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Red Square's Makeover: Goodbye, Lenin. Hello, Louis Vuitton!

RuNet Echo This post is part of RuNet Echo, a Global Voices project to interpret the Russian language internet. All Posts · Learn more
Louis Vuitton's Red Square installation, 26 November 2013, YouTube screenshot.

Louis Vuitton's Red Square installation, 26 November 2013, YouTube screenshot.

Lenin’s Mausoleum is no longer the most imposing structure in Moscow’s Red Square. From now until January 19, 2014, that honor belongs to a 20-foot-tall Louis Vuitton advertisement—a recreation of a real trunk [ru] produced a century ago for Russian Prince Wladimir Orlov. According to Louis Vuitton’s North European head, the French fashion house hoped [ru] to “demonstrate the deep emotions that link LV and Russia.”

Russian bloggers are responding with emotions of their own, however, ridiculing the installation as tasteless and joking that Vladimir Putin—who’s been in power in Russia since 1999—is at last “packing his bags” and preparing to abdicate. Questions about ad space revenue [ru] and Red Square’s symbolic role as a gathering place to celebrate New Year’s are also circulating online.

The unusual sight of a gigantic suitcase planted in the middle of Red Square has naturally inspired several pranks. In one popular photoedit, bloggers wallpapered Lenin’s Tomb with the Louis Vuitton logo, decorating the Mausoleum as Prince Orlov’s trunk.

Photoshopped image of Lenin's Mausoleum, decorated as the Louis Vuitton trunk for Prince Wladimir Orlov.

Jokes

Mocking the “tandem” power-sharing arrangement between Putin and Dmitri Medvedev, opposition activist Olga Romanova joked [ru] on Facebook:

Говорят, Владимир Путин строит на Красной площади новый мавзолей, в котором он и Дмитрий Медведев будут лежать по очереди.

They say that Vladimir Putin is building a new mausoleum in Red Square, where he and Dmitri Medvedev are going to take turns.

Others wishfully pretended that the traveling gear indicates Putin’s intention to resign from the presidency.

The enormous suitcase in Red Square directly hints at the future plans of the Kremlin’s inhabitants.

They’ve started packing the suitcase for Putin. So far, they’ve put in Red Square. Next, they’ll drag it to the train station.

Many people writing online still remember Petr Pavlensky’s scandalous protest in Red Square earlier this month, when the performance artist nailed his scrotum to the plaza’s cobblestone. In a LiveJournal post, Internet guru Anton Nosik quoted [ru] a crude ditty from the Soviet era, remarking that the Louis Vuitton trunk dwarfs Pavlensky’s spectacle:

Так что, видимо, при решении вопроса о благоустройстве Красной площади размер имеет значение.

So it seems that size does matter, when it comes to Red Square’s beautification.

Writing on Twitter, former Pussy Riot lawyer Mark Feygin accused Russia’s authorities of hypocrisy in their persecution of Pussy Riot and Pavlensky, given the bad taste inherent in the Louis Vuitton installation:

The people who put a suitcase in Red Square are the ones who take it upon themselves to moralize about dancing in the Cathedral and testicles on the stone pavement.

Twitter user VRebyata found a way to connect the LV trunk to recent protests in Kiev, where over 100 thousand Ukrainians recently gathered to protest President Viktor Yanukovich’s decision to pull out of an agreement to integrate Ukraine more deeply into the European community. Joking that Putin bullied Ukraine into avoiding the European deal, VRebyata tweeted:

Inside the Louis Vuitton suitcase in Red Square, on Vladimir Putin’s request, Viktor Yanukovich has already spent the last week repeating the act by the artist Pavlensky.

No laughing matter

In the online newspaper Slon.ru, journalist Ekaterina Vinokurova authored a snarky opinion article [ru] about the LV advertisement, but she vented her real anger on Facebook. Complaining that the entire installation was an offering by Kremlin officials to Antoine Arnault, Louis Vuitton's head of communications, Vinokurova wrote [ru]:

[…] Оказывается, что всесильный ГУМ согласовал все с ФСО и управдлами президента. Для чего это надо? Для того, чтобы 29 числа приехал жирный боров Арно из холдинга, к которому LV относится и с 15 другими жирными боровами там поужинал. То есть наша власть разрешила испоганить главную площадь страны на неделю ради 15 жирных боровов, чтобы они с помпой трюфелей пожрали. […]

[…] It turns out that the all-powerful GUM [shopping center] approved everything with the Federal Security Guard Service and the President’s executive officers. What was the need for any of this? It was so, on December 29, that fat hog Arnault from Louis Vuitton would come [to Moscow] and have a fancy dinner with 15 other fat hogs. Meaning, our leaders agreed to defile the country’s main square for a week, for the sake of 15 fat hogs, so they could shove truffles down their throats in style.

For some Muscovites, Louis Vuitton’s installation poses less of a threat to Russian culture than the country’s demographic trends, which in recent years have changed the racial makeup of the traditional New Year’s celebration in Red Square.

Scenes of Central Asians celebrating New Year's Day in Vladivostok, 1 January 2013.

Writing on Facebook, Alexey Prikhodko complained [ru] that Russians have already ‘abandoned’ the nation’s capital to Tajik migrants:

[…] Защитники же детей и исторического облика столицы – лицемеры […]. Какие дети его там могут увидеть в Новый Год? Таджикские разве что. […]

[…] Defenders of children and the historical appearance of the capital are hypocrites […]. What kind of kids could see [the suitcase] on New Year’s Eve? Only Tajiks. […]

Prikhodko is not the first on the RuNet to grumble about the rising number of non-Russians attending New Year’s holiday celebrations. This year, Louis Vuitton’s Red Square installation is already attracting more visitors and attention to the coming festivities in Moscow. Last year, xenophobia directed at Uzbeks and other Central Asians fueled LiveJournal debates about migrants’ holiday presence in cities as far apart as St. Petersburg and Vladivostok [ru].

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