Page last updated at 17:22 GMT, Thursday, 14 May 2009 18:22 UK

It's pop not politics for Ukraine

By Paul Henley
BBC World Service, Moscow

FROM THE BBC WORLD SERVICE
Ani Lorak

When Ukrainian pop diva, Ani Lorak, arrived at the BBC's Moscow Bureau for an interview with the BBC World Service, she caused quite a stir amongst those in her vicinity.

The multi-million album selling singer, who is a household name in Russia and in her native Ukraine, arrived by chauffeur-driven car, dressed in skin-tight jeans, towering stilettos, a white ruffled blouse and a black patent-leather belt.

My colleague had to be dispatched to secure a cafe table for her, before a minder, sheltering her from the Moscow rain, escorted her all of five metres across the pavement and safely indoors.

One black coffee and an autograph for an eager waitress later, Ani Lorak was enthusing about the annual phenomenon which is the Eurovision Song Contest.

"Eurovision is a fantastic chance to show yourself, to find new friends, new possibilities," Ani told me.

"It's truly international. It makes people together, makes one step for understanding each other."

Last year in Belgrade, she brought the house down with her rendition of a song called Shady Lady - the highlight of which, apart from some powerful top notes, involved her striking a series of silhouetted poses in a silver mini-dress in front of boxes of white light.

All in the hips

Such was the impact of her performance that she cheerfully acknowledges that she will probably always be known as the "Shady Lady" now.

Ani Lorak at Eurovision 2008
Ani Lorak wearing "that" dress at last year's Eurovision

In full view of a bemused heavyweight Russian political commentator waiting to be interviewed about President Medvedev's reforms, Ani Lorak was not above teaching me the same poses in the louvered windows of the bureau manager's office.

"I think you must move hip a little more to left," she encourages me.

Her impromptu performance did little for the political commentator who later declared that Eurovision contestants were often "uneducated, primitive".

But Ani Lorak is undeterred by those who dismiss Eurovision as nothing but fluff.

She argues that Eurovision's main triumph is that its brings genuine enjoyment into people's lives.

And let's face it, recession-bound Europe is in much need of a little escapism right now.

It is a view that may be lost on the more serious members of the BBC's Russian service, who clearly feel something unsuitable has been brought in their door.

But there are many, not just die-hard fans of Eurovision, who will always idolise her, who find her enthusiasm and star quality irresistible.

Politics

Her commercial success crosses a difficult boundary between countries which, especially in recent years, have been struggling to maintain civilised relations.

The politics of representing Russia's rebellious neighbour are not lost on Ani Lorak.

Ukraine's authorities have been reviled in the Kremlin since the Orange Revolution and the shift towards more pro-Europe policies that followed.

I don't want to concentrate on negative political moments of Eurovision, because music is what I am
Ani Lorak

Then there was the long-running dispute between the two countries last winter over unpaid gas bills. Russia eventually cut off supplies to Ukraine.

And could tainted relations between the two countries even have robbed Ani of victory at Eurovision 2008?

Despite describing herself as a "maximum positive person," Ani suspects it was politics that saw Ukraine beaten by Russia in the final of last year's Eurovision.

Russia's win is the reason this year's contest is in Moscow.

Whether she is suggesting anything underhand took place is unclear.

Not surprising then, that tensions between Russia and Ukraine at this year's contest are already bubbling to the surface.

The fact that Russia's entrant, Anastasia Prikhodko, was born in Ukraine and sings partly in Ukrainian has been greeted with outrage on both sides of the border from people who think she is either a traitor or an imposter.

Ani Lorak's refuses to be drawn on the subject, but says it must all be about the music.

A new system of expert juries voting as well as TV viewers makes her optimistic for a better outcome this year.

"I hope the best song will win," she says.

"I don't want to concentrate on negative political moments of Eurovision, because music is what I am. Music is my religion."

As our interview draws to a close, the "Shady Lady" laughs delightedly at the photos of the two of us striking her famous poses, recreating Eurovision in a hushed office.

She signs a copy of her new CD and then sweeps from the building to her waiting car - leaving me feeling ready for a conversion.



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