HUMOR HELPS WARM DIPLOMACY
ARMAN NAVASARDIAN
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary

 
 
 
 
 
Mark Twain said once, "Humor is mankind’s greatest blessing.”
But if we listen to certain prominent men we would think that diplomats are devoid of this divine gift, because they are dry, strict, and introverted people who are strangers to laughter. Balzac and Goethe have thought rather negatively about diplomats, considering them "literal pedants,” while Marcel Proust has called them "as boring as the rain.” 

Of course, there are a few diplomats in this puddle who make an exception. As I have already said, the diplomat of our time is a highly educated and knowledgeable person with high analytical skills. He communicates with politicians, statesmen, intellectuals, activists, artists, and cannot be uninteresting or as people say, "flat,” unless, of course, he has been dull since birth. If this is not the case, then a diplomat should certainly have a sense of humor, an ability to laugh and make others laugh, which makes his job easier. 

Those who have experience in negotiation diplomacy know well that long discussions often make arguments and counterarguments confusing, disappointing, and make the participants nervous, which often lead to deadlocks and poor results. But this can be avoided with the help of humor, jokes, and figurative speech. 
 In the mid-1990s, the head of the Russian delegation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was Vladimir Shustov who, undoubtedly, was a talented diplomat. According to him, he was of Armenian descent, belonging to the family of the cognac industrialist Nikolai Shustov. He was born in Ashkhabad and spoke only Armenian before moving to Moscow with his family. As the French say, he was a bon vivant and enjoyed a good laugh anytime. In diplomatic circles he had a reputation of a gourmand and liked to joke about it himself, knowing well that this would neutralize the jokes aimed at him. "Anything that tastes good makes you fat, and anything that pleases you makes you immoral,” he liked to joke. 

Shustov was brilliant during the sessions in Hofburg Palace in Vienna. He was a walking encyclopedia. He was knowledgeable in Russian, American, and European literature, art, and world history in general, and made his political speeches rich in allusions and references to prose and poetry. But his strongest card was humor. 

There were many erudite diplomats in the Russian corpus, but Shustov was a unique phenomenon in terms of his sense of humor. He would ask for his turn to speak during the discussions of the most hopeless and impossible-seeming cases, when the hall was electrified with tension, and he would play the role of a lightning rod. Of course, issues weren’t resolved easily, but he was able to take off the pressure. His quotes, aphorisms, and anecdotes made everyone, even the most morose delegates, smile. It resembled a single-act play. 

Politicians and diplomats know the time and place for humor. They will never ironize or make fun of a foreign state in the presence or absence of its representatives. But occasionally good-humoredness can lose its amiable tone, turning into biting satire and thus revealing political intentions. Here is such an example. 

 
Once on the road to Rome, the Grand Duke of Tuscany meets a Venetian diplomat and complains:
"Your republic has sent us an ambassador who is completely useless. He doesn’t know anything, he doesn’t have any position, and he’s simply bad at personal relations.” 

"Indeed, there are many idiots in Venice.” 

"We have many idiots in Florence, too, but, forgive me, we never send them abroad.” 

And when people understand humor, be they kings or diplomats, they know the time and place for humor at the negotiating table and they can always reach an agreement, which is beneficial for their countries. 

In 1512 Ferdinand II of Aragon conquered Upper Navarre in the south of the Pyrenees, which belonged to the Kingdom of Navarre, and annexed it to the Crown of Castille. Lower Navarre, north of the Pyrenees, survived as an independent kingdom until 1589, when its last king, Henry III succeeded to the throne of France as Henry IV. Then it was incorporated into France proper, maintaining its status and structure. The title of King of Navarre continued to be used by the kings of France until 1830. 

Once the ambassador of Spain, Don Pedro de Toledo, was conversing with Henry IV in the Louvre. The king’s tone was somewhat haughty, as he stressed that he was the sole ruler of Navarre, including Spanish Navarre. When the ambassador objected, the king replied:
"Your objections are true as long as and until I haven’t declared Pamplona as the capital of Spanish Navarre. I would like to see who will defend your rights then?” 

The ambassador remained silent, then stood up, and quickly headed toward the door.
"Where are you going?” the king called after him.
"I am leaving, my Lord, in order to welcome your majesty and organize a reception for you in Pamplona,” replied Don Pedro.
Henry IV laughed heartily and from that day onward removed the question of Pamplona from the French-Spanish negotiating table.
In conclusion, here is an advice to diplomats. Don’t ignore humor. Remember that a sharp word can be a jewel wrapped in plain paper. Unwrap the paper and the bright sparkles will illuminate your surroundings.
DIPLOMATIC ESSAYS
1491 reads | 07.02.2014
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