You can tell a lot about the guilty conscience of a nation’s elite by its photoshopping.
During the 1930s, Communist leaders executed in Stalin’s purges were famously airbrushed out of official photographs to cover up the facts of their brutal demise, as well as ensure that they do not become magnets for opposition. An entire industry of skilled KGB artists and photographers sprung up as a result.
On the other hand, in the 1980s, Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost, or openness, became obsessed with revisiting the memory of Stalinist crimes in order to rehabilitate the “good” Communism of Lenin. Emerging high technology allowed a different kind of photographic manipulation – using computers to retouch and restore historical images to unearth the “authentic” content.
These days, the kind of photoshopping engaged in reflects the ultimate displacement of politics by money.
According to news reports, Russia’s Orthodox Church “admitted it doctored a photo of Patriarch Kirill on its official website to erase his expensive watch, after bloggers ridiculed the efforts. The picture in question shows the patriarch sitting at a polished wooden table with Russia’s Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov in 2009. While his wrist appears to be covered with a black tunic, a reflection on the table reveals a fancy watch”.
Embarrassingly, the Patriarch initially denied he had worn the watch, calling the photos a “collage” before backtracking and fessing up to the $30,000 Breguet (at least he had the panache to wear the brand preferred by such classic figures of Russian literature as Eugene Onegin, who lived by its “sleepless chimes”!).
While this was the first case of watch-airbrushing, it’s not the first time that Russian journalists and bloggers have caught their leaders red-wristed. Two years ago, the Vedomosti newspaper analysed watches worn by top politicians and came up with some shocking results – for example, Moscow’s deputy mayor wore a $950,000 number!
The Patriarch’s quick retreat and promise to punish those responsible for the airbrushing reveals that, despite Putin’s re-election, Russia’s internet remains an powerful independent watchdog.