“It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the Queen of France… at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision… little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honour and cavaliers. I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever.” So wrote Edmund Burke of Marie Antoinette in Reflections on the Revolution in France.
And he was right or, more correctly, subsequent events have proved him so. The age of chivalry has gone – aggressive feminism and a general coarsening of behaviour in public life playing no small part in the final push – and the glory of Europe is a flame in danger of being snuffed out just as, and for not dissimilar reasons – as the glory that was Rome. The continent that gave the world so much – democracy, the Renaissance, jet engines, to take just three at random – now reduced to squabbling about who gets which pointless job in the EU’s ever more inward looking bureaucracy, removing their collective snouts from the trough only long enough to mouth sanctimonious platitudes to the long suffering tax payers.
Be that as it may, in this season of celebrations of independence and revolutions various (please see Independence Day, Ten Years After) the Polish President was on hand at the French Embassy here to take part in the celebrations to mark the 225th anniversary of Bastille Day and the French Revolution. During the celebrations President Komorowski thanked France for its support of Poland during the Solidarity. “The fraternity of nations in the name of liberty and equality is the motor of progress in our world,” he said in an allusion to the French Revolutionary motto. Of course, in the event (the revolution not yesterday’s party) there was precious little actual liberty, equality or fraternity but revolutions tend to be like that, alas. Indeed, the French revolution gave birth not, as the English Glorious Revolution of 1688 to constitutional monarchy (although France did flirt with a number of Emperors in the years following and, even today, is clearly a nation missing a monarch) but to state sponsored terrorism with Committee for Public Safety guaranteeing anything but and the terror, a lesson not lost on Lenin and chums in 1917, and legion others since. But I digress.
French Ambassador Pierre Buhler expressed his admiration for the spirit of Poles “who never gave up” and managed to regain their freedom 25 years ago after “half a century of enslavement by an authority that was not authorised by the nation.” Buhler recalled how as a young diplomat he become so fascinated with the “epic dimension of contemporary events” in Poland that he decided to write a book about it (well, he is French) entitled “Anatomy of a fraud: Poland under Communism”, a copy of which he presented to President Komorowski.
All very fraternal. And let us not forget the long association between France and Poland, ever since Marie Walewska was persuaded to surrender her virtue to Napoleon in the interests of Polish independence, a variation of which chat up line, albeit on a smaller scale, was working for foreigners until as recently as 1995. In the post-communist era France has been one of the top three foreign investor in Poland, with Telecom took over the Polish state telephone company and French supermarket chains being but two obvious examples. The old joke about the Russian flying from Moscow to Paris and the Frenchman flying from Paris to Moscow, both landing in Warsaw, and both thinking they had arrived, no longer applies.
But of course, as Marie Walewska found out, French expressions of affection will not stop France pursuing its own interests. While the Polish foreign minister flies once more to Kiev to discuss the build- up of Russia troops once more on the Ukrainian border and will, no doubt, call on NATO for a stiffening of resolve (please see War and Peace), the French are quite happy to continue to sell warships to Russia.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Vive la France!