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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia's Playboy: Literary Titillation?

Now the Cold War is really over. Playboy has come to Russia.


The magazine that during the Soviet years was the symbol of everything decadent and desirable in the West, has been launched in a Russian-language edition that editor Art Troitsky says "reflects the spirit of Playboy in the style of Russia."


The spirit of Playboy was present at a Friday press conference in the form of Anna-Marie Goddard, Playboy's Playmate of the Year in 1994, and Russia's first centerfold.


"I'm making history!" crooned the Dutch-born model, posing, fully dressed, for eager Russian photographers.


The style of Russia was very much in evidence, as well.


"There are things we do not do well in Russia," said Troitsky. "Making cars, for example, or taking pictures of nude girls. But our literary tradition is among the best."


In fact, Russian playboy could just bring a modicum of truth to the old dodge that "I only read it for the articles." It is heavy on text, most of it locally generated -- with the exception of some standard features like Playboy's famous "Party Jokes" page.


But for those hoping for a titillating addition to Russia's booming porn market, there is serious disappointment in store.


"This is not an erotic magazine," insists Troitsky. "We are hoping it will reverse the decline in the tradition of thick literary journals in Russia." He pauses, smiles slyly, and adds, "Sort of a Yunost with girls."


Yunost, now all but defunct, was a worthy highbrow journal famous in the Soviet years for promoting new writing talent.


A project of Independent Media, which also publishes The Moscow Times and Cosmopolitan magazine, Russian Playboy is being launched under a licensing agreement with Playboy International, and will appear every two months for the first year.


Rhetoric ran high at Friday's launch. The director of Playboy International, Henry Marks, resplendent in red high-top sneakers, a ponytail and puffing on an executive-sized cigar, was full of warm words for the new publication.


"Playboy has always stood for the right of the individual to be free and to respect others," he said. "We respect our Russian friends, their aspirations, and their desire for freedom."


Russian Playboy has massed some heavy literary guns for its first issue: Vasily Aksyonov, Alexander Tabakov, and Viktor Yerofeyev, all leading lights in Russia's cultural scene, contributed serious pieces.


The centerfolds will be imports, at least for awhile. "We just do not have the tradition of taking nude photographs," said Troitsky. "In Russian erotic magazines, the women all look either frightened to death, or like whores."


Igor Shein, the magazine's designer, agrees, managing to sound suspiciously feminist as he does so.


"Most erotic magazines just exploit women's bodies," he said. "But we delight in them. We do not want to portray women as objects."


The Russian staff has caught on quickly to some honored Playboy traditions, such as the major interview in every issue. As Marks put it, the Playboy interview looks for the subject "to unzip, to reveal himself as never before."


The inaugural issue has an in-depth interview with Yevgeny Kiselyov, of the influential news program "Itogi," consistently cited as the top political journalist in the country.


Kiselyov's "unzipped" interview yields the information that he likes big women, that sex occupies a more important place in his life than in that of ordinary men, and that his taste in ties is growing more conservative.


Kiselyov also speculates readily on the sexual problems of the Russian leadership. When asked if he thinks that politicians are trying to compensate for having small penises, he replies:


"I support that theory with both hands."


Publisher Derk Sauer, who is, like the centerfold, Dutch, says the tone of the magazine is irreverent. On the other hand, he adds, it is a serious publication that hopes to attract a serious readership.


"Sure, they look at the girls," laughs Sauer. "But they also read the articles. I see nothing wrong with combining the two."


But the publisher and editor will have to contend with the powerful Playboy legend. What does Playboy symbolize to Russians?


For Sasha, 30, a driver who displays the Playboy symbol prominently on the dashboard of his aging Zhiguli, the answer was simple.


"Sex," he replied.