Vasyl Petrovych Holoborodko has a Pygmalion-style makeover shortly after being unexpectedly elected President of Ukraine, and he is introduced to his entourage of advisers. There’s his personal stylist. There’s a psychologist on hand to help him. There’s something he calls his “personal motivation.” And then there’s… himself?
Holoborodko appears in front of him as an identical, slightly cross-eyed form of himself. The prime minister says that it’s your double in every way. He’s willing to attend at ceremonies, meet with foreign dignitaries, and even take a sniper’s bullet if the situation calls for it. Of course, the prime minister points out, it’s unlikely that it will come to that.
Holoborodko is the character portrayed by Volodymyr Zelensky in “Servant of the People,” a Ukrainian television parody that premiered in 2015 and laid the stage for Mr. Zelensky to be elected president of Ukraine in real life the following year, in 2019. Since the Russian invasion, the series has been taken up for broadcast in a number of countries, with subtitled episodes accessible on YouTube and other platforms.
The feeling of seeing it today is similar to that of Holoborodko, who has a terrifying sense of double vision. On one of the screens, Mr. Zelensky is contemplating the potential of assassination for the sake of amusement. As seen by his handcrafted recordings from war-torn Kyiv, as well as on television news broadcasts and in front of international leaders, the genuine guy in real life is looking death in the face.
Americans, of all, are well-versed in the art of choosing presidents who have previously portrayed leaders on television. Reality does not always live up to the myths of prime-time television. But, in using his on-camera talent to unite his nation and the rest of the globe, Mr. Zelensky has done more than merely emulate his craft. He’s made significant progress.
A large portion of “Servant” is wide and comedic; in one scene, the president scampers about the executive offices in the manner of the Marx Brothers as a Swedish banker chases after him for a loan payback. Because of the viral videos of a pre-political Mr. Zelensky winning the Ukrainian version of “Dancing With the Stars,” you may think that he’s a naturally good physical comedian. His beleaguered-nerd demeanour is a mix of Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, and Charlie Chaplin, with a sprinkle of Stephen Colbert.
“Servant of the People,” on the other hand, is weirder and more deep than its fish-out-of-water premise would lead you to believe. It provides valuable insight into the challenges that a young democracy faces while dealing with more powerful neighbours. While Russia is not a key character in the storey, the country’s influence may be felt throughout. Holoborodko’s tactic for capturing the attention of a boisterous crowd is to exclaim, “Putin has been ousted!” during the performance.
Finally, Mr. Zelensky’s presentation is a debate about what constitutes legitimate political authority in the first place. The power of being close to the people, rather than raised above them, according to this story’s rather utopian rendering. It does not come from being indestructible, but rather from being aware of other people’s precarity and participating in their difficulties. Following his election, the new president continues to dwell in his parents’ claustrophobic apartment.
He campaigned for president in a social media-savvy campaign that was so closely tied to his fictitious image that the political party he founded was known as “Servant of the People.” Prior to the battle, he was criticised for being in over his head, similar to Holoborodko’s situation.
However, when seen through the prism of his programme, which claims that successful leaders should share their constituents’ experiences, his reaction to the assault seems to have been practically predetermined.
He made a video shortly after the invasion was launched. He talks for around a minute and a half while standing on a darkened street, his phone’s camera lens recording him and a group of advisors in action.
Performance, whether on a television screen, in a political campaign, or from a bunker, is about giving form to the intangible. By contrasting himself with Mr. Putin, Mr. Zelensky has personalised the conflict between liberal democracy and authoritarianism in Ukraine, and he has challenged the rest of the world to pick which side they support.
Could this have been accomplished by a different leader? It is possible that we may never be able to show that a comedy altered the course of history. Mr. Zelensky the performer, on the other hand, has undoubtedly provided Mr. Zelensky the president with some of his most potent weapons.