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Thursday 20 July 2017

Eyebrows were raised when Russian crooner Iosif Kobzon performed at the wedding, with many assuming it wouldn't have been cheap to get a household name to sing at your daughter's nuptials. (file photo)

Amid difficult times for many Russians, a lavish wedding for a judge’s daughter raises eyebrows all the way up to the Kremlin.

Maybe it was the wedding gift the newlyweds allegedly received: a brand-new Bentley. Or the presence of one of Russia’s most famous crooners. Or the reception at the most expensive restaurant in the capital of the Black Sea region of Krasnodar.

Or maybe it was the fact that the rumored $2 million price tag for the wedding of regional judge Yelena Khakhaleva’s daughter seemed way out of line with the jurist’s annual salary of about $44,000.

Whatever the reason, the luxurious party has struck a nerve with Russians at a time when the country’s economy is stagnating, inflation is eroding salaries and pensions, and unhappiness with rampant corruption growing.

According to press reports, the party for Khakhaleva’s daughter Sophia and her now-husband Vadim took place on June 10 at the posh Galich Hall restaurant in the southern Russian city of Krasnodar.

It wasn’t clear how many guests were invited, but those who did attend were treated to performances from some of Russia's most famous celebrities and chanteurs.

One was Iosif Kobzon, a legendary Soviet-era singer whose style and image is often likened to Frank Sinatra. Another was Andrei Karaulov, who hosts a well-known TV program called Moment of Truth, and who told the online portal Lenta.ru that he and the other guests were paid 440,000 euros for their appearance. He said the newlyweds received a Bentley automobile as a gift.

News of the party came to light last week when a prominent Moscow-based celebrity lawyer named Sergei Zhorin posted a short video showing some of the party, along with a scathing commentary, on his Instagram account.

From there the video made its way to Russian TV channels and newspapers, sparking an even louder outcry:

Zhorin asserted the wedding must have cost at least $2 million, contrasting that amount with Judge Khakhaleva’s income declaration for 2016 of 2.6 million rubles (around $44,000).

"This is not just a feast in a time of plague. This is spitting in your faces. In our faces!" he wrote.

The father of the bride, Khakhaleva’s former husband Robert, has been just as quick to defend the lavish party.

He told the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda that he paid for the wedding, and that it cost 5 million rubles ($84,000).

While that’s a fraction of what Zhorin claims, it’s still a sum that exceeds the average Russian’s entire annual salary, according to the State Statistics Service.

The newspaper reported that Robert Khakhalaev runs a successful agribusiness in Krasnodar’s Novopokrovsky district, owning around 7,000 hectares (13,000 acres) and growing various crops and raising livestock.

He also runs a micro-lending business, a taxi operation, and an auto spare parts business.

As for the famous singers? They were all old childhood friends from his days growing up in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, Khakhalaev was quoted as saying. The 110,000-ruble ($1,900) wedding dress that he said his daughter wore, he paid for it with his own bank card.

He also rejected talk of a Bentley, but added, "I can give my daughter any kind of expensive car I want and it’s my own personal business. I have official income. I pay taxes on that income. And what I spend on my own children, that’s my own personal business and I’m not going to justify what the wedding cost to anyone."

Kobzon also had a message for those outraged by the party’s cost.

“What business of yours is it?” he said in an interview with the radio station Govorit Moskva (Moscow Talks). "What’s with this rudeness, interfering in the family's business? An idiotic story, idiotic journalists who only know how to seek out all sorts of crap and slime.”

It wasn’t clear if Sophia was employed; her new husband reportedly works in the local division of the Investigative Committee, a law-enforcement agency.

Rumors of the wedding’s excesses have rippled across the country.

Anton Getta, a member of Russia's lower house of parliament, said he was sending a request to the Prosecutor-General’s Office to investigate the discrepancy between the wedding’s costs and the judge’s income.

The incident even caught the eye of the Kremlin.

"No question, we, like everyone else, of course, follow different news in the media, in discussions on the Internet etc. and we paid attention to this particular news,” presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

"But it isn’t the prerogative of the Kremlin to respond to any and all incidents. There are other agencies, which actually are better able to take notice."

With reporting by Current Time TV
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyaev (file photo)

Uzbeks and their neighbors in post-Soviet Central Asia have a history of heaping musical praise on their autocratic leaders. But Uzbekistan's new administration wants us to believe it has had enough of such flattery.

Dedicating flattering songs, books, and movies to sitting presidents is generally the rule in post-Soviet Central Asia, where regimes have gone to great lengths to establish cults of presidential personality.

Uzbekistan wants us to believe it has become an exception.

Authorities there have announced a ban on such paeans and warned that singing the praises of a sitting head of state could cost singers and songwriters their licenses to perform.

The announcement followed a June 2 meeting of Uzbekkonsert, a state body that oversees the Uzbek entertainment industry.

"Dedicating clips to certain individuals, to the activities of heads of state...is unethical," Uzbekkonsert interim director Azamat Haidarov was shown telling the attendees, in a video posted online.

The move comes weeks after an Uzbek singer came under criticism over a music clip she dedicated to President Shavkat Mirziyaev, who took over following the announcement in September of the death of longtime President Islam Karimov.

Forty-nine-year-old singer and actress Dilfuza Ismoilova's official music video, May The Sultan Of This Beautiful Land Prosper, was first released on YouTube on May 21 but has since been removed from the video-sharing site.

Uzbek singer Dilfuza Ismoilova (file photo)
Uzbek singer Dilfuza Ismoilova (file photo)

The lyrics praise Mirziyaev as the "handsome sultan" of the land, "the shadow of god on Earth," and "beloved human being." The video clip depicts Mirziyaev -- who spent 13 years under Karimov as prime minister of Uzbekistan's rubberstamp cabinet -- at various official functions, business trips, and meetings.

In an interview with RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service shortly after the release of the clip, Ismoilova said the song was driven by her "heart and conscience."

The clip sparked criticism among Uzbek social media users, some of whom argued that such songs risked turning the country into neighboring Turkmenistan, where each of the past two presidents has used state-dominated media sectors to promote themselves, their families, and their purported accomplishments in service to the "nation."

Turkmen state television recently aired a song paying tribute to the mother of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, honoring her for giving "the world the great man."

In Kazakhstan, a three-part biopic, The Way Of The Leader, celebrated President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who has ruled since 1989.

Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon has gradually ramped up efforts to institutionalize his contributions to the country, earning official "Leader of the Nation" status in 2015 and rolling out books on Tajik language and history.

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service

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About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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