Vladimir & Lyudmila wedding, 1983On 6 June 2013, Vladimir Putin made a personal pronouncement for the record without removing his shirt. That in itself may be considered newsworthy in the former USSR, but the fact that his wife of thirty years had emerged from the shadows to sit next to him that day made it even more important.
Of course that she was finally appearing with him only to announce their divorce rather dimmed the material’s worth as family-appropriate. The event was coordinated on camera for Russian media at the Kremlin Palace, ending years of speculation about the relationship of the former flight attendant and the current Russian strongman.
The Daily Mail reported the video soundbite opportunity a non-occasion, but then mentioned a likely cause for the divorce: Putin already had another babe back in the dacha, an Olympic athlete, and had possibly already married her, theoretically to keep her in-house and away from other hunky gymnasts.
During their appearance, Mr Putin said: 'It was a joint decision: we hardly see each other, each of us has our own life.'
Putina added that flying was difficult for her and that her husband was 'completely drowned in work'.
Lyudmila in her flight attendant daysThe divorce was 'civilised' and the couple would 'always remain close', she went on to say.
Despite denying rumours of an imminent marriage to Alina Kabayev as long ago as 2008, speculation over their alleged relationship has persisted.
In October last year it was reported that Putin had secretly married Kabayev, prompting the Kremlin to release a statement saying the president's love life was a personal matter and only he could make an announcement on it.
In January this year the rumours resurfaced after the former Olympic gymnast was pictured wearing a ring on the fourth finger of her right hand - the finger on which Russian women traditionally wear their wedding rings.
Kabayeva was later seen among the final six torchbearers at the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics in February.
Gymnast Alina Kayeva and a favorite personal metaphorOops, that may have constituted a little gap in matrimonial dissolution, Vladi, as it was only in April 2014 that your Kremlin PR cadre confirmed that your divorce had been finalized. A good thing the paperwork got shuffled through, especially if you had, as reported, also been married to someone else for almost seven months.
The daughtersOr for that matter, what has happened to the former couple’s two daughters, 29-year-old Maria or 30-year-old Ekaterina?
Little to nothing is being reported further about any of their fates.
Cold, cold, cold. Asked about his ex, Vladimir now refuses further comment. She no longer exists, maybe never did, if you go by his accounts.
Putin has told many stories about his personal life before, like that of his father’s noble rescue of his mother in WWII, which he repeated to Hillary Clinton and she notes in her new book. The Australian newspaper notes his recollection of events as a “myth”:
It is an extraordinary story, poignant, memorable, melodramatic — and probably not true. Or not wholly true. Or the sort of revealing half-truth that politicians tell when they want to manipulate the past to frame the present.
These dramatic tales of battlefield courage, civilian resilience and survival against the odds are straight out of the book of Soviet military mythology. Their veracity, or otherwise, will never be fully established and in a way the truth is irrelevant — this is the version of his past that Mr Putin wants Russia and the wider world to believe. That is more revealing than any amount of verified history.
Cut ‘em loose, Vladi. And make up your own story about why. But it will have to be a whopper this time, as Alina, methinks, will not go away as quietly as Lyudmila.
So a bit of the cold Cold War has descended on Russian leadership itself, as least as far as who is now – politically, of course – in bed with whom.
But then there are the French, never to be outdone in the heat of governmental liaisons intimes.
In January of this year, while Putin was still bureaucratically struggling to have his wife of thirty years erased, President Francois Hollande told his longtime girlfriend Valerie Trierweiler that he has been seeing yet another girlfriend for almost two years.
Valerie is immediately admitted to a Paris hospital under “extreme stress”. He visits her to tell her she won’t be going with him to the U.S. on an official State visit. And not to discuss any political pillow talk with the press.
The former “French First Lady” quickly leaves the solitary hospital bed, resolves herself to being second, heads to the beach, and takes off her clothes for the waiting press.
All the while the former presidential boyfriend is headed to solitary nights between frigid bedsheets, alone in chilly Washington.
The Daily Mail headlined the story this way:
How's winter in America, Francois?
France's dumped first lady Valerie Trierweiler deals with U.S. state visit snub by hitting the beach in Mauritius
The jilted former First Lady jetted to the isle with two girlfriends
She laughed with friends as they lazed on a beach, shopped and chatted
Meanwhile, Hollande is preparing to visit U.S. in first state visit without her
The French gossip magazine Closer on 10 January 2014 published pictures allegedly of the Prez on a scooter, escaping a love nest liaison with actress Julie Gayet, and further reported that Hollande had been romancing Ms Gayet ever since his presidential run. She was one of many celebrities who endorsed his Socialist campaign according to Closer, being “impressed” by the “humble man” and reportedly enjoying discussing films with him. A video on Le Figaro from April 2012 features Gayet speaking gushingly about Hollande.
“Discussing films”. I remember that particular misnomer. Rather like “viewing etchings”.
So Ms Gayet sues Closer for invasion of privacy and publishing photos that – again – “supposedly” show Hollande on a motorcycle, leaving her apartment after a film discussion.
Then on 31 January 2014, The New York Daily News headlines that “Julie Gayet, actress who had alleged affair with President of France, gets award nod for playing character who sleeps with powerful men. The actress was nominated for the French Oscar for playing a seductive government aide in ‘Quai d’Orsay’”:
A French actress who had an alleged affair with the president of France has been nominated for a major award — for playing a policy advisor who seduces high-powered officials.
