What is it about moustaches and politics? Caught between the pages of history are so many strands of disreputable facial fuzz that it is tempting to demand anyone sporting a sprouting top lip should be barred from public office.
Beards have a more creditable history – with a few exceptions – but the only really “good” moustache in recent history probably belonged to Lech Walesa. Even then, his ‘tache was of the grizzled, unkempt Zapata variety which has more in common with backwoods beards than an obsessively clipped soup strainer. Vaclav Havel’s was merely a truncated Walesa and if anything even more unruly.
The neatest moustache in Latvian politics belongs to Girts Valdis Kristovskis. It bears the hallmarks of lots of mirror time and a special pair of scissors waiting on the dressing table, an impression that was once made fun of by Ainars Slesers in a surprisingly funny critique of his political opponent.
Former agriculture minister Martins Roze has the nicest moustache, a bushy stripe that gives him a more than passing resemblance to Super Mario. Fatherland and Freedom leader Roberts Zile used to sport a quite suave tache-plus-sideburns combo but sadly these have been washed down the plughole of history.
But Kristovskis’ chestnut wind tickler (reminiscent of Oswald Mosley’s though apart from a tendency to switch parties the parallels hopefully end there) is the most important one in Latvian politics and is about to get even more important if his candidacy for the post of Foreign Minister is approved.
Kristovskis clearly covets the position, but it’s questionable whether he is suitable for the role. Not so long ago he was practically bragging about diddling the European Parliament. After leaving his job as an MEP and getting elected to Riga city council he let it be known he wasn’t claiming any wages, presumably to show what a brick he was.
However, it emerged that he was claiming what were effectively unemployment benefits former MEPs are entitled to if they can’t find a job. But he had a job. On Riga city council. And unemployed MEPs get paid considerably more than employed city councillors, which rather undercut the idea of noble sacrifice.
Ironically the campaign slogan he used to get elected to the council was “Military discipline in council bureaucracy.”
The episode was not a major scandal, more of a case of a hubristic gesture getting its come-uppance. But it does raise the question of whether GVK is the ideal man to send back to Brussels to talk about fiscal responsibility and the like.
Someone asked me this week: “What is it about Kristovskis? Why is everyone talking about him? Is he so smart? Is he so interesting? Does he make such great speeches? Does he have such good ideas?”
I have to admit I didn’t really have an answer for these questions. He seems very good at self-publicity, but it’s publicity that doesn’t have the wacky-big-idea quotability of Slesers. He supported (and of course appeared in) the worthy but in my opinion overrated documentary The Soviet Story which attempts crudely to fuse Nazi and Communist crimes into one big conspiracy (involving the two most infamous moustaches of all).
In the recent general election which saw him returned to the national parliament, he attracted more ‘minus’ votes than anyone else in the Unity bloc (voters can give a ‘plus’ to candidates they particularly like and a ‘minus’ to ones they don’t like) but emerged apparently with his authority reinforced.
So what is it about Kristovskis? I suppose we will have to wait and see. Keep an eye on the moustache. It will act as a sort of barometer indicating which way he’s heading, rather like the seaweed old salts use to predict the weather. If Kristovskis lets it get a bit straggly and overgrown I will be reassured. But if it becomes ever more clearly defined and meticulously groomed, it’s time to start worrying.
If he does get the Foreign Minister’s job, I hope his first trip will be to Belarus. Then he’ll see what moustaches are all about.