By Nicky Reid aka Comrade Hermit
Exile in Happy Valley
“Man looks in the abyss, there’s nothing staring back at him. At that moment, man finds his character. And that is what keeps him out of the abyss.”
Neoliberalism has a brand-new rock star, and his name is Volodymyr Zelensky. You can’t turn on the news in any given country west of the Danube without stumbling over some starry-eyed career war apologist creaming their knickers like a boomer teeny bopper at the height of Beatlemania over their new idol’s latest hit and Volodymyr Zelensky plays all the hits. Ever since the first bombs dropped on Ukraine, that nation’s embattled young heartthrob of a president has been on a world tour begging Western leaders to sack up and bail him out of the war they used him to provoke, and he always plays masterfully to his fickle audience’s insecurities. In Israel he invokes the Nazis who we all pretend aren’t already in his army. In England he paraphrases their favorite Nazi, Winston Churchill. And of course, in Washington he plays the shit out of the 9/11 card like fucking Rain Man.
But every heartfelt serenade ends the same way, with this dreamy icon for social justice demanding peace through nuclear holocaust by way of a no-fly-zone. From anyone else this bit might come across as campy or even downright gross but with his boyish good looks bathed in the rugged charm of his ever present five o’clock shadow and an army green t-shirt just tight enough to show off his pecs, Zelensky sells it like Xanax to soccer moms, and while most of his adoring groupies aren’t quite moony enough to give him World War 3 on a silver platter, the weapons are pouring into L’viv like wine. The arms industry hasn’t had a pitch man like this since Osama Bin Laden. Yet Zelensky appears to be growing weary with his newfound superstardom. There are even rumors circulating of him giving it all up for a peace deal with Putin’s Russia. which begs the question, who exactly is Volodymyr Zelensky and how exactly did he become the poster boy for a NATO alliance that even he admits doesn’t appear to give a fuck about the perilous plight of his people?
To answer these questions, you have to go back in time a few years to 2019, the year Volodymyr Zelensky was propelled from local fame to international superstardom by becoming Ukraine’s most unlikely new president. Five years after Joe Biden and Victoria Nuland had the democratically elected government in Kiev overthrown by a pack of rabid neo-Nazi soccer hooligans, the neoliberal miracle of the so-called Maidan Revolution wasn’t looking so hot. The place had become an embarrassing snake’s nest of lawlessness and corruption, and even the suckers in the Fourth Estate were taking notice. Said neo-Nazi soccer hooligans had thoroughly infiltrated the highest ranks of power with known white nationalists like Andriy Biletsky and Andrei Paruby running the parliament while swastika-clad street gangs like C14 and the Azov Battalion freely roamed the streets as newly deputized members of Ukraine’s fastly growing defense establishment, clubbing Gypsies, bashing gay pride parades, and hurling acid in the faces of anyone who dared to bitch about their reign of terror.
Meanwhile, sleazy billionaires like then-President Petro Poroshenko were robbing the country blind and using these racist armed thugs to protect their Eastern industrial assets by ethnically cleansing whole swaths of the Donbas. Something had to change. Photos of heavily attended torch-lit marches in honor of known genocidal Nazi collaborators had made their way to the pages of the Guardian and Newsweek, and some of the more progressive Democrats like Ro Khanna were even attempting to have entire battalions of Ukraine’s new National Guard rightfully designated as international terrorists. Both NATO and the wilier oligarchs who stood to profit from their occupation of the country had a lot riding on Ukraine’s future as a glorified stick to jam in Putin’s eye and the very thugs they used to hijack the nation were threatening to fuck it all up. They needed a ringer. A human air freshener to hang on the rearview mirror of this wreck. Not a reformer, just someone who smells like one and who better than a man who literally plays one on TV.
On the surface, Volodymyr Zelensky appeared to be the ultimate outsider candidate, a secular Jew from a Russian speaking family whose main claim to fame was playing a pissed off history teacher on a popular comedy who finds himself catapulted to Ukraine’s presidency after a student posts a rant of his against corruption online that goes viral. Servant of the People had become Ukraine’s new favorite TV show by skewering the very oligarchs who defined their post-Maidan purgatory and Zelensky essentially ran for office as the hit show’s main character, promising to cleanse the sewars of Kiev of corruption and to bring peace to the war torn East.
But from day one something wasn’t quite right about this narrative. Zelensky’s biggest campaign donor was the man who owned the network that produced his show, Igor Kolomoisky, a billionaire oligarch so odious that even the United States sanctioned him for robbing his own bank of $5.5 billion. As if this wasn’t gross enough, in spite of being Jewish and a dual citizen of Israel, Igor was also the top financier of neo-Nazi battalions like Azov and Aidar who he used to terrorize his business rivals and secure assets under threat of being nationalized by ethnic Russian rebels in the Donbas. Kolomoisky had been hiding out in Switzerland since having a very public falling out with the incumbent Petro Poroshenko, but his money and the favors it provoked hadn’t left the country.