Town pins tourism hopes on Putin shrine

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The Independent Online

Vladimir Putin has been President of Russia for less than a year but already the first museum dedicated to his exploits has sprung up.

Vladimir Putin has been President of Russia for less than a year but already the first museum dedicated to his exploits has sprung up.

"Vladimir Putin came here in August, walked around the town and tasted our famous local kvass [a fermented bread drink]," said Leonid Panov, director of the museum in Stary Izborsk. "It was an enormous honour for us."

The local administration decided the event had such historic import that they created a "Vladimir Putin memory trail", a museum dedicated to the visit and a documentary film entitled Putin was here.

Times have been hard for Stary Izborsk since the Soviet Union's collapse. An ancient monastic centre near Pskov, it had pinned its hopes on a surge of tourism once the Iron Curtain fell. But few visitors came, despite the town's 14th-century fortress, picturesque waterfall and mineral spas.

"This is a town with great potential, it should be visited," said Svetlana Khazhenko, deputy director of a nearby folklore museum. "Somehow, it has been not much noticed lately."

Mr Panov believes the Putin museum will bring new government funding to restore the town's ancient battlements and perhaps build a small hotel.

"We've already had Russian tourists who wanted to see the fountain Putin drank from and the spot where he rested," he said. "I think foreigners should be interested in this too."

Building shrines to the ruler of the day is a time-worn Russian tradition. In Soviet days, neglected communities often attracted patronage from the mighty by naming themselves after Communist heroes or building monuments.

A pro-Kremlin political organisation in Mr Putin's home city of St Petersburg recently distributed a textbook to schools depicting Mr Putin's glorious childhood.

"The return of this slave-like psychology from our deep past is very disturbing," said Tatiana Netreba, of the Argumenti i Fakti newspaper.

"People hope it will please the leader and he will shower benefits on them, but this nonsense will irritate Putin. He will put a stop to it." So far Mr Putin has made no comment on either book or museum.

There are still hundreds of Lenin streets and monuments in Russia. The old Bolshevik's mausoleum in Red Square remains a big tourist attraction.

But when Joseph Stalin was disgraced, thousands of airports, military units and cities quickly changed their names. In Stary Izborsk, locals bristle at the idea that they are creating a shrine for Putin-cult pilgrims.

"What's wrong with that?" said one shopkeeper. "We were brought up on the ideas of Lenin. Now it is the ideas of Putin. That's how it should be."