Olaf and Volodymyr: A Double Portrait
The politician who had prepared himself all his life for his top role flops. Meanwhile, the man who had made a career as a comedian on TV turns out to be a very determined and successful statesman.
- The contrast between Volodymyr Zelensky, who has been Ukrainian President since May 2019, and Olaf Scholz, the German Chancellor, could not be more staggering.
- Zelensky is a career comedian who demonstrated a true facility with clownish traits. Scholz had known since his student days that he wanted to become the political leader of his country one day.
- In the “Servant of the People” TV comedy, Mr. Zelensky, once hoisted into office, was supposed to turn into a puppet of his country’s political establishment. In reality, Germany’s Olaf Scholz is the puppet of his party.
- Unlike Germany’s Olaf Scholz, Zelensky is a master of global communications. His messaging to the target audience of each parliament and country he speaks to via video link is totally optimized.
- Mr. Zelensky, who has transformed himself from comedian to commander-in-chief, rightly doesn't want to serve as a pawn in Russophile political games that Germany’s SPD plays to this day.
One of the two men chose a career as a comedian and demonstrated a true facility with clownish traits. The other man had known since his student days that he wanted to become the political leader of his country one day.
The wholly unprepared Mr. Scholz
But when, after decades of eternal striving and preparing, the professional politician finally achieved his great goal, he did not appear statesmanlike at all. He proved to be woefully unprepared.
Indeed, he increasingly turned into a caricature of himself. By now, one can even imagine the red cardboard nose of a clown affixed to the face of the man who is so flummoxed by the real-life decision-making requirements of his long-desired role as a decision-maker and statesman.
The serious Mr. Zelensky
The other man, however, the comedian, has taken a completely different turn. Since February 24, 2022, he has been confronted with a historic battle.
A battle in which he has turned out, completely unexpected by most, to be a very skilled, determined and successful statesman.
The contrast between Volodymyr Zelensky, who has been Ukrainian President since May 2019, and Olaf Scholz, the German Chancellor, could not be more staggering.
Up to the task?
This turn of events is even more surprising as there had long been doubts about Zelensky after his election as to whether he, the television comedian, was really up to his task as president.
Some had thought that, for Zelensky, being President was just a highly ironic continuation of his long-running TV series “Servant of the People.”
The narrative of the series was that a schoolteacher, through an absurd chain of circumstances, was suddenly elected president of his country. And, owing to his inexperience and once hoisted into office by the corrupt political establishment, he was supposed to turn into a puppet of that very establishment.
Reality is very different
Things turned out very different from what was expected. In reality, Germany’s Olaf Scholz turns out to be a political drifter who, in the most charitable interpretation, seems remote-controlled by the establishment of his party.
In retrospect, that Scholz spoke so emphatically in his 2021 election campaign saying, “whoever ordered leadership from him would also get it from him” seems like a slapstick joke from the mouth of Zelensky when he was still a TV clown.
When the professional mutates into the amateur…
As far as the gravitas and professionalism of conducting their official business is concerned, it is the amateur Zelensky who has mutated into the professional, while the supposed hyper-professional Scholz is increasingly proving himself to be an amateur.
Virtually nothing of what Scholz grandiloquently announces is actually implemented in the actual political process, which he can reputedly play like a piano. That is, if he demonstrates the will to announce anything at all.
… and the amateur becomes the professional
Zelensky is quite different: Even in the days immediately preceding the outbreak of war, he was accused of harboring illusory hopes of somehow escaping any harsh action from Russia.
Such naivete, it was believed then, demonstrated the dangers of having a comedian as President. Mr. Zelensky, it was assumed, had only strayed into politics for reasons of personal vanity or delusions of grandeur.
But, as we have since learned, everything turned out quite different than expected. The Ukrainians — as a people and as a military — showed admirable preparedness.
Made-for-TV war hero?
To say that Zelensky has found the role of his life would be yet another platitude aiming at a low blow.
It is a sentiment one would expect to be expressed by Germany’s enormously self-righteous and indignant SPD – the party leading the current German government – at almost any moment.
Of course, it is true that no one has presented himself on the world stage in military khaki so dramatically, so effectively and with such public appeal since the early revolutionary days of Fidel Castro in the late 1950s.
A master of global communications…
It is not just Germans who must recognize what a master of global communications Mr. Zelensky is.
His messaging to the target audience of each parliament and country he speaks to via video link is totally optimized.
… and a complete failure
Olaf Scholz, on the other hand, is a total communications failure. If he says anything at all, he’s usually reading a statement. Worse, he does so with all the charm of an accountant who doesn’t really like being around people and therefore mainly mumbles.
On top of that, Mr. Scholz diligently carries his briefcase – and thus cuts a grotesque figure.
In an age in which politicians are always talking about authenticity, Scholz not only lacks authenticity, but the image he paints of himself — and thus of Germany as a country — is also embarrassing.
The arrogance of the SPD
The chancellor’s total communications failure is astonishing, especially in view of the elevated view the SPD has of itself.
The party had praised itself in the highest terms for its presumably brilliant 2021 election campaign and was already heralding a “new social democratic age.”
What has become abundantly clear in the meantime is that the SPD did not win the election campaign on its own merits, but because Merkel, Schäuble and the rest of the CDU’s old guard, as well as Söder and Laschet, acted in an enormously self-destructive manner.
If the SPD had strategists with a talent for communication, they would have been sent to rescue Scholz a long time ago. But they do not seem to exist. Wolfgang Schmidt, the head of the chancellor’s office, can’t fix everything.
“Walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk”
In English, there is a maxim: “Walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk.” That means: no empty words. Actions count. Especially in historical situations, where nothing less than the defense of free Europe against a military despot and war criminal is at stake.
But the German chancellor just keeps ducking. He seems to lack any inner compass to guide his decision-making. His fear of the left wing of his party seems enormous. Given those two facts, he has so far almost completely misjudged the requirements of the historical situation.
Outclassed by Zelensky
The only thing that the assembled social democratic forces, including their supporters in the media, are currently managing to demonstrate amply is just how peeved they are.
They are offended not least because Mr. Zelensky, who has transformed himself from comedian to supreme commander, rightly doesn’t want to serve as a pawn in the continuous, Russophile political positioning the SPD plays to this day.
For Mr. Scholz, it would only be logical if he deepened his communications style and subjected himself to a priestly vow of silence.
In any case, it should give him and the German government pause that his political (in)action has already led to the creation of a neologism, the verb “scholzen” in the social media sphere. For the most part, it stands as a synonym for doing nothing.