Ukrainian President-Elect and Prime Minister Are Both Jews

An interesting development, in a country that (like others in Eastern Europe) has had a long history of anti-Semitism.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

Indeed, according to an exit poll, Volodomyr Zelensky, the President-elect, won over 70% of the vote. Zelensky is a political novice; he is an actor and comedian, and the star of the popular Ukrainian (though Russian-language) TV show Servant of the People, where he plays a schoolteacher who unexpectedly becomes elected President of the Ukraine. In honor of his election, I watched the first episode of the show, which is actually not bad.

In any event, I have no deep connection to the land of my birth; I was seven when our family left, and the one real link I have to that part of the world—my native language—ties me more to Russian culture than to Ukrainian. I also have no reason to think that Zelensky will be a particularly effective public servant, though who knows? But I was happy to see that anti-Semitism in the Ukraine seems to have retreated so much that this could happen.

(Note that Jews are 1% of the population, so I doubt that his Jewishness won him many votes. And while there are occasional accounts of Jewish stereotypes cutting in favor of Jews among some non-Jews, for instance when it comes to Jewish doctors or lawyers, we Jews are not an ethnic group known for having a genius for self-government. "Elect a Jewish President and Prime-Minister, and you'll have as effective a government as Israel does" doesn't sound like a winning argument ….)

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  1. “Elect a Jewish President and Prime-Minister, and you’ll have as effective a government as Israel does” doesn’t sound like a winning argument ….

    Well now, Israel has survived 70 years among troublesome neighbors. Will Ukraine survive 42 more years?

    1. Good point: It does have a high degree of difficulty.

    2. Israel survives because America supplies military, political, and economic skirts to hide behind.

      (So far, anyway. It seems reasonable to argue the current course of Israel’s government may be counterproductive to existential degree.)

    3. To be fair to Israeli politicians, the Israeli election system does not encourage natural prima donnas to stick together in large lasting clumps as in the US. There are lots of parties of not much more than one.

      It may be that the system is causing them to be extra fissiparous.

      Or it may be that they have wisely decided that the character of their politicians is naturally unsuited to playing second fiddle for more than twenty minutes and so they’d better have a system that accommodates this.

  2. So is it THE Ukraine or just Ukraine?

    1. I say “the Ukraine” out of habit, but now that you mention it, apparently some Ukrainians now prefer “Ukraine.” Incidentally, though Russian (and, I believe, Ukrainian) lack articles, there’s a similar controversy in Russian — the older usage is “na Ukrain’e” (“on the Ukraine”), but I’m told that some Ukrainians now prefer “v Ukrain’e” (“in the Ukraine”).

      Both the English article-less usage and the Russian “v” usage more closely tracks the norm for how one refers to most countries. But Ukraine isn’t alone; for instance, we say “the Netherlands” and the “Philippines,” perhaps because there’s an echo of the common noun within those names (“the Nether Lands” and “the Philippine Islands“). Likewise, the phrase “the Ukraine” might indirectly stem from the likely origin of the name: “krai” likely stems from the word for border or for land. But that’s just speculation, especially given that English speakers wouldn’t have viewed “krai” that way.

      1. We also say England instead of the Englands, so maybe it matters for singular vs plural. I don’t know German; how does Heligoland fit into this?

        It used to really bother me to hear “Jewish”, as if it were similar to “Americanish” or “squeamish” or “expensive-ish”, when “Jew” means the same. Compare to “British” where “Brit” is slang, and “English” where there is no “Eng”. But then “Englishman” and “German”. Eventually I decided to accept all these words as they are instead of trying to understand them.

        1. There is British as well.

        2. Jew is also an ethnic term while Jewish is not necessarily.

          1. I think both Jew and Jewish can be either religious or ethnic terms; Jew is the noun form of either, Jewish is the adjective form of either.

            1. I remember hearing “the Palestine” before there were Palestinians.

        3. There’s also “THE United States of America,” for what it’s worth, though not TUSA.

      2. In Shogun the James Clavell novel, the roughly 1600 AD English hero refers to “The Japans.” I doubt Clavell made that up out of thin air, so maybe that was a way Japan was referred to a while back.
        There’s also “The Indies” which doesn’t refer to a state but an area, and perhaps that’s a clue to the usage.

  3. Yes, this was a pleasant surprise. After all, it’s not that long ago that a Ukranian MP said that Mila Kunis “is not Ukrainian but a zhydovka.”

  4. “you’ll have as effective a government as Israel does”

    The campaign may be chaotic due to al the parties but the Israeli government runs as well or better than any other parliamentary democracy and the economy has grown very well.

  5. Per Cosmo Kramer, “The Ukraine is weak, it’s feeble. I think it’s time to put the hurt on the Ukraine.”

  6. Does anyone actually know what he believes in?

    1. Well, the (catchy) theme song to the TV show begins:

      I love my country.
      I love my wife.
      I love my dog.

      The hero is well-meaning, against corruption, in favor of the good of the people, but, at least when he’s elected, doesn’t have much more of an agenda than that. We’ll see if life imitates art imitating life.

    2. No, he’s been infamously vague about any policy details. A few weeks before the actual election he was getting pressed for policies but he stopped talking to the media at the same time.

  7. So Chelmnitsky turns in his grave.

    1. Is that a reference to Bohdan Khmelnytsky, or a subtle joke mixing his name with Chelm, the city of fools from Jewish folklore,

  8. Who could have predicted, a few short years ago, that Donald Trump would be President of the U. S. and that Ukraine would get a Jewish president before America does?

  9. “Note that Jews are 1% of the population so I doubt that his Jewishness”
    I doubt this factoid will convince people who think Jews benefit from their connections and ethnicity otherwise, quite the opposite in fact.

  10. […] Volokh Conspiracy notes that the president and the prime minister of Ukraine are both […]

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