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Look! In the sky! It\'s a Madeleine!

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27 January 2011 16:40

A quick footnote on this year's Madeleine Award 'for the use of symbol, stunt, prop, gesture or jest in international affairs', with the winner announced earlier today in Graeme Dobell's column. There's a short blog post on The Atlantic's website which goes to the issue of diplomatic symbolism:

At a time when China is making a lot of Americans nervous, what could be less threatening than its leader arriving in a Boeing-747, made in Seattle and bearing the Star Alliance logo' In the bad old days of U.S.-Soviet summits, it was a zero-sum game, and imagery was everything.  Soviet premiers arrived in a Tupolev plane and were whisked away in Russian-made Zil limousines. It was the era of the kitchen debate, as each side tried to show the other that its people, its ways and its products were superior. Fast forward to President Hu on his jumbo jet. It appears that, in this case, the aircraft is the message.

Given the 'us against the world' tone of President Obama's State of the Union address, that type of nationalism may have a healthy future yet.

In fact, when it comes to official transport, it may never have left the scene. Recall that, although a European design won a contract to replace the American presidential helicopter fleet, that contract was cancelled. Meanwhile, the Russian president still flies in a Russian-built plane (pictured; though it's an Ilyushin, not a Tupolev), and although Russia switched to German limousines in the Yeltsin era, Vladimir Putin has explored a return to the classic ZiL, which is not only a show of technological nationalism but a reflection of Putin's nostalgia for Soviet times. For their part, the Chinese are trying to break the Boeing-Airbus duopoly, so their leaders won't be flying on 747s forever.

One other 'Madeleine' footnote: we're pleased to see the Award get a write-up on one of Foreign Policy's blogs. A warm welcome to all Turtle Bay readers.

Photo by Flickr user Aleksander Markin.

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