The Potemkin summit

Keith Hudson

Yesterday’s G7 summit in a Bavaria castle was a modern Potemkin operation.  And it wasn’t a G7 anyway.  Yesterday, I thought it would be a G10 — that is, seven Leaders plus three EU Presidents — but . . . it was actually a G9.  The principal photo-shoot was clearly of four guys standing on both sides of Angela Merkel*.  So which of the three EU Presidents had been dis-invited I have no idea.  The camera dwelt far too briefly on Merkel’s right flank to identify the two unknowns there. (*A photo that appears in my morning paper, however, shows only the seven of them, all beaming away happily in a beautiful sylvan setting.  Or was this a studio shot set up in the castle?  Whatever . . . it was a top-notch photo, a PR high-five..).

And then there were other video shoots for Joe Public in each of the seven countries concerned.  Ours was of Barack Obama sitting with David Cameron, he saying a few words that Britain should remain in the EU.  We’re supposed to give leadership or some such nonsense.  In actuality, the reason why everybody will be upset if we withdraw from the EU is that France and Germany will be at each other’s throats without us around.  Anyway, in reply, Cameron pointedly ignored this and talked of all sorts of other things instead.  Of course, he dare not say anything whatsoever about whether Britain should, or should not, stay in the EU — what with a festering anger growing among his own Tory MPs back home.

I suppose this PR operation for each country’s television benefit took about 10-15 minutes but then Obama would also have had six more one-to-one conversations with the other Leaders, so all this would have taken two hours or so out of the afternoon (all the Leaders had taken up Sunday morning in arriving there by plane).

And then they all had to jump into cars — pretty pronto one imagines — and drive down to the village where there happened to be a full-blown Bavarian Beer Festival going on where the villagers, wearing their funny felt hats with feathers were drinking lager and singing (no doubt a disguised fully trained choir from somewhere), and pretty girls carrying trays of drinks, and then the photo shoot of Obama quaffing some of the dreadful stuff — though I noticed his PR people had only allowed him to be seen drinking, apparently heartily, from a half-litre jug.

So that took probably took up the rest of the afternoon.  What then?  Oh yes, a photo shoot of a round table being prepared by flunkies, presumably for serious discussion about to take place but more than likely for the evening dinner.  So I suppose there were two or three hours in between for various informal one-to-one conversations between the Leaders.

And then the dinner when perhaps a couple of the many topics could be talked about.  I bet none of them mentioned the big collective faux pas they had made by excluding Putin from the gathering, and he having to make his absence known by renewed skirmishes and more civilian deaths and more obliterated buildings in Ukraine,  And then, presumably, after not too long a dinner, all the Leaders were taken to their respective planes and flew back home, Obama hopefully having a pleasant night’s sleep on the way back in the same way as he’d spent the previous night in arriving.

All this operation must have taken hundreds of civil-servant-days in the careful preparation thereof.  All this would surely have rivalled Gregory Potemkin’s operation whnen his staff in 1787, dressed as happy Russian serfs, assembled and disassembled a cardboard village all along the River Dnieper to welcome his ex-lover, Empress Catherine II making a regal visit to newly conquered territory in Ukraine and Crimea in order to hide all the devastation that the war had caused and show how happy they were to see her.  As soon as Catherine’s barge left one village and its cheering crowd, the village was taken down and re-built further down-river.

All this might have been a myth that grew in the telling, but it doesn’t compare wiith the myth that yesterday’s Bavarian excursion attempted to sow in the minds of (potentially) hundreds of millions of credulous people back home that anything at all had been seriously discussed and decided yesterday.

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