Volodymyr Zelensky: Populism on the Fringes of the Virtual and the Real

Less than three years ago, Volodymyr Zelensky was not yet the president of Ukraine but was famous for a TV show in which he played the role of the Ukrainian president. In the TV show, Servant of the People, he impersonated a history teacher who suddenly becomes popular and then wins the presidential elections. The populist discourse used in the show came to (real) life when in 2018 Zelensky created a political party bearing the same name as the TV show. We were talking about “celebrity populism” not long ago, and Zelensky appeared also in that article…

A more successful version of Beppe Grillo—another comedian turned politician, Zelensky is now leading his country during the Russian invasion that is shocking the world. From actor to president, from comedian to martial leader, Zelensky’s communication skills made the jump seem almost natural. Interestingly, the powerful speeches that made him a folk hero across the world, are written together with the screenwriters of Kvartal 95, the television production company owned by Zelensky that produced Servant of the People.

Olga Baysha argues that “by means of Holoborodko—his virtual double—Zelensky was able to deliver his populist election promises not in terms of just telling but performing.” Olga Baysha has been researching this game of mirrors between fiction and reality, and presents her new bookDemocracy, Populism, and Neoliberalism in Ukraine: On the Fringes of the Virtual and the Real.”

Looking at the daily horrors of this war, it does not seem very relevant to know how Zelensky became the president of Ukraine. However, this articles helps us to understand why and how a comedian-turned-president is now the western world’s new hero, and what role populism played in this process.

Enjoy the read.

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