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World: Many Politicians Choose To Follow Their Hearts, Let Their Artistic Sides Soar

  • Kathleen Moore --> Berlusconi: too busy writing love ballads Politicians can be boring. Their speeches often induce yawns; their statements can sound dull or vague. But some have also shown an inclination for artistic expression -- in poetry, prose, or even song. The president of Turkmenistan is just the latest in a long line that includes the Italian prime minister and politicians from Europe, the United States, and Russia.

Prague, 10 March 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Three years ago, when John Ashcroft was still the U.S. attorney general, he gave a speech at a seminary in North Carolina.

Ashcroft's remarks did not receive much media attention. But his singing did. Ashcroft not only sang the song "Let the Eagle Soar," he wrote it -- with patriotic lyrics that compare his country to a mighty eagle.

Songwriting might seem an unlikely detour for a politician in high office.

But Ashcroft is not alone. Quite a few politicians have shown that they, too, have artistic inclinations.

Two years ago, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said he was too busy to follow a political quarrel that was then consuming his supporters and opponents. The reason? He said he was writing love ballads.
"There's nothing more egotistical in this world than writing, because you basically think to yourself, 'I've got something to say.' And if there is a second most egotistical job in this world, it may well be thinking that you should be the boss of the people -- becoming a politician."

Guitarist Mariano Apicella put Berlusconi's lyrics to music, and the songs were released on a CD.

It's not just songs. Politicians, it seems, are equally at home with poetry or prose.

Russian diplomats, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, had their poems published in a special collection in January.

In the United States, William Cohen published two volumes of poetry before he became defense secretary in 1997. Cohen's poetic leanings prompted one satirist to ask, "Is he manly enough for the job?"

Jimmy Carter was the first U.S. president to write a novel and a book of poetry. But other U.S. presidents have turned to poetry, too. So many, in fact, that there's a special section of Congress' online library devoted to their writings.

The list goes on.

Shashi Tharoor is an award-winning novelist, as well as a UN undersecretary-general.

Britain's wartime prime minister, Winston Churchill, wrote biographies and histories, as well as one novel, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953.

Several years ago, former French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, himself a published poet, gave a speech on the topic at Rice University in the United States.

"The relationship between poetry and politics is also a very deep one. I think it's not an accident that during the second world war, in 1944, the code message sent by the French service of the BBC to the resistance movement in France to warn them of the Normandy [D-Day] landings [of Allied troops] was two of the famous lines of [French poet Paul] Verlaine. 'The long sobs of autumn's violins wound my heart with a monotonous languor,'" de Villepin said.

Most recently, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov published his third collection of poetry in January.

"Rulers, scholars, and shepherds are equal here.
That is my bright democracy.
Turkmens are building,
And building is the path of the Prophet.
Turkmens are creating,
Creation is the path of God.
Turkmens' destiny rises.
Saparmurat Turkmen, beloved son of God,
Acts and lives honestly.
That is my honest democracy."

Politicians in high office clearly have a ready audience for their writing. But is it any good?

RFE/RL asked Turkmen writer-in-exile Shiraly Nurmyradov to comment on Niyazov's poetry.

He says it's actually quite good. But then he adds a criticism that would be devastating for any writer.

"There's a lot that's good about it in terms of poetry, especially how it integrates the past with today's world, and the lines about the historical people. These really make a good impression. But a person who has spent his life speaking in Russian and who cannot even finish a single line with correct Turkmen grammar -- it's not possible for such a person to have written such poetry," Nurmyradov said.


Politicians-turned-writers obviously leave themselves open to criticism -- or even ridicule.

So should we be surprised when they produce poetry, novels, or songs? Absolutely not, says Hart Seely. He's the American humorist who two years ago gathered the sayings of U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and turned them into verse.

"There's nothing more egotistical in this world than writing, because you basically think to yourself, 'I've got something to say.' And if there is a second most egotistical job in this world, it may well be thinking that you should be the boss of the people -- becoming a politician," Seely said.

Seely said some politicians may believe that one memorable line of verse will outlast all of their accomplishments on health care or the economy.

If that's the case, John Ashcroft's eagle will still be soaring long after his political legacy is forgotten.

(Mohammad Tahir of RFE/RL's Turkmen Service contributed to this report.)