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Advertisement About Gays in United Russia Pulled Down

Esquire?€™s contentious banner reading, ?€?Why do ballet dancers and gays join United Russia??€? on Ulitsa Obraztsova. Igor Tabakov

A nine-story banner featuring the cover of the April issue of the men's glossy magazine Esquire was removed fr om a central Moscow street last week for posing the question, "Why do ballet dancers and gays join United Russia?"

The reason, said advertising agency Sunlight Outdoor, which sells advertising space for Esquire, was that it did not want a confrontation with United Russia, which is led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

The banner depicts rock musician David Bowie saying "Shh" with a finger over his lips and features the contentious question, which is a teaser for a cover story in which actors, filmmakers and showmen explain why they joined the country's ruling party.

Personalities interviewed for the article include filmmakers Stanislav Govorukhin and Vladimir Menshov, ballet dancer Anastasia Volochkova and flamboyant pop singer Boris Moiseyev.

Sunlight Outdoor dismantled Esquire's banner covering a side of a building on Ulitsa Obraztsova, near Savyolovsky Station, on March 31, just a day after placing it there.

"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 fr om the one that appeared on the building, Valiyeva said Friday.

"Esquire provided a draft wh ere 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.

She accused Esquire of purposely providing the wrong draft. "I suppose that they didn't give us the [right] draft because they realized that we would refuse to place it," she said.

Philipp Bakhtin, editor in chief of Esquire, said the magazine had submitted the incomplete draft by mistake, adding that publishing these kinds of statements was normal in democratic societies.

"We have the right to publish anything we think is right. This is very weird. It's a wild story," Bakhtin said.

Esquire's Russian edition is owned by Independent Media Sanoma Magazines, the parent company of The Moscow Times.

Bakhtin said the advertising agency had refused to hang a banner that replaced the controversial question with a link to the magazine's web site.

He also said Sunlight Outdoor had not provided an official explanation for why it broke the terms of the contract.

Esquire's banner was placed on the headquarters of Atlas, a federal state unitary enterprise that creates information security technology.

Atlas' representatives ordered Sunlight Outdoor to remove the banner and threatened to ban the advertising agency from placing further ads on the building, Bakhtin said, citing private conversations between the staff of Esquire and the advertising agency.

Anatoly Beskaravainy, an aide to Atlas' chief executive officer, denied that Atlas had ordered the banner's removal. "We haven't even seen it. Our guard desk is on the other side," he told The Moscow Times.

A number of television channels, including Rossia, Ren-TV and 2?…2, have refused to broadcast Esquire's latest commercials, saying they did not want to deal with United Russia, Bakhtin said.

United Russia spokesman Dmitry Polikanov said the party would not respond to the issue because it did not consider it to be a big deal. "The party today has many strategic and much more important problems to solve," he said, adding that United Russia would not "react to insulting statements in glossy magazines with a lim ited audience."

The Moscow Advertising Committee, which oversees outdoor advertising in the capital, said in an e-mailed statement that it "had nothing to do with placing and dismantling the banner" because it had been secured on a commercial basis.

A number of celebrities have joined United Russia, including boxing champion Nikolai Valuyev, who became a member of the party's St. Petersburg branch on Friday, and Nikolai Rastorguyev, the lead singer for Putin's favorite rock band Lyube, who took a vacant United Russia seat in the State Duma in January.

Esquire's editor said he was not losing any sleep over the banner. "I absolutely don't feel unlucky because we have gotten more PR than a single banner could provide," Bakhtin said.

Esquire has faced problems before. In 2007, the agency News Outdoor refused to place ads for Esquire that contained the words of rock musician Bono, who had compared politics with the production of sausages.

In November, major outdoor advertising agencies in Moscow and St. Petersburg refused to carry a Russian Newsweek campaign for fear that it was too provocative or violated the country’s law on advertising. The satirical spots each featured a positive slogan — such as “The officials have stated their incomes,” or “Trust in the courts is growing in Russia” — with a pair of hands somehow mocking or discrediting the statement. Each ad ended with the words: “Everyone knows. We understand.”

Last April, the Moscow Advertising Committee banned a campaign by Business-FM radio that used trivia questions to poke fun at corruption in Russia and a mishandling of the economic crisis.

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