An example of one of the houses in the town covered in decorated tarpaulin.
To prepare for a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin, authorities in the small Russian town of Suzdal covered up all the town’s numerous dilapidated houses with large tarpaulin prints depicting with much nicer homes. Residents were also asked to be on their best behaviour. All for naught, as the president ended up cancelling his visit, which was supposed to take place in early November.
Crumbling walls, sagging doors, broken windows… The authorities in Suzdal did not want Putin to see the poor condition of some of the homes along its main road, which his car was supposed to drive down. With no time for renovations, they decided to get artistic, as the blogger O Dimitrios revealed. They covered the homes in tarpaulin that made it look like they were in perfect shape and freshly painted. Some of the tarpaulin covers even featured details like potted plants and cats.
This technique is reminiscent of the Potemkin villages, which, as legend has it, were Crimean villages camouflaged by the Russian prince Grigory Potemkin before a visit by Empress Catherine II in 1787. Today, the phrase ‘Potemkin village’ has come to mean something that is exaggerated to look better than it really is.
Suzdal’s mayor defended the measure by explaining that “the city does not have the right to invest money into these houses [as they are private property], and we can’t order the residents to repair them, since they don’t have enough money.”
This is not the first time in recent history that a visit by a high ranking Russian official caused local authorities to panic. In 2011, when Vladimir Putin, then prime minister, visited a hospital in Ivanovo, extra equipment was brought in from several other hospitals in the region, and employees were asked to exaggerate their salaries.

"We were told not to hang out in the streets with bottles of alcohol in hand"

Nikolay (not his real name) is a 17 year old who lives in Suzdal, where he is studying to become an auto mechanic.
In October, our class was told that the president was coming for a visit. We were told that we could go out into the streets, but that we shouldn’t yell or hang out with bottles of alcohol in hand.
The city’s administration knew which streets the president would take. In all, it was supposed to be a 15-kilometre drive. They decorated the most rundown houses along this route, and covered up holes in the road instead of really fixing them. Everything that wasn’t along this route was left in its regular, decrepit state.
"People would have liked Putin to see the reality of life here and do something about it"
Suzdal is a very old, beautiful city. The reason that some houses are in such poor state is that people are poor and they don’t have the money to repair everything. Some houses are just abandoned. The decorated tarpaulin covers were poorly hung and flapped in the wind. I saw one still up earlier this week, but all the others seemed to have been taken down.
People in town made lots of jokes about these tarpaulin covers. To me, it just goes to show how dumb the authorities are. If they want the city to look better, they might as well do some real work instead of putting up these sorry decorations! It’s sad, because of course people would have liked Putin to see the reality of life here and do something about it, especially those who voted for his party.
Russia is not the only country where this type of camouflage takes place: authorities in Belcoo in northern Ireland had also used tarps to spruce up buildings during last June’s G8 summit. Similar techniques have been spotted in Ivory Coast and in Morocco during visits by heads of state.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalists Corentin Bainier (@cbainier) and Polina Myakinchenko (@pollyjourn).