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Playing at being and becoming president

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This picture taken and released by Ukrainian Prime Minister press-service on May 20, 2019 shows Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky applauding during his inauguration ceremony at the parliament in Kiev. – Comedian Volodymyr Zelensky stepped into his new role as Ukrainian president with his inauguration on May 20, launching a new era for the country wracked by war and economic difficulties. A month after scoring a landslide election victory against incumbent Petro Poroshenko, the 41-year-old became Ukraine’s youngest post-Soviet president. (Photo by Vladyslav MUSIENKO / Ukrainian Prime Minister Press-service / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE – MANDATORY CREDIT “AFP PHOTO / Ukrainian Prime Minister Press-Service / Vladyslav

In a play The Balcony by the French playwright Jean Genet, a group of actors and actresses play-acting power roles of Queen, General, Judge, and Pope find themselves being these powerful people in real life.

In the revolution the real Queen, General, Judge, and Pope were executed by the revolution. That play was written in 1956 and where the action takes place is called The House of Illusion.

Fast forward to November 2015. A television series begins in which the main character, a school teacher of History, rants against corruption in the country, Ukraine.

One of his pupil’s video tapes the performance and puts it in the social media. It goes viral. The television series is called SERVANT OF THE PEOPLE. As a result the schoolteacher becomes the President of the country Ukraine in the series.

The person who plays the History teacher who rants against corruption in the country and becomes the president of the country is Volodymyr Zelensky.

His father is a university professor and the mother an engineer. He studied for a degree in law and went into acting after qualifying. He has never practised law. He acted in a number of films and in television plays. He and some colleagues started Servant of the People in November 2015.

In March 2018 the name Servant of the People was registered as a political party to contest the coming presidential elections in the Ukraine. The presidential candidate of Servant of the People political party is none other than the actor lawyer comedian Volodymyr Zelensky.

The Ukraine was part of the Soviet Socialist Republics with its capital Kiev being one of the most beautiful green cities in Eastern Europe. After the collapse of the Soviet Union Ukraine wanted to move closer to Western Europe by joining the European Union and becoming a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, NATO.

Vladymyr Putin, President of Russia, who nurses the ambition to keep the countries that were in the Soviet socialist republics in tact under Russia did not like the way Ukraine was going. Ukraine, like the other republics is Russian speaking.

Nationalism is a touchy subject today in the Ukraine. To make matters worse, the Russian army occupies the Crimean part of the Ukraine claiming it as part of Russia with a Russian speaking population.

Most of the episodes of Servant of the People are first recorded in Russian before being translated into Ukrainian. The series had offices in Moscow.

Zelensky and his wife grew up in the Russian speaking part of the Ukraine. Mrs. Zelensky insists that her husband is now deepening his knowledge of Ukrainian language.

The country held the elections in March 2019 with Zelensky coming first with 30% of the votes. A follow up election on April 21 gave him 73% of the votes. And so the actor president becomes the action president! The question on every person’s lips is “Will Zelensky be up to the job?”

The ideological position of the Servant of the People party is Libertarianism. President Zelensky said that for the last four or so years he has done everything to make Ukrainians smile. In the next five years he will make sure he does nothing that would make Ukrainians cry.

The immediate concerns of the new president are corruption and the economy. He intends to change the general prosecutor. “After that, it is necessary to re-establish the national anti-corruption agency and allow the anti-corruption court to function independently,” the president said. Once corruption is tackled, the economy will recover with investment pouring into the country.

Many people are not too sure that President Zelensky will attack corruption as readily as he says. They say his relationship with Igor Kolomoisky whose Bank was nationalised by outgoing President Petro Poroshenko over alleged money laundering might not permit him to do the needful.

Seriously though, stand up comedy is one thing, standing up to President Putin is another thing. There are Ukrainian captives in the hands of the Russian speaking break away Eastern Ukraine. Can the new president negotiate their release?

He says he will stop the shooting as soon as possible. He is ready to talk to President Putin. Hopefully he would employ young people, around his age of 41 years and win early low hanging fruits. They are frank and straight to the point.

A few days ago in her first interview, Mrs. Zelensky was asked whom would she like to meet Mrs. Trump or Mrs. Obama? She said “Mrs. Obama, I like her!” This is considered as naive. Politically it would have been better if she had said Mrs. Trump.

The populist words and actions continue. The President-Elect walked to the place where he was to be inaugurated as president. He said he walked there because he wished to be close to the people.

His speech after the inauguration was short and to the point. There was no time for trite speeches. He asserted that the victory was for all of them, all Ukrainians. He wanted to thank everyone. But his most populist and incredible decision is the one he made about the ubiquitous presidential photograph that appears in all offices, all public places and eve homes.

From the beginning of the state all over the world this picture of the sovereign has always been compulsory. In fact if an official was that bold as to delay in displaying the official photograph of the sovereign he or she could lose her post.

As important as these pictures are, if you tried to find one of the former presidents the day after he or she had lost re-election, you would sweat but not find one.

This is the symbol of sovereignty that President Volodymyr Zelensky has given up with the following words: “I really do not want my pictures in your offices, for the President is not an icon, an idol or a portrait. Hang your kids’ photos instead, and look at them each time you are making a decision.”

Imagine a Nigerian President demystifying such a symbol of presidential authority! That would be the day.
bankole.omotoso@elizadeuniversity.edu.ng


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