New York, June 19 – Soviet veterans have appealed to the Kremlin to overrule local officials and ban the use of a picture of a monument to World War II partisans on packages of toilet paper, saying that they are offended “to the point of tears” that “the proud title of partisan” should be used in this way.
On Wednesday, the Moscow tabloid “Tvoy den’” published an article reflecting the cultural divide between many Russians angry at slights to things they view as holy, an attitude only intensified by the government’s talk about correcting historical falsifications, and those prepared to do anything for a profit (www.tden.ru/articles/society/038455/).
In the city of Bryansk, a businessman named Aleksandr Kryukov decided to name a low price brand of toilet paper “Partisan” and to put a picture of the local monument to Soviet partisans on its wrapper. He sought and received approval from local officials who could find no law against it, and he told the paper that this “marketing technique” was proving successful.
But if his sales are up, so too has the anger of veterans. One 93-year-old veteran of the partisan movement there described this action as “treason” and said that both the businessman who thought it up and the local officials who had approved it had lost all sense of common decency. “Is this what we fought for?” he asked.
Summing up the attitudes of the veterans, the Moscow tabloid pointed out that “even the fascists” did not sink to the level of doing this, noting that this cheap brand of toilet paper was especially offensive because it had been put on the shelves “on the eve of the patriotic holiday, the Day of the Partisan.”
Convinced that the only way they might be able to get justice, a group of Bryansk veterans have written a letter to President Dmitry Medvedev saying that they are deeply offended by this use of the word “partisan” and calling on him to intervene against the local officials and businessman “for us, for our honor, and for our glorious past.”
As far as the local businessman is concerned, there is no reason for such anger. Kryukov told the Moscow paper that his company had simply “exploited the spirit of the times” and used the name and picture to attract attention. And this “we have done” and with great success because Partisan toilet paper is “cheaper” than many other brands.
His company, Kryukov continued, did “not have the goal of hurting the feelings of the veterans. This is only a marketing technique.” And he noted that local officials, with whom his company had checked, had given him the green light to use the name and picture, something these officials confirmed to “Tvoy den’”.
“The use of the word ‘Partisan’ as a brand does not contradict the law,” Lyudmila Osadchaya, a representative of the Bryansk trade-industrial chamber said, although she acknowledged that some might be offended by such things even if they are well within legal limits.
But neither the aging partisans nor their supporters are prepared to leave things there, and the Moscow tabloid, also exploiting “the spirit of the times,” sought to whip up feelings against the producer of this toilet paper and against those Bryansk officials – the archetypical “bad bureaucrats” of Russian history – who permitted it.
Yes, the paper said, there is an economic crisis, and yes, “business is business,” but it pointed out that “Marx had already said that for 300 percent profit an individual is capable of anything.” Despite that, however, the tabloid continued, “there ought to be limits” and all the officials who approved this measure should be fired or quit in shame.
Not surprisingly, this story has captured the attention of many Russian media outlets, at least some of which have sought to put it in context. In his report for the New Region agency, Aleksey Usov suggested that the Bryansk toilet paper story was a popular analogue of reports about a VIP drunken party on the cruiser Avrora (www.nr2.ru/society/236864.html).
But Usov suggested that this repetition risked becoming a farce and argued that references to things in the past that cannot be referred to in any but the most “holy” terms were entirely too common. And he pointed out that “efforts by businessmen lacking moral limitations to make money on History and Memory are not such a great rarity.”
In responding to such actions, he concluded, there are “more effective means of struggle than tearful complaints to the bosses.” Among these are a sense of humor and the ultimate weapon of people living in a consumer society – a decision not to buy the particular product if its name or content is offensive.