Monday, February 16, 2009

Pick Up the Glove

Not a week goes by when I don’t notice Mayor Edgar Savisaar sounding off on the incompetence of Prime Minister Andrus Ansip. If it’s not on television, it’s in the papers. If it’s not Mr. Savisaar himself casting aspersions, it’s another Centre Party member. Often his own wife.

It may be that Mr. Ansip gives as good as he gets, but my impression is he seems to more often play defense. He seems to bear the criticism in silence or shrug it off, perhaps feeling he shouldn’t dignify it with a response. But I’d like to see the man stand up for himself. As few as one hundred years ago, Savisaar’s words would have been cause for a duel.

So why not now? In this economy, in the frame of mind the citizenry is in, settling this matter of honour is the very least the government owes us.

Victory or defeat, depending on whose side you like, will lie in the methodus pugnandi, the terms of the duel. Since Savisaar is the one doing the goading, etiquette calls for Ansip to throw down the glove and demand satisfaction. But if Ansip challenges, Savisaar sets the terms. And if you were Savisaar facing Ansip, what’s it going to be? Swords or pistols?

If it’s swords, I favor Andrus. He is fit and nimble from bicycling and skiing and will not exhaust quickly from lunging, parrying, and ripostes. Edgar, who is no fool, will favor pistols. Although Andrus’ fitness will give him a steadier hand and lower heart rate, Edgar is required only to stand firm and make one shot count. Something he’s done often in his political career.

Of course, it’s not limited to swords or pistols. In 1843, two men fought a duel by throwing billiard balls at each other. Others have used sledgehammers or forks. Abraham Lincoln, once challenged to a duel, chose to fight with cow dung (his challenger then declined and issued a public apology).

It’s time to bring back dueling, that wonderful, nine-hundred-year-old tradition. It was popular in the Baltic in the studentenverbingdungen or fraternities. A schmiss or mensur scar on the face was a mark of distinction for a Baltic noble. And politicians took part, too. Four British Prime Ministers fought duels (William Petty, William Pitt, George Canning, and Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington). The American president, Andrew Jackson, fought thirteen duels, though all before he became president.

I propose this coming Saturday. Dawn is the traditional dueling hour, as it’s free of interruptions. The field of honour? The grounds beneath the freedom monument, of course. What could be more fitting than armed combat under Estonia’s ten-million-dollar Balkenkreuz?

I recommend swords. This will serve to show the world that Mr. Savisaar is, in fact, a sporting man, and in the event of his victory, will leave less bitterness in the ranks of Mr. Ansip’s peers.
As for seconds, Mr. Savisaar should bring his wife. A natural second for Mr. Ansip would be Mart Kadastik. These are merely dramatic suggestions, and the duelists themselves will fill out their rosters. By tradition, three is the number of seconds for each party.

Of course, dueling etiquette of the Code Duello clearly forbids interclass battles. If Ansip or Savisaar is of a higher social class than the other, the duel may not be permitted. If that is the case, however, it is permissible under the Code for he of the higher class to beat the other with a cane. Or, if he finds that distasteful, he may order his servants to perform the task.

In all cases, my proposal will temporarily restore honour in Estonian politics and end the trading of insults and petty carping. And satisfaction shall be had. At least by the public.

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