Saturday, September 23, 2023

Ukraine leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s pre-political TV presidency

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Shreya Christina
Shreya has been with for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider team, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy may have briefly made US headlines a few years ago when Trump was impeached for pressuring him to help with Trump’s campaign, but the vast majority of Americans (myself included) could take a month. have had difficulty identifying him.

That changed when Russia invaded Ukraine and Zelenskyy made the high-profile decision to stay in Kiev and fight for his country, releasing regular speeches to his people and making emotional appeals for the global aid Ukraine needs to fend off the Russian attack.

When the US offered to take him to safety, he said… refusedaccording to an unnamed US official, answers“I need ammunition, not an elevator.” Rumors circulate every few days that he has fled; every time he refutes them with a video taken at his presidential office or in the characteristic streets of Kiev. Russia has allegedly tried to kill him repeatedly, and failed. According to a recent pollhe is now the most popular politician among American voters — significantly more than his White House counterpart.

No one expected this from Zelenskyy, who was an actor and comedian before his starlet on the world stage. He became president of Ukraine after playing the president of Ukraine on TV in the comedy Servant of the People which ran from 2015 to 2019.

But a close reading of that show offers a glimpse into Zelensky’s take on moral courage, as well as a look at Ukraine’s national struggles and the cultural forces that shaped the nation that is now fighting for its survival.

In the show, Zelenskyy is a humble high school teacher whose rant about corruption goes viral on YouTube and propels him to the presidency. The show is on YouTube, and I’ve been watching it with my family since the beginning of the war. I found it surprisingly moving: a funny, yet fundamentally serious meditation on how to do good in the world, saved from corny or self-aggrandizing by the life-or-death realities that now frame it.

There is always something beneficial about watching the political television of another society, like the danish political drama Secureor the thriller Busy, about a soft Russian takeover of Norway. You can get a similar effect, albeit in time rather than space, by watching (or re-watching) older US political-themed programs.

Look at The West Wing present and baffled, two decades away, in their heated debates on early ’00s issues such as: school prayer and whether Christians are oppressed in China

We come into our own modern political debates with a strong sense of where the battle lines are drawn, which positions are reasonable and which are unthinkable. Watching the television of another country – or of another time – is an opportunity to break with that, to glimpse different sets of assumptions and where they can lead. We can come to understand that politics is not only about the problems, but also about the systems in which they take place – and the people who are part of those systems.

A servant becomes president

Servant of the Peopleits appeal is not its political sophistication (it is not politically sophisticated) or its witty west wingstyle dialogue. (The humor of the dialogue is mostly obscured from American viewers because there doesn’t seem to be a particularly good English translation — the episodes on YouTube have fan-produced subtitles.)

What makes it work instead is its seriousness, its clarity: it’s a story about what Ukraine, a country with a bloody history struggling for democracy, wants to be, and the courage it will take to get it there.

In the sixth episode of the show, the new president looks at the budget and is appalled by the huge sums of luxury for himself and all of his top ministers. He excitedly tells the prime minister that he thinks spending cuts can be cut by 90 percent.

Meanwhile, his father a taxi driver and mother a nurse, who have lived in poverty all their lives – like many in Ukraine, where the pre-war GDP per capita was less than $3,800 — are redecorating their apartment with luxurious furnishings and gold trimmings, excited to finally get their turn at the honeypot.

When the president returns home to see the result, he realizes that corruption isn’t just about greed. It is also motivated by the feeling of deserving better and finally being powerful enough to achieve it – while forgetting that every other person in Ukraine deserves that too. He says the same to his parents, storms out of the house and ends up sleeping on a bench in the park. (Zelenskyy himself has gotten himself into trouble over the matter, with coverage from the Pandora newspapers in 2021 connect him with interests in offshore companies; an advisor said later he used the compound to protect his interests from pro-Russian opponents.)

Without the real-life context, this — and many moments in the show like this — would land as self-aggrandizement to the point of absurdity. But borrowing the facts on the ground today Servant of the People all the moral authority it could wish for: the real Zelenskyy, who no longer just plays a leader on TV, remains in Kiev, in grave danger.

The stubbornness and moral character that Zelenskyy now displays on a daily basis is at the heart of Servant of the People‘s story. It depicts a Ukraine where ordinary, hard-working people endure constant humiliation and injustice, while the rich make themselves richer, not even thinking that they are part of the land they are drying up.

And – aired, as it did, shortly after the revolution of 2014 which installed a more Europe-friendly government – it depicts a Ukraine more than ready to change, to be honest, to be just, to be free, as long as one man wins the battle within himself to restore what he could make it easier to be an accomplice.

Mr Zelenskyy goes to Kiev

Ukraine, by voting Zelenskyy as president in real life with 73 percent of the second vote in 2019, overwhelmingly supported that story as their favorite story of the nation’s history and trajectory. If Ukrainians can hold off Putin’s forces and remain independent – and they really could, as hard as that was to believe two weeks ago, and as improbable as it remains – then it’s a story that she (and he) will become reality. have made.

And if they lose, the millions of Ukrainians who cannot flee will fall under the control of a totalitarian state that… forbidden even discuss the bombs it drops on innocent people.

I recommend Servant of the People† The beautiful blocks of Kiev depicted in the show are in many cases no longer standing. The starring actor is now the real-life president of Ukraine and faces a real risk of death. And despite that, or perhaps because of it, it is cheerful, optimistic television, at a time when it is sorely needed.

A version of this story initially appeared in the Future Perfect newsletter. Sign up here to subscribe!


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