Every war has its own language, usually a disinhibiting one that is at the same time devaluing. When in the bitter winter of 1932 the Communist Party brigades overran Ukraine, devastated it, set it on fire, raped, shot and starved Ukrainians, they called the victims saboteurs and class enemies. The word that summed up all the Russian contempt was “kulak”.
A kulak, literally “fist”, was once just a wealthy farmer. Under Lenin and Stalin it became a parasite and enemy of the proletariat, despicable, with no right to live. The “dekulakization” of Ukraine and consequently the “kulak operation” were invented.
clemency? Compassion? With whom, a kulak?
The writer Lev Kopelev, who marched in Ukraine in those early years, later put it this way: “I convinced myself: I must not fall into paralyzing pity. We saw a historical need. We did our revolutionary duty. We procured grain for the socialist fatherland. For the five-year plan.”
Today’s Ukraine is not a state in Moscow’s language, just a piece of land without culture, the south-west of Russia, yes, but “completely remote-controlled from outside” (Vladimir Putin) and ruled by good-for-nothings, optionally by puppets of the West and/or Nazis.
After 1932/33 there were no regrets and no apologies, neither will there be this time either. The language of the war has an autosuggestive effect: the Ukrainians were not human, but kulak garbage, that’s what the Russians said at the time; “They are not human, but Ukrainian Nazis, they tell themselves that today,” writes the Polish-American historian Anne Applebaum.
Degrading the victim is intended to make the crime easier for the perpetrator. But Volodymyr Zelenskyy does not only oppose the invasion militarily and politically. He also always says this: we are human beings, one people, one nation, we want to live in dignity. And this is how he appears: dignified.
Churchill said: “Of all the talents that are bestowed upon men, none is so precious as the gift of oratory. Those who enjoy it wield power more enduring than that of a great king.” Churchill uses the radio, Zelensky, in olive green and with well-trained upper arms, uses a smartphone.
“Ya tut,” he says, and that would be enough: “I’m here.” But he tells stories, appeals, admonishes, demands, thanks; we experience the President of Ukraine thinking, suffering, repenting, deciding, quarreling, laughing.
Bret Stephens wrote in The New York Times that Zelenskyi, with his strategic wisdom, embodies two Jewish archetypes: David facing Goliath and Moses facing Pharaoh. “We admire him,” Stephens said, “because he shows what a man should be: impressive without being imposing; confident without being arrogant; intelligent without pretending to be infallible; sincere instead of cynical; courageous, not because he is fearless, but because he leads with a clear conscience.”
And because it shows that patriotism is still a virtue. Because he grasps the power of personal example and physical presence. Because he knows how much words can inspire actions, so that actions in turn can confirm the meaning of words. Because Volodymyr Zelenskyy reminds us with all this how rare these qualities have become in our own politicians.