Politics & Policy

In Davos, Part V

As the butcher said when he bumped into the grinder, it won’t be long now: This is the second-to-last Davos installment. Tomorrow, we will finish. For previous installments, please go here (Part I), here (Part II), here (Part III), and here (Part IV).

And just to remind you, or to inform newcomers–we are at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, in the Alpine hamlet of Davos, Switzerland, where the air is rare, and the journalistic fodder immeasurable.

‐Along the way, I’ve been giving you some media tidbits. (Don’t deny you like them.) How about this one? A columnist for a major American newspaper greets George Soros with, “Well, we tried.” I interpret that as, “We did our darndest to defeat That Man in November, didn’t we?” I could be wrong–but I sorta doubt it.

‐The al-Jazeera crowd refers to suicide-bombers as “martyrs,” because there is no other way to refer to them: The Arab public demands that they be known as martyrs; and, without Israeli “occupation,” the suicide-bombers would not “have” to carry out their acts; hence, martyrs.

I wonder: If you describe mass murderers as martyrs, how do you describe their victims?

‐Davos in general is swimming in Middle Eastern representatives–in al-Jazeerites, in governmental officials–but I wish there were more democrats, more reformers, more dissidents. (Are there any?) For example, Saad Ibrahim, the Egyptian liberal, and former political prisoner–what a thrill it would be to see him in Davos!

‐Speaking of Egypt: A group of Egyptian officials is late for a meeting with the press. A WEF official quips, “Well, if they stiff the mighty press, they’ll be sorry!” I respond, “Yeah, wait’ll they have to face the voters in the next elections–oops, I forgot.”

Naughty, naughty.

‐Probably the most moving and inspiring person at Davos is Victor Yushchenko, the new president of Ukraine. First, there is the look of him: He wears the opposition to him–the evidence of evil–on his face. He is a figure of immense dignity.

He takes the stage at the Congress Center, along with WEF founder Klaus Schwab, and the president of Poland, Aleksander Kwasniewski. The Pole is there to sort of second Yushchenko.

A video is shown, of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. It is a bit of a propaganda video, unusual for Davos, and arguably unbecoming. But the magnificence of the Orange Revolution is inarguable.

In the video, Yushchenko is shown saying, “We shall not give up until we win.” I think of “Gov.” Christine Gregoire, in Washington.

In the Congress Center, Yushchenko is wearing an orange tie. His speech is contained in an orange folder–that’s a bit much, I think.

Klaus Schwab says, “Let us welcome a true hero: President Victor Yushchenko.” The crowd stands.

Yushchenko begins by quoting a bit of what he describes as ancient Ukrainian wisdom: “If you struggle, and God is with you–if the Holy Will is with you–you will win.”

If he talked like that in America, God help him.

His main point to this audience is that he is a European, that Ukraine is a European nation. He urges one and all to visit Ukraine, to be part of its development, not to forget it: “It is important that you be next to us. I am addressing you as a president: Please help Ukraine. And quite shortly, you will see a beautiful, and European, nation.”

Kwasniewski gives a brief, quite eloquent speech, noting that he will not be addressing the Davos throng again–not as Polish president.

He plumps for his neighbor to the east. One of his points: If were going to admit Turkey [to the EU], wed better admit Ukraine. Like Yushchenko, he urges Davosers to “discover” this country: “For most of us, it is unknown–terra incognita. Let’s discover Ukraine!” He calls for “international solidarity with a democratic Ukraine.”

It occurs to me that I have never heard a head of state give a speech devoted entirely to the boosting of another country.

‐And who is on the stage next? Richard Gere–yes, the actor, wearing glasses, and looking rather intellectual as a result (and still movie-star-ish). Klaus Schwab is giving him an award, for his “social activism,” for his “philanthropy,” for his “relief work around the world.”

Given that Gere is following Yushchenko (and Kwasniewski), he starts out just as he must: “I have to tell you, I feel unworthy to be here right now.” Then he quotes what he calls “an old Jewish saying”: “‘God created man because He loved stories,’ and there are about 800 stories in the room right now.” Schwab intervenes to correct: “A thousand.” “A thousand! And all these stories,” continues Gere, “are interconnected.”

He then speaks a little homily about “caring for each other, helping each other, and loving each other”–and accepts his WEF award on behalf of “the over 1 million Tibetans who have died, and the 6 million who are in Tibet now, not free”; plus “the 40 million people living with HIV/AIDS.”

‐Earlier, a friend of mine has told me that he heard Lionel Richie–the singer–speak at a dinner; Richie had been remarkably clear, interesting–even inspiring. Another friend had seen him on the street–and Lionel had struck him as amazingly young-looking.

I am able to confirm everything for myself, as Richie is next to receive an award, after Gere: He is clear, interesting, inspiring–and amazingly young-looking.

Introducing him, Schwab says that Richie has sold “100 million albums”–Richie gets a wonderful look on his face, as if to say, “Yikes!” Then Schwab praises him for his work on hunger and education, particularly in Africa.

Richie recalls the economics instructor he had in college. That man would say to him, “Mr. Richie, would you like to join the rest of the class? You are daydreaming again.” And what was Lionel daydreaming about? “I can answer that for you tonight: I was daydreaming about this moment. During that time, in class, I was trying to figure out: What would I do, what could I do, to contribute something to this amazing world we live in? . . .

“The music was supposed to be three short years! And then I was to go on to become a lawyer or something. That would have been a tragedy. [Laughter] . . .

“God gave me the subject of love. Love is the one subject that does not go out of style. Love will always be in style.”

Then he glides off, the smooth, thoughtful, likable Lionel Richie.

‐John Howard–the Australian PM–has a great look on his face. (It is a red face, too–possibly wind-burned.) He looks kind of devilish, in a good way–as though to say, “Guess what I’m knowing and thinking! Isn’t life a hoot?”

I see him, John McCain, and Sharon Stone in a clutch. Others are kind of circling them, looking (in the fashion of polite zoo visitors). If I had to vote for one of those three–Howard, McCain, or Stone–I know what I’d do. But I’m not eligible to vote in that country.

‐I believe I’ve mentioned before that Davos has its Durban-ish aspects. If America’s name is mud, the name of Israel is–sub-mud?

Therefore, I’m not too surprised to see a book on the table in my hotel’s lobby, next to the magazines and journals for the taking. It is Paul Findley’s Silent No More: Confronting Americas False Images of Islam. Findley, recall, is the former Illinois congressman who has devoted his life to saying, essentially, that American politics is controlled by a Jewish lobby. The top blurb on the back of his book is an encomium from the Christian Science Monitor.

Even the Swiss Alps can’t correct a certain melancholy.

‐Americans always say this when they go to Europe, but I’ll add to the chorus: It’s startling to be among so many smokers. As smoking has become ever more marginalized in the U.S., it has continued strong on the Continent. Wherever you happen to be, someone is likely to sit down next to you and start smoking, nice as he pleases–just as in the America of old.

I have no point–just noting (the obvious).

‐Last, I was going to say something mildly unflattering about the manner of Joe Biden, but I think I’ll knock off, to see you tomorrow for the finale. This has been a shortish installment–but you deserve a break, after all that slogging.


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