ZELENSKY – THE ACTING PRESIDENT: What Ukrainians Think
By Mike Burnard – Analytical Strategist at dia-LOGOS
The rise and adoration of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the eyes of the Western world are equal to none. A former comedian and actor – winner of “Dancing with the Stars” and voice-over actor for “Paddington Bear” – virtually unknown to the world outside his own country, achieved star status in 4 weeks and is now a hero in the Whitehouse and idolised in Europe. Even within Christian circles, he is seen as a modern-day prophet whom God has raised for a season such as this. All of this in four traumatic weeks.
When Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelenskyy became president of Ukraine on 20 May 2019, few Western leaders thought he was politically competent to lead a nation – a traumatised one at that. Being best known for his acting roles in TV shows, including the TV series Servant of the People, in which Zelenskyy played the role of the Ukrainian president, many felt his appointment was a ‘political joke”. Find any article on major news outlets in 2019 and you will find some sarcastic comments of an “actor president” suddenly becoming “acting president”.
Zelensky’s initial term was flawed with criticism, including for his connection to a billionaire oligarch who supported his campaign and for setting up a group of offshore companies in 2012. By December 2021 Zelensky’s political honeymoon was well and truly over – his approval rating was down to around 30%.
Not anymore – and even though Mr. Zelensky failed as a president of peace, he excelled as a president of war.
But what do Ukrainians think?
The following article, written by Professor Mychailo Wynnyckyj (studied Social and Political Sciences at the University of Cambridge and History and Philosophy at the University of Waterloo), is worth contemplating from a Western perspective. The thoughts do not reflect negatively on President Zelenski, who has distinguished himself as a brave leader in a time of conflict, but it does reflect how Western nations often confuse brave leadership with hero-worship. For the full article visit the Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/mychailo.wynnyckyj
Here are some key points from the article (#ThoughtsfromKyiv – 17 March – Mychailo Wynnyckyj)
The world is infatuated with Zelensky. After his recent speeches in the Parliaments of the EU, UK and Canada, and after yesterday’s address to the US Congress, western politicians seem to be tripping over themselves to pronounce: “Give HIM the weapons he needs to defend HIS country!”
I must point out, however, the idolizing rhetoric surrounding the Ukrainian President in the western media seems to point to a massive disconnect between discourse in the West and our own reality here in Ukraine.
Zelensky is popular in Ukraine. Ukrainians certainly support the actions of their President during the past 3 weeks since the start of invasion (several telephone polls have registered this). BUT approval does not mean hero-worship. Ukrainians don’t exalt their leaders.
Take the following data as illustrative:
Monobank – Ukraine’s largest fully online bank, popular among youth and creative class professionals – announced yesterday (3 weeks into the war) that an online survey among its clients as to the preferred central element for yet another renewed design of its “card” is as follows.
The results with over 10 000 respondents voting:
- The Ghost of Kyiv – 33%
- Tractor towing Russian tank – 18%
- Vitaliy Kim (Head of Mykolayiv oblast) – 17%
- President Volodymyr Zelensky – 15%
- Animal protection in wartime – 9%
- Oleksiy Arestovich (Presidential spokesman and military analyst) – 8%
These results are striking for two reasons
1) Ukrainians (in contrast to the current hype in the West) are not idolizing Zelensky – he came a distant 4th in the pole, even less popular than local hero and heartthrob Vitaliy Kim.
2) Ukrainians prefer de-personalized heroes. The Ghost of Kyiv (the Ukrainian MiG-29 pilot who is claimed to have shot down an unprecedented number of Russian aircraft, but has never been named) and the mythical “Ukrainian farmer” who has stolen what amounts to a small army of equipment from the invading Russians – cumulatively gained over 50% of the votes of Monobank customers.
My point: Ukrainians dislike personalized leadership – even if highly charismatic and effective. Hierarchy is universally viewed with suspicion. Again, this does not mean Zelensky is disliked, just that many others are also appreciated. Horizontal teams seems to be the name of the game here, rather than one-man shows.
From a Christian perspective
We need to be careful whom we idolise, what worship we proclaim and in whom we put our trust. Ralph Waldo Emerson said the following: “A person will worship something, have no doubt about that. We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts, but it will come out. That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping, we are becoming.”
Peace will not be found in public ‘war-talk’ of leaders, regardless of how brave they are. It will be found in the language of another Kingdom – the Kingdom of God – where we find the Prince of Peace and the lover of souls. We need to be careful whom we idolise, it will reveal more about us than about those we idolise.