Kyiv – While his troops are fighting fiercely on the battlefields of Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky is waging an information war in the big cities of the Western world. Within two weeks, he spoke in ten parliaments and received a standing ovation. Living from the besieged capital, in a green T-shirt and with a beard on his face for several days, he often said goodbye with a fist. He disappeared when there was applause. After all, he is a man in a hurry and has to deal with real existential issues, the station wrote BBC.
“He knows how to embody the spirit of the nation,” said Jonathan Eyal of the British think tank Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). “Not only in his speech, but also in the way he conducts, what is behind him when he speaks,” he added.
Speech has only one pressing goal – to gain international support. And President Zelensky followed suit with the help of a series of tailor-made messages. He experienced major national events and trauma, from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001. In Paris, he referred to the national motto “Liberté, égalité, fraternité!” (Freedom, equality, fraternity!) In Japan, he remembers the specter of nuclear catastrophe.
The signal is not subtle. They don’t have to. They are inner.
At the same time, President Zelensky wasted no time getting to the point. In a minute or two of his speech in London, he likened the Thirteen-Day War in Ukraine to the Battle of England, the World War II clash that defined that country’s era.
Through William Shakespeare (“To Be or Not To Be”), he inevitably reached Winston Churchill. He did not appoint a British warlord, but subtly altered the Prime Minister’s iconic speech on 4 June 1940, to suit Ukraine’s geography. “We will fight in forests, fields, beaches, towns and villages, streets, we will fight in the hills,” he said.
But as Zelenský’s parliamentary tour progressed, a sharper tone came into it. He is not afraid to rebuke and scold the West for not providing sufficient support to Ukraine.
“In every speech, he asks what kind of person are you?” shows Nomi Claire Lazar of the University of Ottawa, who specializes in political rhetoric. “What nation are you? If you fail to live up to this moment, shame on you.” In a speech before the US Congress, which was replete with references to Pearl Harbor, Martin Luther King and Mount Rushmore, President Zelensky rebuked his audience in highly non-diplomatic language. “We ask for a response,” he said. “In response to terror. Are we asking for too much?” said.
In a speech at the Italian Chamber of Deputies on Tuesday, he again embarrassed the audience and pointed out that people from around Russian President Vladimir Putin are enjoying a holiday in Italy. “Don’t be a hideout for murderers,” he admonished.
Lazarová believed that Zelensky, as the president of a country suffering from an unprovoked invasion, had earned the right to reprimand. “You can’t go to a foreign legislature and say: shame; unless you have a moral arbitrator,” added the professor.
From his unique point of view, as the leader of a colonized country, it might be understandable that he felt the need to dispel a bit of indifference from his audience. “I think he and his team were frustrated. They felt that people weren’t shaken enough,” said Orysija Lucevyčová of think tank Chatham House.
In each of his speeches, co-written by his close collaborator Dmytro Lytvyn, Zelenysky has an audience in the form of politicians fascinated by his unconventional direct rhetoric, who at the same time find themselves in the uncomfortable glare of the Ukrainian leader’s fair ire.
But he also spoke for himself and for his own people. He speaks Ukrainian and avoids the suits usually associated with this type of political show. This was a remarkable turn of events in politics, whose popularity declined in the months before the war. Until the war, Zelenský’s comedic past often seemed burdensome. Under attack suddenly becomes an advantage. “Comedians make a living from this very intimate relationship with the audience. Feelings about what makes us uncomfortable. What excites us. What makes us laugh,” notes Lazarova.
A show with a simple message – do more to help us – has another audience: domestic public opinion in the West. “They are trying to put pressure from below. Domestic pressure is on the government, which is very important because what he is asking for is very expensive,” said he, a professor at the University of Ottawa.
And that’s all about. President Zelensky did not embark on this virtual journey through the world’s legislatures just to gain sympathy. Ukraine is fighting for its existence and can only continue to do so with massive and sustained military assistance from its allies.
Zelensky has been asking NATO for several weeks to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine. He knew he wouldn’t get it. But he can get second best. “I think it’s a strategy,” said Lucevycova. On Tuesday, the head of the Green Office, Andrij Jermak, presented an alternative. “Please establish a no-fly zone or provide us with a reliable air defense system,” he said. Efforts to bolster Ukraine’s air defenses are already underway, and the United States is reportedly considering supplying outdated but still effective Soviet-made equipment. According to Jonathan Eyal, Zelenský’s uncompromising approach paid off.
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