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Makers of Nesting Dolls Turn to State for Assistance

Published: March 17, 2009 (Issue # 1457)



  • Alexei Polikarpov.
    Photo: For The St. Petersburg Times

  • Dolls featuring Obama, Medvedev, the Beatles and Harry Potter?sell in St. Petersburg and Moscow for about 500 rubles.
    Photo: Nadia Popova / The St. Petersburg Times

  • A craftsman working at the Khokhloma Painting Plant in central Semyonov.
    Photo: Nadia Popova / The St. Petersburg Times

  • Molodtsova painting dolls in the Khokhloma workshop in the Nizhny Novgorod region. She earns 3,000 rubles a month.
    Photo: Nadia Popova / The St. Petersburg Times

SEMYONOV, Nizhny Novgorod Region — The state will place about 1 billion rubles ($28.4 million) in orders for crafts such as nesting dolls and hand-painted dishes and could reduce taxes to support craft makers whose sales have plummeted, the Industry and Trade Ministry said last week Thursday.

Ministries, state agencies, the White House and the Kremlin will all make large purchases of matryoshki and khokhloma dishes to be used mainly for gifts, a spokeswoman for the ministry said.

The measures were announced at a meeting on Wednesday between Industry and Trade Minister Viktor Khristenko and 20 souvenir makers.

One of the main measures of support should be state orders, Khristenko said at the meeting, according to a statement on the ministry’s web site Thursday. “We still have to work out the regulatory documents ... and draw up a list of the products the state will buy,” he said.

The state will also help the producers sell their crafts at crafts fairs both at home and abroad.

Speaking earlier this month, prior to Khristenko’s announcement, Alexei Polikarpov was apologetic during an interview in his cold, dimly lit office on the outskirts of Semyonov, the heart of Russia’s nesting doll industry. With sales of the country’s most famous souvenir diving, Polikarpov cut production, leaving fewer wood chips to heat his shop.

Across town at the Khokhloma Painting Plant, the country’s largest matryoshka producer, the situation was no better. Salaries were slashed along with output as the iconic wooden figures piled up on storeroom shelves.

Crafts makers in Semyonov, a town of about 25,000 people 70 kilometers north of Nizhny Novgorod, have been particularly hard hit by the economic crisis. Polikarpov said he saw domestic demand fall 30 percent in November compared with a year earlier, while foreign sales sunk by as much as 60 percent.

In January and February, domestic demand was halved.

“We get fewer orders from souvenir shops, companies and private clients,” Polikarpov said sadly. His company, Dyuna, had almost no sales in December, despite the traditionally lucrative New Year’s holidays.

Polikarpov used to sell 400,000 rubles ($11,300) worth of dolls per month in Russia and had exports of $10,000 to $15,000 — mainly to Britain, Argentina and the United States.

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