Life Imitating Art
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” – Charles Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities)
A comedy television series (rather a political satire), titled Servant of the People, had been aired in Ukraine for four consecutive years since 2015. The series created and produced by Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelenskyy, who stars there as Vasyl Petrovych Holoborodko, a high-school history teacher in his 30s who is unexpectedly elected President of Ukraine after a viral video filmed by one of his students shows him making a profane rant against government corruption in his country. At that period of time, no one could have imagined that the television series would become much more involved in Ukraine’s actual politics. On March 31, 2018, a political party, named after the television series, was registered with the Ministry of Justice. Furthermore, Zelenskyy, who played the protagonist of the series as the President of Ukraine, was actually elected Ukrainian President on April 21, 2019 with 73.22% of the second-round votes. From a comedian to a statesman… it was not an easy journey for Zelenskyy. It is even more difficult to rule a war-ravaged country. However, Zelenskyy has proved that he has become a mature politician.
Ahead of the Presidential Polls, Zelenskyy promised an end to five-year-long of conflict with Russia in the eastern part of Ukraine. However, other political leaders started creating troubles for him soon after the comedian-turned-politician became the President. The rivalry between the Kremlin and NATO, too, made his life difficult. He held diplomatic talks with Russia, and also exchanged prisoners with the neighbouring country to ensure peace. As the move failed to get success, Ukraine expressed desire to become a member of both the European Union (EU) and NATO. As expected, Ukraine’s desire angered Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. In fact, Zelenskyy’s political inexperience further complicated the situation. Amidst such a scenario, Ukraine has turned into a battlefield.
Yet, one can notice the stubbornness of Zelenskyy. Soon after President Putin launched a military operation in Ukraine on February 24 (2022), the Ukrainian president stressed: “We are all here. Our Army is here. Our Civil Society is here. We are defending our Independence, our Country. We will defend our State, because our weapons are our Truth. Our truth is that this is our land, our country, our children, and we will protect all of this.” He added: “I address our defenders. On all fronts tonight, the enemy will use all of its forces at disposal to break our resistance, dishonourably, cruelly and inhumanely. Tonight, they will go on an assault. We must all understand what awaits us. Our main goal is to end this bloodbath. The enemy is suffering heavy losses – hundreds of soldiers killed who crossed our border and entered our land. Unfortunately, we are also suffering losses. Ukrainians are courageously resisting the aggression which is impossible to justify, so the occupants are forced to invent increasingly absurd accusations, to at least have something to say.“
Perhaps, no one shall remember President Zelenskyy’s words, like Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill’s ‘This was their Finest Hour‘ or Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s ‘Day of Infamy’ speeches. However, it is a big deal to say all these calmly during this sort of situation, especially for a not-so-professional politician. Zelenskyy knows that he is just an excuse for Russia, as he is not an enemy of the Kremlin. He is well aware of the fact that the West is using Kiev as a pawn to put Moscow under diplomatic pressure. In such a situation, the president has returned to the basics of his political sense: Ukraine-centrism.
As Ukraine had separated from the erstwhile Soviet Union during the early stage of the collapse of the Socialist Republic, it may be said that the feeling of Nationalism among the Ukrainians is different from the people of other former Soviet Republics. Still, Ukraine has faced quite a bit of difficulties in coming out of the long shadow of the Kremlin. Kiev witnessed bloodbath in 2014, while demanding real self-determination. Euromaidan protesters toppled several statues of Vladimir Lenin in various Ukrainian cities in 2013-14. Former pro-Russian President Viktor Fedorovych Yanukovych fled Ukraine in February 2014, and took shelter in Russia. The situation remained the same even after Petro Oleksiyovych Poroshenko replaced Yanukovych as President in 2014. In fact, the corrupt administration of Poroshenko failed to normalise the situation in the eastern part of the country. How a comedian suddenly became the Head of State in 2019 is still a mystery to political analysts.
Analysts believe that post-revolutionary failures often trigger frustration in a society, prompting people to rely on imagination. Furthermore, everybody knows the power of slanted laughter, as portrayed in Umberto Eco‘s 1980 novel ‘The Name of the Rose‘. The task of satire is to question the State Power. Hence, a crisis is inevitable when a comedian becomes the ruler. However, Zelenskyy’s achievement is that he has managed to hold his nerve, and has tackled the situation.
Ukraine is going through a terrible crisis… people, everywhere, have seemingly become directionless, and a nation has lost its ideology. After experiencing civil war, terrorism, and military rule, the Ukrainians chose Zelenskyy as their President, and he has already secured his place in History as a person who has to be remembered.
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