Churchill on a iPhone: Zelenskiy’s movies are amazing, but it will be able to keep us enthralled

Churchill on a iPhone: Zelenskiy's movies are amazing, but it will be able to keep us enthralled

That is the danger Volodymyr Zelenskiy faces now: that his struggle against Russian invasion becomes a long, slow war of attrition and so, with time, the world’s attention starts to wander. The war would go on; it would still be there on page 14. But newer stories would edge it aside. Soon, yellow and blue would be last season’s colours.

The remarkable ingenuity of Ukraine’s leader has galvanised the country. Outside, he must contend with a new foe: the West’s waning attention. Ukraine faces a slew of nightmares, but here’s one more: the country devolving into Bosnia and Herzegovina. I don’t mean Bosnia as a country, but rather the war of a quarter-century ago and how that fight came to be viewed from afar. Even for those who lived only an hour or two away, the war in the Balkans was background noise for much of the 1990s. Bosnia was a perennial fixture on the inside pages and midway through the TV bulletin unless a really heinous occurrence propelled it to the top of the headlines. Bridget Jones is a fictional character.

Highlights

  • Note the present tense. There is nothing former about Zelenskiy and his colleagues’ vocation: they’re still producers now. Indeed, there is scarcely a gap between Zelenskiy’s two incarnations as politician and performer. His most famous hit show was called Servant of the People; his political party is called Servant of the People.

  • Zelenskiy seems aware of this danger, and if anyone can combat it, it’s him. He’s not merely a politician with a knack for communication. Often missed in descriptions of him as a former entertainer is the fact that he made his fortune as a phenomenally successful producer of television. His core team in the presidential palace is the same group that ran his production company: his speechwriter is a scriptwriter. The Kyiv-born author of This Is Not Propaganda, Peter Pomerantsev, says of the Zelenskiy inner circle: “They’re all showrunners.”

Zelenskiy is hardly the first to grasp the tight connection between politics and storytelling. In some ways, he is merely succeeding in doing what Donald Trump longed to do: conducting a presidency like a top-rated TV series, with great visuals, shocking plot twists and plenty of action. Except Trump not only lacked Zelenskiy’s talent, he had to rely on manufactured drama and imagined enemies. The Ukrainian president is in a bloody war against an enemy who is all too real.