Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Ivan’s Baltic Man of the Month™

Hats off to my March Man of the Month, Lennart Meri, who died on March 14th aged 76. Diplomat, politician, polymath and pisshead.

As President of newly-independent Estonia, Lennart secured the final withdrawal of all Russian troops from his homeland in 1994 by the simple expedient of drinking Boris Yeltsin under the table in the Kremlin. That would make quite a monument in downtown Tallin. Mr Meri, we salute you - ave atque vale…

Lennart Meri is a worthy successor to Algirdas Mykolas Brazauskas, former President of Lithuania. Mr Brazauskas owed his title mostly to being worth over 1300 points in Scrabble.

Who’s your favourite Baltic leader?


Lennart Meri, yesterday. We shall not see his like again.

43 comments:

Desargues said...

My favourite Baltic leader has to be a cute Estonian girl I met last winter in Florence. Tall, slender, blonde, grey-eyed and intellectual--she could lead ME wherever she wants. And that's saying a lot.

The gentleman in the picture looks a bit like an Oxbridge don in the tradition of Isaiah Berlin. If he can drink Yeltsin under the table, I tip my hat repeatedly to him, and will be all too happy to buy him a round or five. Verily and forsooth, a people gets the leaders it deserves.

Ivan the Terrible said...

Well, he came of hard-drinking stock, that's for sure. The Estonians and Finns always vodka-slammed the Russians into insensibility when I was there nearly twenty years ago. You'd think Boris would've learnt...

Desargues said...

Estonians suffered for quite a few centuries under the domination of a military aristocracy of Teutonic origin, the Baltic Germans. The sorry vestiges of that extended episode are dismal Northern European architecture and a quite understandable resistance to hard liquor.

Laika the Space Dog said...

Brilliant blog.

R. Sherman said...

Let's give it up for Carl Gustav Emil Mannerheim, father of Finland.

Cheers.

Ivan the Terrible said...

Yes, Mannerheim was good - but was he Baltic good? It's a tough one, but we can't be sentimental about these things...

R. Sherman said...

Well, it seems to me if you mean "Baltic" as in the Sea, then arguably, anyone from Russia, Lativia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Finland, Sweden and even Germany could be eligible. Point of order: Are we limiting consideration only to the three countries absorbed by Stalin in 1939?

Cheers.

staghounds said...

Charles XII was pretty cool. If Swedes count.

Ivan the Terrible said...

"If Swedes count". Duh - of course not. They're Vikings.

Yup, it's Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania only, I'm afraid. Don't want to make it too easy for you all. Otherwise it wouldn't be any fun...

Desargues said...

Ivan, I'm afraid your readership is asking some legitimate questions. Geographically, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are considered (by convention) Baltic countries. Linguistically, only the last two speak Baltic languages (together with the extinct Old Prussian)--Estonian is Fino-Ugric, as you no doubt now. Russians aren't Balts; they're barbarians.

Ivan the Terrible said...

My blog my rules :-P

PI said...

Does Tito count? My Geogrsphy is a bit vague? And my History isn't brilliant Who was the one who jumped or was pushed from a balcony. Something like Maryk?
Carry on.

Desargues said...

I guess PI has Jan Masaryk somewhere at the back of her mind. There were, in fact, several events known as the Defenestration of Prague. In Bohemia, this used to be perceived as an expedient method for political conflict-solving; also, they have beautiful windows, so one goes out in style, as it were.

Some time in 1419, an enraged crowd of Hussites (adepts of religious reformer Jan Hus, a sort of proto-Martin Luther) decided to dismiss a group of seven refractory city councillors who wouldn't go along with the program. The municipal dignitaries were shown the window instead of the door.

In the Second Defenestration, two legates of the (Catholic) German emperor were thrown out the window by another irrascible Protestant crowd. Dumb luck (or divine providence, if you're a Catholic) made it so that they landed on a pile of manure, thus being spared their lives, but not their dignity. It wouldn't be the first time when divine providence lands one in deep shit.

In 1948, at the beginning of the Cold War, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk was found dead outside his bathroom window. I'm always willing to suspect the goddamn Commies were somehow involved in it. Czechoslovakia was too much of a prize for the Soviets to keep their filthy hands off it.

And yes, Ivan, your blog, your rules--la loi, c'est la loi, nobody contested that. We were just wondering what exactly those rules were. :-)

Ivan the Terrible said...

Tito? TITO? Now you're just trying to annoy me. Well, I shan't rise to it, d'you hear?

