Who is Ksenia Sobchak?

  • Rusia
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  • 598 Views
  • 30 December 2017

An unlikely presidential candidate, in 2017 socialite and TV personality, Ksenia Sobchak, announced her intention to run in the Russian Presidential Election 2018. She claimed this would be an ‘against all’[1] bid for the presidency.

Ksenia Sobchak will be the first woman to run for the Russian presidency in fourteen years. This move was greeted with cynicism and intrigue in Russia and the West alike.

So who is the woman labelled ‘Russia’s Paris Hilton’?

Sobchak (36) was born in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) and showed an aptitude for the arts early on. She attended a school connected to the famous Mariinsky Theatre and Hermitage Art School. She would later obtain a degree in politics from Moscow’s State Institute for International Relations (MGIMO).

Her father, Anatoly, was the first democratically elected mayor of St. Petersburg and helped draft the Russian constitution. Some refer to Anatoly as Vladimir Putin’s political mentor, who served as his deputy before becoming prime minister and president.

Sobchak rose to fame hosting the often-controversial reality-TV show Dom-2 (pronounced ‘domdva’). She also hosted a selection of other reality-TV shows, and would eventually leave Dom-2 in 2012 when the show was cancelled (more on this later).

In 2010, she began hosting Freedom of Thought on Russia’s Channel 5, although soon left the program claiming not to enjoy it.

Since 2011, she has hosted Sobchak Live on the privately owned and self-proclaimed ‘politically independent’ TV channel, Dozhd’.

Sobchak has also worked as a magazine editor, modeled for Playboy and had several acting jobs.

According to Forbes, she was the tenth highest paid celebrity in Russia in 2017, earning $2.1million. This is down from fifth place a few years ago.

Sobchak has become more politically active in recent years, being critical of Russia’s political system, but not Putin personally. Prior to this, little indicated she would seek a political career like her father.

Her first public criticisms came against a youth group leader and government minister, Vasili Yakemenko. At a restaurant, Sobchak loudly said that it was not surprising to see a celebrity drinking expensive champagne, “but what is a member of the government doing here?” Her video of this event went viral.

During the Russian protests of 2012, Sobchak delivered her so-called ‘Snow Revolution speech’. She claimed that she was not against Putin, but against the system, stating that she did not want to change politics, but influence politics. After her ‘Snow Revolution’ speech, investigators showed up at Sobchak’s flat unannounced. After this incident, Dom-2 was cancelled and Sobchak was banned from appearing on state-owned TV channels. She recently appeared on Rossiya 1 with Andrei Malakhov, however.

At first, Sobchak put herself forward as an independent candidate. However,‘Civil Initiative’ has nominated her and she has since joined the party. Civil Initiative has no national representation.

In a letter to Russian newspaper Vedomosti, Sobchak claimed to be a pro-business and pro-rights candidate. She opposes sexual and gender discrimination, has proposed to reform education, the court system and wants to privatise large state corporations. She also opposes Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, something the overwhelming majority of Russians supported. Sobchak has also vowed to end corruption in Russia’s political system.

Different liberal groups and opposition parties have been conflicted as to whether or not to support her candidacy. Alexei Navalny for instance labelled Sobchak a ‘Kremlin stooge’, who is only running to add legitimacy to Russia’s elections and increase her own personal profile. Navalny has been prohibited from running due to a suspended criminal conviction.

The latest Levada poll has Sobchak at 1%, behind all other notable candidates. While Sobchak has the benefit of being a household name, another poll by VTsIOM revealed her the ‘least trusted’ of the potential candidates.

[1] ‘Against-all’ is a reference to the ‘none of the above’ option Russians may select when voting. The term ‘protivvsekh’ (противвсех) literally translates as ‘against all’.

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