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Top Five Breaches Of Parliamentary Protocol

With the furor over U.S. Representative Joe Wilson's "liar" comments raging in the United States (he yelled "You lie!" as President Barack Obama was speaking on health care), we thought we'd put together a list of the funniest breaches of parliamentary protocol.

We didn't include the parliamentary fisticuffs as they seem to be a dime a dozen. (But there's a good compilation here.)

5. Breaking The Silence

Shortly after the death of former President Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin asked members of the Federal Assembly to stand for a moment of silence to remember him. But you can clearly see that a row of deputies in the lower right-hand corner refused to stand up.

We don't know for certain who the deputies are (or if indeed they are able to stand) but the smart money is that they were Communists: the only deputies who both hated Yeltsin and would disobey Putin.

4. Whistling Wife

Dagmar Havlova, the second wife of former Czech President Vaclav Havel, was never popular among Czechs, largely because it was thought that she married Havel too soon after the death of his first wife Olga. Her career as an actress and penchant for short skirts attracted the scorn of many.

And she certainly didn't do herself any favors when in 1998 the Czech parliament was reelecting her husband as president. When a right-wing deputy denounced the vote and said that Havel should be ashamed, she began whistling loudly from the public gallery to drown him out. Most Czechs weren't impressed, thinking her behavior unbecoming of a first lady.

3. "O Captain! My Captain!"

Usually the most exciting thing to happen in the European Parliament is when a debate on rapeseed subsidies is canceled.

So just imagine the scene when MEPs took to their feet and held up banners in defiance of the Lisbon Treaty. It was a little like that moment in "Dead Poets' Society" where all the students get on their chairs saying "O captain! My captain!"

Another memorable moment in the history of the European Parliament was when MEPs from the United Kingdom Independence Party tried to drown out the playing of the EU's de facto anthem, Beethoven's "Ode To Joy," by singing "God Save The Queen." (Unfortunately the video doesn't seem to exist anywhere.)

2. Unparliamentary Language

"His brains could revolve inside a peanut shell for a thousand years without touching the sides."

It's hard to come back from that. But the phrase, heard in New Zealand's parliament in 1949, has now been banned. Apparently (thanks, Wikipedia), parliaments based on the Westminster system keep lists of words or phrases that are deemed inappropriate for a house in session.

So, for instance, in Canada, you're not allowed to say someone is "inspired by forty-rod whiskey." Or in Hong Kong's parliament, you shouldn't refer to deputies by saying "foul grass grows out of a foul ditch."

Of course, in terms of boorish behavior, nothing rivals Prime Minister's Questions in the United Kingdom.

While not technically a breach of protocol, watching the leader of the opposition saying that Prime Minister Gordon Brown (watch above) was wearing more makeup than Barbara Cartland is just too good to miss.

1. Cardboard Prime Minister

But the winner, in terms of sheer sophomoric mischief, has to be when opposition members of the Australian parliament brought in a cardboard cut-out of the prime minister, Kevin Rudd.

Apparently, they were angry that Question Time had been canceled on Fridays as well as at the prime minister's absence (he was off visiting an indigenous community and a flood-ravaged region). As one opposition deputy said, "Cardboard Kev is better than no Kev at all."

What did we miss?

-- Luke Allnutt

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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