Matt Snape is a freelance journalist who has written for the i Paper and the Metro in the UK, Italian newspaper Il Giornale and its sister publication, Inside Over, and The American Conservative. He has also worked for Blasting News and GRV Media.
With British Prime Minister Boris Johnson still somewhat distracted by a ridiculous ‘partygate’ scandal, which was triggered by parties at Downing Street that broke the UK’s lockdown laws in 2020, and his Canadian counterpart, Justin Trudeau, becoming the laughing stock of social media after he fled his home at the sight of a few peaceful truckers, it is hard to find serious and inspirational leaders these days.
That is until Russia invaded Ukraine last week and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was pictured wearing army gear on the front-line in his country. He proved that comedians can make serious leaders during these drastic times, which is more than can be said for the other ridiculous politicians mentioned above.
Zelensky rose to fame as the main character in the Ukrainian TV comedy series Servant of the People. The show follows Zelensky’s character, a school teacher, become a nationwide star after ranting about everything that is wrong with Ukrainian politics on YouTube before getting elected as his country’s leader. During a two-round presidential election in 2019, Zelensky achieved the exact same ambition as his character in Servant of the People did.
But Zelensky has shown he is capable of being an impressive leader in real life. He stood up to Russian President Vladimir Putin by urging his citizens to resist Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and he confronted the West’s weak and feeble leaders, too. Zelensky attacked Western governments for “egotism, arrogance, and appeasement”, and he urged them to do more to stem Putin’s advance into his homeland.
The Ukrainian leader was also right to warn the West that Russia should have been hit with sanctions before Ukraine was invaded. Unlike the rest of the West, Zelensky was the only politician who took Putin seriously before recent events.
He also turned down the US’s offer to evacuate from Kiev and told Washington directly: “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.” This is a somewhat embarrassing rebuke for US President Joe Biden and the joke is well and truly on him for now, not Zelensky.
Furthermore, the Ukrainian leader has said he is not going anywhere. He warned Western leaders that this could be the last time they see him alive. How many other world leaders would say the same thing in such dire circumstances? That we may never know, but Zelensky has a lot of courage.
Prior to today’s events, the Ukrainian leader performed well on the domestic front with impressive popularity ratings. Zelensky is regarded by Ukrainians as the second best president the country has had during its thirty years of independence.
A poll from Rating Group last year found that 23 per cent of respondents rated Leonid Kuchma (1994-2005) as Ukraine’s best president, whilst 18 per cent agreed that Zelensky is the best president their nation has ever had. However, if such a poll was conducted in the future, it would be interesting to see how many Ukrainians felt about Zelensky regarding his behaviour during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Not even the 4.2 per cent drop in GDP during 2020 affected Zelensky’s popularity at the time this poll was conducted. In May 2021, the share of optimists increased by nine per centage points from previous polls Rating Group conducted to 25 per cent. This shows that many Ukrainians had confidence in their leader back then and maybe proves that comedian politicians should be taken more seriously.
The same poll found that 46 per cent of Ukrainians trust the sitting president due to Ukraine’s advisory legal organ, the National Security Council, becoming the centre of the Zelensky’s team’s decision-making in October 2020. As a result, he portrayed himself as a strong leader defending the people against ‘corrupt judges’ and pro-Russian politicians.
Zelensky’s predecessor Petro Poroshenko enjoyed a trust rating of 20 per cent. Tackling corruption was one of Zelensky’s campaign promises, and prior to 2022, he took his pledge seriously, which is more than can be said for many professional politicians who purposefully break their promises.
Over the last three years, Zelensky has mastered the art of politics and he is behaving in a Churchillian manner during Ukraine’s darkest hour. For those who laughed at his election victory three years ago – the joke is over, and it is time for the West to get more serious instead.
This is a guest slot to give a platform for new writers either as a one off, or a prelude to becoming part of the regular Slugger team.