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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Buttery Blin Breaks Record

MTA food technician checking that all is running smoothly in advance of a successful bid to make the world's longest-ever blin.
Three food technicians and four mechanics lined up behind a strange-looking contraption near Red Square on Thursday evening -- their task to make the world's longest blin.

The seemingly endless ribbon of pancake was made in honor of Maslenitsa, a weeklong festival that City Hall hopes to turn into Moscow's answer to Mardi Gras.

"Russia is the land of bliny and Maslenitsa is the festival of bliny, so it's natural that we should attempt this record," said Grigory Antyufeyev, the head of Moscow's tourism committee, as he squinted into the sleety rain lashing down on Ploshchad Revolyutsii.

In front of Antyufeyev, folk dancers and singers performed on a large stage in front of several hundred bedraggled onlookers. Behind him a strip of cooked blin ran steadily along a conveyor belt out of an opening in a small tent where the pancake-making contraption was sheltered from the rain.

"It's good, do you want to try some?" Antyufeyev asked as he tasted one of the first slices.

Symbolizing the sun, bliny are the central emblem of Maslenitsa, or Butter Week, a medieval pagan festival that celebrated the end of winter and the coming of spring.

Maslenitsa festivities include fertility rituals, mock fist fights, troika rides and tobogganing down ice hills. On the last day of the festival, a large, straw-stuffed peasant doll is burned and its ashes are poured over the fields for a good harvest.

Around the 16th century, the Russian Orthodox Church made Maslenitsa an official religious holiday in an attempt to Christianize the remaining pagan beliefs in Russia.

Since then the festival has evolved into a gluttonous preparation for the seven-week Lenten fast before Easter.

The week is considered buttery because Orthodox Christians, who have already given up meat in anticipation of Lent, stock up for the fast by eating dairy products and eggs -- which are allowed up until Lent actually starts on Sunday evening. Hence the bliny, which are consumed in unchecked amounts with butter, sour cream, eggs and caviar.

For others, Maslenitsa is just an excuse for a good old-fashioned Russian booze-up. As the city tourism committee says in a brochure promoting Maslenitsa, "The Russian soul is so given to feasting as to forget everything."

This year, the tourism committee launched an ambitious scheme to turn Maslenitsa into an international festival "set to rival those of Venice and Rio de Janeiro," as one of its press releases put it. Although Maslenitsa has been celebrated every year in Moscow for centuries, this is the first time that the committee has actively promoted it, Antyufeyev said. In total, about $1 million has been spent on the festival this year -- the cost divided between various sponsors and City Hall, which contributed about $100,000, he said.

"The idea is to make a traditional Russian holiday international -- to make it appealing both for Russians and foreigners," said Oksana Rebrik, general director of the Maxima Communication Group, which won a tender to work with the tourism committee in promoting and organizing the event.

Rebrik said the tourism committee chose to promote Maslenitsa rather than any other holiday mainly because it did not have any strong religious or political connotations. "It's simply about people enjoying themselves," she said. On a more practical level, the tourism committee sees Maslenitsa as a way of attracting tourists to Moscow during tourism's dead season, Rebrik said.

Most festival-goers thought the idea of having a carnival was a good one.

"Why not make a carnival out of it?" said Lada Korotun, a radio journalist covering the event for Golos Rossii. "It's fun; it's another entertainment."

Roman Khavronichev, 18, one of a hundred or so people waiting in line for a piece of the record-breaking pancake, agreed, although he was not sure it would catch on with Western tourists.

"It's primarily a Russian festival," he said. "It might attract people from the ex-Soviet republics, but as for further afield, I don't know."

Rebrik said that this year organizers have concentrated on promoting Maslenitsa in the media rather than trying to reach tourists directly. "If people read about Maslenitsa in their local newspapers and see that Moscow is not a dangerous place to visit, they are more likely to come in the future," she said.

Antyufeyev said that about 50 foreign journalists had been invited to Moscow for the festival.

Not many were in evidence Thursday. But John Bell, a British travel film editor who came from London, confirmed that a group of six British journalists along with some journalists from the Netherlands, Belgium and China were covering the festival.

Bell was not effusive in his praise of the events he had already seen, but said that there was nothing wrong with the concept of having a carnival in Moscow.

"Carnivals can work in the strangest places," he said. "If it brings a bit of fun, that's fine. It's a good chance to meet people, to have a drink and a dance."

Most festival-goers agreed that the main problem with Maslenitsa this year has been the weather. No snow has meant no sleigh rides, no tobogganing and no storming snow fortresses, all popular Maslenitsa traditions.

Rebrik put this down to the unlucky coincidence of having an unusually late Easter -- it falls on May 5 this year -- and an abnormally early spring. Next year Maslenitsa will fall in its usual late-February slot, so there will almost certainly be snow, she said.

For a while on Thursday afternoon, the attempt to make the world's longest blin also looked under threat from the weather as the heavens opened.

But the pancake-making machine began pumping out blin according to schedule at 6 p.m. Two hours and 52 minutes later, it reached the target length of one kilometer, Interfax reported.

A couple of dozen cameramen and referees from the Russian Committee on World Records huddled round to record the historic moment.

Actually it wasn't a very historic moment. As Alexei Svistunov, the president of the Russian Book of Records, stressed, the blin would not be eligible for the Guinness Book of Records.

To be considered the largest ever, a pancake must be round -- and organizers said that this year they did not have the budget to build a pan big enough to break the current record. That honor will remain, at least for another year, in Rochdale, England, where a pancake measuring 15 meters in diameter was made in 1994.

The blin will, however, create a new Russian (and unofficial world) record for the longest ever made. And with a total area of 150 square meter, it's not too far short of the champion from Rochdale, which measured 177 square meters.

One of the food technicians working on the pancake-making machine, Svetlana Shuvayeva, took some time out from her work to give journalists the blin's vital statistics. In total, 150 kilograms of flour were used in the pancake mixture, along with 300 liters of milk, 2,500 eggs, 60 kilograms of sugar and 1.5 kilograms of salt, she said.