Volodymyr Zelensky meets with Bernard-Henri Levy, 2019COURTESY THE AUTHOR
Idon’t know if, by the time this article appears, Volodymyr Zelensky will still be alive.
We do know that he is in Kyiv, surrounded by his generals, in a bunker that the Sukhoi fighter jets seek.
And we have just seen him in a video where he appears helmetless, outside, like a young Churchill walking in the poor neighborhoods of London during the Nazi Blitz of September 1940.
But I also know that he is at the top of the Kremlin’s kill list, according to the English-language press.
His recent farewells come to mind—on Friday, Feb. 25, to his counterparts over Zoom during a special meeting of the European Union: “This is maybe the last time that you will see me alive.”
What is greatness?
True greatness, as taught by European chivalry?
Perhaps it is that.
That heroism, calm and proud.
A touch of Allende the night before the assault of the Moneda by Pinochet’s death squads.
The way he told President Biden, who offered up an exfiltration—“I need weapons, not a taxi”—and Putin, today’s Pinochet: “You can try to kill me, I am ready for it, since I know that the idea lives in me and will survive me.”
The first time I met him was on March 30, 2019, the night before the first round of his stunning election, in a seafood restaurant near the Maidan.
I had just performed, at the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, Looking for Europe, the theatrical monologue that I was bringing then to the European capitals. My friend Vladislav Davidzon, one of the last American journalists still in Ukraine—reporting for Tablet—had arranged the meeting.
Volodymyr Zelensky was, at the time, a very young man. Looking like a paper boy in jeans, old sneakers, and a black T-shirt with a worn neckline, he had spent the night celebrating the final performance, in an old Kyiv skating rink turned café-theater, of “Servant of the People,” the one-man show that had made him famous.
We talked about Beppe Grillo, that other cabaret actor, and founder of the Five Star movement in Italy, whom Zelensky hated being compared to.
About French Coluche, whose story he didn’t know well and whose final pirouette, a decision to retire from the presidential election, he did not quite understand: “Maybe because there was now a great man in France, François Mitterrand, so his service was no longer needed?”
About Ronald Reagan, by contrast, he knew everything; hadn’t he just done—for the Ukrainian TV channel 1+1, which belongs to the Israeli-Ukrainian Igor Kolomoyskyi, Zelensky’s sponsor—the voice-over for a docudrama on the destiny of this actor in bad Westerns who became a great president?
We also spoke about Putin, the other Vladimir, about whom he had no doubt: If he would come face to face, he would make Putin laugh, just as he had made all Russians laugh. “I act in the Russian language, you know; the kids love me, in Moscow; they double over with laughter at my sketches; the only thing is …”
He hesitated …
Then, over the table, in a low voice: “There is one thing … this man does not see; he has eyes, but does not see; or, if he does look, it’s with an icy stare, devoid of all expression.”
The other subject of our conversation was his Judaism.
How could a young Jew, born into a family decimated by the Shoah, in the oblast of Dnipropetrovsk, become president of the country of Babi Yar?
It’s simple, he answered, with a hoarse laugh: “There is less antisemitism in Ukraine than in France; and, above all, less than in Russia where, hunting for the Nazi mote in thy brother’s eye, they end up missing the beam in thine own eye; wasn’t it Ukrainian units of the Red Army that liberated Auschwitz, after all?”
Our second meeting took place at the annual Yalta European Strategy conference, the Ukrainian mini-Davos created by the philanthropist Victor Pinchuk.
Like every year, there were distinguished geopoliticians, American officials, NATO representatives, acting or former European heads of state, and intellectuals.
Zelensky, now president, gave a strong speech in which he laid out his plan for combatting corruption, the scourge of his country’s economy.
The time came for the traditional closing dinner, where the host would, over pears and cheese, offer a “surprise” to anchor the event: one year, Donald Trump, candidate … another, Elton John or Stephen Hawking …
This time the surprise, arriving on the stage, in front of the tables, is the troupe of actors who had performed with the new head of state, up to his election.
One does an impersonation of Angela Merkel.
Another plays a supposed WhatsApp exchange, hilarious and salacious, between Trump and Hillary Clinton.
And here was a third, made up like Zelensky, playing a rustic Ukrainian who speaks poor English searching for someone to interpret for him and pointing, as if by chance, at the real Zelensky, who without being asked twice, bounds out of his chair to join his comrades on stage.
That was the situation.
A fake Zelensky, playing the real one.
The real Zelensky, playing the interpreter of the fake.
The fake, translated by the real, offers up howlers that the other is forced to translate, which make fun of him.
In short, an incredible show.
The room, faced with this quid pro quo, this joyful blurring of original and copy, faced with the self-effacement of a president swallowed by his avatar, hesitates among laughter, uneasiness, and amazement.
That night, Zelensky was Woody Allen inviting us, like in The Purple Rose of Cairo, into his film, or, better, into his TV series.
