Author: Eduard Steiner
Published: REPORT. Magazine for Arts and Civil Society in Eastern- and Central Europe, September 2005

Eduard Steiner
(born in 1968) is stationed in Moscow for the Austrian daily newspaper “Der Standard”. He also covers the CIS and the Baltic countries as a correspondent.

Ruslana Lyzhichko

 

“It's easier to breathe in Ukraine”

The Euro-vision of Ukraine's pop-icon Ruslana Lyzhichko after the Orange Revolution

Do you prefer to talk about music or about politics?
About music of course, politics are boring.

Nevertheless, how do you feel in Ukraine eight months after the revolution?
For Ukraine this is probably the happiest moment. Only last week we celebrated Independence Day in a great atmosphere. I can see that people are happy. If you ask me, politics that don't interfere with people living their lives are good politics. At present politics don't interfere any more. I am a happy person and my only wish is that things get better in the future.

Can one still feel the mood of change that came with the revolution?
I think that, if there were a need, people would gather to protest again in a matter of seconds. The impression made by the revolution has affected all of us deeply. Mostly people are proud of the fact that everything went peacefully and happily – without a drop of blood being spilt. Nobody wanted to take up arms. If I ever hear of any attacks, fights or war-like acts these days I am certain of one thing: that the whole thing could also be solved peacefully.

What has really changed in Ukraine? The people?
Yes the people certainly, but a lot else too. A great number of new projects have been started right up to now – economic or cultural projects. There is a new drive, a new movement with new ideas. It seems to me that Europe, too, was greatly relieved when Ukraine decided to take the path of democracy.

Not everybody sees the changes in this way. It is being said that there is little movement along the path of reform. Also, elections will be held shortly and a bitter election campaign has already started.
No. Write it the way I said it to you: that is that politics no longer interferes with our lives. It is easier to breathe in Ukraine and that is the most important thing. If you can breathe easily then everything else depends just on you yourself. Everybody can say what he or she wants. Everybody can do what he or she wants. That is freedom. After the events of the revolution people throughout Europe started showing great interest in Ukrainian culture and traditions. With all its potential Ukraine will have a great deal to offer. This cannot happen in a few days but it will happen. I cannot vouch for politics but I am certain about culture.

Did it surprise you that so many people took to the streets?
You know, most of them, like myself, did not believe that something like this could happen here. They asked: “can this possibly be us”. It seems to me that something came from above, almost like a miracle. I don't want to boast that Ukraine has successfully produced a model for peaceful democratisation but an association of this kind that nobody could predict or plan, let alone organize is, quite simply, astonishing. Nobody knew how things would develop in the future. Everything was spontaneous. It's hard to describe in words.

You yourself were very actively involved in the protests, also through your hunger strike. It was repeatedly said that you had been bought or forced.
I only do what I want. I cannot be bought. I do not calculate my value in money. Money has no meaning for me. In fact I want to be far removed from politics. I am an art person. But I have always been aware of what was being done in my name – this was the case even before the revolution. That all depressed me and made me furious. This was part of the reason that I supported the revolution. The hunger strike was my own initiative aimed at attracting Europe's attention. The situation had become very volatile and one had to act quickly. I am not a political figure, but if I am associated with the revolution today then I find that is a good thing, because it was one of the major events in my life, like winning the Eurovision Song Contest.

You perform a great deal in the West. Do you a notice a difference in the way the Ukraine is perceived nowadays?
Yes, a great difference, especially in Germany. We do, after all, have something to offer: fantastic classical music, a great culture, wonderful folklore and folk traditions. In Europe this interest is growing. Previously little was known about Ukraine, although it is a huge country with a population of fifty million.

In your opinion how great is the difference between Ukraine and Western Europe?
One can and must see Ukraine as a European country. It is a democratic society that has shown what the people's attitude is to freedom and democracy – i.e. to the norms according to which Europe lives. At the same time Ukraine has its special characteristics and culture. It is a very exotic country and yet part of Europe.

You also have a lot to do with Ukrainian youth. Where do they see their future?
Very many of them attempt to study or work in Europe and then return to Ukraine. Most of them wish to belong to the European family.

But in eastern Ukraine people think differently...
Young people in Ukraine are progressive, both those in the west and in the east. I often perform in the east of the country where very different opinions prevailed during the revolution. I am very well received there, they sing my songs, they are proud of my victory. I love them and they love me. The gaze of young people has always been directed on the future, they have always been interested in striving towards places where different opportunities, knowledge and experience are open to them. They see Europe as embodying all of this. We, for our part, will offer our contribution to Europe with great pleasure and interest, with the aim of making joint ventures. Incidentally, I am involved in several projects with Austria, I have recently worked on new shows for Germany, Belgium, Holland, England, and even Turkey...

What contribution can Ukraine make to the EU?
You know, sometimes it seems to me that Europe has reached a certain level of development and has adopted a more leisurely pace and is now travelling along a fine, level road, at a smooth, relaxed pace. It seems to me you can certainly travel like this but not for long because you always need something new – a fresh wind, fresh thoughts and ideas. Europe's sedate movement sometimes makes me think that a lot of people don't want to change anything. Perhaps Europe is afraid of the new. This is something I don’t understand, because I am the kind of person who loves change. You can live a certain period of your life in a balanced, planned and organized way but then you will always want to change something. Every change means evolution, the development of humanity. Ukraine has such a rich history and culture and also such great human potential: when we join the EU it will mean a certain amount of development for everybody.

You also perform in the by and large authoritarian CIS. What do register about the mood of people there?
I have been in Georgia, in Moldova, in Kyrgyzstan and now I am going to travel to Azerbaijan. Naturally everybody wants to move forward and develop. They all have interesting ideas, shared European ideas. I can't speak for other countries but I have heard these opinions and thoughts expressed.

Also in Russia?
It is very difficult to assess the situation in Russia and I say this not because I am afraid to make a comment on the situation there but because Russia is a huge country – with great ambitions, with a huge culture, a great empire with great traditions. Therefore there are very many different opinions: there are those that want to ban the colour orange forever, and others that want to have their revolution, too. Russia is very heterogeneous and large, the more freedom in Russia the better it will be for all of us. Whatever the case, as soon as I hear that revolutions are starting anywhere I shall pray to God that everything goes quietly and peacefully.