[lg policy] What Would Ukraine’s Comedian Candidate Actually Do as President?

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Fri Apr 5 10:42:03 EDT 2019


What Would Ukraine’s Comedian Candidate Actually Do as President?

By TAMARA EVDOKIMOVA <https://slate.com/author/tamara-evdokimova>
APRIL 04, 20193:22 PM

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[image: Volodymyr Zelenskiy gestures at an AFP reporter.]
Ukrainian comic actor and presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelensky talks
to AFP reporters in Kiev, Ukraine on March 6, 2019.
SERGEI SUPINSKY/Getty Images
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On March 31, a politically inexperienced comedian, Volodymyr Zelenskiy,
secured
<https://graphics.reuters.com/UKRAINE-ELECTION/010090W9135/index.html> 30.3
percent of the vote in the first round of the Ukrainian presidential
elections. This was almost twice as many votes as the runner-up, incumbent
President Petro Poroshenko. The two men will compete for the presidency in
a run-off on April 21.

Western media is abuzz with tales of Zelenskiy’s background—his only
experience in anything resembling politics comes
<https://www.reuters.com/article/us-ukraine-election/comedian-in-front-as-curtain-rises-on-ukrainian-presidential-election-idUSKCN1RC043>
from
playing a schoolteacher-turned-president on a popular TV show. Yet, as the
possibility of Zelenskiy actually becoming the next president of Ukraine
looms larger, we still know very little about his politics and policy
proposals. So, what does Zelenskiy actually believe?

When Zelenskiy announced his candidacy on New Year’s Eve, Ukrainian and
Russian media pegged
<https://meduza.io/feature/2019/01/21/komik-vladimir-zelenskiy-mozhet-stat-kandidatom-v-prezidenty-ukrainy-ot-russkoyazychnoy-chasti-strany-rossiya-pohozhe-k-etomu-ne-gotova>
him
as catering to the Russian-speaking southeast of Ukraine. He was born in
the Dnipropetrovsk region, which borders what is now the self-proclaimed
Donetsk People’s Republic and is under the control of pro-Russian
separatist rebels. His production studio, Kvartal 95, puts out
Russian-language content and used to export shows and movies to Russia.
During the Euromaidan revolution in 2014, Zelenskiy was even accused by
Ukrainian nationalists of participating in “Moscow’s cultural occupation”
and contributing to stereotypes about Ukrainians. On the other hand, he
actively supported the Maidan movement and even performed for Ukrainian
soldiers fighting the pro-Russian forces.

The conflict with Russia was a major part of every candidate’s platform
this year, and in Zelenskiy’s case, it seems to be the only topic he could
discuss in concrete detail without resorting to sweeping generalizations.
In an in-depth profile
<https://www.pravda.com.ua/rus/articles/2019/01/21/7204341/> for the
Ukrainian Pravda, Zelenskiy emphasized that his first objective is to stop
the killing of Ukrainians on the eastern front. He wants to revisit the
Minsk agreements—signed by Ukraine, Russia, and the separatists in 2014 and
2015 to put a stop to the fighting—by negotiating directly with Moscow.
Although Zelenskiy is convinced that he can re-negotiate a ceasefire on
better terms, he categorically refuses to consider granting amnesty to
Russian fighters should Putin ask for it.

Zelenskiy is an outspoken opponent
<https://www.bbc.com/russian/features-47095458> of the current Ukrainian
government policy that denies Russian actors, artists, and performers entry
into the country. He also wants to revise the language policies that seek
to eliminate the use of the Russian language in eastern parts of Ukraine.
“We should not marginalize those who speak other languages,” he told
<http://www.aif.ru/politics/world/kto_takoy_vladimir_zelenskiy_kandidat_v_prezidenty_ukrainy>
Russian
newspaper AIF. “Everyone knows Ukrainian, if they don’t know it in the
east—they’ll learn it. There’s the Ukrainian language, it’s the federal
language. But you should be able to speak whatever you want.”

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 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com
http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/

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