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No Obamamania In Russia

Russian edition of Barack Obama's book "The Audacity of Hope" in a Moscow bookstore
Russian edition of Barack Obama's book "The Audacity of Hope" in a Moscow bookstore
Aleksandr Zarayev says Barack Obama's victory was in the stars.

Speaking on the eve of the U.S. presidential election, the president of Russia's Astrological School predicted -- as did most public opinion polls -- a landslide victory for Obama.

Zarayev also praised Obama's "leadership qualities," saying that "in some way he is reminiscent of John Kennedy, who was also a Leo."

However, such star-struck praise for the new U.S. president-elect is not a widespread phenomenon in Russia where -- unlike in Europe and elsewhere in the world -- Obamamania has been conspicuously absent.

"Only a small circle are aware that this is not just a new president, but that he could possibly represent the wholesale change that he talks about. Many see it as just words," says Maria Marskevich of the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Sociology.

"A lot depends upon how he is presented in the media, especially television," she adds. "At first he was presented like an inexperienced show-off"

According to a recent public opinion poll by the independent Levada Center, nearly two-thirds of Russians did not even pay attention to the U.S. election. Among the minority who followed the election, 35 percent supported Obama, 14 percent backed Republican John McCain, 37 percent said they did not care who won, and 14 percent were undecided.

In contrast, a recent BBC poll of 22,000 people in 22 countries showed Obama favored by a four-to-one margin. The poll shows Obama enjoying the support of 62 percent of the population in France, 61 percent in Germany, 87 percent in his deceased father's native Kenya, and 71 percent in Nigeria.

"This rock-star phenomenon that exists in Europe and elsewhere doesn't exist in Russia," says Andrei Piontkovsky, a Washington-based Russian political analyst. "He will never be the romantic figure for Russians that Kennedy was during my youth."

Anti-Western Mood

Part of the reason, Piontkovsky says, is the general anti-Western -- and specifically anti-American -- mood in Russia today. "The propaganda coming from the Kremlin now identifies America as an enemy and any American president will be Russia's enemy," he says.

Analysts also say that it is impossible to ignore the role of racism -- both latent and manifest -- and how it will affect Russians' opinion of Obama.

Piontkovsky notes, for example, that approximately 60 people were killed in racially motivated attacks this year alone in Russia.

Others point out that the Russia's state-controlled media often used subtle racial stereotypes and off-color jokes to describe U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during periods of tension between Moscow and Washington.

Russia's main television stations have not used such a tone with Obama so far. On the contrary, the media has regularly even played up the historic nature of his candidacy.

But analysts say that if a confrontation emerges between Moscow and Washington, Obama, they say, can expect the tone to change.

"The jokes and caricatures about Condoleezza Rice simply shocked me," Marskevich says. "If there is a conflict over major issues, it is almost certain that this will happen [with Obama]."

Some officials, however, say they hope Obama will usher in a more cooperative period in U.S.-Russian relations. In a news conference on October 31, Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the State Duma, said, "Obama's mentality is free from...the Cold-War era."

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