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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Guide to the Stars




Wearied by the evil Moscow sun, I left my teary-eyed girlfriend for Vitebsk in Belarus to see the famous Slavyansky music festival, a bizarre relic of the good old days of the Brezhnev stagnation.


The tiny city of Vitebsk, best known to the world as the birthplace of artist Marc Chagall, has been turned into a Vanity Fair by the craft-selling locals and camera-toting Moscow journalists. Originally established as a bridge between Slavic worlds, the festival has become more international, attracting the likes of German bands CC Catch and Bad Boys Blue this year alone.


But although Belarus has already hosted the festival for eight years, it has yet to win the top prize. Last year, the grand prize was given to a young singer from Israel, Raphael, whose agent, ironically, emigrated from Vitebsk 20 years ago. This year's exotic star was a Nepalese singer, Sundesh, who reminded me of Michael Jackson from his days with the Jackson Five. He won even more fans among the audience than a blind Russian girl, Diana Gurtskaya, who sang a ballad in her sunglasses. She was awarded the third-highest prize, but refused to accept it and gave it to Polish singer Kasya Stankevich. Political correctness, however, seemed to play the major part in the jury's decision to give the grand prix to the Yugoslav singer Zhelko Yoksimovich.


Meanwhile, the neighborhood Spartak theater turned into a battle-field as locals tried to squeeze into the premier of Stanislav Govorukhin's film on rape and retribution, "Voroshilovsky Strelok," or "The Sharp-Shooter," only to be pushed aside by the journalists who got in first. I wanted to complain about this injustice to State Duma Deputy Govorukhin himself, but when I got into the theater he was giving a speech. One of his comments stuck in my memory.


"There was a time when I thought that I could borrow money for my films from anyone, even from criminals, but since then I have learned otherwise," he said.


I myself love Govorukhin's films and might well have given him my $20 worth of vasilki, or cornflowers - pink-and-blue banknotes distributed by the festival to be used in stores around town.


But instead, I chose to spend my savings at the local Soviet-style department store, where I bought a blue toilet seat, a mirror and a carton of L&M cigarettes before my cornflowers turned into worthless paper.