President, Anyone? (4)

4/21/2011 2:15 PM
Category: Opinion

George von Gernet reflects on why anyone would want to be president of Estonia.

I sent this cartoon idea to ERR News: 

Nursultan Nazarbayev is together with Toomas Hendrik Ilves, both wearing only towels and mud is being smeared on them by a spa worker who looks suspiciously like Borat. 

Nazarbayev to Ilves: "Will this work better to prevent ageing if I eat it?"

Ilves responds: "Try it on Estonia's delicious black bread!"

But spa-worker Borat has a thought bubble which trumps Mr. Ilves' obligatory diplomacy: "Ask your poor countrymen who eat it every day."

ERR News rejected it. I guess because I'm not cut out to be a cartoonist.

Lately, a few people around my office have wondered why nobody seems to want to be president of Estonia. My theory is that it can't be much fun most of the time. A visiting despot who's been christened "another sun in the sky" or "Papa" comes to town and you have to show him around. You're expected to make small talk, and you're not allowed to ask him if he didn't find the smallest amount of humor in "Borat." Then you have to bestow upon him a state decoration: maybe not the highest honor but also not one of those green cardboard neck-hangers from a bottle of Zelenaya Marka.

Or maybe you have to spend time with Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il, a man with a magical ability to control the weather based on his mood and an amazing prowess on the golf course (he averages four holes-in-one per round). Or Saparmurat Niyazov, leader of Turkmenistan, model for a 12-meter, gold-plated statue which rotates to always face the sun. (He's dead, by the way, replaced by Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov. And as president, you'd have to learn to pronounce that.)  

And when you're not hanging with insane world leaders, you're off visiting a grade school where you're required to fake interest in their new computer lab and talk about the importance of respecting teachers. Or you're touring a pillow factory or making a speech to a Rotary club or even addressing the nation, scolding citizens to come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together and try to love one another right now. And maybe every once in a while you get to go to a concert where you're in the front row just hoping that this particular movement in the Pärt symphony will never end so you can sit there and bathe in your own pleasant thoughts and, damn, damn, damn, there goes that telephone again vibrating in your pocket. 

Sure, hanging with Barack Obama is cool, but how often does that happen? And then what do you get? Shuffled in and out for your 30 minutes and a photo op? It's not like he says, "Hey, Mr. President of Estonia, I really think we've hit it off so why not come up to my private quarters for a peanut butter sandwich and a chat with Michelle?" And you really would have enjoyed that peanut butter sandwich since every night in Estonia you eat the same damned thing because every ceremony is catered by Frens.

But then there's this: As president, you can leave the world a better place than you found it. You can sidle up to Mr. Nazarbayev, put your arm around him, and ask him, if Borat's charges happen to be true, to end the hunting of gypsies for sport and stop throwing Jews down the well and not to seek joy in shooting dogs. You can praise him for letting women travel on the inside of buses and for having some of the cleanest prostitutes in all of Central Asia. You can tell him that you love him for who he is and not just because he’s got a buttload of gas and oil. You invite him to stay with you in Kadriorg, to sleep on the couch and eat whatever’s in the fridge. You sip Maxwell House together and then go rollerblading. Maybe later you go to a spa together and get smeared with mud. And you let him eat some, too. Because after all this he’s become your friend, and you really do want to see him live forever.


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