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Altai waiting for new governor


MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Yuri Filippov.)

Altai governor Mikhail Yevdokimov often said in the last few months that he would like to meet Arnold Schwarzenegger.

His dream will never come true now. The Russian politician, a stand-up comedian loved by millions in Russia, especially in his native Altai territory where he was elected governor contrary to all written and oral laws, has died in a car crash.

He was called "the Russian Terminator" for his visible likeness to the California governor. A simple village boy, Yevdokimov was a self-made man who made it from dust to glory. He took Moscow by storm, winning federal, if not world, fame, and then abandoned the stage for politics, changing his virtual image for stark political reality.

Many actors may dream of this achievement, but few succeed.

The election of Yevdokimov to the post of Altai governor came as a shock to the local bureaucracy. Barely two weeks after the election, the new governor was accused of all mortal sins. Some said he could not and would not solve the social and economic problems of the territory, did not prepare the housing and utilities services for the rigorous winter season, and ruined the harvesting campaign. Only a tiny part of these accusations had reached the press.

It is true that he was often criticized with good reason, yet it is impossible to believe that he did nothing right.

But nobody wanted to analyze details. Sharp and angry criticism against him grew, like snow, increasingly deep, but Yevdokimov, true to his Siberian character, refused to discuss claims against him and enter into empty deliberations. The whole of Russia saw on television how Yevdokimov silently walked out of the session of the Altai parliament, which decided to initiate his impeachment.

Yevdokimov knew little to nothing about bureaucratic intrigues and the tricks of regional command, or the Russian economy and finance, though he had an economic education. But he never concealed his weaknesses. Most importantly, he was a strong individual, and the voters who elected him knew this very well.

President Vladimir Putin, who went to Barnaul, the capital of the Altai territory, soon after Yevdokimov's death, said about the governor what everyone there knew: He had worked in his post for barely a year and simply did not have the time to solve all territorial problems, but he sincerely tried to do it.

Putin supported Yevdokimov to his dying day. The governor was not a frequent guest in the presidential administration and not a "Kremlin man." But Putin refused to fire him despite the persistent demands from the Altai parliament, which had been fighting a life-or-death battle against Yevdokimov.

The president is facing a difficult task. Whom to nominate to Yevdokimov's post? A politician or a bureaucrat? A person popular in the territory or someone from another region of Russia? A member of the political class or some other profession, like Yevdokimov was?

The death of Mikhail Yevdokimov cast a bright light on tensions that perhaps exist in every country: The people view politicians and managers, however transparent and understandable they may seem, as a closed group. They want to have "one of us" at the top, if only for once, a man like Yevdokimov, a simple, happy-go-lucky fellow who transplanted the image he created on stage to real life.

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