The Real Zelenskyy?
May 1, 2022 (EIRNS)—Natylie Baldwin at The Grayzone discussed with Ukrainian academic Olga Baysha the background of Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s April 21, 2019 election and the policies of his presidency, in “The Real Zelensky: From Celebrity Populist to Unpopular Pinochet-Style Neoliberal.”
Zelenskyy was elected with 73% of the vote on a platform of peace and progress—a platform essentially presented for years through the 51 episodes of the TV series in which he starred.
Baysha explained that despite vague promises of peace and development (his official platform was only 1,601 words long), Zelenskyy’s actual administration has served as “a parliamentary machine to churn out and rubber-stamp neoliberal reforms,” Baysha explains. Privatization of land and public property, a deregulation of labor, a reduction in the power of labor unions, and increases in utility rates have characterized his administration.
These policies were those called for by the international neoliberal order, and had been carried out directly by foreigners ever since the Maidan. In 2014, a U.S. citizen was appointed Ukraine’s Minister of Finance. A Lithuanian became the Minister of Economy and Trade. A citizen of Georgia became the minister of healthcare. In 2016, a U.S. citizen was appointed Acting Minister of Healthcare. This direct international control over the administration was new with the Maidan.
Zelenskyy began cracking down on democracy and free expression well in advance of the Russian military operation that began in February 2022. In February of the preceding year, Zelenskyy shut down three television channels—News One, Zik, and 112 Ukraine. Another channel, Nash, was closed in the beginning of 2022, before the war began. Since Russia began its operation, Ukraine has arrested dozens of journalists, closed additional TV channels, and obliged stations to present the official perspective of the Zelenskyy’s government.
Already in 2021, Zelenskyy had used the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) to shut down political opponents. In February 2021, members of the party Opposition Platform—For Life, including Viktor Medvedchuk, were charged. In March 2022, he banned 11 opposition parties.
But some Ukrainians stood up. The head of Ukraine’s Constitutional Court Oleksandr Tupytskyi called Zelenskyy’s unconstitutional actions a “coup.” What did Zelenskyy do? On March 27, 2021, in violation of the Constitution, he canceled Tupytskyi’s position as judge on the court. In June 2021, Zelenskyy put into effect an NSDC decision to sanction 538 individuals and 540 companies. Again, this is before Russia’s military operation this year.
Although Zelenskyy himself does not hold far-right views, Baysha explains, violent minorities are extremely effective at intimidating official holders of power into implementing their desired policies.
And the war has brought the movie start to the pinnacle of any actor’s career—a worldwide stage! “Today my life is beautiful,” she quotes Zelenskyy as telling a French reporter on March 5, 2022, “I believe that I am needed. I feel it is the most important meaning in life—to be needed. To feel that you are not just an emptiness that is just breathing, walking, and eating something. You live.”
Zelenskyy may be “living” at present, but millions of Ukrainians are now living outside the country and thousands are dead. His role in prolonging and extending the conflict has increased its toll.
With such a man in office—significantly controlled by extremists within his nation, NATO and neoliberal forces from without—negotiations to end the conflict will be difficult.