Julie Gayet was nominated for a Cesar, the French equivalent of the Oscar, for best supporting actress for her role in the 2013 political comedy ‘Quai d’Orsay.’ The 41-year-old portrays Valérie Dumontheil, a government aide described by the Daily Mail as a “mini-skirted adviser who uses her feminine charms to bed powerful men.”
In a case of art imitating life, Gayet reportedly had an illicit affair with French president Francois Hollande, who had been in a long-term relationship with journalist Valérie Trierweiler. (In an odd coincidence, Gayet’s ‘Quai d’Orsay’ character has the same first name as Hollande’s girlfriend.)
According to the Daily Mail, the politician and the actress often met at a Paris apartment, with Hollande “arriving on the back of a motorbike with his head hidden by a crash helmet.”
That was the last day of January, with the News and the Daily Mail reporting basically the same thing that Closer reported earlier that month. But on 27 March French courts vindicated Ms Gayet, awarding her €15,000 for the invasion of her privacy, whether the story was true or not, and she almost succeeded in having the Close editor jailed.
You would think she might have instead sued the infamous Taiwanese animators who put their own unique spin on the motorcycle incident.
Pretty hot stuff. But even the opposition in France is hotter than the Russkies.
Twice-divorced seriously right-wing nationalist Marine Le Pen, is the darling of the rapidly-growing fringes, according to The Nation:
“Marine,” [pictured left] as everyone calls her, is a rising star. Journalists rush to be the first to report her latest zinger. Bystanders jostle to get their picture taken with her in the open markets. She cracks a joke, kisses the grandmas on the cheek or bursts into her extensive repertoire of French pop songs from the 1970s. Forthright and good-humored, the down-to-earth mother of three comes across as a brave, outspoken mom ready to take hits in the wild west of politics.
“She has glorious balls,” volunteered Gilbert Collard…
Her even more radically right father, the founder of the National Front, drove her mother, Pierrette Le Pen, to divorce her husband Jean-Marie, who was claiming that according to “traditional French values”, the woman is only good for “sweeping, mopping, washing and fulfilling her marital duties.”
So Madame Le Pen decided in 1987, when she was 29 years old, to perform the role of the good Gallic housewife, posing naked for French Playboy.
The vacuum cleaner, again probably a very concrete metaphor, proclaims that the “traditional” French housewife’s life does indeed suck. She said that she dressed as a maid in the photo shoot because Jean-Marie had suggested that instead of asking him for financial support, she should try house cleaning.
Pierrette has insisted that when she left her husband, he told her that she would come back on her knees, that he would then lock her in the basement and “piss on your head.” As a BTW, Monsieur Le Pen continues to this day to give remarkable sound bite.
Marine didn’t speak to her mother for the next 15 years. And Pierrette reportedly avoided further urinary encounters. At least with Jean-Marie Le Pen.
As if this less-than-optimal politically-uncorrect association might not be enough, Mlle Le Pen was again faced with an unsolicited testimonial from yet another corner in 2012. When former movie bombshell and animal activist Brigitte Bardot emerged as an ardent supporter.
Reported Le Nouvel Observateur on worldcrunch.com, Ms Bardot announced to the world her evaluation of Marina Le Pen:
“I think this woman is just admirable. She has the best ideas, especially compared to those other two clowns,” she declares, talking about the election frontrunners, François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy.
Bardot, 77, does not mince her words, or actions. The longtime animal rights activist has also become an outspoken critic of immigration, and has been cited five times for "inciting racial hatred."
She doesn't hold back either when she talking about the two leading candidates, particularly Sarkozy, for whom she voted in 2007: “I am disgusted by this guy,” she says. As for François Hollande, she has a very personal opinion of the reason why it is not a good idea to vote for him. “France cannot be ruled by a man named ‘Hollande.’ It’s just not possible! It would be as if we had a president named ‘Germany’,” she explains.
Brigitte Bardot and Marine Le PenThe Daily Beast typified Brigitte for 2014 audiences:
… the 77-year-old Bardot, who has not left her residence in Saint-Tropez for years, rarely says anything positive about her fellow humans. Younger French people no longer tend to think of her as the groundbreaking sexual creature from the 1956 film “And God Created Woman”, nor do they consider her a particularly persuasive animal rights activist. They largely perceive her to be an off-key old crank …
Ah, how perception is distorted through the unforgiving lens of time. Maybe Brigitte is indeed the perfect political supporter for Marine.
* * *
So at the end of the discussion here we are, looking at these two superpowers and their individual leaders and examining how they deal with their own private sexuality while still being leaders.
Lie and deny, belittle and bluster seem to be key actions on the parts of most, though those measures can on occasion backfire mightily. Say if you’re on a motorcycle or a have an acquaintance in a magazine foldout, or even if you just have a flashy Vogue model locked up in a quaint little bigamist’s cabin out on the steppes.
I readily admit that this discussion is tawdry tabloid fodder: a sensationalist stretch of commentary and hugely coincidental. An excavation of the media muck pile. But it is a rather odd load of sexual hubbub, actual events surrounding the governmental leaders of these two countries.
On one level, it’s just damnably funny and entertaining.
But how these politicians treat their partners and former allies may indicate how they will treat their more personally remote constituents.
And this in turn gives a true indication of an overall governmental mindset, begging the question: how will our own leaders treat us, once they get tired of us and a political divorce is not really an option?