Yes, presidents who weren’t “petty and cruel dictators” also participated in the World Leaders Forum. Correspondent Pierce Stanley checks up on two former U.S.S.R states now headed by Columbia alumni.
The World Leaders Forum (aka PrezBo’s giving of the finger to authoritarian regimes) carried on this morning with the goal of taking on a new foe– < ?xml:namespace prefix = st1 />Russia. However, today PrezBo had a few friends who also believe in the “individual spirit of liberal democracy” to back him up. Columbia alums Thomas Hendrik Ilves CC ’76, President of Estonia (an Edward Herrmann look alike who sports a nifty bow tie for all of his public events) and the President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili Law ’94, joined PrezBo in Low this morning to discuss the challenges of European integration, economic progress in small, newly-democratic nations living in the shadow of their neighbors, and cyber attacks, and to proverbially stroke each other for having attended Columbia.
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Ilves was nostalgic for cheap beer at the West End, where he said he occasionally treats Estonian academics to a night out to show them what student life at Columbia is like and ponder the value of the core. Hmm… no wonder his efforts to nationalize a core curriculum in Estonian universities consistently fail. Saakashvili on the other hand said that his favorite Columbia memory was his first day of class when he realized that he had a chance to take classes from professors and “theoreticians of the law” that he thought had been dead. More than anything he seemed happy to be have simply survived a PrezBo introduction. “President Bollinger I want to thank you for this unusually soft introduction.”
While nostalgia for Alma and discussions of the core (Ilves rattled off about half of the CC texts in under three seconds) dominated the discussion, Saakashvili and Ilves were more than willing to get down and dirty with PrezBo on the issues of economic progress. Saakashvili was overly excited to read fresh-off-the-press World Bank Rankings on the ease of doing business. Georgia moved from number 37 to number 18 this year. He noted, “There are no hopeless cases. We were one of the most corrupt places to do business.” Both presidents argued for the need of a continued cultural revolution, following on the heels of Saakashvili’s Rose Revolution in Georgia, to bring forth greater government transparency and an influx of foreign investment.
Things got dicey when PrezBo turned the discussion to the trend of political and economic authoritarianism in the region. While no one named names, opting instead for the phrase “common neighbor,” everyone knew that both Presidents were highly critical of Russian corruption and recent political power plays by a certain Vlad. Saakashvili was particularly willing to spar when he said, “Authoritarian regimes fail to liberate energy in the individual person. The individual gives the energy for society. You can buy people off, but soon the middle class will realize that economic freedom is not sustainable without political freedom.” Ilves had his own message for the ex-KGB member when he said, “If I never talked about Russia for the rest of my life, it wouldnï¿½t bother me at all.”
Q and A brought no surprises for the world leaders. Ilves took a cool question about cyber attacks in Estonia to laugh about botnets and to plug for “a couple of long haired Estonian students who started Skype.” He insisted that everyone read about e-stonia in Wired of this month. Good man Lee, however, found himself having to stumble around for an answer to a student’s plea for more current literature about Georgian political science. Saakashvili saved him this time, saying he would offer to teach Georgian studies after his term is up, and PrezBo decided to call it a day by saying “The World Leaders Forum has always been a great recruiting device.” Just like that it was another World Leaders Forum event in the books.
Tags: lecturehop, world leaders