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Four faces of Sviatoslav Vakarchuk, the rockstar running for Ukrainian Parliament

Sviatoslav Vakarchuk during the presentation. Photo: fakty.ictv
Four faces of Sviatoslav Vakarchuk, the rockstar running for Ukrainian Parliament
Edited by: Alya Shandra

On 16 May, Sviatoslav Vakarchuk, the famous frontman of the highly popular Ukrainian rock-band Okean Elzy, finally officially entered politics. On Thursday morning, in a picturesque corner of central Kyiv, he introduced his own political force – Holos (“the Voice” in Ukrainian).

Now, it is too early to estimate its rating. So far, political experts have polar opinions on the chances of Holos to enter Parliament, either in the regular elections in October or earlier, in case snap elections are held. But before they happen, let’s take a look at who Sviatoslav Vakarchuk is.

A singer, an opinion leader, ex-MP, and even a prophet – it’s all about him.

Vakarchuck the rockstar

The singer was born in western Ukraine in the family of the famous Lviv scientist Ivan Vakarchuk, who in 2007-2010 held the position of Minister of Education and Science and who also for many years headed the Ivan Franko Lviv University.

In 1994, Vakarchuk junior created the Okean Elzy rock band. In 1998, it released its first album and immediately rose to fame. By its 20th anniversary in June 2014, the band set a record – it gathered more than 70 thousand people at the Olympiyskyi Stadium in Kyiv. According to the press-office of the stadium, no western musician had managed to do the same. Okean Elzy can gather stadiums in other Ukrainian cities easily. It repeated the 2014 success of filling Olympiyskyi in Kyiv also in 2016 and 2018.

Its lyrics are often patriotic and sometimes even prophetic. In spring 2013, Okean Elzy released an album called Zemlia (the Land). Many songs predicted the events which happened later, during the Euromaidan Revolution in 2014, and afterwards, with the war in eastern Ukraine. For example, one song called “Stina” (the Wall) calls for an imaginary wall which exists between Ukrainians to fall down. The song Obiymy (Hug Me) says:

“The day will come when the war ends…”

HIs songs are motivating. Vyshyvankas (traditional Ukrainian clothing) and national flags are quite common at his concerts.

From 2013 to 2016, Vakarchuk was a judge of the famous musical TV Show “Holos Krayiny” (Ukrainian adaptation of the world format “The Voice”). The show is a product of the 1+1 channel, the same one which broadcasts all the shows of the Studio Kvartal 95 of the newly elected President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Vakarchuk the failed presidential candidate

Whether Vakarchuk will run for presidency was one of the main intrigues of the pre-campaign period in 2018. The scale of the suspense can be compared only to the intrigue of whether Zelenskyy would run or not.

“Slava [Sviatoslav] are you yes or no [going or not]? Because if you are for sure yes, or for sure no, then me too… Because if there is you and me, there are us,” these are the words from Zelenskyy’s Instagram post from June 2018. In it, he hinted that they both should run for Presidency.

The 2018 sociological polls showed Vakarchuk being supported by around 5-7% of respondents, which put him in 5th place.

However, he kept the suspense until the very last moment. At Okean Elzy’s concert at Kyiv Olympiyskyi on 24 August 2018, Ukraine’s Independence Day, all ears were tuned in to hear Vakarchuk’s important announcement. As usual, he mentioned important political topics and made a special emphasis on the need to release Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia. However the expected announcement didn’t follow. Instead people heard that the country deserves changes which start from each Ukrainian.

Still, his announcement of running for president was expected until the very last moment.

Despite Zelenskyy’s instagram post suggesting a unity between him and Vakarchuk, the rock star has been no supporter of the comedian-turned-president. Before the first round, he released a video on his YouTube-channel calling to vote “not for laughs” – a thinly veiled jab at Zelenskyy. In an earlier statement, Vakarchuk said that it is unfair to speak about the fight against oligarchs if you are connected to an oligarch yourself – hinting at Zelenskyy’s ostensible connection to oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi.

