“Servant of the People” on Netflix

Scrolling through Netflix, we stumbled on Servant of the People. A 2015 Ukrainian TV comedy series (with English subtitles).*

Vasya is a young high school history teacher, whose private profanity-laden rant about the country’s corrupt dysfunctional politics is surreptitiously videotaped by a student. Posted online, it goes viral. And Vasya suddenly finds himself elected president!

It’s a slick production, reasonably laugh-inducing, fast-paced, a bit confusing in places. We watched it because this was a bizarre case of life imitating art. The show’s impresario — who played Vasya — was of course Volodymyr Zelensky. It catapulted him into the presidency in real life.

Recent times have seen democratic elections producing some very bad choices. Ukraine’s, however oddball, turned out otherwise. Indeed, the choice of Zelensky has proven to be an inspired one. It’s hard to imagine a more heroic leader for this moment, so effectively rallying his people and the world to Ukraine’s embattled cause. Things might be very different with a Ukrainian president more like the others over the last three decades — the sort that Vasya flayed in his videotaped philippic.

I’ve always been a history buff, finding truth often stranger than fiction. Recent times have epitomized that. American politics has gone in a flabbergasting direction. I often wish for a more “normal” world. One less interesting.

Russia’s Ukraine crime is of course ghastly, but less visible to many is its dire global impact, coming on top of the pandemic. We do know about $5 gas, a direct consequence of the war’s disrupting energy markets. Perversely, higher gas and oil prices reward Russia, a major seller of those commodities, defraying its war cost and offsetting the bite of sanctions. While hurting consumers world wide. Then there are food price hikes and shortages due to supply blockages in two of the world’s key granaries, Russia and Ukraine. The combined energy and food impacts are ravaging living standards all over, knocking back into poverty millions who had climbed out of it, while wrecking many countries’ budgets and finances, and sparking waves of mass civil unrest.

When I root for the deaths of Russian soldiers, I stop and remind myself they are human beings — victims too, really. But then I remind myself I want them killed to stop their killing. With this runaway trolley, yes, I would push the Russian soldier to his death.

* My 1990s Russia trips equipped me to recognize some related Ukrainian words: spasibo (thanks), pozholousta (please), dobray utra (good morning). I noted that “emperor” was imperator — the Latin word that titled Roman rulers.

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