In his Spectator Notes this week, Charles Moore discusses Radek Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister and former Spectator contributor, who made some disobliging comments about David Cameron this week. Here is a preview of his column…
Radek Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister, is undoubtedly one of the most dashing figures on the world stage. I first met him in the mid-1980s, possibly when I was a guest of the Oxford Union and Radek who, I seem to remember, was wearing white tie and tails, was on the standing committee. At that time, he was a refugee from communist Poland, having helped organise resistance to martial law, and — though I did not know it then — a member of that nursery of world rulers, the Bullingdon Club. I made him The Spectator’s Afghanistan correspondent and he filed brave and fascinating reports from within the ranks of the mujahedin (read here and here on our archive). In his mind, the Soviets’ retreat from Afghanistan was a dummy run for getting them out of eastern Europe. In this publication in April 1990, he described how he had just bought a ruined country house and estate in Poland and would restore it. He foresaw a good future: ‘On this patch of land it will seem as if communism had never existed. Only when our surroundings, as well as our heads, are cleansed of the grime of 40 years will we be able to breathe freely again… We have won the clash of ideas. It’s now time to stop wagging our tongues and get down to work.’
Radek has realised his dream. He and his wife Anne Applebaum, the distinguished historian, have restored that Polish manor house, Dwor Chobielin. She and Danielle Crittenden have published From a Polish Country House Kitchen (‘90 recipes for the ultimate comfort food’). Radek is the most renowned Polish politician and, in the Ukraine crisis, has emerged as the most eloquent scourge of the nationalist/communist legacy embodied in Vladimir Putin.
But perhaps he has not entirely stopped his tongue wagging. Sikorski has just been exposed for rude remarks he made privately about David Cameron’s European policy, especially his attempt to block Jean-Claude Juncker at the European Commission: ‘He fucked up…His whole strategy of feeding scraps just to satisfy them [his eurosceptic critics] is, just as I predicted, turning against him; he should have said “Fuck off”…’ Last week, before this story broke, I met Radek in the garden of Hatfield House, where we were gathered for the dinner of the Margaret Thatcher and Liberty conference. His conversation was, as always, refreshingly frank and may possibly, in the Slavic manner, have included a bit of swearing. I find his approach to the European question very interesting. He is a robust conservative, and also an anglophile, but he is fiercely pro-EU. For him, the EU is the answer to the problem of Poland. In a speech at Blenheim Palace three years ago he gave an illuminating analogy. ‘Size matters,’ he said. When he was on the Union’s standing committee, he had stood for the post of secretary, and lost. This had been because his college, Pembroke, was too small, so he was beaten by a rival from Christ Church: ‘That was my formative political experience.’ In the same speech, he urged the British not to ‘underestimate our determination not to return to the politics of the 20th century. You were not occupied. Most of us on the continent were. We will do almost anything to prevent that happening again.’ Poland must not become once again a ‘buffer between western Europe and a less democratic Eurasian political-economic space dominated by Russia.’ His is good advice for a British audience because it punctures the illusion of our European policy. It shows how the European project really is different from the way most British think: continentals fear the independent nation state, and we instinctively trust in it.
I expect that if I were Polish, I would agree with Radek Sikorski about the EU, especially now that the United States (another object of his private, leaked irritation) is so weak. But be careful what you do not wish for. European anti-nationalists sometimes remind me of the children of divorced parents who constantly express their determination not to repeat their parents’ mistakes and then end up doing so. The failings of the EU, and the growing power of Germany, are now giving rise to just the resentful nationalism which Europhiles understandably abhor.