Former priest and scriptwriter announces presidential plans

(RIA Novosti / Artem Zhitenev)
Controversial media figure and ex-priest Ivan Okhlobystin has announced his intention for the presidency in 2012. Politicians and analysts were extremely skeptical, but the public has received the news with enthusiasm.

As President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin continue to keep the media and public in the dark concerning their plans for the 2012 presidential poll, the rapidly approaching race has started to attract marginal media figures, such as Ivan Okhlobystin.

On Monday, Okhlobystin told a press conference in Moscow that he was joining the presidential race. Although his political program seemed to lack substance, he did say that the presidential term should be raised to 14 years as “even a man of not the highest morals would feel full over this period and would think about something else.” He is also in favor of restoring the army. Okhlobystin said nothing about his political preferences, only mentioning that he disliked the parliament in general for their “lack of resolute decisions.”

Okhlobystin, who currently is the creative director in a major Russian mobile retailer, has a recognizable face. He appears in his company’s abundant and overwhelming ads of new handhelds. But even without this benefit, Okhlobystin has done enough in his life to give almost every Russian an idea who he is. He started as a movie scriptwriter with occasional roles in films, but then surprised everyone by becoming a Russian Orthodox priest. Recently, Okhlobystin surprised the public again when he announced that he quit the priesthood and returned to the cinema, reportedly for financial reasons. He subsequently played a character in a comedy series about doctors. Following on the heels of that relative success, he was accepted a creative director post.

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church PR department, Vsevolod Chaplin, said on Monday that Okhlobystin remained a priest even though he was removed from service by his own request. Chaplin said the official stance of the church is unambiguous – clerics are prohibited from joining political elections whereby they could potentially represent the people. In Chaplin’s view, this included elections to the presidency since the president “represented his people.” Even when the Tsar was elected, a jester could run, but a priest could not, Chaplin added.

Incidentally, Okhlobystin played a mentally ill jester in the 2009 Russian film, Tsar, which told the story of Ivan the Terrible.

Opposition politician Eduard Limonov, who is also a successful writer, said he did place much faith in Okhlobystin’s success as a politician. “I think that popular people, actors and musicians often exaggerate their importance and their political weight… I think no one will take Okhlobystin seriously in the world of politics,” Limonov remarked.

The Russian public, however, took the news with unnatural enthusiasm, especially over the internet chat rooms. The word “Okhlobystin” soon topped the trends of twitter and bloggers.

Such reaction could actually be what Okhlobystin initially aimed at as the man is launching his own live talk show at Moscow’s largest stadium Luzhniki in the coming weekend. Okhlobystin himself promised that he will be talking about the major philosophical issues in a serious way and said that the budget of the show was about 20 million rubles ($700 000). The outdoor advertising for the show is very strong and lasted for over a month.