This week he has spoken before the most powerful people in the United States and Germany, gathered in the Congress in Washington and the Bundestag in Berlin. The one that comes will beg for help before the parliaments of France and Japan. Earlier, the leaders and parliamentarians of the European Union and the United Kingdom listened carefully.
Volodymyr Zelensky has spoken before the world with his own political voice that characterizes him. In his speeches to Western leaders, he uses a very prominent device that he repeats: choose a key episode in the history of the country the one he addresses, draws a parallel with the current Ukrainian situation and throws it at the audience. A bit of reproach, a bit of a cry for help: establish a no-fly zone, Putin is massacring us.
Example of this Thursday before the German parliamentarians and their chancellor, Olaf Scholz. The Ukrainian president remembers the wall that divided Berlin after the Second World War. A German national trauma. Zelensky says that Putin is raising another. “It is not a Berlin Wall, it is a Wall in central Europe between freedom and slavery, and that wall gets bigger with every bomb dropped on Ukraine.” And she tops it off with another historical reference, Ronald Reagan’s famous speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate in 1987. “Tear down this wall, Mr. Gorbachev!” the US president told then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Zelensky mutates the words. “Dear Chancellor (Olaf) Scholz: Destroy that wall, give Germany the leading role it deserves!”
Thus, Zelenski gets the audience to empathize with the seriousness of his situation and that of his people immediately, the political communication expert Antoni Gutiérrez-Rubí explains to EL PERIÓDICO DE ESPAÑA, a newspaper that belongs to the same group as this medium. “His speeches appeal to strong national and historical emotions: tells them that their previous wars have to do with the one that Ukraine is suffering at the moment”. In this way, he achieves closeness and emotional connection in his interlocutors. “These are courageous speeches, because at the same time it denounces the inaction, passivity or lack of commitment of the West.”
Zelensky is trying to turn the war that the Russian giant has waged against Ukraine into an international affair. The very existence of his government, perhaps of his country, depends on it. And for this he uses “an epic rhetoric.” It’s “Winston Churchill in a T-shirt”, as defined by the American conservative journalist Lou Dobbs. The British leader entered through the front door in history for the leadership with which he guided his country during the war against Germany. That one, dressed in a Homburg hat and a sempiternal cigar. This one, Zelenski, with a military green shirt and a two-day beard. “Like Churchill, he uses the language of war as a political weapon, because he is at war,” says Gutiérrez-Rubí.
The Ukrainian leader, an actor who won three out of four votes in the elections of 2019, is far from getting what he really wants with these speeches: a no-fly zone, for NATO to prevent Russian planes from flying over Ukrainian skies to bomb at will. The West refuses because it fears a frontal war with Russia, a nuclear power.
What he has achieved is rain of millions and weapons. Joe Biden has announced an aid package of €12.3 billion in military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine and NATO’s eastern flank countries. And the sending of long-range missiles and drones to kyiv to defend itself from the invasion.
The president of the United States announced it shortly after Zelensky addressed US congressmen and senators. Again, with strong words, and making an adaptation of the most painful events in american historyto. “Remember your 9/11. Ukraine is experiencing that every day. Terror that Europe hasn’t seen in 80 years.”
Or referring to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that sent Washington into World War II. Zelensky even mentioned Martin Luther King and his famous civil rights leader “I have a dream” speech. “I have a need (said the Ukrainian). I need to protect our skies. Is it too much to ask?“.
Zelenski has two advantages, he explains to this newspaper Nacho Martinpolitical scientist and vice president of the Political Communication Association: “He has credibility because he is not a politician to use, and he is empowered by the situation he is dealing with.”
This allows you some leeway for impertinence. That “is it too much to ask?” in the face of the most powerful men of the United States, or the reproaches to Germany for temporizing with Putin: “We warn you that Nord Stream 2 [un proyecto de gasoducto que conecta Alemania y Rusia] it was a weapon. And his answer was ‘economy, economy, economy’”.
Can Zelenski read the primer to those who are helping him have a rebound effect? “It can make you uncomfortable, speak clearly and with a complaint and a demand that can generate a rebound effect. But it generates great sympathy from the Ukrainian population who sees that his president is not daunted and claims for Ukraine what these nations have claimed for themselves in the past”, concludes Gutiérrez-Rubí.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.