I see a certain hysterical scribbling behind the surrender of the Ukrainians who had barricaded themselves inside the headquarters of the former Soviet AZovstal steel mill. They are all wondering what the real reason is for what they consider a mistake, but no one has the courage to ask not the reason, but the practical reason.
In the steel mill there were essentially three types of soldiers: the paramilitaries (later recognized by the Ukrainian government) of the Azov Battalion, the infantrymen of the Ukrainian Navy (objectively, a very well built body) and the remains of a mechanized infantry brigade. Plus a number of volunteers from the territorial guard.
Journalists, who had already written pages and pages of epic to be published after their heroic death, resented: for a world like the Western one, which is going through a phase that is the least epic of the last 4000 years, that story would have shit to reporters for a week or two. It would fuel Hollywood for years. EPICA sells, because the thing that modern society really lacks.
But Zelensky had another problem. Because he thinks about after.
For the whole world, Ukraine has changed its face in just a few months. It has become in a very short time the indomitable and courageous country that fights against a very powerful adversary to save freedom, democracy, and while we're at it, the European Union as well.
There is a blemish in all this: the Azov battalion is a battalion that has a rather peculiar body culture, and so nationalist that it is difficult to distinguish them from a body of fascists, or Nazis. It is clear that the same could be said of many bodies chosen around Europe, and probably also in the world.
The Azov Battalion itself is not very large and is not representative of the Ukrainian forces, much less of the territorial guard. But there is a party linked to the battalion. A nationalist party that we would not hesitate to call fascist.
Not even this party is big enough to be representative, it represents less than 2% of Ukrainian voters. In itself, irrelevant.
But Ukraine just transfigured. A new story has begun. There is a Ukraine of the "before" and one of the "after" this war. A new Ukraina is being born. And the problem is that every new nation has a foundation myth, (think of the "pilgrim fathers", a sect of incestuous fanatics expelled from Europe for their embarrassing "religious" practices, which today is the founding myth of the USA ) the moment in which the values of the nation were written once and for all. Better if written in an epic way. And if there are heroes, so much the better.
Here, Zelensky's problem was not to leave the founding myth of the new Ukraine to the Azov Battalion. For at least two good reasons, one ideal and one practical: the ideals represented by the party linked to Azov are not exactly "democratic" and "liberal" in the sense we mean. The practical reason: the new Ukraine will have elections, from which pro-Russian parties will be excluded. So a fairly empty parliament compared to today. And if we make Azov's heroes die as heroes, the founding myth of the new country is in their hands: it means that the connected party will not have only 2% of the votes, like today. He could easily have a majority just by using the Azov symbol (The "wolfsangel" is not a Nazi per se, the wolf hunters used it, and indicates the shape of the trap used to catch them)
Founding myths are POWERFUL.
That Ukraine has a founding myth of heroes who die heroically to defend their homeland in those parts is not new, at least since the time of the "Slovo 'u Polku Igorieve" (I hope I have transliterated it well), which is the first document written in the language of Rus'.
However, I said, that Ukraine has a founding myth made up of heroes who die heroically is fine, it is not the first or only time that happens: the real problem is that if those heroes are those of the Azov battalion, then also the idea they represent will become founding, and if this happens Ukraine would not have the faintest chance of joining the EU, NATO, or any civil forum.
Moreover, they would also drag the rest of the armed forces with them: let's not forget that the Azov Battalion was a minority in the steel plant. There were the marines, there were the rifle attackers: but only the commander of the Attalion Azov would be remembered in the holocaust. The rest of the armed forces would have been drawn with them, unless they opposed the national founding myth (which was impossible for the armed forces), and especially would have been equated, ending up homologating.
The new Ukraine will surely be born with the founding myth of a population of heroes fighting against an invader. But not those heroes.
Zelensky's choice was politically rational. The Russians are looking for an honorable way out of that quagmire. Sooner or later they will go from there with their hands in the bag, abandoned even by the pro-Russians of Dombass (wait for bombs to start raining on the houses of the pro-Russians, and you see), but on Zalensky (or who will be in government at that moment ) will bear the responsibility of the birth, foundation or re-foundation of a new nation.
The moment of foundation, the special moment that produces the future of the nation, its ideal motion, will speak of heroes who resist a huge and monstrous enemy, and drive him back thanks to the blood of heroes.
Zelensky's HUGE responsibility is to choose which blood and which heroes. Because the foundation of New Ukraine depends on this choice, and will shape its political and cultural future.
Zelensky chose NOT to use THOSE heroes' blood. Maybe because he really wants Ukraine to join the EU, maybe because he really believes in democracy and freedom, or maybe just because he is Jewish and has never gotten along too well with those of Azov. I don't know and I don't read his mind.
But so far, removing the founding myth of New Ukraine from the hands of the Azov Battalion, so that it is redistributed to all those who, voluntary or not, fought against the Russians, was perhaps Zelensky's most rational and patriotic move.
And never mind if Italian journalists won't be able to spend weeks writing about the heroes of the steel mill.
Ukraine is full of heroes and martyrs. Zelensky has a huge choice.
Zelensky chose the blood of other heroes to found his new country.
Much more than one might expect from a normal politician.