As Ukraine goes to the polls, the squabbling leaders of the three main parties are in danger of being outshone by the stars of rock and pop who performed at their rallies.
Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, lead vocalist of Okean Elzy, one of Ukraine’s most popular bands, has become a figurehead of President Viktor Yushchenko’s pro-western party.
Verka Serdyuchka, a transvestite who was runner-up in this year’s Eurovision song contest, has been performing at rallies on behalf of Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Moscow prime minister, who has hired Paul Manafort, an American political consultant, to remake his hard-line image as an anticorruption reformer.
Yulia Tymoshenko, the firebrand leader of the third party, who interrupted her campaign to fly to London to meet her heroine Baroness Thatcher, has gigs by her British son-in-law Sean Carr, the lead singer of the Death Valley Screamers. He has a song in the Ukrainian charts.
Politics and rock music have become entwined in the former Soviet republic, where no big campaign meeting is complete without a concert.
The main contenders have spent millions of pounds hiring bands during an election in which, for the third time since 2004, the country has the choice of closer ties to the West or a return to the Russian orbit.
The rock phenomenon has its roots in the orange revolution three years ago after presidential elections were rigged by Yanukovych’s camp.
The protests went on for weeks in freezing weather and the demonstrators’ spirits were sustained by many of the country’s best known rock, rap and pop
The musicians who exhorted their listeners to support the orange pro- democracy campaigners led by Yushchenko and Tymoshenko were credited not only with entertaining the crowds but also with winning over new supporters.
When Ruslana Lyzhychko, the winner of that year’s Eurovision, publicly declared her support for the orange camp, there was a surge in support.
She went on to run successfully for Yushchenko’s party in parliamentary elections last year. Although she has since stood down as an MP, she sang at several election meetings during the latest campaign.
At a rally in the western city of Lviv, Vakarchuk, a rock icon in Ukraine, played to thousands, including pensioners, children and businessmen. Between songs, he explained why they should vote for the president’s party. He is expected to be elected an MP tonight.
The rap band Tartak, veterans of the 2004 revolution, play at Yushchenko’s rallies. Sashko Polozhynskyi, its frontman, said: “In Britain and the West, democracy doesn’t need rock bands to defend it. But in Ukraine we are still striving for true democracy.”
At a meeting last week Tymoshenko showed she has a strong singing voice of her own. She joined a backing band to perform a pop ballad that was one of the anthems of the orange revolution.