Presidential day

No, this has nothing to do with the presidency of DCU, past or present. Rather, this is about two of the Presidents of countries, whose birthdays fall on today’s date, July 18. And they could hardly be more different.

The first was Andrei Andreyevich Gromyko (born July 18, 1909), long-time Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union, and the country’s penultimate President. Gromyko was part of the wallpaper of my adolescence. As the Soviet Foreign Minister, he was constantly there somewhere, turning up at a global summit here and a military parade there, the very definition of the grey apparatchik. And when it was time for the Soviet Union to lighten up a little, Mikhail Gorbachev kicked him upstairs to the ‘Presidium of the Supreme Soviet’, meaning that he became the largely ceremonial national president.

Yesterday I asked ten people from different age groups as to who Andrei Gromyko was. Eight had never heard of him, or at any rate couldn’t remember ever having come across him. Of the other two, one thought he was the Czech president at some point or other, and the second had it about right; or rather, he remembered the Foreign Minister stuff, but didn’t know he had also been President. President Gromyko, it has to be said, has vanished from our collective memories without a trace.

The second President is an entirely different proposition. Nelson Mandela was born on July 18, 1918. It is hardly necessary to rehearse his life story, Nelson Mandela is part of the fabric of our era, representing values to which most people aspire: the man who learnt his jailers’ language and ensured a peaceful transition to democracy when he had been released. He was President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999.

Only nine years separated Gromyko and Mandela in terms of age, but a century stands between them in terms of politics. May our future be in the mold of Mandela rather than Gromyko.

Explore posts in the same categories: history, politics

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4 Comments on “Presidential day”

  1. Vincent Says:

    In another twenty/hundred or so you will find that there will be a reverse.
    For what exactly did Mandela do beyond survive Robin Island mentally intact.

  2. Kat Farrell Says:

    I fear that in years to come that Mandela will be forgotten also..


  3. Vincent, Kat: why do you think Mandela will be forgotten? He has been one of the icons of our age, and his major achievement was that South Africa didn’t collapse in violence and recrimination in the early 1990s. I suspect his name will live on…

  4. Vincent Says:

    Because it is very difficult to measure something that didn’t happen. Another thing is because he -Mandela- is part of the background narrative currently any real assessment of his actions has been impossible. Mbeki, Molanthe and Zuma have done as much if not more to manage the expectations of the majority who have a real expectation to take over lands held by the Cape Dutch Boer.


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