Ukraine's presidential election proved sometimes it's reality that mirrors fiction when Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who played the president on a TV show, won in a landslide victory.
But the vote also shed light on how cultural and political dynamics have evolved in the country over the five years since a pro-Western revolution shook up its leadership, and since the start of a war with Russian-backed rebels in the east.
Here are six takeaways now that the votes have been counted.
1. Language differences matter less and less
Many countries are split along ethnic, linguistic, confessional or cultural lines — Ukraine is no different.
The west of the country is mainly Ukrainian-speaking, and the east is largely (though not exclusively) Russian-speaking. The regions also diverge in their histories, economic bases and, to a degree, cultures.
In past elections, this has been an issue. An electoral ap for the 2010 presidential vote shows a line cutting diagonally across the country, splitting the predominantly Russian-speaking regions from the rest in terms of how many people voted for either the pro-Moscow candidate Viktor Yanukovych or Yulia Tymoshenko.
It’s not a clean break — these kinds of divisions don't tend to be. But previous candidates have successfully exploited this split: Yanukovych owed his surprise victory in the 2006 parliamentary election to a large degree by playing on the resentment felt by those in the Russian-speaking south and east toward western and central Ukrainians.
During this campaign, incumbent and Ukrainian-language advocate Petro Poroshenko tried to employ a similar tactic aimed at western Ukraine, with his slogan "Army, Language, Faith."
But this time, the strategy failed: The electoral map shows green representing support for Zelenskiy — a Russian speaker — stretching across regional and linguistic boundaries.
While some voters in the east may have voted for Zelenskiy because he’s a Russian speaker, what seems clear is that for a large number of Ukrainians, there are now more important matters to unite them.
2. Moscow’s claims of rampant anti-Semitism and fascism debunked
Moscow has repeatedly accused Ukraine of being run by a Jew-hating “fascist junta.” But at the moment, the two most powerful people in Ukraine are of Jewish heritage: President-elect Zelenskiy and Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman.
This state of affairs would be unimaginable in many of Ukraine’s neighbors, including Russia itself.
And Ukraine’s ultra-nationalists are typically an anemic presence at the polls. Ruslan Koshulynsky, a joint candidate from far-right parties, won only 2.2 percent in the first round of this election.
Ukraine is undoubtedly a different place than it was a century, or even 30 years, ago when anti-Semitic attitudes and violence were much more commonplace. Before World War II, its territory was one of the world’s largest centers of Jewish life, but the Holocaust, assimilation and emigration reduced these numbers to a fraction of their former size.
Today, violence against Jews and Jewish spaces is minimal, and the Jewish community is small but active.
Still, neither Zelenskiy nor Groysman seem to identify as Jewish beyond their heritage, which raises the question of whether they would have enjoyed the same success if they were religious or more outspoken about their faith.
And while the far right is a fringe movement, it wields influence far beyond its numbers. Ukraine’s media and public intellectuals also often appear afraid to admit that the ultra-nationalists even exist, for fear of this being used for Russian propaganda.
At the very least, Zelenskiy’s victory demonstrates that a Jewish background today presents no barrier to the country’s highest office. And this is no small thing.
3. Ukrainians want a Superman — but can easily turn against him
Like Zelenskiy, Poroshenko was elected president in 2014 amid a surge in anti-establishment sentiments and high hopes that he would tackle corruption and dismantle the country’s oligarch-dominated system.
And similar to criticism that Zelenskiy now faces, some observers at that time argued Poroshenko was not the best-suited person for the job, saying his supporters were too optimistic.
These skeptics were drowned out by the enthusiasm that his election unleashed: Poroshenko triumphed in the first round of voting, trouncing all challengers with nearly 55 percent of the vote.
Fast-forward five years, and Poroshenko has endured the worst thrashing for a second-round presidential candidate in Ukraine’s history, winning just over 24 percent of the vote.
All of Ukraine’s leaders have followed this pattern to a degree: Elevated hopes in the beginning, followed by crushing disappointment. Yanukovych, of course, was ousted by a revolution.
Whether Zelenskiy can break this cycle will be something to watch. For one thing, his opponents question whether he's really the man to curb the influence of rich business figures, given his links to oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky.
4. Being pro-Russian won't win elections
Before the 2014 revolution, candidates who advocated closer ties to Moscow were an electoral force to be reckoned with. Those days are past, and may be gone forever.
Of course, not all things Russian are completely taboo. Ukraine’s neighbor to the north is still one of its largest trading partners, Russian pop culture is widely embraced, and an untold number of families straddle the border.
It would be wrong to say the idea of aligning Ukraine with Russia couldn't be revived in the future, or that there are no Moscow-friendly politicians. But the pro-Russian camp at the moment remains weak, divided and without a strong leader.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely waiting for the first opportunity to test his new counterpart.
And the mood in the country has definitely shifted five years after the start of the war in Ukraine’s east, which has killed more than 13,000 people. The shared trauma has also helped forge a common identity.
Though Zelenskiy is a Russian-speaker from the country’s southeast, his campaign rhetoric indicated he knows he must hew to Ukraine’s pro-Western path.
“Ukrainians want an end to the war, but not at any price,” said Alyona Getmanchuk, director of the Kiev-based think tank New Europe Center. “There are red lines that they don’t want Zelenskiy to cross.”
5. Parliamentary election will be rough
The presidential election campaign was a heated one — with accusations of corruption, dirty tricks and ties to oligarchs — and the parliamentary election later this year could be just as intense. The vote is slated for October, but could be moved forward.
Ukraine’s political system splits power between the president and parliament (the government is formed on the basis of the parliament majority) and Zelenskiy needs a big win in the election for his political program to be viable.
Ukraine has elected a 41-year-old comedian with no political experience whose concrete policy positions are still largely unknown.
Equally, his opponents see the parliamentary vote as a way for them to be able to set the political agenda, despite his landslide win.
Poroshenko hinted at what's to come in his post-election speech, which was part concession, part a Churchillian call to arms.
“We did not win the battle today. But it does not mean that we lost the war. We have plenty of battles ahead. I want to emphasize: Ukraine will definitely win,” Poroshenko said.
“I am leaving office, but I want to firmly underline that I am not leaving politics. I remain in politics and I will fight for Ukraine."
Others from within his camp were more succinct. “No panic! Close ranks!” parliament speaker Andriy Parubiy wrote on Twitter.
6. Things are about to get even more interesting
To sum it up, Ukraine has elected a 41-year-old comedian with no political experience whose concrete policy positions are still largely unknown.
At the same time, millions of voters have invested in him hopes that he can finish what was started by the Euromaidan revolution five years ago, banish corruption and successfully carry out a process of “de-oligarchization.” These same voters are known to shift their allegiances dramatically if their expectations are not met.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely waiting for the first opportunity to test his new counterpart.
Fasten your seatbelts.
Read the origianal article here.