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Dueling Russian Poets Keep Putin in Power

Nov. 4 (Bloomberg) -- In Russia, a poet is more than a poet. The strong feelings revealed in a recent national argument over two bards -- Yevgeny Yevtushenko, long emigrated to the U.S., and Joseph Brodsky, who died in 1996 -- might even help explain how the regime of President Vladimir Putin is able to maintain its grip on power.

In late October, government-run Channel One television departed from its usual fare of cheap entertainment and fawning Putin coverage to air something truly surprising: an in-depth, three-part interview with the 80-year-old Yevtushenko. The program attracted between 12.6 percent and 17.2 percent of all television viewers, according to the RIA Novosti news service -- a very high share for the late-night time slot in which the interview was shown.