The World

Imagine if Bruce Springsteen were in Congress. “The Boss” could try to translate his politically-charged lyrics into law. Well, that’s sort of what you have in Ukraine. Slava Vakarchuk is the country’s most famous rocker. He’s the lead singer for the group Okean Elzy. And he’s a freshman lawmaker in the Ukrainian Parliament. The World’s Jason Margolis has today’s global hit from Kiev.

Four years ago, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets of Kiev for the “Orange Revolution.” They were calling for fair elections and democracy.

They waved orange flags and swayed to rock ballads like this song, “Almost Spring” by the band Okean Elzy.

Slava Vakarchuk sings “It’s almost spring behind the window. And, oh god, how unexpectedly she alters my entire future. My future and my life.”

Slava Vakarchuk says don’t make too much of his poetry.

VAKARCHUK: “It was written 5 years ago at the end of February, and when it began to become warmer. And I felt some spring in my heart, it was like the girls look better. Inside you feel better, things like that.”

So a pleasant song about girls wearing sun dresses became an anthem for change.

Vakarchuk says most of his songs are about love, not politics or building a new society. Still a popular singer’s oblique words can become rallying cries.

In this song, Vakarchuk repeats the refrain “I won’t give in without a fight.”

It’s easy to interpret this as a call for social change, especially when Vakarchuk was out singing songs like this in front of hundreds of thousands.

But Vakarchuk says this song isn’t about revolution either. It’s about a man trying to save his relationship with a woman.

But just because Vakarchuk’s lyrics aren’t as politically motivated as some people might think, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t care deeply about his country.

Vakarchuk says he watched his homeland transition from totalitarianism, to near chaos, to unchecked corruption. And he decided that he had to do more than just sing.

VAKARCHUK: “Sometimes you feel that, if not you, then who? I’m quite skeptical on the perspectives on the perspectives of this parliament, but not skeptical at all of perspectives of country in terms of future, maybe not nearest, but maybe 5, 10 years. Because I see new generation that is coming, and these people are suffering from mistakes of their parents and they need to change something.”

Vakarchuk doesn’t look like a classic politician. He sports a shaggy, 70’s rocker hairstyle, a stubbly beard, and one too many of his shirt buttons are undone.

Varkarchuk is not the only singer-turned-politician here.

The midriff-baring pop star known as Ruslana recently served a year in Parliament.

Singers like Ruslana and Vakarchuk serve a purpose says Savak Shuster, who hosts Ukraine’s most popular political TV news program. Their purpose is to get young people engaged in politics.

SHUSTER: “Sometimes in countries like Ukraine you need a moral stance. You need it. Sometimes you need to have a person who has credibility, you know, say among the young at least. So sometimes you need somebody who can say things openly and he’s trusted, at least by a part of the population. That’s his function.”

Varkarchuk says he’s not sure how long he’ll serve in Parliament. Right now he’s says he’s pretty disillusioned with his government.

VARKARCHUK: “I want to do something for this country. And I will continue doing that. And I will continue making efforts. But I’m not sure you need to sit in the parliament doing nothing, it’s not a thing that helps the country.”

Whether it’s through his music or his work in parliament, Varkarchuk says the goal is the same: He wants to help shape a new Ukrainian identity, whatever that may be.

For the World, I’m Jason Margolis, Kiev, Ukraine.

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