Wednesday, February 26, 2020
Miles from the Mainstream
D. R. ZUKERMAN, proprietor

A Populist President in the Spirit of Federalist Paper No. 57

June 5, 2019 --

It looks as if Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky will continue in real life to be the forceful and populist president of Ukraine that he portrayed in the television series "Servant of the People. In his inaugural address he implied criticism of Kiev governments for having failed to make the people of the secessionist, eastern provinces of the Donbas, Donetsk and Luhansk, feel like Ukrainians. He cited a quote from Ronald Reagan, and referred to Israel as a guide to emulate. And a week after taking office, he indicated that he will risk Russian displeasure by exploring the possibility of ties to the European Union and NATO.

In his address, Mr. Zelensky declared "Our first task is to end fire in the Donbas." This armed conflict continues to fester between the Kiev government and the Donbas, which established independent republics in the east. This conflict is the result of the February 2014 Maidan revolution that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych who had declined to sign a loan agreement with the European Union. Protests and rioting erupted, followed by the secession of Donetsk and Luhansk. The western part of the country seeks ties to the west and the Donbas, has traditionally looked east to Russia. Mr. Yanukovych fled Ukraine for Russia, and, last January, was tried in absentia, in the Ukraine, convicted of treason and sentenced to 13 years imprisonment

Last week it was announced that Mr. Zelensky will make his first foreign trip, as president, to Brussels, to meet with the president of the European Union, Donald Tusk, and the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. A meeting between Mr. Zelensky and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is also planned. These meetings,are not likely to please Russian President Vladimir Putin, but should ease concerns of observers that President Zelensky would buckle under to Russian pressure.

Calling, in his inaugural address, for dialogue, Mr. Zelensky said the first step towards dialogue should be the release of all Ukrainian prisoners of war. He went on to say that the "next challenge is to return the lost territories'" and obvious reference to the Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014, as well as Donbas.

As examples for Ukrainians to follow, Mr. Zelensky cited the champion national soccer team of Iceland which included a "dentist, a film director, a pilot, a student and a cleaner," and succeeded "despite nobody believing in them." He went on to cite the examples of "the Israelis in defending their rightful land, the Japanese in terms of technology, the Swiss in terms of knowing how to exist happily with each other despite any differences."

He called on "all the Ukrainians in the world" to bring their "knowledge, experience, and mental values" back to Ukraine, "to do the impossible by uniting together." He acknowledged that Ukraine, "apart from the war," had many problems, including "shocking tariffs, humiliating salaries and pensions, painful prices, the absence of job opportunities...." He then alluded to President Ronald Reagan's observation, "The government is not here to solve all our problems, the government is the problem."

President Zelensky went on to say that his election "only proves that the citizens are tired of the experienced politicians who over the past 28 years created a country of opportunities, -- opportunities to steal, bribe and loot. " He called for a country "[w]here everybody is equal before the law and where the rules of the game are honest and transparent, that are the same for everyone" He added that people who want to serve the nation need to take office.

He went on to make this very populist request: "And please, I really don't want you to hang my portraits on your office walls. Because a president is not an icon and not an idol. A president is not a portrait. Hang pictures of your children. And before you make any decision, look into their eyes." Quite remarkable.

To further indicate that he will be a strong president, before concluding his remarks. Mr. Zelensky announced that he was dissolving parliament. He then closed his address by referring to his fictional presidency: "Dear nation, throughout my life, I've been trying to do everything for Ukrainians to smile. I felt with my heart that it wasn't just my job, it was my mission. In the next five years, I will do everything so that you, Ukrainians, don't cry. Thank you."

For LPR, the President Zelensky's inaugural address was very much in the spirit of Federalist No. 57, filled with "that communion of interest, and sympathy of sentiments" that bind the people and "The Servants of the People."