A Russian beauty queen is standing by her controversial withering public criticism of corruption in her country during this year’s Miss Earth competition.
“I wrote it from the bottom of my heart, from my soul,” 24 year-old Natalia Pereverzeva told ABC News in a phone interview from Manilla, Philippines, where the competition is taking place.
The comments first appeared six months ago in an essay as part of her entrance to the competition, but garnered attention when they were part of her presentation in the pageant this week. The essay was written in response to a question about why she is proud of her country and began with an expected praise for her homeland, but quickly shifted into controversial waters.
“But my Russia — it is also my poor, long-suffering country, mercilessly torn to pieces by greedy, dishonest, unbelieving people,” she wrote.
“My Russia — it is a great artery, from which the ‘chosen’ few people are draining away its wealth. My Russia is a beggar. My Russia cannot help her elderly and orphans. From it, bleeding, like from a sinking ship, engineers, doctors, teachers are fleeing, because they have nothing to live on,” the essay continued.
She also touched on other sensitive subjects, including Russia’s long wars in the Caucuses region, the rise of nationalism in the country, and the general lack of interest in political issues among the wide swath of Russia’s public.
“I was totally shocked,” she said on Tuesday about the firestorm her comments have sparked.
The winner of the 2010 Miss Moscow pageant also defended herself against criticism from some Russian editorials that have blasted her for defaming the country on an international stage.
“It was my civic opinion and I wrote it with huge pride for my country. I love Russia and I am proud of its people, its history and tradition. I think every Russian would agree with what I wrote,” she told ABC News, speaking in Russian. Indeed, in an unscientific online poll on the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda’s website found 93 percent of respondents agreed with her remarks.
“I am so disappointed that it became so political in Russia. My life has nothing to do with politics,” Pereverzeva added.
Her criticism has been compared to the case of Pussy Riot, the Russian feminist punk group that performed a stunt in a Moscow cathedral criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin. For that three members were sentenced to long prison terms in August.
Pereverzeva, however, said she does not approve of that group’s actions.
“I am a believer in God and I do not think what Pussy Riot did was right,” she told ABC News.
Her criticism comes as Russia is experiencing political upheaval unprecedented during Vladimir Putin’s 12 years in power — eight as president and the last four as prime minister, though it is generally accepted in Russia that President Dmitri Medvedev was merely a figurehead. Putin easily won a third term in office in March, but did so in the face of massive street protests in Moscow calling on him to go and for an end to corruption.
The essay was written around the time of Putin’s inauguration, which was marked by a large protest the day before that turned ugly when several protesters clashed with riot police.
“When we seriously begin to take care of our country, it will blossom and shine brightly,” Pereverzeva wrote at the conclusion of her essay.