A lesson from a dictators’ playdate

Max Jeganathan on how the recent meeting between Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un highlights what real friendship is (and isn't).

The recent meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un looked a bit like a coffee date between Voldemort and Lex Luthor (I don’t know which one’s which). Everything about the meeting gave the impression the two were “friends”. There was talk of special care, cordial hospitality and goodwill. Photos were taken. Personal giftpacks were given – complete with rifles, explosive drones and a bulletproof vest.

For a couple of increasingly desperate dictators, they put on a good show. But no one believes this was anything more than self-interest masquerading as friendship. Russia needs artillery shells and antitank missiles. North Korea needs wheat, energy and fuel. “I get by with a little help from my friends” sang the Beatles. Their words summarise the geo-strategic backdrop for Kim and Putin’s playdate.

Friendships are always accompanied by an element of self-interest. But for a friendship to be authentic there must be more. Shared memories, experiences, joys, sorrows and affection. We don’t usually think of Jesus as a friendship coach, but he adds something even more daunting and majestic – sacrifice. He declared that the greatest expression of love is someone laying down their life for their friends.

Having recently moved back to Australia after 7 years abroad, I’m enjoying the thrill of reconnecting with old friends and the refreshment (and challenge) of making new ones. I find myself confronted by and in furious agreement with Jesus. Friendships are about more than sacrifice, but they aren’t much without it. International relations may always be driven by blunt self-interest. Thankfully, our friendships need not be.

Image licensed under CC BY 4.0 kremlin.ru)