Russia ignores war to hang dreams on a star called Alla

THERE SHOULD have been no argument about the item leading yesterday's midday news by NTV, one of Russia's main channels - the Balkans war, right? Wrong.

Ethnic cleansing, and Nato's bombing blunders were ignored as Russia paid homage to a hero - not a general or a politician, but a gap-toothed, nicotine-voiced, and thoroughly weathered female singer.

It was Alla Pugacheva's 50th birthday yesterday, and Russia - groping to find stars on which to hang its dreams - gave her full honours. Hundreds of fans greeted her with roses outside her Moscow flat as she climbed into her white stretched limousine and swept away to be congratulated by Boris Yeltsin in the Kremlin.

The popular Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper devoted its front page to her picture and decorated its inside pages with extracts from her songs, raving on with: "She is part of our life, a symbol of an entire era." The more sober Kommersant called her "the social-cultural phenomenon of the second half of the 20th century".

But the days when flame-haired Ms Pugacheva could convincingly strut in micro-skirts and shiny patent leather boots before goggle-eyed Soviet audiences are long past.

Leaders come and go - Brezhnev, Chernyenko, Andropov, Gorbachev - but she has survived. Mr Yeltsin awarding her a medal for "service to the fatherland", and said: "I am happy to live in Pugacheva's epoch." The star replied: "You are like a father to me."

When she came only 15th in the Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin two years ago, many thought she would step into the shadows, leaving the limelight to her crooner husband, Filipp Kirkorov, almost 20 years younger, and her daughter, also a singer. But what do Russians care what the West thinks?

She is a peculiarly Russian figure - the Slavic Cilla Black with a dash of Liz Taylor, constantly battling the loathed tax authorities, with her implausible argument that Russia's pop stars are poor - though they ride around in vast limos. The taxmen estimate she still earns up to $33,000 (pounds 24,000) an hour in concerts, plus income from her 150 million records.

Russia, caught in a terrible depression, needs its heroes. Ms Pugacheva takes her mission seriously, and is fond of telling fans: "We're Russians, we'll adapt, we'll survive." She has.

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