When the show was over, I went to ask him what Putin, in Moscow, might think of this enemy disappearing behind his mask and allowing himself to be silent within his simulacrum. He told me this: “It’s true! The attitude is surely unheard of in the main repertoire of the FSB! But laughter is a weapon that is fatal to men of marble! You shall see.”
We met again, once more, last year.
I was coming back from reporting in the Donbas, where I had run the front lines from Mariupol to Luhansk, with elite troops of the new Ukrainian army. And while my photographers, Marc Roussel and Gilles Hertzog, had laid out some of their best shots on the coffee table in the room where we were being received, a whole other Zelensky revealed himself.
In one of the photos, taken at Novotroitske, Zelensky recognized Major General Viktor Ganushchak, the leader of the 10th Battalion of the Alpine Chasers brigade, mildly paunchy in a chicane jacket straight out of frozen Verdun.
About another photo, taken in the Myroliubovka zone, near Donetsk, he commented to Andriy Yermak, his close adviser, to his right, on the vulnerability of three 155 mm cannons, positioned like prehistoric iron monsters in the middle of a field.
About a third, taken near Donetsk, on a gutted road in the ghost town Pisky, he knew the exact number of brave souls who, dug into the mud and snow, held the line.
And then, in Zolote, not far from Luhansk, in a maze of trenches made from an assembly of planks planted in the black earth, he knew by name, having just inspected them, most of the overequipped Rambos, their faces muddy or hooded, who stood guard every 30 feet and seemed hypnotized by the no man’s land before them.
Did Volodymyr Zelensky already know, on that day, that Putin had decided he’d had enough of the Ukrainian democratic exception, and of his clowning?
Did he understand that he would never, after all, laugh with the cold-eyed man with an assassin’s soul?
At that moment, things became clear.
I understood that this former artist of the LOL and the stand-up, whose true nature I thought I had found at the gala dinner in Kyiv, had transformed himself into a warrior.
I saw him join the exemplary company of the men and women that I’d revered my whole life—from republican Spain to Sarajevo and Kurdistan—who are not made for the part that befalls them, but who take it up with panache and learn to make war without loving it.
And in his silhouette grown heavier, on his features once young like French republican drummer boy Francois Joseph Bara, now resembling the French revolutionary Georges Danton, I saw the resistance fighter whose courage amazes the world today.
This man prefers to die fighting than to suffer the dishonor of forced surrender.
The Forum of Young Global Leaders, or Young Global Leaders (YGL), was created by Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum. It is a non-profit organization managed from Geneva, Switzerland, under the supervision of the Swiss government.
Schwab created the group with $1 million won from the Dan David Prize, and the inaugural 2005 class comprised 237 young leaders.
People recognized as a Young Global Leader are allowed to attend one meeting of the World Economic Forum for free.
BusinessWeek‘s Bruce Nussbaum describes the Young Global Leaders as “the most exclusive private social network in the world”, while the organization itself describes the selected leaders as representing “the voice for the future and the hopes of the next generation”.
This interview is part of the Europe Matters podcast. A bold, fresh and curious podcast series that delves deep into thought-provoking questions pertinent to where Europe is at and where it is heading. You can listen to other episodes here: https://pod.link/europe-matters ————————————————— Subscribe: Website: https://europematters.com
2 days agoI do love his wide lens view and years of experience. I have read him over the years and honor his opinion. Shame about Assange. I will watch this show again, not listened before. Comments here are rough, I wish I had an ounce of his knowledge even if I don’t always agree, He deserves respect. As he comes to his last years He must be sad to see this world as is. I have Hope in our youth to carry on and find the missing links to save people and planet in a non violent way and work toward equanimity.Show less
3 days agoYou (the interviewer) showed some incredible intelligence in just letting Mr Chomsky talk. Too many interviewers try and make themselves appear intelligent by shoehorning their ideas into a Chomsky interview. And doing so they normally prove themselves quite the opposite.Read more
15 hours agoHow brilliant. I cannot thank Mr Chomsky enough. It is still the clearest voice I have heard on world issues. I try to follow all the non mainstream media I can from different regions in the world and I’m still massively ill informed. Until I hear Mr Chomsky link all the strands of the past that shape events today. How one person can have this depth of knowledge, perspective and integrity I do not know. But I do know that we all need to do better.Read more
1 day agoFunny how Noam Chomsky can sum everything in just a few words. I was just remembering the Russian tank that came back to our scrap yard in Saudi to be melted down. Whilst these tanks were stuck on the road trying to get back to Baghdad, the American planes were flying up and down firing depleted Uranium shells killing everybody they could. Just like in Vietnam. Kill as many as possible. Even in WWII, red cross vehicles weren’t targeted because they work for both side. Not in Iran however. I saw for myself. The US have long ceased giving quarter due to their arrogance. Please don’t complain when the tables are finally turnedRead more
3 hours agoWhat will we do without Noam Chomsky? He is like a walking, living version of cliff notes with keen insights. He’s literally read every book, every government memo, so you don’t have to. Not advocating not reading or certainly not being a critical thinker but he is such a wealth of information. He can recall the Minsk agreement and how it could help. The what? Well you remember whe Gorbochev conceded West Germany to join Nato but not a step east agreement. Oh, ya . . But he does make it easy to jump in and get up to speed on a number of issues and proposed solutions along with examples of the same issue happening 75 years ago and how it was handled. Great interview!Read more
5 days agoIt’s a joy to listen to someone with such a grasp on the actuality. Chomsky is the guru of the 21st century. We have to listen to him. Those who have the means to make a difference must take on the Chomsky mantle of wisdom and carry it forward asking his guidance whilst he is still around to give it.
