No doubt you have seen it: Vladimir Putins’ long, oval table. I would guess that it is at least three metres long. It has, I think, three supports beneath it, saving it from looking like a misplaced suspension bridge. It is a white table, possibly embossed around the edges, although I’m not too sure about that. The main point, just for the moment at any rate, is the sheer size.
Just take a moment to consider the question: what is a table for? I can think of coffee tables, occasional tables, dining tables, gaming tables. I can recognise tables for meetings — those in government buildings or the boardrooms of large businesses. Those are large tables, of course. Usually square or oblong. Not usually oval. What all such tables share is a functional purpose. Perhaps the function is to rest books or cups or the transient detritus of modern living. Or, perhaps, they are designed to bring us together in some structured way — to meet, to work, to eat, to talk, to play. How often are they so large, so long, so unadorned as Mr Putins’ table?
It has to be assumed that the oceanic table is quite deliberate. He is in charge, after all. He must have said to someone: “That is the table I want”. It might also be assumed that no-one questioned his choice. After all, given the circumstances, who would?
So the table, we may surmise, reflects something of the inner workings of an autocratic mind. One possibility is that it is a power symbol. A continent sized table that is a metaphor for the size and the power of the country. To get to me you must cross this vast expanse of Russia; you’ll never make it.
Or alternatively, that the power its dimensions are intended to convey are to induce awe in the visiting head of state, diplomat or other notable who arrives to the room. The same tactic used by Hitler and Mussolini when seated behind a large desk at the end of long and very large room. By the time you reach the great ruler the fear of being in his presence weakens your resolve along with your knees and your guts.
But more likely, in my view, is the intention to keep you away. It tells the visiting dignitary that I don’t want you near me. An interpersonal space of three metres is as close as you are going to get. It is, I suggest, the space of the…