How Ukrainian President Zelensky Was Inspired by American Heroes – AMAC
AMAC Exclusive – By Ben Solis
On Tuesday, for the first time in history, a foreign leader was allowed to address both Houses of Britain’s Parliament via video chat. It was the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. In the 10-minute speech, Zelensky vowed to ‘fight in the forests, on the shores, in the streets’, nodding to Winston Churchill’s famous refrain as Britain faced the onslaught Nazi during World War II. Throughout his remarks, the thing that allowed Zelensky to achieve heroic status in the eyes of much of the West was on full display; namely, its innate ability to find common historical threads that unite its relentless fight against Russia with other examples of nations rejecting oppressors and invaders in order to be free. In his words, actions and dreams of democracy for Ukraine, Zelensky channels other great leaders throughout history who have defied the odds and dared to dream of a better future for their people.
Even Zelensky’s enemies, like the Russian news channel Zvezda Television, are beginning to realize that invading Ukraine will strengthen, not weaken, the country’s identity. “There are no regions willing to be independent,” a Zvezda commentator stressed, referring to Moscow’s concept of a divided Ukraine. “We see a unified Ukraine.” While some in the West chastised Zelensky’s reluctance to compromise as a mad dash, it united the Ukrainian people against Russia in a way a more conciliatory tone would not.
Indeed, the devastating Russian war against Ukraine has the potential to become a founding myth of the modern Ukrainian state, and President-Artist Zelensky will carve its final shape and form.
Zelensky dreamed of a Ukraine that embodies many of the same ideals that guided the American Founders to establish the United States — a land of the free, with freedoms enjoyed by all, as he emphasized during his campaign.
Part of that dream was to deliver Ukrainians from the rampant corruption that has gripped the country since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In his political manifesto, Zelensky compares corruption in Ukraine to Abraham Lincoln’s view of slavery, arguing that the millions of Ukrainians who fund the elite’s luxurious lifestyle are in some way slaves. Corruption itself, like slavery, is a disease that divides Ukrainians against each other and must be eradicated and destroyed.
Although Zelensky does not mention it directly, Zelensky’s history and philosophy also bears a striking similarity to US President Ronald Reagan.
The future Ukrainian president was born in Kryvyi Rih, a city in the most industrialized region of the country. He grew up in a Jewish family of political dissidents who, although not involved in public life, rooted in their son’s basic principles and taught him the true history of Ukraine, which Soviet schools wouldn’t do. “They passed on the fundamentals to me,” Zelensky said of his parents. “I feel pain when I see lies and untruths, so I perceive lies as an injustice.”
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the semi-independent, wealthy and controlling clusters that ran the Soviet machine morphed into an oligarchic system of interest groups, preserving the status quo – the source of systemic corruption.
Much like an American president who once confronted Russian aggression and expansionism, Zelensky began his career in the entertainment business. Zelensky’s entry into the political arena followed a long period of what at first glance appeared to be a typical career as a satirical show host in Russia and Ukraine. Likewise, Ronald Reagan was a Hollywood actor before entering politics, which would serve him well throughout his life. Just as Reagan could charm any audience with a well-timed joke or a funny anecdote, Zelensky used humor as a way to reach people. Both were comfortable on the front of the stage.
During his presidential campaign, when Zelensky was asked about his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he said he would resort to humor. “It will be a forced laugh, but still a laugh,” concluded Zelensky, adding that Putin “has eyes, but he has no vision.” It was clear then that Zelensky would not back down from Russia – and neither would President Reagan. By standing firmly against the Soviet Union, Reagan won the Cold War by his ideological superiority as much as by his military might. Now Zelensky may be on the verge of accomplishing something similar, even as his country is overwhelmed militarily, as he has united the West in support of his cause and against Russian aggression.
One of Zelensky’s greatest successes as a director and actor came in 2016’s “The Servant of the People” series in which Zelensky, incredibly, plays an unlikely hero who becomes President of Ukraine – something that would actually happen three years later. In the series, Zelensky plays a history teacher named Vasily Goloborodko, who was not eager to be president but interpreted his election as a call for change in Ukraine. On inauguration day, he chooses a taxi over a limo and a humble teachers’ club over Parliament. Fighting for a small and efficient government, he cuts bureaucratic jobs (reminiscent of Reagan again) and challenges lawmakers with a question that must be answered if a new Ukraine is to emerge: why did they go from “servants of the people” to government officials? oligarchs?
Admittedly, the casting of Zelensky as president now seems to have been at least somewhat selfish. However, through Zelensky’s character on the show, audiences see the ideal of a humble servant-leader embodied by America’s first and perhaps greatest president, George Washington.
Like Goloborodko, Washington never asked for power. When the discussion of titles came up, Washington opted for the simple “Mr. President.” He rejected early designs for the White House for fear that it would appear too opulent and the people would regard its leader too highly. like an elected king.
Zelensky never explicitly said he had Washington in mind while doing the series. But the concept of a national leader accountable both to other branches of government and to the people is one of the great cultural contributions the United States has made to the rest of the world, and is undoubtedly reflected in “The Servant People”. “It is debatable to what extent Zelensky himself lived up to Goloborodko’s personality as president, and to what extent he effectively eradicated corruption, but articulating this ideal for the Ukrainian people, of a country where the leaders are truly servants of the people, Zelensky has given them something to fight for.
In his inaugural speech on the show, President Goloborodko writes his prepared remarks and says, “but I know what the test of life is: you have to behave in such a way that you wouldn’t be ashamed to look at yourself in the eyes. children.”
Surely the Ukrainian president has at least passed this test. No matter the outcome of this war, when history returns to it, Volodymyr Zelensky will be one of the heroes, someone who stood up for what is right, defending his home against all odds.
Ben Solis is the pseudonym of an international affairs journalist, historian, theologian and researcher.
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