Shattered Reputations

“Reputation is an idle and most false imposition; oft got without merit, and lost without deserving” as Shakespeare reminds us. Whether the Polish foreign minister, Radek Sikorski, is a devotee of the words of the bard I know not, but as transcripts of further secretly made tape recordings of the private conversations of Polish ministers are leaked to the Polish press, he might well have cause to reflect on them.

In a conversation with a former finance minister Jacek Rostowski, Sikorski takes aim both at the USA and the UK. Of the former, Sikorski is reportedly alleged to have said: “The Polish-American alliance is worthless, even harmful, as it gives Poland a false sense of security. It’s bullshit.” This from the man who has spent recent weeks urging the USA to station NATO troops in Poland. A few soldiers and aeroplanes have arrived (see War and Peace) but, despite having engaged (figuratively, one hopes) in oral gymnastics (Sikorski’s actual phrase toned down here for readers of a more delicate disposition) Sikorski considers Poland generally to have had nothing from the USA, despite supporting the USA efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. In terms of the USA having moved on Poland’s inclusion in the visa waiver programme, Sikorski’s remarks are probably correct but he confuses long term security – membership of NATO which means ultimately the guarantee of US military support – with short term irritations.

Not wishing to deny his fellow Poles their fair share of his scorn, he describes their mentality of as suffering from “Murzyńskość” – a derogatory term with racial overtones and with connotations of subservience and backwardness which might be translated as thinking like a Negro – with Poles having very shallow pride and low self-esteem.”

Meanwhile, and not for the first time (please see Friends with Benefits) the British prime minister was accused by his erstwhile Bullingdon Club chum of incompetence in European affairs. In a foul-mouthed tirade by one of his (or so he thought) closest allies on the continent, David Cameron was reportedly accused of engaging in “stupid propaganda” to appease Tory Eurosceptics during his negotiations with the European Union. Sikorski accused Cameron of having “f—– up” over Europe. “Remember? He f—– up the fiscal pact. He f—– it up. Simple as that. He is not interested, he does not get it, he believes in the stupid propaganda, he stupidly tries to play the system… his whole strategy of feeding [his critics] scraps in order to satisfy them is just as I predicted, turning against him.” In the tape, Rostowski is quoted saying that “no Polish government could agree” to Cameron’s attempts to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU “except in return for a mountain of gold”.

Of course, and with dreadful irony, Sikorski is probably correct in his analysis. The focus should rather be on who made and leaked the tapes and why than on their content, which after all are were private conversations. There must be a distinction between the public and the private and letting off steam with a colleague over a meal is not the same as deciding the nation’s foreign policy and giving public expression thereto. Instead of asking who benefits from these leaks, the intemperate, sexually charged language in the excerpts leaked to date (please see Caught on Tape) switches the focus to the damage done to Poland’s reputation by Polish ministers sounding like a group of teenagers trying to impress each other with linguistic bravado in the playground.

Which is a pity. Because up until this point Poland’s foreign policy had seemed increasingly sure-footed with Poland taking the lead in a number areas such as the Ukraine and EU energy policy (please see Freedom) and being taken more seriously on the international stage. This work may now be undone. To paraphrase Wilde’s Lady Bracknall: to lose the respect of one ally is unfortunate, to lose the respect two looks like carelessness. Especially so when you have been put forward by the government of Poland as a candidate for the post of EU foreign policy chief.

Once more unto the bard (Othello, since you ask): “Reputation, reputation, reputation! Oh, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial.”

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