And yes, Des, I think she means Masaryk too. He was indeed Czech - definitely not a Balt.

But I'm a reasonable man and I can relent out of mercy to the geographically challenged. Let this henceforth be "Relatively Obscure Eastern European Leader Day". Now you can all go nuts...

PI said...

Well done boys! SHE (cat's mother) did mean Jan Whatsit.
Try to annoy you Ivan? Never!

Foot Eater said...

May I respectfully nominate Peteris Stucka, head of the Bolshevik government in Latvia during the Latvian War of Liberation. He was first president of the Supreme Court of the Soviet Union, so he must have been a very wise and just man.

Desargues said...

Always tryin' to push people's wrong buttons, ain't we, Footsie? Very well, then. Everyone's entitled to an opinion here--unlike that den of social justice and true equality, the former Soviet Union (or France, for that matter).

Anonymous said...

Bad Footie! Naughtie Footie! We're going to rub your nose in the collected works of Karl Marx for that one...

Anonymous said...

No, we should choose something that stinks even worse: Lenin's "Materialism and Empiriocriticism".

HA HA HA said...

tito? wats worng with im?

Desargues said...

Well then, if you guys don't like my chick for her leadership qualities, then how's about old Isaiah Berlin himself? Born in Riga alright, which pretty much makes him a Balt. Fierce defender of liberty, second only to J. S. Mill and Karl Popper. Long-standing don at Wolfson College, which ought to ingratiate him with the Brits. A John Locke for the 20th century. Ain't nothin' wrong with 'im, is it?

Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

Whoa people, slow down for the blonde at the back. I'm way out of my league here, I'm ashamed to admit. We barely got any Scottish, far less Eastern European history in school, and I'm a Scot. We did more on the Vikings than we ever did on Eastern Europe and Scotland combined.

I suppose at any time since school I could have boned up on the great Baltic leaders but, well, I just didn't 'K! I'm Gen X, dudes, gimme a break! I didn't even know that a bloke called Mannerheim was the father of Finland. I'm off now to feel under-educated in a quiet corner for a bit, and to feel the silent pity and condemnation which will, no doubt, radiate off my 'puter each time I visit and comment again.

God, I really do feel dumber than the Irishwoman who broke her teeth on her new vibrator.

Foot Eater said...

Sam, the trick is not to admit your ignorance but to do a quick Google and Wikipedia search and then come across all knowledgable. As I did.

Ivan the Terrible said...
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Ivan the Terrible said...

Tito Jackson and Isaiah Berlin - much better...

Sam - don't worry - Footie has just shared the secret shame that we all rely on. Frankly, without Google I'd still be hunkered in a cave trying to eat rocks. I might even have become Welsh. Oh, the horror...

Cantemir said...

I nominate Jascha Heifetz for the greatest leader in Baltic history.

As for Eastern Europe in general, I think I'm going to have to go with Iancu de Hunedoara (Hunyádi János to you Magyars;) St Stephen the Great of Moldavia; Constantine XI Drageses, first Despot of the Peleponessus and then the last Eastern Emperor; King Boris III of Bulgaria; and the holy martyrs Boris and Gleb of Kiev.

PI said...

Sam: dinna fash! We have to accept graciously that they are superior to us in some aspects.
Usually the aspects in which we haven't a shred of interest - like tax and insurance - but never mind.

Desargues said...
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Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

I nominate Good King Wenceslas. He was Czech, I think and it says he was good, right there in his name.

Ivan the Terrible said...

Better St Stephen the Great of Moldavia than St Stephen the Great of Hungary, who slaughtered most of his family in the process of seizing the country, and then demanded the title of King from the Pope.

They still keep his right hand in the Basilica in Pest, gilded and enshrined. It's tiny. Might explain a lot about his savage ambition. He was probably compensating for something...

Sam - good choice in theory, but how do you know he didn't just have good spin doctors? Time to break free from their deadly spell! You're not going to vote Labour again, are you?

R. Sherman said...

I've read all the comments, Ivan, and this is why you shouldn't have a contest. Had you offered a prize, you'd be sued by now for changing the rules in mid stream.

Cheers.

Cantemir said...

desargues,

I don't know what it is about you Westerners. First you denigrate the Christian warrior saints, then you go gaga over Napoleon.

St Stephen the Great fasted on bread and water for forty days after he won the battle of Vaslui. He build churches and monasteries all over Moldova. I have no intention of defending his sexual incontinence. On the other hand I have no intention of letting that be the only criterion by which we judge him.

