Pop Music as Key Tool in Armenian Elections

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As the race for Armenia's presidency heats up, with candidates hurling abuse at each other and gunshots fired outside campaign offices, pop music has emerged as a propaganda tool in this increasingly fierce struggle for power. Last week, Serzh Sargsyan, the current prime minister and the favored candidate of the political establishment, deployed Armenia's 2008 Eurovision Song Contest hopeful, Sirusho, as he chased the youth vote.

Sirusho is a cheerful but chaste-looking former child star who seems to specialize in romantic ballads with an ethnic twist. She is one of a series of Armenian pop stars who have joined the Sargsyan roadshow and have publicly supported Serzh.

When it comes to sugar-sweet choruses and faux R&B grooves, the opposition candidates seem to be lagging behind. But Levon Ter-Petrosyan, the first president of post-Soviet Armenia who recently made a dramatic comeback and is a candidate for the top job again, does have a feisty little ringtone available for download from his web site, featuring a campaign-trail chant over a breathless house groove. It's called "Struggle," which fits nicely with the clenched-fist campaign logo and Warhol-style portrait on the site. Meanwhile, Ter-Petrosyan seeks to portray himself as the righteous avenger riding into town to confront a ruling elite.

And yet none of this comes close to the awesome propaganda spectacles staged by Mikheil Saakashvili during his recent campaign for re-election as the president of Georgia. As well as a high-tech traveling musical revue, there were also specially produced pop songs, one of which even managed to weave Saakashvili's policy priorities -- joining NATO and winning back Georgia's breakaway regions -- into a lyric titled "Misha is Cool."

Inevitably, many pop stars who publicly commit themselves to politicians are doing it out of self-interest: literally, singing for their suppers. Ukrainian rocker Oleg Skrypka, one of the musical heroes of Orange Revolution, once told me that some of those who played for Viktor Yushchenko during the 2004 election had switched sides after previously backing his opponent. "Pop is prostitution, so it was normal for them," Skrypka said. "It was like at a market when you discuss the price. They discussed the price being offered by each candidate, but when they saw Yushchenko winning, they became the No. 1 revolutionaries."

Skrypka, of course, proved his commitment to his cause in subfreezing temperatures behind the barricades of Kiev. How many other singers would do the same if they were put to the test?

Matthew Collin is a journalist in Tbilisi.