President's masks: How Zelensky changed during first year in office

Author : Natalia Lebed

Source : 112 Ukraine together with experts analyzes the changes of Volodymyr Zelensky as he got used to his new off-screen image
18:12, 22 April 2020



Mask number 1. Right guy Holoborodko

Volodymmyr Zelensky acting President Holoborodko in the "Servant of the People" TV series
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He ran a ludicrous, postmodern campaign, the centerpiece of which was a nationwide comedy tour that included video clips of his on-screen president. Mainly, he just wanted to make the audience laugh. One Ukrainians-on-holiday sketch poked fun at a tourist who spends his vacation watching movies on a bus. “But where did you stop?” he is asked. “Somewhere around Terminator 2,” comes the response,” The Guardian wrote on May 7, 2019. Following the tone of The Guardian, the president of Ukraine is still hostage to his most famous image - teacher Vasyl Holoborodko, the hero of the “Servant of the People” TV show.

Related: Zelensky believes Donbas war to end by end of his cadency

The aesthetics of the image of Holoborodko – nice guy, understandable, close, open, popular – determined the entire course of the election campaign of Volodymyr Zelensky. His character was mercilessly exploited in all the media products that the future president’s team was giving out. Selfies, training and challenges, and all this with jokes, with allusions to Holoborodko - that is how Zelensky “sold” himself to the voter.

Even six months after the second round of elections, Holoborodko was still not completely weathered from the memory of those who followed the development of events in Ukraine. In particular, at the end of November 2019, Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid presented Zelensky with a bicycle during his official visit to this country. As you know, that movie teacher rode a bicycle.

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Holoborodko, according to the plot of the film, became the president of Ukraine quite by accident. His drunken monologue about corruption was filmed by a student - the video became viral, and the author of the monologue became famous.

Remembering then Zelensky-Holoborodko, deputy director of the Ukrainian Institute for the Study of Extremism Bogdan Petrenko says: “He was the president of the drive - he goes somewhere, he says something, that is, he demonstrates that we are all moving somewhere."

Related: Zelensky congratulates Queen Elizabeth II on her birthday

But “any position, and even more so the president’s position, changes a person. Speaking of external signs, January was probably the watershed between the “old” and the “new” Zelensky. The “old” Zelensky was what he was during the elections “everything began to change from the new year, or rather, from his trip to Oman and the problems that were associated with it,” Petrenko insists.

And if, according to Petrenko, the watershed between the “old” and “new” Zelensky fell in January, then according to head of the Third Sector Center Andriy Zolotariov, the president’s transformation took place much earlier. Namely, during the parliamentary elections.

Mask number 2. A tough leader like Lukashenko

“Even during the parliamentary round, Zelensky got used to the image of Lukashenko (in particular, when he had harsh discussions with the local officials), but from time to time he tried to get used to the image of Macron," the expert says.

The video with the case that the expert mentions became viral at one time, and the phrase that Zelensky then said - "get out of here, robber" - became a meme. The incident occurred on July 10, 2019, when the head of state drove out the secretary of the Boryspol City Council, Yaroslav Hodunok, from a meeting on regional issues. Then a skirmish ensued between Hodunok and Zelensky: the president was indignant that the Boryspol mayor and the director of the hospital could not agree and settle the problems of the medical institution. Hodunok decided to object but ran into a tough answer.

Related: Zelensky compares living without IMF money with living a week of life without water

The apogee of Zelensky’s “Lukashenko’s style” was a trip to Boryspol and the phrase about the robber,” Bohdan Petrenko comments. The story with Hodunok continued: the president was not satisfied that he kicked the official out. He left another meeting with an unforgettable phrase: “Right now, I'll call Bakanov (head of the Security Service, - ed.) regarding this bastard.”

In October 2019, the president arrived in Zolote, where he decided to talk with the far-right directly. But the conversation, to put it mildly, did not work out. Answering a question from one of his counterparts about the "Steinmeier formula", as well as about the "No surrender" rally, Zelensky was surprisingly rude. “Listen, I’m the president of this country. I’m 42 years old. I’m not some kind of sucker. I’ve come here to you and said - take away your weapons. We’re not talking about rallies here,” Zelensky said.

