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Ukraine’s New President Is Only Pretending to Be an Actor


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In New Socialist magazine, Ukrainian filmmaker and writer Oleksiy Radynski examines the recent election of Volodymyr Zelenskyi, a businessman and actor, as president of Ukraine. Bizarrely, prior to being elected Zelenskyi starred in a TV series in which an political outsider (played by Zelenskyi) is improbably elected president of Ukraine. This strange parallel has led many media outlets and political commentators to conclude that Zelenskyi is just like his character – a political outsider, untainted by corruption, who will battle Ukraine’s entrenched governing oligarchy. But as Radynski argues, we should not be deceived by TV hype. Zelenskyi emerged from that same oligarchy and will ensure its continuing control over politics in Ukraine. Here’s an excerpt:

How was this even possible? In fact, Ukraine has just witnessed a very innovative solution to one of the basic riddles of capitalism: How do you keep selling people more of the same stuff while making them think they’re buying something new?

It is up to political scientists (and film scholars) to scrutinize the nearly four-year-long political project that started as an ordinary TV series and ended with an overwhelming 73 per cent of Ukrainian voters ushering its plot into existence. The series, titled Servant of the People , is about a school teacher, played by Zelenskyi himself, who unexpectedly becomes president of Ukraine and, as an outsider to the country’s corrupt political system, stages a fight against the oligarchs.

Still, the real message of this TV show is pretty conservative. The struggle of Zelenskyi’s character is ultimately futile, and any genuine protest against the corrupt system will be crushed, because the cynical power politics structured by Ukraine’s oligarchs is omnipotent and inescapable. Towards the end of the show’s final season – screened days before Ukraine’s election in March 2019 – Zelenskyi’s character finally manages to achieve a kind of success, re-unifying Ukraine after the country collapsed into dozens of self-proclaimed statelets as a result of political turmoil. So, the unconscious political desire of the series’ makers implies, in fact, nothing more than a return to the status quo.

Image of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyi via the National Interest.