The Ukrainian President's appearance in Washington was a masterpiece of political communication. We Germans will probably underestimate its importance, as so often.
Volodymyr Zelenskyj has visited Washington and Europe feels like Christian from Controlling, who gets a broken chain of lights while playing Secret Santa in the office: signed off and a fake smile on his face. So the President of Ukraine would rather fly across the Atlantic than just next door? What is this guy in olive green getting up to?
Didn't we keep our fingers crossed for him and his country and at least donated a few billion euros in aid? Aren't we taking in Ukrainian refugees and at most occasionally calling them "social tourists"? Good: We had to - unfortunately, unfortunately! - certify bad behavior, but the president of a bombed-out country should understand the value of order!
The problem with Christian from Controlling is that in the recent meeting he speculated that Andrea from the Marketing department would "hardly" survive her illness - or that the neighboring country in the heart of Europe would survive the hail of Russian shells. Nor does it help when the Chancellor fussily glorifies Russia's war crimes attack on Ukraine as a "major difference of opinion." Should Selenskyj show up in Berlin seriously? And risk that his audience dutifully congratulates the birthday children present?
Our financial contribution to defending freedom is also small in comparison. 80 years after the Americans entered World War II, it is still not entirely clear that aggressors cannot be pleaded away. The support of the Americans amounts to more than 60 billion euros, Germany provides about 7 billion euros - the total aid of all EU members and the EU has just overtaken the American contributions, as determined by the Institute for the World Economy.
From a purely communicative point of view, Selenskyj's performance, which we missed, was a flawless masterpiece. If an order from the Ukrainian government ever arrives in my e-mail inbox, I'll throw the Macbook out the window and go out of business. What advice is there to give this government that they don't already know?
The pictures: The appearance in Washington looked like a clip from a Michael Bay film: Selenskyj in an olive-green sweater, surrounded by brightly colored costumes, neatly ironed suits, the bright red, white and blue of the Stars and Stripes, the polished wood. That's true: if you make it across the Atlantic unscathed during a war, you'd have to find a few minutes to tie a tie. But the image is more important: Zelenskyj's outfit is a flat-out reminder that nothing is normal in Ukraine. Even before he says anything, the message is in the room: I'm not part of your orderly world.
The props: Selenskyj brought a flag from Bakhmut. It wasn't just national decoration or another memento from the war: Zelenskyi coagulated an entire current story in one picture. Unlike Putin, he had visited the front in eastern Ukraine immediately before.
Such props can reinforce and perpetuate a political speech: Former US Secretary of State Colin Powell held up what he thought was an anthrax vial to justify the invasion of Iraq, Microsoft founder Bill Gates once showed a glass full of excrement to ask for clean water to advertise - and the SPD financial politician Lothar Binding achieved a certain cult factor for his folding rule.
The story: Selenskyj will later extend the story of Bakhmut even further and contour it with additional props. He hands Joe Biden around the campfire a military medal that belonged to a HIMARS artillery captain, Pavlo.
Notable: When the Ukrainian mentions the missile system commanded by Pavlo, Joe Biden waves his fist. It is an encouraging, combative gesture that would simply be unthinkable in this country. When our Olaf Scholz climbed onto a cheetah, it seemed as if his press team had forced him to do so at gunpoint.
And then this speech: Selenskyj manages what very few speakers are able to do: he does not speak about himself, but about his audience: four times he says "me", thirty times "ich" (mostly in the form of "thank you") - "you" or "your" he says 46 times. He doesn't whine, he doesn't plead, he inspires instead his listeners' desire to be a part of something bigger - a desire for biographical gilding. He knows what all listeners are all about, always and everywhere: himself.
Ukraine has won, says Zelenskyj, America has won, Europe has won. The 170 centimeter tall man stands lackluster in America's democratic pomp and offers his listeners to become part of his heroic story. As is usually the case, his speech is perfectly tailored to the target group. He reminds Congress of the turning point in the American Revolutionary War, the Battle of Saratoga, he knows how to score here.
In this way, the hall becomes a resonance chamber in which audience and speaker vibrate together. Zelenskyj even says verbatim that he hopes for an "echo" in the hearts of his listeners. He has the hall so in his rhetorical power that he even makes it laugh friendly when he talks about war and the shortage of ammunition. (I know what you're thinking: is it okay to laugh? But we'll talk about German humor another time.)
Zelenskyj is a seducer not seen since Barack Obama. That's good - if you're on the side of Ukraine. If not, you have to fear the President and his communications at least as much as you have to fear a hundred HIMARS batteries.
The performance strengthened cultural, state and human ties between Ukraine and America. We Europeans? Are not there. We hold the broken fairy lights in our hands - and some will even be alienated by this film of freedom that was shown over there.
Due to public holidays and vacations, the next column is expected to appear on January 27th.