And when it wasn’t clear if he would run for presidency, Vakarchuk’s political affiliation wasn’t clear at all.

Some said that the sociological polls included him in his questionnaires to take the votes of Petro Poroshenko’s opponents. Other journalists assumed him to be supported by Viktor Pinchuk, an oligarch, media mogul and husband of ex-president Leonid Kuchma’s daughter, Mihail Fridman, a Russian oligarch and head of the supervisory board of the Alfa-Group, and the US billionaire George Soros.

Vakarchuk the future politician

On 16 May, the Social Monitoring Centre, Ukrainian Institute for Social Research, and Rating Sociological Group released the ratings of the political parties. The poll was conducted from 30 April to 10 May. According to it, these political forces would pass the needed 5% threshold and enter the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament):

  • Sluha Narodu – 39.9%
  • Opposition Platform – Za Zhyttya – 10.9%
  • Petro Poroshenko’s Bloc Solidarnist – 10.6%
  • Batkivshchyna – 9.1%
  • Chest i Syla of Ihor Smeshko – 5.1%
  • Hromadyanska Pozitsiya of Anatoliy Hrytsenko – 5%.

So far, Vakarchuk’s political force gained 0.9%. But this research was conducted before the rock star announced he was entering politics.

Some experts believe his force can become the main competitor to Zelenskyy’s Sluha Narodu. Others say that he was keeping the suspense and delaying his decision for such a long time that it’s too late for to gain the needed support.

The Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation collected some opinions.

“He had delayed his determination for too long during the presidential campaign, was unconfident, and as a result lost a big share of his rating… He can try to create a liberal-reformist power, but one should understand that the competition is very high. He will be playing on the field of the post-Maidan, pro-state electorate which already has lots of political forces. There will be Poroshenko, Tymoshenko, Hrytsenko, and Smeshko,” estimated Oleksandr Haran, professor of the Kyiv Mohyla Academy, and research director of the Democratic Initiatives Foundation.

Iryna Bekeshkina, the Head of the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, believes that Vakarchuk’s party can overcome the 5% threshold to get to the Parliament, but not by much.

“There have to be two preconditions for success: whether there will be famous and authoritative people in his team and whether he will have maximum of opportunities to appear in media,” said Bekeshkina.

Political expert Maria Zolkina does not see any chance for Vakarchuk’s party. According to her, society’s request for new faces have already been fulfilled by Zelenskyy’s party Sluha Narodu.

On the contrary, Yuriy Solovey, an MP from the Petro Poroshenko Bloc, is confident that, having a competitive team, Vakarchuk’s force can become an alternative to the Sluha Narodu.

During the announcement on Thursday, Vakarchuk said that the list of names on the party list will appear when the campaign officially launches.

“We’re interested in principles first of all. Actually, we even have thoughts that current MPs might not be in our list, even though there are a few respectable people in the Rada whom we are interested in,” Vakarchuk said.

Vakarchuk the ex-MP

In 2007-2008, Vakarchuk had already been an MP. He got into Parliament on the list of Nasha Ukrayina-Narodna Samooborona Bloc, the political force of then President Viktor Yushchenko. At that time, he was a member of the Committee on the Freedom of Speech and Information and member of groups of inter parliamentary relations.

He hadn’t drafted any bills and submitted only two amendments, one of which was taken into consideration. In December 2018, he decided to leave the Parliament. This is how he described it at that time:

“Never-ending inter-party and intra-party disputes which those who are supposed to lead Ukraine are so concerned about, demoralize society within the country, and undermine its authority internationally. The political life of the state has narrowed to a ruthless struggle for power. Its victims are not only moral principles, but also national interests, about which politicians of all colors and camps often talk,” Vakarchuk said at that time.

In these circumstances, he said, “the only way to be yourself is to leave.”

In numerous interviews afterward, he has distanced himself from politics.

The new waves of expectations from him started appearing in society in 2017 when he went to participate in a leadership course at Stanford.

It seems that nowadays his views have changed.

Edited by: Alya Shandra
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