It's summer - and world leaders head for sun, sea and a little state business
Blair family leads in informality, while Jiang takes the whole office to the beach
Thursday 21 August 1997
The world's swankiest hotels, best beaches and tightest security are at the disposal of heads of government. Benjamin Netanyahu takes a photocall in the Mediterranean with his family, and a phalanx of bodyguards. Jacques Chirac chooses a tropical hotel patronised by royalty and pop stars. And Peking's leaders have the best beaches at the popular Chinese resort of Beida He cordoned off for their private use.
But many choose a simpler holiday. Informality, epitomized by Tony Blair, is very much in tune with the holiday manners of the modern world leader.
Mr Blair, polishing his European credentials, has spent half his holiday in Tuscany and half in France, where he will later this week meet with Lionel Jospin, his Socialist counterpart the French Prime Minister. "I know he lives nearby. We will see one another," said Mr Blair, as though he hoped to bump into Mr Jospin in the fresh fruit and vegetable section of the local hypermarche. Increasingly, business and leisure are mixed.
The Clintons showed the common touch by dressing in baggy T-shirts and running shorts. But they were at Martha's Vineyard, that ultra-trendy haunt of the monied, old and new, and the White House press corps went along too, for staged photo-opportunities and "impromptu" statements on current events.
Russia's Boris Yeltsin spent half his holiday on the Volga and half in Kareli in the north, where he relaxed in a newly renovated government dacha by a lake, which was closed to the public and filled with thousands of fish to ensure the President's success with rod and line.
The working element of the holiday in Kareli was that Mr Yeltsin played host to the Finnish President, Martti Ahtisaari. It must have been an odd experience for Mr Ahtisaari to be a guest in Kareli, which used to belong to Finland until the Soviet Union seized it at the end of the Second World War. Perhaps even odder, he found himself in a sauna being energetically beaten with birch twigs by the President of Russia, an experience few will be able to record on their postcards
In the past, Israeli prime ministers did not usually take holidays - or if they did, they frolicked so discreetly no one noticed. But Benjamin Netanyahu has broken the mould this summer. He is Israel's first yuppie prime minister, the first to have grown up in the less austere climate of the US, the first to have small children while in office.
Inevitably, the Netanyahus being the Netanyahus, the holiday he bagan last Wednesday turned into one big photo- opportunity. Bibi, Sara and their two sons, Yair, six, and Avner, two, playing on the beach at Caesarea, the upmarket Mediterranean resort where a businessman friend lent them his villa. Hizbollah, alas, spoilt the fun. Mr Netanyahu broke his vacation on Tuesday to sympathise with the people of Kiryat Shmona, whose homes were hit by Katyusha rockets from Lebanon.
The French President, Jacques Chirac, has just finished his holiday, and returned to Paris on Tuesday after three weeks in the tropics. He started in La Reunion, in the Indian Ocean, and then moved on to Mauritius, 150 miles away. One of the advantages of a colonial heritage is that La Reunion is under French control, and is not considered a colony, but rather as a French territory. Mr. Chirac was staying with his wife Bernadette, their daughter and their grandson, in a hotel which has entertained the likes of Princess Stephanie of Monaco and the singer James Brown.
Perhaps the least relaxed holidaymakers are the leaders of the Peoples' Republic of China. Far from getting away from it all for his holidays, China's leader takes the office and all his senior colleagues with him for his summer break. President Jiang Zemin and his entourage descend every year on the seaside resort of Beida He, about 150 miles east of Peking.
Beida He has a lively holiday atmosphere - at least where the masses play. The town is rather like Blackpool, with a strange form of apartheid imposed upon it. To the east, the public beaches are thronged with state work units on their official holidays; to the west, the often-deserted best beach is cordoned off for the senior leaders and no curious passers- by are allowed anywhere near.
Although he has two luxurious official residences and a posh Johannesburg home, when President Nelson Mandela takes his month-long summer holiday he heads for Qunu. Here he has had a replica of his old quarters at Victor Verster prison, a modest red-brick bungalow, built in the wilds of the Transkei..
His mother, who died during his 27-year incarceration, once lived across the road. And Mr Mandela has a simple explanation for his choice of destination: "Everybody comes back to where they were born." he says.
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