French students were no exception to the rule. This Wednesday, May 11, the spans of the Emile-Boutmy amphitheater of Sciences po Paris were crowded. In Dijon, Lille or Lyon, there were thousands to follow live on YouTube the very first speech of the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, addressed to a European university community. Registered for several days at the event, some students arrived early, rue Saint-Guillaume (7th arrondissement) to find a “good place” in front of the huge giant screen deployed in the school classroom.

Organized at the initiative of the Ukrainian Embassy in France, this exchange should be repeated in the coming weeks in British and American universities. Seventy-seven days after the start of the Russian offensive against kyiv, the former actor who became a “servant of the people” has run the exercise. In Jerusalem, Berlin or Tokyo, his speeches broadcast by videoconference to parliamentarians around the world aroused the same enthusiasm. By punctuating his speeches with historical or cultural references specific to each State, Volodymyr Zelensky now uses this format to wage a communication war against Russia.

May 68, Pearl Harbor and Churchill

To make his speeches little bits of history, the Ukrainian president and his advisers have developed a precise mechanism over the months. Visually, first, Zelensky’s speeches have become identifiable objects. Same framing – a tight shot captured from his office – and the same outfit – a military khaki T-shirt with a blue and yellow crest. On the merits then, the Head of State systematically adapts his remarks according to his audience. This Wednesday afternoon, the former actor went to dig into the history of the French student movement by evoking “the fundamental contribution” of May 68 and by quoting the famous libertarian slogan, “It is forbidden to prohibit”.

A few weeks earlier, facing the deputies of the National Assembly, he had described the conflict as “war against freedom, equality, fraternity”, in reference to our national motto. In the United States, he had in turn evoked the attack on Pearl Harbor on September 11, 2001 or Martin Luther King’s motto ” I have a dream”. In London, it was Churchill and his June 1940 speech and William Shakespeare who came to punctuate his remarks. Asked by 20 minutes At the end of the speech delivered this Wednesday by Zelensky, the Ukrainian ambassador to France, Vadym Omelchenko said: “The president works himself on his interventions at first then he solicits the ambassadors of the countries in which he must to express so that we can share with him our ideas concerning cultural or historical particularities. »

Behind these speeches, there is also a discreet man, aged 38, former journalist and political analyst, Dmytro Lytvyn. In an exclusive interview granted on April 16 to the British weekly The Observer, this close adviser to Zelensky explained: “The president always knows what he wants to say and how he wants to do it. In his speeches, emotions also play a very important role”, believing that other leaders “could be inspired by them”.

A close bond

Coming from civil society and only 44 years old, Zelensky has often positioned himself in front of his foreign counterparts as an “outside the system” head of state anxious to break the traditional codes of politics. Faced with the students of Sciences po, the man once again played the card of authenticity. Initially limited to five questions from five students from different universities, the Ukrainian president blew up the frame of the event from the first minutes of his speech. “Five questions is not enough. I don’t want it to look like a privilege. I’m interested in asking you questions too so that it’s a real dialogue, ”he said.

Beyond this close bond that Volodymyr Zelensky tries to weave in his speeches, the Ukrainian head of state constantly adapts his demands to his audience. In the midst of a controversy over the maintenance of the companies of the Mulliez group in Russia, the president had challenged French deputies and senators on the subject during his speech on March 23. “Auchan, Leroy Merlin, stop sponsoring Russia’s war machine!” Stop funding the murder of children and women! »

A collection published in France

By choosing this time to reach students, Zelensky wanted to address those who will “decide the future of France, Ukraine and the world” and questioned them: “Are you ready to politics tomorrow? “. Kyrylo, 21, a Ukrainian student who came to Paris as part of an exchange program between Sciences po Paris and his university, welcomes the intervention of its president. “Many of the students who are present here have not yet clarified their professional and political path. This speech can encourage them to change international policy, ”hopes the young man.

Chance of the calendar and a sign of the atypical nature of these speeches, the Grasset publishing house published this Wednesday, May 11 a collection of 23 speeches by Volodymyr Zelensky. Entitled For Ukraine, the non-profit book also incorporates speeches delivered by the Head of State to his people. It was Charles Dantzig, editor at Grasset, who initiated the project. Described as a “war story” and “resistance story”, these fragments of the conflict are for the most part “absolutely unknown” to the general public, he explains. And to conclude: “Only the book form will make them stay. »


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