No Baltic politician gets as rough a ride as Latvian President Valdis Zatlers – nor with so little cause. Zatlers’ main ‘fault’ seems to be that he is a nice, modest guy with a lack of hubris. Maybe to some people that means he’s not ‘presidential’ enough, not swanning around like royalty or dressing down underlings in public.
Estonia’s Pesident Ilves also seems like a nice guy, though in a more self-assured, intellectual sort of way and Lithuania’s Grybauskaite is clearly going down the route of public dynamism.
If the three of them were sitting around a table in a restaurant, Ilves would be the one ordering the wine and holding forth with anecdotes, Grybauskaite would be the one summoning the maitre d’ to complain that her soup wasn’t hot enough and Zatlers would be the one who paid the bill and gave everyone a lift home.
Certainly it would be hard to imagine either Ilves or Grybauskaite doing what Zatlers did yesterday. To promote his ‘Heartbeats for the Baltics’ event to mark the 20th anniversary of the Baltic Way, Zatlers donned a fetching tracksuit and jogged presidentially through a swamp half an hour’s drive out of Riga.
Not a natural athlete, he nevertheless completed the course and even had the good grace to answer a couple of questions from me while he was still panting at the finishing line. I’m sure the news outlets that have it in for him will take the opportunity to print unflattering pictures of him tiptoeing through the mushrooms, and he has a curious habit of pulling exaggerated facial expressions while talking to ordinary people, probably to show that he is actually listening and reacting.
Critics may also say that a fun run is no way to remember an event such as the Baltic Way, but I haven’t heard anyone else coming up with a better idea. What do we want – another tinpot military parade? Baltic solemnity/boredom?
Instead of giving in to cynicism , we can at least try somethnig positive even if, like Zatlers in the swa, it runs the risk of looking a bit silly. With that in mind maybe you would care to join both Zatlers and myself in the main August 23 event, details of which you can find here.
Back in the swamp, I also got one of those delicious moments which make you think “Only in the Baltics.” After everything had finished, and the press bus was ready to roll back to Riga, the organisers had a little trouble locating everyone who had been on the bus.
Standing on the footplate she turned to the forest and bawled “Children, time to go home!”
Within seconds, sundry journalists, camera crews and photographers emerged from the swamp, their hands and pockets full of mushrooms and berries. Somehow I can’t imagine the bigshots of CNN or the BBC doing the same thing.