Opinion
7:38 am
Wed May 16, 2012

Foreign Policy: Who Has The Better Inaugural Bling?

When it comes to presidential style, the new leaders of France and Russia couldn't be more different. Francois Hollande, after all, used to travel to work on a scooter, while Vladimir Putin has been spotted getting around with a horse, a race car, a Harley Davidson motorcycle, and a water-bombing plane. So perhaps it's no surprise that their inaugurations this month were a study in contrasts.

In yet another effort to distance himself from outgoing French President Nicolas Sarkozy's "bling bling" lifestyle, Hollande participated in a modest swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday — well, modest as far as presidential inaugurations go. The French leader didn't invite many personal guests to the event (even his children didn't attend), and he drove to the Elysee Palace in a hybrid Citroen DS5, stopping at traffic lights and even waiting patiently in a traffic jam. In his first speech as president, Hollande promised to govern with "dignity but simplicity" and to demonstrate "scrupulous sobriety in behavior." (Hollande's plans for a no-drama inaugural were later foiled when lightning struck his plane en route to Germany.)

The atmospherics differed so much from the pomp and circumstance surrounding Putin's inauguration on May 7 that one YouTube user has already spliced together footage of the Russian leader's black limousine barreling through the empty streets of Moscow with images of Hollande's motorcade wending its way through the crowded avenues of Paris (to compare the inaugurations at length, see here and here). So will Putin and Hollande end up seeing eye to eye? Putin did call Hollande to congratulate him on his electoral victory, and the leaders will meet next month at a sustainable development summit in Brazil. But if their remarkably different inauguration ceremonies are any indication, these two men have quite the gulf to bridge.

In the picture above, Francois Hollande, accompanied by Republican Guardsmen on horseback and motorcycle, arrives at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris for a solemn ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier before his inauguration. Hollande outfitted the open-roof vehicle with a flat floor and a rail that he could grip while standing up so that he could wave to the public — in the pouring rain, no less.

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