Images of Dustin Hoffman, Woody Allen, Steven Seagal, Francis Ford Coppola, Sophia Loren and Isabella Rossellini aren’t an unlikely sight on towering billboards, but when the adverts in question are located in downtown Moscow promoting some mysterious children’s charity rather than the latest Hollywood blockbuster, things start to feel a little less familiar.
The ads – which first appeared throughout the Russian capital in June – appeared to be highlighting a charity gala in aid of children with cancer and eye disease organised by the Federation Fund, an outfit that gained notoriety in December after staging a benefit concert in which Prime Minister Vladimir Putin offered an overly earnest rendition of ‘Blueberry Hill’ to a crowd that included Sharon Stone and Kevin Costner.
This week’s second offering seemed equally bizarre, with The Moscow Times reporting that the event
“veered between maudlin over-rehearsed sentimentality, token appearances on stage by the imported stars and contrived stunts such as when Seagal danced with a young girl who said it was her dream to do the waltz with a Hollywood star.”
Quite what the charity stands for and how it earns its money, however, is unclear. Indeed, earlier this year the mother of a sick child wrote an open letter to president Dmitry Medvedev complaining that hospitals had received none of the promised donations.
The founder of the charity, Vladimir Kiselyov, a Soviet-era rock star, said he paid for the event out of his own pocket, with the idea of putting donors directly in touch with recipients of their generosity.
Critics say, however, that the foundation has received a disproportionate amount of support from the government compared with other charitable organisations, while providing virtually no information on its expenditures.
So, is this all simply a vanity exercise? An excuse for rich oligarchs to have a knees-up with the stars of Tinseltown under the dubious cover of doing good, or could something darker be at play? Either way, one thing’s clear – Federation Fund’s lack of transparency is deeply damaging to a country where building trust among a cynical public has felt like an age-old battle.