Successful career changers: From the stage to the political circus

Singers, cabaret artists and actors shook the political landscape in several countries. Would that also be possible in Austria?

“Damn country, incompetent politicians, they take themselves seriously and can’t take a joke, they relaxed their asses in heavy chairs,” Slavi Trifonov had put out in his earlier life as a musician. Now his party “There is such a country” is the second strongest force in Bulgaria.

More than 17 percent of voters gave him their vote in the election in early April – a success nobody had expected. A government was not formed, election winner Boiko Borissow cannot rest in his chair – there will be another election in July.

The power problem

Once again, Trifonov, a career changer from the cultural sector, caused a political earthquake in his country – such as Beppe Grillo in Italy or Volodimir Selensky in the Ukraine. But what drives voters to place their trust in a comedian, singer or TV presenter?

“On the one hand, of course, it is the awareness, on the other hand, often the criticism of the established system that the candidates can use it to channel. Arnold Schwarzenegger was also able to take advantage of a crisis in the established system in California, for example, ”said political scientist Thomas Hofer in an interview with KURIER.

These factors have already brought some former artists to power. But what then? “I’m not interested in power, that’s what sets me apart from Selensky and Grillo,” said Trifonov during the election campaign. He proved that at the government negotiations. It remains to be seen whether this will bring him success in the new election.

In any case, the founder of the “five-star movement”, Beppe Grillo, is moving towards the establishment with the support of the Italian prime minister Mario Draghi. A decision that has a positive effect on the survey results. 17 percent would currently vote for the “five stars”. Even if this value is miles away from the election result in 2018 (33 percent) – things are looking up.

Corruption and mismanagement

On the other hand, Volodimir Selensky has crashed in the past few months. The Ukrainian president failed to keep his promises, and corruption and mismanagement continue to prevail in the country. The former cabaret artist has to face a test with the tensions on the Russian border.

All over the world, artists have changed and are changing onto the political stage. From Iceland (Jón Gnarr, Mayor of Reykjavík from 2010 to 2014) to Slovenia (Marjan Šarec, Premier from 2018 to 2020), from the Philippines (Joseph Estrada, President from 1998 to 2001) to Brazil (Gilberto Gil, Minister of Culture from 2003 to 2008).

Established politicians have found two answers to this phenomenon: either prominent personalities are presented as lateral entrants, such as the former Indian model Smriti Irani, who has been Minister of Textiles since 2016. Or else, the party stages itself as a movement: “Emmanuel Macron has succeeded in doing this in France with a new platform, and Sebastian Kurz has also tried to use it symbolically. Even if, in view of the current debates, the ‘new style’ is reminiscent of a frozen post horn tone, ”says Hofer.


New style? Macron and Kurz

And Austria?

Would a career change from culture be conceivable in Austria too? Hofer: “If you do it right, if you have a well-known and respected personality, something like this is also possible in Austria.”

Frank Stronach – not an artist, but a career changer – has shown this potential. “If he hadn’t harmed himself with his bizarre appearances, it would have turned out more.”


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