A joker for President? Why Ukraine’s Zelenskiy matters

In the case of democracy the ideal is pragmatic and the goal is constant improvement. Change, ironically, is the secret to stability. Zelenskiy definitely reflects change.

A man with no political experience, made famous from tv and reportedly successful in various business ventures thinks he can be President. But no, this is not 2016 and I’m not talking about Donald Trump. Rather it’s Volodymyr Zelenskiy, star of the Ukrainian television show “Servant of the People” who has announced himself as a candidate for President in the upcoming elections in Ukraine.

Whether this makes you want to run and scream and warn the Ukrainian people to “run away while you still can” or whether this is further proof to you of America’s “greatness” (its emulation by other nations), there are significant things to note in this history making event. Yes, history making.

The history being made is not whether Zelenskiy will be elected or even if he should be. The history is in his very candidacy at all.

In the world arena, America is a young nation, but Ukraine with its 28 years of independence from Russian communism, is even younger as a democratic nation. One thing that America’s founding father’s hoped for in establishing a government with its varying branches was to create a system of checks and balances that would be difficult to control either one way or the other; a freighter of significant girth that would continue to steam forward more or less on course despite degrees of change in the compass settings by the elected “Captain” at the time. And so it has been.

Despite the emotional furor over Trump’s often extreme words and behavior, the overall steamship America continues to forge ahead. Only those who have never ventured out of the US of A might not realize just how good thing are there, despite the many things that have gotten worse or still need to be changed.

So why is Zelenskiy’s candidacy in Ukraine of significance, history making, even?

What is the bottom line?


  • all of Ukraine’s Presidents so far have had a history in politics and close associations with the country’s power brokers
  • although  Zelenskiy has dealings with oligarchs, it is just one part of his persona, rather than the predominant thrust; and he has no political history.
  • just like his school teacher role in his tv show,  Zelenskiy  appears to want to hear what the people are saying and fill the government with fresh new faces and youthful idealism (whether he will do this or not, remains to be seen).

Again, all of these things are neither definitively negative or positive. So why does this make Zelenskiy’s candidacy historic and what difference does it make?

What does this mean for you personally?

  • It means that Ukraine is continuing to change from an ancient nation of old ideas to embrace radical evolution in many areas of life.

Ukraine was not so long ago the land of the Czars. Many  complain that it still is, they simply have changed names over the years from Romanovs, to Bolsheviks, to Democrats. But even the possibility of a candidate like  Zelenskiy being able to gain ground at all, shows radical openness to innovation. Whether he is the best candidate or not, this is a good thing.

  • It reflects a wave of optimism for the nation.

If you’re American you might be thinking that Zelenskiy is simply a political Kardashian, cashing in on his notoriety in one field to make even more money and fame in another field (politics). To state the obvious, Ukraine is not America. Americans grow up hearing “you could grow up to be President”. Not so in Ukraine where 20 years ago the phrase most often retorted in regards to accomplishing anything great was, “you have to know someone” and that negative thinking for Ukrainians was just “our mentality”. For a comedian to be taken seriously as a candidate for President shows great unprecedented optimism on the part of the nation.

  • It actually reveals a possible, (even subconscious), confidence in the democratic system.

For such a candidate to even be considered shows one of two things (or maybe both) ; either people are so fed up with the status quo of corruption and the “old boy” network that they are willing to consider anyone (just not the same as they’ve had so far), and/or somewhere deep down, in their steely Slavic resilience they have begun to feel enough confidence in the “government” (or at very least the democratic process) that they can take a risk on a candidate, knowing the ship is run by many more hands than just the current captain. Maybe, just maybe, Ukrainians are beginning to feel something that is almost a part of most American’s DNA – the sense of ownership in their democracy, that the government is (or should be) “of the people, by the people and for the people”, not “us and them” as was said so often in the past.

  • It is also shows a healthy shift to the dual cultural personality reflected in part by language that is present in Ukraine’s demographics.

Hailing from Eastern Ukraine and speaking Russian, not Ukrainian, Zelenskiy’s candidacy is something that could not even have been imagined just a few short years ago. The resurgence of a historical language and culture in a country once occupied and repressed by another is always a good thing. But as any modern multi-heritage nations will support, eventually there has to come a way of balance to accommodate languages and cultures of all of that nation’s citizens. It is not easy and few have found a perfect solution. But trying to wipe out both the language and culture of others, even that of your oppressors, simply lowers you to their level and is not a viable permanent answer. Zelenskiy’s popularity, whether it leads to his election or not, is a positive sign that Ukrainians are ready to at least consider that balance of culture and language needs to be considered, even accepted.

I’m not saying vote for Zelenskiy or not. (Click here for a look at all the candidates.). And whether he would be  good for the nation or not also remains to be seen. Ukraine is a country with a rich cultural heritage who is much like a young woman who fully knows who she is as a person, and the family she represents. But she is still inexperienced in her relationship to being a democratic nation. And as of yet, she hasn’t found the right “polovinka” or “other half”. In the case of democratic government systems (as opposed to a literal love relationship) the ideal is much more pragmatic and the goal is constant improvement. Change, ironically, is the secret to stability. So when observing the the Zelenskiy candidacy look beyond the surface and consider the implications. Get to the facts. Get to the bottom line.