Not fooling anyone

It's unlikely that Northern Ireland will be able to hide the reality from G8 leaders just by spending €2.3 million to put a gloss over the venue and its surrounding areas.

The temptation to hide unpleasant facts is nothing new in government. In 1787, Russian minister Grigory Potemkin reputedly erected prosperous-looking fake settlements to impress Empress Catherine II during her visit to Crimea. He didn't want her to know how poor and desperate her people really were.

The term "Potemkin village" has ever since connoted any false display intended to hide squalor or poverty. North Korea did something like it in the 1950s when it built Kijong-dong, a prosperous village in the demilitarised zone, in a failed bid to get South Koreans to defect.

Now Northern Ireland is trying out this time-tested tactic as it prepares to host a G8 Summit at a golf course in Fermanagh county on June 17.

Ulster's economy is suffering. So of course the government has chosen to pretend that nothing is wrong by spending €2.3 million (Dh11m) to erect cheery fake storefronts along the route visiting leaders will take.

It is striking that this tactic has been tried in imperial times, under communism, and in the West. But this is not 1787 or the 1950s - in the age of social media, the Ulster stratagem has been revealed even before the summit begins. In the age of mass communication, reality, however unpleasant, is harder than ever to hide.

Published: June 7, 2013 04:00 AM

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