second episode evoked pity, and, no doubt, this pity will turn to anger against the NTV.

Kuritsyna's success with NTV stands out drastically from the career of the far better known, but recently struggling Ksenia Sobchak, who is one of Russia's most famous TV personalities. Sobchak's professional fortunes have taken a turn for the worse, ever since she did the opposite of Kuritsyna by joining the anti-Kremlin opposition. A message NTV and Russia's political establishment might be trying to send by promoting “Luch Sveta” could be an old Soviet adage: “No one is irreplaceable.”

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