We are proud (well, pleased, anyway) to announce the inaugural winner of the Madeleine Award, for the best use of symbol, stunt, prop, gesture or jest in international affairs last year.
This award is in the great tradition of the media silly season, as Australia bronzes slowly in the sunny depths of January. It is also an expression of The Interpreter philosophy: international relations is a deeply serious subject that sometimes deserves to be treated lightly.
The Madeleine Award celebrates the off-beat or unconventional effort at communications between states. As previously explained, this prize is named after Madeleine Albright, in honour of her penchant for sending diplomatic messages via the brooches worn on her left lapel. Albright wore a golden brooch of a coiled snake to talk to the Iraqis, crabs and turtle brooches to symbolise the slow pace of Middle East talks, a huge wasp to needle Yasser Arafat, and a sun pin to support South Korea's sunshine policy.
So, swivel the spotlights and toot the trumpets, here is our list of finalists:
Libya's leader, Muammar al-Gaddafi, has probably qualified for a lifetime achievement award. His 2009 effort wasn't his best, but the Colonel enters the running with a stunt while visiting Rome: using an Italian hospitality agency to 'round up 500 attractive girls between 18 and 35 years of age' so he could lecture them on religion. Each woman was paid 50 euros and presented with a copies of the Koran and Gaddafi's 'Green Book', containing all his pearls of wisdom.
A more substantial effort was by the Prime Minister of Samoa, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, who ordered his country to switch from driving on the right side of the road to the left. He said the switch meant Samoans would drive on the same side of the road as Australia and New Zealand. Thus, they will be able to get a better deal on second-hand cars from Australia and New Zealand.
It was a great effort by the Prime Minister to extend the steering-wheel of friendship to Wellington and Canberra. But by so changing the lives of more than 200,000 Samoans, he probably surpassed the narrow confines of a Madeleine, with its focus on mere gesture or symbolism.
To prove everyone has a chance, Barack Obama gets a nomination for bowing to Japan's emperor. Some US pundits called it a grovel. We prefer to see it as good manners, perhaps even old fashioned courtesy. And as the President already has a Nobel Prize just for being polite, we can't reward him with this award as well.
As 2009 was the year of the Copenhagen summit, the judges kept returning to the rich vein of climate-change stunts. The government of Nepal made a strong run by holding a cabinet meeting on Mt Everest to highlight the impact of climate change on the Himalayas. A gathering of 24 cabinet ministers wearing oxygen masks at 5,242 metres is truly in the spirit of the award.
But if global warming is about rising sea levels – pass the envelope please — then the winner has to be the world's first underwater cabinet meeting. Victory in the inaugural contest goes to the Government of the Maldives and the Ministers who donned scuba gear to conducted a 30-minute meeting at a depth of 20 feet.
Conducting cabinet business via white boards and hand signals – a true Madeleine-winning performance.
Photo by Flickr user 350.org, used under a Creative Commons license.