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Matryoshka dolls in bailout queue, one for Obama too


Washington : Matryoshkas, those Russian dolls within dolls, are the latest to be hit by the global financial meltdown and their survival depends on a bailout from the government – and a little help from the charm of US President Barack Obama!

Matryoshka makers say sales are down by as much as 90 percent, ABC News said in a report from Sergiyev Pozad, the scenic old monastery town that is the main hub of Russia’s doll industry.

The rosy-cheeked, often partly hand-painted Matryoshkas, like vodka, caviar and onion domes, are a symbol of everything Russian.

Svetlana Pankova, who runs a toy factory in the town, explained that with tourism on the wane and domestic consumption in the dumps, the storage room at the factory is now filled with Matryoshkas that they can’t sell.

“Unfortunately, at this time, there are over 1,000 Matryoshkas in the stock room,” Pankova told ABC News. “And this is at the height of the tourist season. In these times, without the government’s support, the Matryoshka industry cannot survive.”

Taking note of the concerns, the Russian government has promised to buy $30 million worth of the endangered dolls and other Russian handicrafts for officials who would pass them on as gifts.

A British tourist couple buying Matryoshkas told the TV channel, “We used to say, ‘What’s good for General Motors is good for America,’ and General Motors had a bailout. So maybe Matroyskha is the General Motors of Russia and they should get a bailout too.”

Matryoshka makers too have come up with creative new ways to sell their wares. On sale at a crowded souvenir stand in Moscow are rows of dolls bearing the image of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, President Dmitry Medvedev, American music legend Elvis Presley and Al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

In a recent interview with the Russian television, President Obama got a Matryoshka in his own image as a gift from the presenter. And the industry hopes his Russia visit that began Monday will help boost sales of the Obama Matryoshka!

Many artisans who have been making dolls for decades are worried about livelihood as much as about this Russian tradition.

Vera Meryana, a Matryoshka-maker for 35 years whose parents as well as children have worked in the industry, said: “We have done this all our lives. I can remember the Matryoshkas as long as I can remember myself.

“I grew up surrounded with them. And my children too. You can imagine after working in this all your life and watching how it is all dying out, of course, it’s very sad. We’d like to see a revival,” Meryana told ABC News.

Pankova said: “The Matryoshka has been around just over 100 years. It is a symbol of motherhood, of a simple Russian woman. Artisanry in Russia is part of Russia’s enormous heritage. It’s part of its image, and it needs advertising and support.”