Mask number 3. Cunning leader of oligarchs, Kuchma-style

The president’s relationship with the oligarchy is a separate big topic, we can’t illustrate with a photo or video. However, it is obvious that during the year of rule Zelensky was tired of the dominance of only one major player from the clan of financial and industrial groups. So, the monopoly of Ihor Kolomoisky collapsed, it became obvious recently when the land law was adopted and the law on banks called "anti- Kolomoisky" were adopted in the first reading.

It is significant that two opposition factions - European Solidarity and Holos - joined the lobbying of the land law in the session hall. The latter, as you might know, is sponsored by another oligarch - Viktor Pinchuk. And Petro Poroshenko himself, the head of the European Solidarity faction, also belongs to the oligarchy. Time will tell how Zelensky’s relationship with him and with Pinchuk will be built.

Related: If 2 to 10% of Ukrainians become infected with Covid-19, doctors will choose who to live on, - Zelensky

“According to the managerial model that Zelensky sees for himself, Kuchma is the closest to him. Kuchma is, in fact, the father of the Ukrainian state model, which we are “expectorating” now. And Zelensky, like all of us, also lived ten years of Kuchma’s presidency, besides, in one way or another, he collaborated with the oligarchic clans generated by Kuchma, speaking on their TV channels. It’s not without a reason that Zelensky’s methods lack a kind of European nature,” Yevhen Bulavka, political scientist, comments.

Mask No. 4. Export option: elegant Macron

Thus, Ukrainians are now watching a mix from Kuchma, Yushchenko, Lukashenko (possibly also someone else) – and this whole mix, embodied in Zelensky alone, rules the country. But this is, so to speak, for internal use. Outside, Zelensky is slightly different. Our experts are unanimous: when the president goes abroad, he tries to duplicate his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron.


"Of the foreign leaders, Zelensky wants to imitate Lukashenko - in relations with our local democracy, but he has a different image for export - Macron, this is a public hypostasis that he takes up. Macron is also unlike others, it breaks the tradition to some extent, it becomes obvious in his personal life, in particular, "notes Andrei Zolotarev.

“Macron is also an extra-systemic person who, however, has significantly greater socio-political experience. But Zelensky appeared out of nowhere. And with all his viral videos, he remains very far from European reality. Because Kuchma’s mentality dominates,” says Yevhen Bulavka.

Mask number 5. Mysterious trickster

But if the masks of Holoborodko, Lukashenko, Kuchma, and even Macron Zelensky try on consciously, then there is another role that he plays involuntarily, Yevhen Bulavka notes. He calls President Zelensky a trickster, arguing that this is his main point.

“Zelensky is a so-called trickster,” Yevhen Bulavka insists. “This is a character from ancient mythology and analytical psychology, that is, a person who lives on a hype tries to attract attention (and knows how to keep it, which should be acknowledged), trying to entertain the audience, but as a result of his actions, he is a destructive person. There are many similar images in films and books - from Jack Sparrow to Carlson. Hence the constant unfulfilled promises, and the dissemination of false information."

Related: Surviving is major task for Ukrainians, - Zelensky

“Now difficult times are beginning,” agrees Andrei Zolotarev. “Zelensky will have to play real politician. The time for the video messages has passed.”

“A year later, I would like to see Voldoymyr Zelensky as an actor of the Kvartal 95 studio, where he was in his place and created a good alternative to the Russian product. Many loved Zelensky as an actor, both in the West and in the East. But as president he immediately arouses rejection among some and for others, disappointment comes with time,” summarizes political analyst Kyrylo Sazonov.

However, the disappointment in Zelensky has not yet reached a critical level. Recent opinion polls, although they confirm a drop in the level of trust in both the president himself and his political strength, are not so significant as to assume that in 2021 we will not summarize his second anniversary.

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