November 27, 2013 / 6:28 PM / 5 years ago

Uproar thwarts giant luxury suitcase exhibit on Red Square

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Matthias Rust shocked the Soviet Union when the young German landed a small plane on Red Square in 1987. This week, a giant symbol of mammon appeared in Russia’s most venerated public place and traditionalists were not amused.

People walk past a Louis Vuitton pavilion which is in the shape of a giant suitcase, as the St. Basil's Cathedral (L) and the Spasskaya Tower are seen in the background, in central Moscow, November 27, 2013. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva

President Vladimir Putin’s government found itself struggling on Wednesday to contain an uproar over a gigantic Louis Vuitton suitcase set up to house an exhibit on the travel and possessions of the rich and famous.

Communists denounced the suitcase-shaped pavilion - placed mere steps from the Kremlin and the mausoleum of Bolshevik revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin - as an evocative symbol of the conspicuous consumption that has enveloped Russia since the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union.

“I am ashamed of our country for putting a suitcase on its main square, this sacred area that should be protected by the state,” said Valery Rashkin, a Communist member of the State Duma, the lower parliament house. He called it an “eyesore”.

The protests appeared to work, for by late on Wednesday evening, a sign on a fence surrounding the structure said it was being dismantled - though the structure remained intact.

Despite straps on the pavilion in the colors of the Russian flag, the image of a Western luxury good only the richest can afford jarred with Putin’s appeals to patriotism in the face of what he calls foreign threats to Russian culture.

People gather near a Louis Vuitton pavilion shaped like a giant suitcase in central Moscow November 27, 2013. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva

His standing somewhat dented by protests by liberal city dwellers in 2011-12, Putin has championed the kind of rank-and-file, provincial Russians for whom a trip to Moscow and a stroll on Red Square is a rare treat.

Putin loyalists in his United Russia party also railed against the outsized suitcase, and nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky said on Tuesday that it should be moved to a more remote part of Moscow.

Citing an unnamed Kremlin source, Russian news agencies said Wednesday that Putin’s administration had ordered the 30 meter-(100-foot)-long, nine-meter-(30-foot)-high suitcase removed.

“There’s nothing terrible about the trunk itself and the good intentions - on the contrary,” Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “But it is obvious that there’s a problem with the sense of scale.”

While a skating rink has been set up on Red Square for the winter holidays in recent years, the Kremlin is sensitive about use of the history-steeped expanse at Moscow’s heart.

Protest band Pussy Riot performed on the square a month before their “punk prayer” in a cathedral that resulted in jail terms, and a man who stripped naked and nailed his private parts to the cobbles this month may face criminal charges.

Louis Vuitton, whose parent company is LVMH, had said the exhibit - which was to open on December 2 - was a tribute to its longstanding ties with Russia and that all revenue from it would go to the Naked Heart Foundation, a children’s charity.

People walk past a Louis Vuitton pavilion shaped like a giant suitcase in central Moscow November 27, 2013. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva

The charity’s founder, model Natalia Vodianova, is the fiancee of a son of Bernard Arnault, the CEO of LVMH.

Additional reporting by Denis Dyomkin; Editing by Steve Gutterman

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