And By The Way ...Here she is, Miss U.S.S.R.

MOSCOW -- Yulia Sukhanova, 17, a stately blond schoolgirl from Moscow, won the first-ever Miss U.S.S.R. beauty contest Sunday in an American-style pageant that included a swimsuit competition.

The contest culminated two years of regional competition in beauty contests, which have become the national rage in an era of 'glasnost,' or openness. Pageants have been staged even in the smallest kolkhozes, or state farms, sparking a kind of ethusiasm normally reserved for soccer games.


Sukhanova was selected over 34 other contestants in the Soviet Union's first nationwide beauty contest, broadcast live on television Sunday night.

She not only won the hearts of the judges but also the nationwide television audience, according to a telephone survey conducted during the final round.

The high school student told interviewers her favorite subject was ecology but she also is keen on aerobics and prefers an extravagant style in fashion.

The contestants, whose gowns kept slipping off their shoulders and had to be continuously yanked backed into place, paraded in front of the judges to a medley of tunes in a U.S.-style contest that included an acting segment and a bathing suit competition.

In the acting portion, the girls had to convey a range of emotions, first by declaring their love for someone and later by shouting, 'Fire!'


As in the earlier rounds of competition in the capital, photographers clicked away at the contestants throughout the pageant, which was partly underwritten by such foreign sponsors as British Airways.

Beauty contests previously were unheard of in the Soviet Union but quickly blossomed under the more tolerant style of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

The idea for beauty contests in the Soviet Union originated in Estonia and soon spread to other republics. Last year Masha Kalinina, 17, a high school student, became a household name when she was crowned Miss Moscow.

The final contestants in Sunday's pageant emerged from more than 500 regional contests held across the Soviet Union, all of which were televised locally.

Contests have been held from Vladivostok on the Pacific to Minsk in Byelorussia in competitions that newspapers described as taking on the fervor of soccer matches, with each school rooting for the hometown favorite.

But there have been recurrent problems in the pageants -- slip-shod productions, ill-fitting gowns that kept slipping off -- problems that prompted Kalinina to complain publicly following her winning performance a year ago.

As in other countries, winning a Soviet beauty pageant can open doors of opportunity. One contestant was asked whether Miss U.S.S.R. should be a member of the new Soviet parliament, which is to convene its inaugural session Thursday.


'Of course, if she knows enough,' the girl answered.

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