Moscow Dispatch

9-Story Esquire Cover Calling Putin’s Party a Bunch of Gays Lasts Only 1 Day

We know the European versions of magazines like GQ, Vogue, and Vanity Fair print less puritanical pages than their American counterparts, where a naked breast won’t scare newsstands into wrapping the whole thing in shrink-wrap. But Russia’s magazines? Can’t say we’ve read them, so we have no idea whether Russian Esquire‘s is normally P.C. But in any case, its April issue asks “Why do ballet dancers and gays join United Russia?,” and Moscow’s infamous homophobes weren’t so pleased.

The magazine erected a nine-story advertisement, which was promptly taken down one day later, ahem, “voluntarily” by the outdoor advertising agency that posted it — to avoid the wrath of United Russia, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s party. It was slapped on a building owned by Atlas, described as “a federal state unitary enterprise that creates information security technology,” who is being fingered by the ad agency as the party demanding the giant ad be taken down; Atlas denies it complained.

Yes, that’s David Bowe with his finger over his lips on the cover. Inside, actors, singers, sports stars, and filmmakers explain why they joined United Russia. But the best part of this whole story is the ad agency that put it up and took it down tying its actions to the recent subway bombing.

“People could consider the banner as an act of provocation, especially coming a day after the tragedy,” Sunlight Outdoor CEO Natalya Valiyeva said, referring to the twin suicide bombings in the Moscow metro that killed at least 40 people on March 29. An early version of the banner provided by Esquire and accepted by Sunlight Outdoor differed from the one that appeared on the building, Valiyeva said Friday. “Esquire provided a draft where there was no sentence about gays and ballet dancers, and we agreed on this draft. After that, the client’s representatives brought another banner that did not match the one that we had accepted. If we had seen this draft in advance, we wouldn’t have agreed to place it,” she told The Moscow Times.

Russia Esquire is owned not by Conde Nast, but by Independent Media Sanoma Magazines, which also owns the Moscow Times. And it’s been denied commercial time by television networks, who are also likely to be wary of running afoul of Putin’s camp.

What this really amounts to is a magazine pretending Russia has any real freedoms of expression, which may exist on paper, but implode at there mere mention of Putin being unhappy over a report. In the meantime, at least there’s photographic evidence the nine-story ad lived, if only for a single day.