John Wight: We need to talk about Zelensky


In response to the missiles that struck in Poland and killed two people close to the border with Ukraine, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has again taken the opportunity to try and drag the West into direct military conflict with Russia. Flush with victory after Ukrainian forces retook control of Kherson in southern Ukraine, Zelensky stated in a video address: “Russian missiles hit Poland. NATO territory. This is a Russian missile attack on collective security, a very significant escalation. We must act.”

US President Joe Biden, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg and even Poland’s President Andrzej Duda dispute Zelensky’s claim, instead suggesting that the missiles which struck Poland were more likely to have been Ukrainian defence missiles gone awry. It means that either the former have chosen to cover up Russia’s responsibility for this missile strike in order to avoid escalation with NATO’s notorious Article 5 of its treaty in mind, or Zelensky has gone rogue, determined to up the ante in the most reckless and opportunistic way.

Whatever the truth, Zelensky on current trajectory is well on course to becoming the single biggest impediment to bringing the conflict to a peaceful resolution. His refusal to enter serious negotiations with Moscow, his tireless demands for evermore military hardware and money from Washington and Europe confirms that nine months into the conflict he is less a latter day Charles Martel, doughtily holding the line against the barbarian horde, and more Dr Strangelove, proclaiming “Gee, I wish we had one of them doomsday machines!”

Where he is concerned, the West has created a veritable monster; his near deification seeing him address by video link teary-eyed politicians in parliaments and congresses across Europe, North America, and the Antipodes, while even making an incongruous cameo appearance at this year’s Grammys.

On each occasion the embattled president, dressed in khaki, has regaled his audience with a stentorian message of resistance during which he has mined WWII analogies by the dozen. Specifically, he has drawn comparison with Ukraine’s resistance to Russian aggression with Hitler’s invasion of Poland, reminded his British supporters in particular of Churchill’s legacy, his American supporters of Pearl Harbor, and his German supporters of the Berlin Wall.

More bizarrely, Mr Zelensky was this past summer the subject of an Annie Leibowitz Vogue Magazine photoshoot in conjunction with his wife, who appeared on the magazine’s prized cover as the modern incarnation of Joan of Arc. That such a photoshoot went ahead at a time when young and not so young Ukrainian men were fighting and dying by the 100 on the frontline and the Ukrainian people are enduring the privations of war has to stand as a profound indictment.

Taking a broader view, war chic is a curiously Western disease, involving the interpenetration of celebrity culture and the glorification of war as the acme of human worth; the non-negotiable metric of cultural validation and supremacy. What better than a proxy war to achieve same without being directly engaged and suffering the brutal human cost yourself?

The depiction of President Zelensky as the moral leader of the so-called free world was undertaken with the objective of evoking the kind of emotional response that should send a chill down the spine of every right thinking person — those who understand well the warning sounded by Emma Goldman, when she once famously declared: “It [the mass] clings to its masters, loves the whip, and is the first to cry Crucify!”

We today in the West are living through a time of the “mass spirit” of which Goldman cautioned, wherein critical thinking has been supplanted by a collective lust for blood — Russian blood, Putin’s blood — with the latter ordained as the new Hitler upon which is projected unalloyed hatred as the human repository of pristine evil in our time.

Zelensky in this reductive scenario allowed us to retain a sense of innocence as citizens of a Western ideal, stretching back to the Enlightenment, which holds that our dominant cultural values are rooted in progress and justice and that whenever we have dropped bombs, launched missiles, invaded other countries and been the cause humanitarian crises, it has been in the name of human progress and, as such, a price worth paying.

Viewed from this perspective, Zelensky has assumed the mantle of saviour not only of Ukraine but of ourselves, giving us a hero to worship and live through vicariously, stirring long buried feelings of togetherness and greatness in the epic struggle between good and evil, darkness and light, progress and regress that every generation — if lucky, we are taught — experiences at least once.

Ultimately, Zelensky’s representation as a great leader has been a work of fiction through which a greater truth is being told. This greater truth is that a West is reduced to spectating at the consequences of that decline, of which the conflict in Ukraine is merely the most morbid symptom. In this regard, Volodymer Zelensky has been held up as Nietzsche’s superman come to life, the embodiment of Carlyle’s great man theory, upon whose shoulders has been placed the very fate and future of Western civilisation.

No puppet has ever caused its puppet master more problems than this puppet


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