Zelensky's speeches use shame effectively in plea for support against Russia, expert says

Sunday - 20/03/2022 13:33
Ukrainian president recently spoke to Parliament, U.S. Congress to ask for more military aid
Patrick Doyle/Reuters
Patrick Doyle/Reuters

When Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke to politicians in Canada and the U.S. this week, he drew on a powerful emotion: shame.

In presenting his impassioned messages to the world, a political persuasion expert said the leader has set himself up as a moral arbiter by asking politicians and citizens alike what side of the war they want to be on.

"The notion that this guy is coming into Parliament and saying, 'shame on you' … that's not something that we see very often," said Nomi Claire Lazar, who is the also author of Out of Joint: Power, Crisis & the Rhetoric of Time.

"It's quite unusual in this context, and I think it's actually quite effective." 

Lazar said Zelensky's repeated calls for a NATO no-fly zone — even if he knows governments are unlikely to oblige — open the door for other requests.

"[Zelensky] is constantly saying, 'I'm so grateful, but you must do more,'" she explained. "There's this sense of well, we can't give you the no-fly zone, we feel guilty that we can't do that, so we'll give you more and more and more military support." 

WATCH | Zelensky makes powerful, personal appeal to Canada to do more: 


Zelensky has won public adoration for his ability to motivate not only Ukrainians, but people around the world, in his country's fight against Russia. His latest push has spoken directly to leaders in a bid for measures against Russia that go beyond sanctions.

In his speech to Parliament via video link on Tuesday, Zelensky painted an image of Vancouver and Toronto's CN Tower coming under siege. He spoke about families that have been killed through the night by Russian attacks. He asked — again — for stronger international military support.

"We want to live and we want to be victorious. We want to prevail for the sake of life," Zelensky told politicians — and an audience of Canadians.

'He wants us to feel with him,' communications professor says

That approach draws from a millennia-old playbook for speeches. Throughout his appeal to Parliament and the U.S. Congress, Zelensky pushed lawmakers and everyday citizens alike to imagine themselves in the shoes of Ukrainians.

"He wants us to feel with him, basically. He wants us to feel a sense of kinship with the Ukrainian people," said Rob Danisch, a University of Waterloo communications professor who studies political rhetoric.

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Author: Editors Desk


 Keywords: Ukraine, Russia

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