5 days ago“Brains are not concentrated in rich countries.” Noam Chomsky you are and Always be my Hero. I love and respect you. I wish I could have Seen you in person. You make me feel so peaceful… Wish you all the best. Thank you for this great interview.
1 day agoWith all respect, I believe mr Chomsky is very naive regarding the intentions and way of thinking of Vladimir Putin, in relation to the internal situation in Russia. At the end of the day, Russia has developed into a corrupt, autocratic state.
1 day agoThe Misk agreement is officially dead after Russia has proclaimed independence of the so called Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics and started moving more of their troops (not hiding this time) on the Ukrainian land.
21 hours agoChomsky refers to the Taiping rebellion when he discusses the most devastating war outside of China – it’s really very obscure in England, I never learnt about it until I started researching precursor’s to the Boxer rebellion (also looking up Gordon’s actions in Sudan), yet claimed a comparable number of lives to the devastating world wars and was instigated by a millenarian cenobitic Christian, incredibly unusual.Read more
1 day agoThe US devotes more money and resources to their military and have sadly used it and their media to utilize it as their solution to disagreements and conflicts worldwide. Hardly difficult to see others being wary or even hostile to US actions. The EU does not speak as one. China and Russia do ( like it or not within their internal boundaries) and they see Ukraine entering into NATO and the EU economy as a threat. US dominance in the decision making weakens the EU’s integrity and influence in world affairs.Read more
8 hours agoGreat Interview. Prof Chomsky is always on point and great at reading the pulse of the global situation. I think you guys should definitely interview Diem25s Yanis Varoufakis, hes great at local European politics.
3 days agoThe Russian people have suffered and sacrificed for centuries, in fact for its entire history, in ways Americans will never be able to comprehend. Meanwhile we Americans continue to revel in our material greed and point our weapons of mass destruction at anyone we deem will get even a tiny share of the world’s resources. Our collective karma is coming for us.Read more
Europe Matters4 days ago (edited)We have added Italian, German, Spanish, French, Russian and Chinese subtitles. Most of these translations have been made automatically with Google Translate, so if you find any mistakes please reply to this comment with the time stamp and text to be improved. Don’t forget to subscribe for our upcoming video with Social Innovator of 2022 professor Alberto Alemanno.Read more
1 day agoThank you Noam for talking about the USA as a backwater, that Bernie could run run as a Christian democrat in Germany, but in America he’s a radical big bad wolf…universal healthcare, free university education, these are too radical when profit is the last word….
1 day agoLuckily my medicare (government insurance) covered my emergency room when I was stung by a swarm of ground bees in my yard (I’m allergic to their venom as it turns out) and I got prompt care upon showing my medicare card. Prior to turning 65, I had no insurance at all. The bill they sent to medicare was over 5 thousand dollars for my 45 minutes in the ER.Read more
3 days agoFantastic interview! In spite of being purely speculative, I think that counter-factual regarding Assange was actually quite an interesting thought-experiment to consider the degree of domination the US has over Europe.Read more
4 days agoI love Chomsky! It is always a privilege to be able to take away a piece of his wisdom. I have to ask, though, why has no one responsible had to answer to the world for this pandemic? So many deaths with roots to the decisions of certain people. Is it simply politics? If it is, do the deaths of these innocent people truly mean less than some form of face value? Side note here; it is absolutely gut wrenching to know how the poor of the world take the biggest hit in regards to lack of care.Read more
1 day agoI am deeply ashamed to be European. At least US is saying what it does and does what it says. In contrast the EU is spineless, coward and unprincipled. They sanction but benefit as well all the while they communicate a third thing.REPLY
6 days agomy gratitude for your mercy. If’s the European Union 🇪🇺 going’s out of the USA and the British government, I found that the European Union 🇪🇺 is more strong than the past of the USA propaganda stirring awareness against them for the Russia wrongs but it’s the democratic alliance threatening with no respect for the government’s policy of the European Union . The USA has no cultures but violate laws and selfishness against their beliefs with Nato as the human in control of the military justifying.Read more
1 day agosorry but I need to point that some notions here are very naive – implementation of Minsk agreement would not make Ukraine neutral but rather dependent on Russia and unable to freely integrate with EU against the will of Ukrainian people…REPLYAllNoam ChomskyListenableRelatedRecently uploadedWatched1:09:13NOW PLAYING
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