In 2003, VOLODYMYR Zelensky, who was 25 at the time and had just been licensed to practice law, formed an organization “to make the world a better place through humor and creativity.”
The organization was Kvartal 95 Studio, a production company that has created, among other successes, a sitcom about the strange burden of in-laws. The in-laws suffered a setback in 2017 when one of its stars was expelled from Ukraine to publicly support Russian annexation of Crimea.
But it is Servant of the People, in which Zelensky played the President of Ukraine, for which Zelensky is best known, who is now the President of Ukraine. Stagecraft was a state-of-the-art practice, and now produces non-fiction video submissions from the front lines of the war. They serve as field reports, requests for weapons and arias that glorify Ukraine. But the videos have done more than win Ukraine’s moral and military support. They have created a serialized manifesto, one that defends liberal democracy against oligarchic autocracy. Obviously, the punch-drunk world needs an introduction. Thus, Zelensky has been calling the world to reason, clarifying, day by day, the reason for democracy to be in the modern world.
The videos are apparently written in collaboration with Dmytro Lytvyn, a controversial, sharp-tongued Ukrainian expert whose biography on Twitter simply says, “I think you’ve heard what I wrote.” Others from the old studio, including Yuri Kostyuk, a writer Servant of the People, are also said to be involved. While the crew no longer uses visual gags about older people on small bikes to make the world a better place, they still use dense puns and irony, along with belligerence and rage.
Watch the entire series and the first to appear is a Lucasiian monomite about the challenge of evil by the forces of good. That masterful narrative has been so effective in valuing Ukraine and Zelensky that its approval in the U.S. has been more than 70 percent; in his homeland, he is 90 percent. Kremlin propagandists, in apparent despair, have given up distributing counter-propaganda about the Nazis in Kyiv. Instead, in late April, they were inclined to produce fake videos of Zelensky with cocaine on his desk, fake fakes, in an effort to spread it. This effort failed, as when a situation comedy pilot fails to win top-rated viewers and the new show is quietly canceled.
The first video of the Zelensky War appeared on February 23, the eve of the invasion. In Russian, it is addressed to “citizen Rossi“-the citizens of Russia- as”citizen of Ukraine”—Citizen of Ukraine. The word citizens and no people it reminds listeners that they are members of a modern nation and not of infantry in a holy war for an ethnic state. Zelensky also focuses remarkably on a Kremlin conversation point that bothers him. He says, “You’ve been told we hate Russian culture. But how can you hate culture? Any culture?” In that moment of misunderstanding, Zelensky deftly clarifies to everyone the absurdity of a “cultural war.”
Let’s reduce it. Broadly speaking, a culture is a mosaic of dialects, customs, habits, music, arts, customs, ways of life. In Russia, culture can include everything from forest folklore to vigorous walks to the Little Big radish band. Further in, you can find Chagall, Turgenev, Anatoly Karpov, the Bolshoi, Lyudmila Ulitskaya. How to hate a culture?
I had never thought of that, but of course. A culture has no budget, no government, no army. It does not charge taxes; it has no CEO, bible or headquarters. If it cannot be accurately identified, how can one hate the entire culture of a nation, which is made up of countless artifacts and practices? And yet, the constant warning from the far right in Russia — in France and in the United States — is that someone, somewhere, hates your culture and therefore deserves to die. No one but Zelensky has ever dispelled this empty alarmism so quickly.
“Europe needs to wake up now,” Zelensky said in a March 4 video. Wherever he had gone in a black suit and tie a week earlier, he now wears the olive color that has become his trademark. “Russian troops are firing on Ukraine’s nuclear power plant.” He calls his audience back and reminds us who we are: citizens with rights, not serfs with superstitions. Specifically, it is aimed at “all people who know the word ‘Chernobyl'”.