March 17, 2005

The Greatest... of All Time

Over the last few years various countries have been holding plebiscites on their greatest citizen of all time. Apart from the rather dubious contest that pits diverse personalities, achievements and notorieties against each other, there have been some odd results: in the Netherlands, the organising TV company KRO tried to skew the voting because the frontrunner was embarrassing the Dutch thinking classes. But, in the end, Pim Fortuyn did win. I would have voted for Erasmus.
In Britain, a few years earlier, Sir Winston Churchill was anointed the Greatest Briton (in the international version, run by BBC World, Sir Isaac Newton came out tops, a far better choice in my opinion, even though I voted for Charles Darwin).
Germany went for the rather colourless conservative Chancelllor Konrad Adenauer. Surely Gutenberg or Albert Einstein would have been better choices?
In Belgium, Pater Damiaan, who tended leprosy patients on the Hawaiian island of Molokai, was considered the Greatest Belgian (even though he was Flemish). I agree with some critics that King Albert I should have gotten the title - he resisted the German invasion during WW1 and was socially progressive in an era between the wars not noted for its progressive ideas. But maybe I would have gone for either Rene Magritte or Victor Horta.
And now it's the turn of the French. Charles de Gaulle is the unmistaken frontrunner in the top 100 list, with Napoleon, Edith Piaf and Jeanne d'Arc far behind. For sheer international impact, you can't go far beyond Marie Curie and Louis Pasteur, really.
New Zealand can't be far behind now, since we've endured Big Brother, Idol, Extreme Makeovers and Apprentices already.

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