On the New Year’s Eve, showman Volodymyr Zelenskyi made Facebook community forget about all other presidential candidates and discuss only him. At first sight, this should satisfy his political technologists. The only problem is that Facebook comments were predominantly negative.
After collapse of the USSR, a tradition was established in Ukraine: several minutes before the New Year, the country’s president, no matter what is his name, congratulates citizens and wishes them a happy New Year. Every president, from Leonid Kravchuk to Petro Poroshenko, has done this.
But the “1+1” TV channel owned by oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi changed this tradition. Just before the New Year, Volodymyr Zelenskyi made an appearance on this channel, congratulated his fellow citizens with the upcoming New Year and stated that he would run for president. Congratulation of the incumbent president Poroshenko was shifted and shown after the clock stroke 12 am.
Formally, there was nothing special about this occurrence, since “1+1” is a private channel. Its owners have exclusive right to show anyone they like or not show anyone at all. But the FB community became angry at the fact that, by doing so, the channels owners humiliated not president Poroshenko personally, against whom Kolomoyskyi is fighting fiercely, but the presidency institution itself.
Kateryna Venzhyk, the National Bank of Ukraine employee, made a parallel with the incident from 2009. She recalled that, in that year, a campaign to promote Russian ruble and belittle Ukrainian hryvnia was launched. “There were dozens of commentaries about fragility of the national currency and hundreds of articles about its upcoming collapse coupled with derision of hryvnia itself – from its historical prototype to its modern design… It was truly bizarre to read all of this, as various authors persuaded not to treat the Ukrainian currency seriously by calling it by different humiliating names, from “candy wrapper” to “crippled successor of coupon,” Kateryna wrote on her FB page.
Security service of the bank she then worked for told her a story that seemed fantastic at that time but looks completely realistic today. Russia financed a campaign to discredit hryvnia and paid several financial journalists to lead it.
“When I naively asked,” Kateryna continued, “why anyone would be interested in humiliating our national currency, the smart security serviceman told me: ‘Because national currency is a synonym of a statehood. If you lose trust in your currency, you soon lose trust in your state.’”
“You might ask what this story about hryvnia has to do with Zelenskyi replacing Poroshenko?” Kateryna wrote, “By ridiculing any state symbols, from its currency to coat of arms to flag to presidency institution, you are undermining statehood. No, I do not encourage worshipping of our political leaders. But there is a difference between criticism and mockery and there is even bigger difference between ridiculing a person and ridiculing an institution. To replace the president in the moment when everyone is waiting to see him with the clown is exactly a mockery of the institution.”
Political expert Volodymyr Fesenko expressed similar opinion: “This violates one of informal rules and rituals that unite the country in the same way as the flag and the anthem do. You could think that this tradition, which do not exist in many countries, is a Soviet leftover. You could have negative opinion about the incumbent president. But in a new and insufficiently strong state, it is better to preserve uniting traditions and rituals and even create new ones, but not destroy existing. Let’s imagine that various politicians and oligarchs start giving New Year congratulations instead of the country’s president: Firtash or Boyko on the “Inter” channel, Akhmetov, Liashko or Vilkul on “Ukraine”, Medvedchuk on “112 Ukraine” etc. In a symbolic way, this would mean disintegration of the single country into separate info-political feuds. If Zelenskyi becomes president, his New Year’s demarche will backfire, as he could become the victim of similar disrespect. This is not about Zelenskyi or Poroshenko, but about importance of following formal and informal rules and rituals that bring the country together. If they are violated, the country will disintegrate.”
Serhiy Tykhyi, “Ukrinform” informational agency head of department, wrote on his FB page that, in times of war, it is necessary to preserve the tradition of New Year’s presidential address. “In our times of war and never ending attempts to divide Ukrainians, it is important to keep this tradition and let Ukrainian president speak to all citizens. You could ask why it is important. This should be done so that this speech could be seen as a metaphor of our national unity, despite all controversies, on the eve of the elections. That would make everyone in Kremlin go mad in bitterness and frustration… It is bad when hatred paralyzes brain functioning; it is worse when this happens due to indifference and even worse if this happens due to stupidity,’ he wrote on his FB page.
Roman Kulchynskyi, “Texty.org.ua” chief editor, wrote sarcastically: “They ruined the holidays and made everyone angry. Excellent start! Terrific political technologists! The results will be the same.” He also made his New Year’s prediction: “Zelenskyi will get 2 percent, just like Sadovyi. The people only joke when they answer questions of public opinion polls, but Benia thinks it’s for real. Watching Zelenskyi after the elections will be total fun. Happy New Year! It will weed out some jerks from the politics for good.”