Vitaly Portnikov: The Game of Thrones is just beginning


Opinion, Ukraine, Ukrainian politics

Translated by: Christine Chraibi
As a TV showman, Volodymyr Zelensky chose not to be sworn in as President of Ukraine on Sunday, May 19, the day when the last episode of the popular series The Game of Thrones was aired on HBO.

Why? Because everyone would be discussing the final episode of the most popular TV series in the world, and not the inauguration of the president of one of the poorest and most controversial countries in Eastern Europe. No slick tidbits or funny tricks would help Zelensky, the star of Ukraine’s popular TV series The Servant of the People, to compete with Jon Snow, even as the newly-elected President of Ukraine.

Of course, this is all wrong! For others out there, The Game of the Thrones is over, but for us in Ukraine, it’s just beginning. Today, Ukrainians are not only spectators, but also participants of the most interesting political experiment of this century – when a citizen, who has never been interested in politics, has never been involved in public administration, will be entrusted with the fate of millions of people… and not in a television series, but in reality.

As at the beginning of The Game of Thrones, we don’t know much about the plot and further developments. Nothing at all! What is the new president planning to do? Who are his ministers and advisors? What oligarchic clan will win in the fight for influencing the decisions of the new president? Will Volodymyr Zelensky really dissolve the Verkhovna Rada? (President Zelensky declared the dissolution of Parliament in his inaugural speech on Monday, May 20-Ed.) What will the parliamentary elections be like? Who will head the key positions in the country? What will this mean for relations between Ukraine and its main ally, United States? How does Zelensky intend to stop the war in Donbas? What will happen to Ukraine’s social policy? Will tariffs and prices be reduced? Will Ukraine default on its debt?

Today, not one of the participants of the Ukrainian Game of Thrones knows what’s going to happen. Moreover, even Volodymyr Zelensky himself doesn’t know… he, and the millions of people that voted for him, have been taken hostage by this situation. In this sense, he actually reminds us of Jon Snow – with the only difference that Kit Harington as Jon Snow in The Game of Thrones and Volodymyr Zelensky as president Holoborodko in The Servant of the People could always rewrite a poor scenario and change stunts and scenes to their liking.

President Volodymyr Zelensky will not have this opportunity. Every mistake made by the president of a country at war, a country that depends on foreign loans and is an arena for oligarchic clashes will lead to bloodshed, death and tears. It will lead to more poverty and more lost territories, new refugees and new disappointments. Of course, there will be people for whom what is happening is no different from the actual TV series – the oligarchs who will continue despoiling what’s left of Ukraine’s resources, politicians who realize that they must now compete in populist initiatives, and simple con men who will move closer to the new government and ready cash flows.

But, for millions of other Ukrainians, the show will probably come to end…

Translated by: Christine Chraibi

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