Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, Volodymyr Zelensky has dominated our collective imagination as a hero. What can we expect?
A few days before the start of the war, I was on assignment in Donbass, and then there was a very strong question about the person of Volodymyr Zelensky, who was present as a peaceful conversation, ready to go to talks with the Russians. For part of Ukrainian society, there were serious doubts about its ability to cope with large-scale Russian aggression. Then, within a few hours, on February 24, 2022, Volodymyr Zelensky had to choose between being the leader of a warring country or leaving. He took Gauntlett, chose to resist, and this decision undoubtedly took him to a huge level. No one in Europe has had such a choice since 1945. From this point of view, his attitude was a godsend for the Ukrainians. Whether he is a hero or not, history is usually responsible for deciding such questions.
He was a very famous person, a funny, humorous and charming television character, a kind of impossible mix between Patrick Sebastian, Cyril Hanuna and Jean Dujardin.
What is your first memory of him?
I have been living in Kiev, Ukraine since 2013. And it wasn’t until the mid-2010s that I learned about it. Impossible mix between Patrick Sebastian, Cyril Hanuna and Jean Dujardin. But he really aroused my interest towards the end of 2018. Ukraine is heading for an exciting presidential election, with incumbent Petro Poroshenko and his rival Yulia Tymoshenko. Polling institutes then began testing various personalities, including Volodymyr Zelensky, whose names began to come up more and more. Then, on December 31, 2018, just before midnight, Zelensky officially announced his candidacy on television. This law, at the time, on one of the country’s three main oligarchy channels, was not trivial.
Especially since Zelensky was then known for a very specific role.
He was best known for his talk shows, his comedy shows, and then the “Servant of the People” series, which introduced him as a history teacher who accidentally became president. Which was a huge success. At the time, the program was aired on the “1 + 1” channel, on the basis of which he made this famous announcement of his candidacy in 2018, which was the property of a powerful oligarch, Ihor Kolomovsky, who had opposed the former president. In early 2019, so we find ourselves with a candidate, Zelensky, who made his career as an audiovisual producer, and so his fortune, through a contract signed with one of the richest and most influential people in the country. During the presidential campaign, this same television group will offer candidate Zhelensky all his powers. The series featuring him as president will air in prime time even a few weeks before the first round of elections!
He has a perfect command of modern communication codes but has no defined political backbone.
Once elected, “Jelensky is a chameleon who paints himself with the aspirations of his fellow citizens rather than giving them a way”, you write. So does he not have a specific ideal?
It is really difficult to know his ideals and his movement. This clearly falls into the category of “catch-all” party, which does not fit the normal division. He is fascinated by Emmanuel Macron, a liberal, business-minded, “experts”. Modern communication codes also have its perfect command, but it has no defined political backbone. However, as a young country and a former Soviet satellite, Ukraine is not defined by a classic left-right division that we understand. The division in Ukraine is rather in favor of harmony with Western values and among those who are more reluctant.
Like many Ukrainians, he was forced to position himself in the face of Russian aggression by adopting a very strong patriotic attitude within hours.
“Russian-speaking, obsessed with Russian culture, Volodymyr Zelensky, 44, is today the symbol of the Ukrainian rocker”, you write …
Born in 1978, he portrays a generation that grew up in Ukraine, an independent country “by passport”, speaks Russian about his family and his profession, spent part of his career in Russia and does not feel particularly nationalist. Then, like many Ukrainians, he was forced to position himself in the face of Russian aggression, adopting a very strong patriotic attitude within hours. I would say that, since the Maidan incident, in 2014, Russian-speaking Ukrainians rallied around the idea of a pro-European Ukraine. But today, the revival of the population further expands this movement. These young men, like Zelensky, were not adults during the Soviet era and felt deeply Ukrainian.
One gets the idea that all these elements contribute to the placement of Zelensky at the center of contemporary Ukrainian history …
Thirty years after independence, eight years after the Maidan Revolution, the annexation of Crimea and the beginning of the war in Donbass, he finds himself at a turning point in the history of Ukraine. This is a historic moment, when Ukraine has to decide on its future for the next generation, which is taking shape very clearly – through elections as well as opinion polls – under the European framework. And at this point Vladimir Putin, for his part, seems determined to bring the Ukrainian question back to Russia’s fold and “definitely” resolve it.
Zelensky is only a hero because the Ukrainians themselves are heroes
What could happen to Zelensky and his country, whose fate is now inextricably linked?
It is very difficult to position yourself. But there are two situations: the first is the Kremlin’s goal, which is to destroy Ukraine as a state, as a nation. In that case, Zelensky, who has already escaped at least two assassination attempts, will disappear. The second scenario would be a counter-attack on Ukraine and why not a military victory. So he has two destinies in front of him: to be a hero or a martyr. Although, for me, Zelensky is a hero only because the Ukrainians themselves are heroes. Because there are some people in Ukraine who are ready to put their ideas before their personal comfort, who are ready to protect the future of their country and their children, even if it endangers their physical integrity.
“Volodymyr Zelensky, on the head of a hero”, by Regis Gente and Stephen Siohan, Robert Lafont version, 198 pages, 19.90