Volodymyr Zelensky: From sitcom to presidency

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The ‘charismatic’ war chief of Ukraine: Volodymyr fights for his country to stay green. (File photo) © Ukrainian Presidential Press Office / DPA

Can political fiction become reality? He works in Ukraine: Volodymyr Zelensky went from sitcom to president – and finally to a world figure.

Kyiv / MUNICH – This political reality finds its way onto screens as fiction: nothing extraordinary. Think Watergate and the hit movie The Untouchables. However, this political fantasy that becomes reality, is an absolute exception. Perhaps never before. Yet it happened. Far from Hollywood, in Ukraine – the hero of the crazy story is called Volodymyr Zelensky. That’s Zelensky, who suddenly became a figure in world politics in the Ukrainian conflict. Few believed that it was possible.

Volodymyr Zelensky as a “servant of the people”? Fantasy series become reality in 2019

In 2015, Zelenskyj was a comedian. Not more but no less. In the comedy “The Servant of the People” he plays the main role – a history teacher who, like a virgin for a child, comes to the post of head of state. In fiction, angry speech shot at random by a high school student is the key to his rocketing ascent. “We have the choice between plague and cholera, and we’ve been for 25 years!” His students had just been commissioned to build polling booths: “Nothing will change this time either, and do you know why? Because you and Dad are going to pick a pig like this again!”

Four years later, the 41-year-old Joker ran for office, and the similarities with fictional characters were, of course, purely coincidental rather than intentional. In an interview with Agence France-Presse before election day, Silinsky said he had “no experience”. But he’s already learning for his possible new assignment: “After all, I don’t want to sound stupid.” Those familiar with the series may have thought of another sequence with this sentence: With a nut in his mouth, Holoborodko elected to rehearse his “Volks Servant” on clean pronunciation – so as not to sound like an idiot during his opening speech.

Volodymyr Zelensky (right) 2018 in his old life as a clown - partner Yvn Kochovi
Volodymyr Zelensky (right) on a live tour in 2018 – Partner Yevhen Kochovi plays Foreign Minister in ‘Servant of the People’. © Alexandre Joseph/Imago

Like his serial ego, Zelenskyj finally achieved a landslide victory in April 2019. Even if only in the run-off against his predecessor Petro Poroshenko. But the fun actually ended quickly.

Ukraine crisis: Putin criticized Zelensky in the first week

Because the overarching theme of Zelensky’s presidency from the start has been the deeply strained relationship with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Almost immediately after Election Day, Russia began issuing citizenship to citizens of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic – an insult, if not an escalation. In one of his first acts, Zelensky warned Putin against talking to Ukraine in the language of “threats and military and economic pressure.”

Meanwhile, Zelensky himself has put peace in eastern Ukraine at the top of his political agenda. The result is known – with a slight delay. Meanwhile, all of Ukraine is at the center of a bloody war and crisis of global proportions.

Some Ukrainians feared the worst after the actor, who himself comes from the Russian-speaking industrial city of Kryvyi Rig, won the election. Trust in the country was low.

Zelensky as president: doubts, but also respect – “it does not work poorly”

Compared to some of his predecessors, Zelensky’s early tenure seemed solid in the past. However, judgment on his work was divided. The fact that his first steps on the international political stage were reluctant to strengthen confidence in Zelensky at first. “I think our international partners are having great difficulty with him,” said Ukrainian political scientist Mykola Davyduk. “You’re playing at a very high level that he can’t reach – and he can’t understand.”

But behind closed doors, some diplomats were impressed by the way the former comedian handled the crisis with Moscow. “Honestly, it’s not bad,” a diplomat was quoted by AFP as saying. Selenskyj keeps a calm head. “He has an impossible job, he’s stuck between the pressure of both the Russians and the Americans.”

Ukraine: Zelenskyj has become an international icon – “charisma is an essential trait”

Just a few weeks later, Silinsky desperately needed a calm head: the threatening scenario of Russian military maneuvers around the Ukrainian border turned into a hot war of aggression by the Kremlin. For a long time, Ukraine seemed to be militarily inferior – but Zelensky did not think about giving up. In Kyiv, the president played what many experts consider an iconic social media keyboard game.

Silinsky did not escape, remained in Kyiv and since then appeared in an olive green shirt. Through the video messages that he sent to his people, as well as to the Russian people, he gained respect all over the world. “Four months ago, everyone crossed his name. He was politically bankrupt,” said prominent historian Adam Toze. South Germans. However, Russia did not have the Ukrainian’s skills in the virtual space when slipping. “What Zelensky has achieved should not be underestimated: charisma is an essential political trait, and if there was nothing behind it, it would be even more impressive.”

Selenskyj works with the West according to every trick in the book

German Eastern European expert Marieluz Beck also paid tribute to Selenskyj in an ARD documentary: Beck explained that his appearance seemed “totally authentic” to her. It is now clear that Russia may have underestimated the Ukrainian resistance – and Zelensky played a role in the ongoing resistance. The former president of the sitcom also demonstrated his oratory skills in his video speeches in the parliaments of all countries. Zelensky was awarded the Bundestag with historical honor, addressing the US Congress as “a potential world leader”, before the Israeli Knesset drew comparisons to the crimes of Nazi Germany. Sanctions and aid from the international community have increased – although the often-claimed no-fly zone remains dangerously high.

However I note the change. At the Munich Security Conference in mid-February, there were a number of expressions of respect. The US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, praised the Ukrainian president for his balanced response to the Russian threat. And in fact, Selenskyj is deliberately non-aggressive in a tense situation. He confirmed in Munich that Ukraine would not take the “first step” under any circumstances, as evidenced by the BR24 video. However, Zelensky also made demands: his country was the “protective shield” of Europe against Russia. He stressed that it deserves more international support.

Zelensky: Ukraine is in the fight against the power of the oligarchy – but there are doubts about this approach

Of course, Zelensky’s presidency is not limited to the conflict in Ukraine. Fighting the power of the oligarchy is also one of Zelensky’s stated goals. A law passed in September 2021 aims to slow the influence of the wealthy on parties and politics and their access to privatization. But black and white, right and wrong, are only on TV – Parliament’s human rights commissioner has warned that the plans are unconstitutional.

Among other things, suspicions arose that the National Security and Defense Council, formed by Zelensky himself, determines those affected. According to a report by ARD, the committee had previously closed opposition channels and portals. As is often the case in Ukraine, at least it works Moreover On the question of “Russia or Ukraine”. Since January, all national newspapers and magazines must be published in the Ukrainian language. However, this second law was passed by the predecessor Poroshenko.

An incident in the margins of the adoption of the oligarchy law demonstrated the extent of the turmoil or even the extreme danger of political life in Ukraine before the outbreak of the war. A car owned by Zelensky consultant Serhiy Scheffer was shot at, and the driver was seriously injured.

“Putin has resigned!”

Here the circle seems to have completed the course of Zelensky in big politics, the series “Servants of the People”. There, unidentified, extremely rich pull strings in the background. However, a good teacher Holoborodko always finds a way out. It remains to be seen whether this will also happen in reality – and whether Selenskyj is equally above moral skepticism remains to be seen.

One way or another, Zelensky’s biggest secret wish may be to shout out the sentence that the head of the sitcom Holoborodko yells in the Verkhovna Rada to attract the attention of a throng of deputies: “Putin has resigned!” At this moment, a relaxed calm returns to the scene of the series.

Meanwhile, in the turmoil of war, “Servant of the People” became a huge hit at the international box office. (fn with material from AFP)

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