Cultures of self promotion

From everything I’ve read about the recent deal to get F-16s to Ukraine, Mark Rutte, prime minister of the Netherlands, was the backroom driver. Rutte played a similarly crucial role in getting Leopard tanks to Ukraine.

This is how things are done in Northern European cultures. Nothing dramatic, instead lots of negotiation and eventually a broad coalition emerges. There are no heroes, just some boring press releases.

I don’t think most Ukrainians would recognize Rutte or be able to name the prime minister of the Netherlands. They certainly would have no idea who the prime ministers of the other F-16 coalition members, Denmark and Norway, are.

And yet Boris Johnson is a household name and something of a folk hero among Ukrainians. My bank has war-themed skins for their debit cards on Apple Pay, including one of Boris Johnson with the caption “Bravery”. And yes, that’s the skin on my Monobank card.

The UK has contributed much to Ukraine’s war effort, but that’s largely been the quiet work of Ben Wallace, who is, incidentally, not particularly well-liked in Ukraine — he made off the cuff remarks about Ukrainians not being grateful for Western aide, and the Ukrainian media and social media mobs will never forget.

This whole saga showcases the obsession with self promotion that defines English-speaking cultures. Politicians are the most obvious examples, but you can see it the workplace, the way that many louder Americans and Brits write on the internet, or the fact that every person with a phone and a social media account now feels the need to build a “personal brand”.

Because of this preponderance of personality cults, it’s easy to forget that there’s another way, and as the most influential academics and journalist are part of the greater Anglo-Americann culture, we see tales of the great men of history rather than boring, process oriented, coalition building people who fade away into the background.