Scandal has erupted in Belarus after it was revealed the winner of the Miss Minsk beauty contest worked as a stripper and lived a life far removed from the shy and demure lifestyle portrayed in the competition.
The Belarusian state takes a keen interest in beauty contests, which are often sponsored by local governments, and contestants are supposed to be virtuous examples of Belarusian womanhood, harking back to Communist-era ideals.
In keeping with this image Jana Kantsavenka, the newly-crowned Miss Minsk 2013, met authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko and his eight-year-old son, and had been pictured carrying out homely tasks such as milking cows.
So anger exploded when photographs of the 21-year-old student from Minsk’s University of Economics appeared on the internet showing her dancing topless in a nightclub while men pawed her body. Stories also abounded that she did private performances for extra cash.
Internet forums filled with calls for Miss Kantsavenka to have her crown removed, and comments branding her a national disgrace. Indignation was further fuelled by news that one of the runners-up and a number of the other contests also worked as strippers, or in the adult entertainment business.
“The winners and some of the contestants were familiar faces on the striptease and go-go scene,” a nightclub owner told the Belarusian newspaper Gazeta. “The winner was a permanent guest and there is nothing surprising about the pictures. She was always in the company of different men.”
Reflecting the boiling moral outrage, Belarus’s state broadcaster announced that it had decided to scrap plans to broadcast the contest, which was held at the end of June, this weekend despite spending some £150,000 on the show.
Anger was also directed at the Miss Minsk organisers, especially after video footage emerged of the selection process showing contestants doing provocative dance routines in bikinis.
Mikhail Charhinets, director of the Belarusian Council on Morality, described the affair as “provocation against the Minsk authorities,” adding that contestants should not be chosen “from something like a brothel”.
“The choice should be made on intellect, beauty, ethics and perception,” he said. “They should not choose girls haphazardly from something like a brothel. They need to be serious about this, and we need to assess the organisers.”
Mr Charhinets also said the council would “look into” the activities of the nightclub where the pictures of the cavorting Miss Kantsavenka were snapped.
Miss Minsk organisers have rejected calls to strip the winner of her title.
“If some people get angry over the actions of a 21-year-old girl then they should have a good look at themselves and accept the situation,” said Anna Bond, who hosted the glamorous event.
Allies of the beauty queen have rallied to her aid, arguing that Belarusian society has moved on and people should not be condemned by official prudery.
When the scandal first broke, Miss Kantsavenka pulled her pages from social networking sites but she has since taken an unabashed stance on the furore.
Originally published: scotsman.com