Celebrities Take Rada Seats

KIEV, Ukraine -- Adding celebrities to party lists was just one of many tricks used by political parties during the recent parliamentary elections to try to win over Ukrainian voters.

Eurovision winner Ruslana

But as nationally recognized faces like Eurovision winner Ruslana and journalist Andriy Shevchenko prepare to swear in as members of Parliament, they deny that their role is merely decorative. On the contrary, both are eager to show that they are serious politicians.

The singer and journalist secured deputy mandates after their respective factions, the Our Ukraine and Yulia Tymoshenko blocs, overcame the 3 percent barrier in the March 26 poll.

“I am ready to make drastic changes in my performance and personal schedule to be able to take part in most parliamentary meetings,” said pop singer Ruslana Lyzhychko in a March 29 interview with the Ukrainian tabloid Segodnya.

Ruslana is known to most Ukrainians as a singer who performs in her own unique ethno-hard-dance style and who won the Eurovision Song Contest in 2004. Ruslana was also recognized as the world’s best-selling Ukrainian artist at the World Music Awards in Los Angeles in the same year.

Now the 32-year-old owner of a recording studio in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, where she is from, claims that she’s changing her priorities and getting serious about politics.

“I may even consider a break in my singing career,” said Ruslana, declining to specify, however, whether she would quit performing entirely.

The singer, who actively campaigned for Our Ukraine in the months preceding the elections and was one of the artists who most often appeared on stage on Kyiv’s Maidan during the 2004 Orange Revolution, will perform at no less than two venues in Ukraine and abroad in the coming months, her official website reported.

It appears that life will remain hectic for the petite and attractive deputy, who vows to promote legislation on charitable donations, student employment and the protection of intellectual property rights as her priorities in Parliament.

The singer said she is particularly interested in introducing legal initiatives to fight CD piracy, a problem she and other artists “face every day.”

Andriy Shevchenko is also an easily recognizable face in Ukraine, especially after his stint as a leading political journalist at TV Channel 5. He thinks that the arrival of people like himself and Ruslana is an indication that Ukraine’s political scene “catastrophically needs fresh blood, which can bring new approaches to big politics.”

“I admit that some of the famous names on party lists were just attractive decorations,” said Shevchenko, recalling the legendary Ukrainian-Moldovan singer Sofia Rotaru and independent Ukraine’s first astronaut, Leonid Kadenyuk, both of whom were among the top five candidates from the bloc of parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, which did not make it into Parliament.

Shevchenko, in contrast, said he has traded journalism for politics to become “a journalists’ advocate” in the legislature. He considers himself among those who came to power “with specific projects.”

“My personal mission in the Verkhovna Rada is to create Public Television in Ukraine and to support honest and high-quality journalism,” Shevchenko said, adding that he may leave politics after his mission is completed.

The 29-year-old journalist, who ran for parliament on the Yulia Tymoshenko bloc’s list, insists that he will remain politically neutral and not join any party in the Byut bloc, in order to be able to realize his public TV project. Shevchenko dreams of creating BBC-like public TV, which would be financed by viewers’ monthly contributions and thus maintain its independence of the authorities or private owners.

Shevchenko jokingly sees himself as a “spy for journalists among the authorities,” recalling that he gave up all of his journalistic projects as soon as he accepted Tymoshenko’s offer to join Byut’s list.

“I drew a clear line between my former journalistic work and current political activity,” he said.

But Shevchenko, who’s been reporting on politics since 1994 and thus knows the inner workings of Ukrainian politics relatively well, said his journalistic past has been a real advantage in starting up his political career.

“I amassed a lot of contacts, which I used in my election campaign,” said Shevchenko. He also used to work as an instructor on media-government relations at seminars organized for politicians by international NGOs like the U.S. funded National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute.

Experienced members of parliament have mixed feelings about the arrival of ‘new blood’. Some greet the newcomers with skepticism, while others anticipate that the parliamentary routine should be more fun with the addition of these young and creative people’s deputies.

“A chess player does not always have to be good at fighting, but if he’s a talented chess player, he can be good at chess and boxing, plus manage the whole city at the same time,” said Oleksandr Feldman, a deputy with the Tymoshenko bloc.

Feldman says that the greatest example of a parliamentary ‘Mr. Congeniality’ was Mykhailo Poplavsky, who combined his duties as a deputy with amateur singing performances and management of Kyiv’s Institute of Culture and Arts.

“Unfortunately, Poplavsky did not turn out to be a great politician, but it does not mean nobody else could,” said Feldman, adding it takes about a year in parliament to see what to expect from a new deputy.

Boris Andresyuk from Lytvyn’s bloc, who has been in all three convocations of the Verkhovna Rada since 1994, says he does not generally welcome “artistic people” into parliament.

“Artists should do what they were born to do and not get into politics,” muses Andresyuk.

“From my experience, those few artistic people who did get into Parliament did not realize their political potential, while Ukraine lost what could have been a great singer or educator,” he said.

But Mykhailo Dobkin of the Yanukovych-led Party of Regions seems rather pleased with the addition of singers and journalists in the parliament’s fifth convocation. “Such people are always good, especially if they come to parliament with specific ideas,” said Dobkin.

“At least, I hope that the parliamentary sessions won’t be as boring anymore,” he said.

Source: Kyiv Post