And the 7th Madeleine award goes to…
18 Jan 2016|

US Ambassador to the United Nations, Madeleine Albright, treated CNN as the Security Council’s 16th member.

It was a tactic of a natural communicator: not much use being ‘on message’ if the message isn’t loud.

Albright inspired our annual Madeleine award for the use of symbol, stunt, prop, gesture or jest in international affairs.

As UN Ambassador and then as Secretary of State, Albright took diplomatic signalling to a new place by sending messages via lapel brooches.

In read-my-brooch mode, she wore a golden coiled snake to talk to the Iraqis, crabs and turtle brooches for 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. Her favourite mistake was wearing a monkey brooch to meet Vladimir Putin, causing the Russian to go ape.

The previous column announced the minor awards. Now for the Madeleine contestants.

The singer Taylor Swift is honoured for giving China’s censors conniptions. The Swift China tour merchandise carried her initials ‘TS’ and pushed her album entitled ‘1989’. What could be wrong using Ms. Swift’s birth year or initials?

Well, TS could also stand for Tiananmen Square and 1989 was the year of the massacre. By comparison, Katy Perry gave the censors a simple thumbs-down choice when she draped herself in a Taiwanese flag during a Taipei concert.

Worthy of a Madeleine mention was China’s ‘top global honour’, the Confucius Peace Prize, awarded to Robert Mugabe. Zimbabwe’s great burden joins nobles such as Castro and Putin.

The ancient dictator’s Confucius underlines the truthiness of a long ago Tom Lehrer thought: it’s hard to do satire when Kissinger gets the Nobel.

To be fair (seldom a Madeleine aim) the Confucius isn’t awarded by China, having no link to the Confucius Institutes that China is founding around the world. A bunch of Chinese citizens in Hong Kong created the Confucius in 2010 as a response to the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the Chinse dissident, Liu Xiaobo. Beijing might reflect that in the soft power stakes, friends can be as dangerous as opponents.

North Korea always helps set the Madeleine field. The regime that uses nuclear blasts to yell ‘Look at me’ can’t help altering images of its hereditary dictator. In August, Pyongyang stepped into the future by putting its clocks back half an hour, creating North Korea’s own time zone. The wicked imperialist time zone imposed by Japan in 1912 was gone. The deadly leader does more than sport strange haircuts. He controls time.

This award concerned with international symbols has due regard for flags. A point to flag for Australia in 2016 is the way the Union Jack is disappearing from neighbourhood flags. Soon only Australia and Tuvalu could have the Union Jack on their national flag. Two other seeds of Pacific empire—New Zealand and Fiji—could fly a new flag. The Kiwis will vote on the change while Fiji will follow recent habit and salute the thoughts of Supremo Bainimarama. ‘Make mine a Scotch!’ has become a dangerous order for the Union Jack.

The Brits aren’t flagging in doing pageantry with aplomb. The state visits London turned on, almost back-to-back, for China’s President and India’s Prime Minister demonstrated ceremonial glad-handling of the highest order.

A grand Buckingham Palace dinner scores. And a carriage ride with the Her Maj through the capital. Enchanting. PM Cameron taking his mate President Xi for a pint in a Pommy pub was merely minor key duchessing.

Acknowledge the London arrival of an excellent new euphemism for a lie. The co-chairman of the British Tory Party, Grant Schapps didn’t fib. When caught out, he admitted only to an ‘overly firm’ denial. The overly firm denial ranks with classics such as ‘economical with the truth’, ‘terminological inexactitude’ and that great Private Eye-ism for being drunk, ‘tired and emotional’.

The final choice for the award is between two fine performances—one using symbols, the other a simple gesture amid pomp—exemplifying the Madeleine spirit.

The runner-up prize goes to Australia’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, for doing an interview using only emoji characters for answers. Buzzfeed called its exclusive the world’s first political emoji interview.

The controversial response was replying to a question about Vladimir Putin with a symbol of a red-faced angry man.

The diplomatic relationship with the US got a thumbs up, a tick and a smiley face. China also got the thumbs up and the tick but, in contrast to the US, China’s happy face wore sun glasses and the smile was more of a grin than America’s toothy beam. Try and write a cable or an analysis discussing the significance of that difference.

The world operates on hard and soft power, bribes and bluster, argument and alliance—and emojis. When examined by the Foreign Affairs Committee in Senate Estimates, the focus was on Russia’s red emoji.

‘I’d like to understand what the diplomatic message is of the red face?’ Labor’s Penny Wong asked Foreign Affairs’ worthies. ‘Is it intended to suggest the Foreign Minister is angry at President Putin? Or does it express something else? What is the statement or public message of the red face? We don’t like him? We’re angry at him?’

Foreign took the question on notice. Senators riffed extempore on Buzzfeed Bishop. Attorney-General George Brandis objected that the emoji was more red than angry—perhaps an ideological colour. Emoji diplomacy is born.

For the winner of the 7th Madeleine award, head to Washington as a VIP flies in. The New York Daily News gives the flavour:

‘This frugal pontiff steers clear of Mercedes-Benz. Pope Francis, after touching down Tuesday afternoon at Andrews Air Force Bases, climbed into a modest Fiat 500L for his ride into Washington. The Italian-made four-door hatchback was the smallest vehicle in the motorcade transporting the Holy Father.’

The black Fiat’s license plate: SCV-1, ‘status civitatis Vaticanae’—Latin for ‘state of Vatican City.’

The New Yorker’s John Francis takes us to the White House portico. The Obamas await. Up pulls the black Secret Service SUV. Behind the gas guzzler purrs the Pope’s Fiat, the SCV-1 plate beaming like a Latin pun.

‘A Marine sentry held open the rear door on the passenger side, and the seventy-eight-year-old Pope climbed out to greet the President. He’d been in the United States, which accounts for about a fifth of the world’s total oil consumption, for only about eighteen hours, and up to that point hadn’t said a word in public. Already, however, he had delivered a message. That’s how this Pope often operates—through symbolism and gestures that convey his intentions in ways that words never could.’

Give the Pope a Madeleine.