Medvedev Portraits Being Snapped Up

ReutersShopkeeper Vladimir Tyshko preparing a portrait of First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev for sale on Thursday. Bureaucrats and businessmen have been snapping up Medvedev photographs ever since Putin backed the former corporate lawyer as his successo
President Vladimir Putin's icy blue gaze may soon be replaced by the softer brown eyes of his protege, Dmitry Medvedev, in the portraits that stare from the walls of tens of thousands of offices nationwide.

Bureaucrats and businessmen have been snapping up Medvedev photographs ever since December, when Putin backed the former corporate lawyer as his successor. Now Medvedev sales are soaring ahead of Sunday's presidential election.

Framed pictures of the president are hung in government offices, businesses and even schools in a show of public fealty that portrait sellers say has its roots in tsarist history and the Soviet Union's personality cults.

"Since it was announced that Medvedev was the official successor, we immediately started getting inquiries about him, and now Medvedev has really overtaken Putin in sales," said Vladimir Tyshko, who sells photographic portraits of politicians.

"With the elections approaching, Medvedev is selling very well: About 70 percent of people want portraits of Medvedev, and 30 percent want Putin now. Before Putin was of course the absolute leader by sales; now it is Medvedev," Tyshko said.

Tyshko's Internet shop, www.vRamke.ru, sells a giant 1.2 meter-high Medvedev portrait for 20,000 rubles ($800). Smaller portraits, showing a benevolent-looking Medvedev, go for 2,000 rubles.

Putin, who plans to work as prime minister alongside President Medvedev, said earlier this month that he saw no need to hang his successor's portrait in his office.

But, he added, "I don't see anything shameful in the fact that bureaucrats have the portrait of their leader in their offices. I don't see any servility or groveling. This is an element of statehood in the same way as a flag or emblem."

Local officials are preparing for a new president.

"Representatives of the region took 40 of them not long ago," said Alexander Smirnov, whose photograph studio in the Sverdlovsk region has been supplying local bookshops with Medvedev photographs for 500 rubles apiece.

Under Putin, the president's face has turned into a mini-industry, with thousands of framed photographs sold and even watches, necklaces, carpets and matryoshka nesting dolls bearing his portrait.

Many observers say Putin could remain the power behind the Kremlin throne after he steps down as president.

"The Medvedev ones have sold out," said one shop assistant in a Moscow bookshop. "Buy the Putin one -- he is still the boss."