Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Importance of Soaking in Politics

Having previously covered singing heads of state, the time has come to have a look at the role of bathing and bath-houses in politics. At first glance, one would not expect these inconspicuous activities and rooms to be of any consequence but they might in fact be partially responsible for the end of the Cold War.

Water Wings

Nikita Khrushchev was fat and ungainly. He had had no more than four years of school education and was thought to have survived Stalin's purges mainly because no one found him a threat. Still, following Stalin's death in 1953 this inconspicuousness was what allowed him to maneuver to the top of Soviet Russia.

Before this, in 1949, the massively self-centered and -confident Chairman Mao had been slighted at Stalin's 70th birthday. He was treated as just another of the many guests, was granted very little time with the Soviet leader and later relocated to a remote villa outside Moscow for several weeks where there was nothing to do except playing table tennis at a broken table. (This was before table tennis was outlawed on the belief that it damaged players' eyesight.)

Naturally, Mao was seething with resentment and when Khrushchev came for a state visit in 1958 he was put up in a fairly worn down hotel with no air conditioning in the hot China summer. During the following talks, Mao chain-smoked in spite of Khrushchev's intense hatred for smoking and talked down to him, but suddenly he seemed to change his ways and invited him to his private residence at Zonghanhai.

Mao Swimming. He was said to have been aided in this venture by his profuse fat

When Khrushchev turned up the following day, he suspected trouble. Mao greeted him wearing slippers and a bathrobe and insisted he join him in the pool. Mao was an proficient swimmer, but the 200 pound Khrushchev had never learned to swim. Soon, Mao was doing laps and talking incessantly, interpreters running up and down along the pool while Khrushchev was standing awkwardly at the children's end of the pool. The humiliation was not complete yet, however. A pair of water wings were produced and with Khrushchev paddling like a dog or simply bobbing up and down, Mao ducking and diving the talks progressed amidst splutters and discomfort.

Khrushchev in happier times

Needless to say, the stunt did nothing to improve Sino-Soviet relations. By 1966, their border conflict almost escalated into open war and this allowed Kissinger to reestablish American-Chinese relations. This further pressured Soviet to withdraw their aid to the North-Vietnamese which led to disengagement, SALT and 1989. Therefore, interestingly, the Cold War was ended, at least in part, by water wings.

The Ugandian Swimming Champion

Uganda's dictator Idi Amin also considered himself quite the swimmer. He used to boast that he was the Ugandian swimming champion. However, as this video shows, there was not much competition as competitors swimming past him were bound never to swim again.

Finnish Sauna Diplomacy

After the war, Finnish President Jushi Kusti Paasikivi and his successor Uhro Kekkonen navigated the Cold War skillfully through the policy of "active neutrality". By doing this, they could have dealings with both the Soviet and the West and especially Kekkonen had a secret tool for this purpose; cultural diplomacy.

Kekkonen would invite foreign digitaries to join him in his sauna and there, he would start negotiating, hammering out a deal. The sauna would take its toll, softening the visitors up for compromise. Often, Kekkonen would not let them leave until an agreement had been reached and dignitaries who have met with this treatment include Soviet Premier Khrushchev and former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. On one occasion, in 1960, after sweating in the sauna until five in the morning Khrushchev issued a statement supporting Finland's desire to integrate with the West.

Khrushchev never noticed the wicked gleam in Kekkonen's eye

Finnish sauna diplomacy is still being used. All Finnish diplomatic and consular missions have their own sauna for the purpose, and Finnish soldiers are known to build saunas wherever they go. There is, however, a danger to sauna diplomacy. Olli Rehn of the European Commission economic and monetary affairs was recently accused of sexism after an attempt at sauna diplomacy.

What do you think?

Do these tactics rock your belief in the solidity of your political system? Are they morally sound or do, perhaps, the ends justify the means? A well known business tactic is to give visiting businessmen awkward flights and have a liason professional keep them busy until his meeting. This makes them tired, unable to make good decisions and more likely to aggree to the business' demands. Is this justifiable, in your opinion?

Comments on the Tale of Sir Bob are welcome, as ever!

Sources: "Water Wings", "The Ugandian Swimming Champion" as shown, "Finnish Sauna Diplomacy", Pic1, Pic2, Pic3

No comments:

Post a Comment