No need to be jealous of Oscar. Anyone can become a star. For an hour, from Monday to Thursday at 7:30 p.m on TRK Ukraina TV channel, and for four hours non-stop on Friday night at 9:25 p.m., Verkhovna Rada deputies and ministers have their moments of fame. The celebrity program has a name: “Shuster Live.”
The Ukrainian deputies and ministers come to the studio to prepare for star host Savik Shuster’s show. They are clean-shaven and wear good suits. They have expensive footwear and long socks. When they enter the hall, they get applause and they bow. They don’t ask themselves what the applause is for and whether a deputy or a minister should bow like an artist.
There are no questions like these at all because, on “Shuster Live,” they live out the rotten intrigues of the Verkhovna Rada. They hash over the loathsomeness of colleagues in enemy factions, the horror of government lobbyists for sale. The main event is the professional and juicy destruction of each other in front of millions of TV viewers. They pour buckets of slop over the other guy’s head. Flickering in their hands are compromising materials, sheets of deciphered phone calls, bits of paper with statistics and bundles of appeals.
Everyone takes part in this public entertainment. Your faction or party means nothing if you have not come here and have not gotten applause. If you sit in the Rada and try to simply solve the problem of how to stop the country from falling into the abyss, you’re out of fashion.
In the office, you’re supposed to do your homework to solve the problem. In the studio, you can strike the opponent with your phrase: “The solution is obvious.” And then you loudly announce your solution, stamping your colleague into the dirt. Then you’re to listen to others trample on you in this nonsensical illusion of life. The studio is even graced by the prime minister, but only to curse her president in front of the whole country; the president does the same.
The four record-breaking hours in terms of TV audience share are not just a parody of politics and a way to discredit authority. This is a special offer to all citizens: Let’s destroy this country together! Sitting in the same studio are 100 citizens of Ukraine representing a cross-section of society. They laugh, frown and applaud.
The phrases about corruption are especially popular. That’s why those actor politicians especially fight to have their phrases repeated in the final moments of the program. It does not matter that everyone is ears-deep in corruption. It’s important to talk about it with the same temperament as when demanding bribes.
A hundred selected citizens, having forgotten their right to cut short this mockery of themselves, watch with interest as their futures are being buried live on TV. This is their star time too: They’ll be talking for months about how they came to the studio and saw for themselves how repulsive all these officials are.
A week later, they will be back again because the studio is beautiful, warm and bright. Beyond its walls are layoffs, price hikes and terrible roads. The spectators are convinced that they are above those dressed-up clowns and have more principles because every time they press the “no” button on their gadget when the question is asked about whether they trust those in power.
But they are co-authors of this absurdity because they applaud everything: the leftists and the rightists, calls to sweep away “these corrupt leaders” and calls to leave them alone. They rejoice when they hear insults and rejoice the calls to stop these insults. There is one thing they do not do. They fail to ask: Why has public relations replaced politics? Why are they paying for it with their taxes? When is all of this going to end?
The audience has acquiesced to the notion that deputies do not solve problems, find compromises and develop a common course of action, but are performers. Citizens think this is the right way because those very showmen have explained to them that this is freedom of speech. But in Ukraine, when the show ends, everyone goes their way. Deputies walk to their expensive cars. Spectators go to currency exchanges to buy dollars because the hryvnia continues to crash.
And when everyone leaves, the only person left in the studio is Savik Shuster, a talented journalist, the star of this staggering show. He barely says more than a couple of dozen phrases during the show. He is a professional and simply does not interrupt the guests. And that’s when they strip down themselves.
Matvei Ganapolskiy is a Ukrainian-born journalist working in Russia. This opinion piece was originally published in Korrespondent magazine on March 5.