If winning wars were the sole basis of his sainthood, you'd have a point. That it is not is easily demonstrated: John Hunyadi and Skanderbeg did more in the field than St Stephen ever could, but no one ever wrote icons of them.

St Stephen was the first person to unite Romania under one government. Romania is about the same size as the United Kingdom. If he was a kinglet, what were William the Conqueror, Henry II, Henry V (the one who, uh, gave a nice speech on Crispin's Day,) et al.?

Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

Alas, Mr. Terrible, I can't vote anything, as it happens. I am a thoroughly disenfranchised person; not a green card holder long enough to vote here yet, but non-resident in Britain for too long for me to vote there.

I itch to vote, if only to cancel out some of my husband's votes, but I describe myself as an independant in both the US and UK, not subscribing to any one particular party in either country. I believe both that we should universally educate 'em AND that hanging's too good for 'em.

Being independant, I think, has the side-effect of causing you to pay much closer attention to politics and current affairs, than an entrenched Blue or Red who's decided anyway. (although clearly amn't up to snuff on my Baltic state politics). In any event, I am a payer of close attention and, maybe, have many more opinions than a housewife ought to. I believe passion is something not confined to the extremes of the political spectrum, but that it is possible to be passionately moderate on many questions.

Desargues said...
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Cantemir said...

desargues,

I'm curious: are you in fact a communicating, small-o orthodox Christian? If you are, what on earth possesses you to denigrate the Church's considered decision to memorialize any saint whatsoever? If you aren't, what earthly business of yours is it what we blinkered pre-Enlightenment halfwits do in our shrines to ignorance and bigotry? St Stephen is one among dozens or hundreds of Christian warrior saints, from St Volodomyr to St Louis of France to Constantine the Great himself. If you don't like it, write your bishop, and include more of an argument than your pretentious Machiavelli quote.

This hagiographical approach to relatively forgettable local princes grinds my gears, as they say around here.

Your blather about forgettable local princes notwithstanding, St Stephen is the single most important politician in Romanian history, with the possible exception of the loathsome Ceausescu. But whatever, since you feel this way about St Stephen, it's logical to infer that you believe no Romanian ruler ever to have done anything beyond the 'forgettable and local.' I suspect we would be arguing this in Turkish, though, if three dozen generations of Romanian boys had failed, by their desperate resistance, to slow the Sultan's progress to Budapest, Belgrade, and Vienna, peasants though they were.

I really have no patience for Eastern Europeans, 'flattered to be called Westerners,' pissing on their heritage. But if you absolutely must be ashamed of the East, be ashamed of it at the expense of your own national figures, rather than mine.

Desargues said...
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Cantemir said...

desargues,

Or converting to Orthodoxy in general--easily the most backward-looking, sluggish, and passive form of Christianity.

You know, eliciting the many statements like this one were really the point of my post. Thanks for showing your true colours.

Your mass of pus and bile doesn't warrant any further response from me. I don't think you want one, anyway, and I certainly don't care to hear anything further from you.

Cantemir said...

And one more thing - you're attacking mult prea fericit Teoctist while defending Calvin? Who was it that Teoctist judicially murdered by fire?

Desargues said...
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Cantemir said...

Ivan,

Go ahead and delete all my comments except the first, since desargues has brought this point up.

desargues,

I take your suggestion of moral equivalency rather ill: I didn't start any mud-slinging contest. Your compulsive and inexplicable need to denigrate my country and its heroes was the sole cause for everything that was said here.

You feel (I won't say "think") Romania as a country (and, apparently, Romanians as a race) to be utter failures; how am I to blame for your willingness to unburden yourself of such insights at even the slightest pretext? This is the kind of behaviour one associates with wild-eyed lunatics, not civilized people in a civilized forum. Frankly, your conduct in this entire thread has been disgraceful, and entirely to the discredit of whatever beliefs you expound.

But whatever, I may be an apologist for a slimy race of trolls and their greasy, cunning priests, but at least I'm not willing to act as an apologist for murderers. There are some things even a Romanian won't do.

Desargues said...

There are no races, Cantemir, don't you know that? Races are social constructs. There are peoples, on the other hand, and the collective destinies they choose.

Ivan the Terrible said...

Sorry I missed this discussion, Des, Canty - sounds like it was a good one. But surely we can all agree to differ on Christian subgroups and get back to despising Islam instead?

Desargues said...

You can always count on me for that, Ivan. Sorry about the mess I got involved in on this forum--it was largely of my own doing, and I now regret it. So yeah, let's start a crusade or something. I'm all for it. Time to reevaluate the crusades in a better light.