Slavic and Eurasian Studies

CREEES Grad Student Matthew Orr & LBJ Post-Doc Kiril Avramov Write Op-Ed on Ukrainian Presidential Elections

Fri, April 19, 2019
CREEES Grad Student Matthew Orr & LBJ Post-Doc Kiril Avramov Write Op-Ed on Ukrainian Presidential Elections

CREEES graduate student Matthew Orr and Dr. Kiril Avramov, post-doctoral research fellow at the Intelligence Studies Project (ISP) of the UT LBJ School and past Fulbright Senior Visiting Research Scholar at CREEES, wrote an op-ed on the upcoming Ukrainian presidential elections in The Globe Post. In their analysis, they include findings from a student project led by CREEES Chair and Professor Mary Neuburger, for which the students have been studying the role of youth engagement and political attitudes in the lead up to the elections.

 

Of Tears and Laughter: Aftermath of First Round of Ukraine’s Presidential Election

by Kiril Avramov and Matthew Orr
April 17, 2019
in Opinion
 

The cliché that real life is often stranger than fiction has exactly matched the outcome of the first round of Ukraine’s presidential election, where the young comedian-turned-politician Volodymyr Zelensky emerged as the clear winner.

It turns out that the Ukrainian youth is an excellent barometer for the country’s broader domestic political climate. While seasoned political observers were surprised by the first round’s outcome, the attitude, trends, and online engagement patterns of Ukrainian youth have proven to be effective indicators of what was in the cards. Tracking, monitoring, and analyzing these trends could serve as an excellent “insurance” against such surprises.

For the past six months, a group of students from the University of Texas has studied the role of youth engagement and political attitudes in Ukraine under the auspices of the university’s Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies. The project led by Professor Mary Neuburger includes a focus group, survey, and a study of social media use leading up to the elections.

The ongoing research has provided interesting data and interim analysis that can help to interpret the success of the unorthodox frontrunner of the so-called Komanda Ze, the platform on which TV comedian Zelensky runs for president.

What the ‘Servant of the People’ Got Right

The 41-year-old comedian is an absolute newcomer to politics. His carefully crafted image is the complete opposite of all of the other establishment competitors such as incumbent President Petro Poroshenko.

Zelensky’s popularity stems from his comic stints and role as the lead character in the popular sitcom Servant of the People. In the TV show, Zelensky plays an ordinary high school teacher who is prompted by his students to run for president. The teacher wins the election, only to be saddled with the endless absurdity of corruption and nepotism tightly gripping the country.

Again, life can be stranger than fiction. Ironically, the real-life person behind the fictional “Servant of the People” managed to capture no less than 30 percent of the vote in the initial round of the presidential elections. A popular meme about Zelensky’s cabinet jokes that it would be staffed by TV and film characters, from Borat to Frank Underwood and James Bond.

Read the rest of the article here.
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