Posts Tagged ‘EU’

The report on Jo Cox and Brexit is from the beginning of the show. I’m interviewed from 5:30 to 10:00. The video of the show is available here: http://www.ceskatelevize.cz/porady/10316155327-horizont-ct24/216411058050616/
IMG_9740The following is a rough outline of what I said (it doesn’t correspond exactly to the words used but is close and gets the meaning across) – for those who can’t pick up the English over the Czech interpreter. The questions from the interviewer are followed by my answers

The death of Labour MP Jo Cox – the motive is yet unclear – but there are speculations that it could be political, even connected with #Brexit. If that were true – does it show, how divided and emotional the country is before this crucial decision?

  • Let me first say that my sympathies – as I am sure all of our sympathies tonight – are with Jo Cox’s family and friends. This is a truly awful event and unprecedented in recent British political history.
  • It’s not clear yet what the motive behind the attack was, but what is clear is that an increasingly hostile and tense atmosphere that have been propagated by anti-migrant and anti-Europe politicians from both the far right and the far left in the run-up to this referendum.
  • That’s not to blame or to smear the leave campaign that would be a disrespect to Jo Cox who said in her first speech to parliament “our communities have been enhanced by immigration … we have far more in common than that which divides us”. That can be understood in terms of the referendum debate as well.
  • Rather, it is a warning to those politicians, in this country, around Europe and around the world – who use the politics of hatred – when you use the politics of hatred you are playing with fire and when you play with fire there is no telling who will get burned.

According to what will Brits decide? Are the newspapers, celebrities, a bigger influence than the actual topics, like the economics?

  • Well, it’s interesting, there is the form and the substance. In terms of the form, indeed certain newspapers, such as those controlled by oligarchs like Rupert Murdoch the media have had a huge influence in spreading the lies, falsehoods and other scandalous statements primarily from the leave campaign.
  • Despite the fact that the remain campaign clearly has the better arguments and more evidence and so on, it doesn’t seem to be having quite the impact that we might expect. So people are perhaps engaging more emotionally
  • But on the substance, if there is one issue more than anything else, then it is migration.
  • Now, many people fear for their jobs, their security their families, friends and so on. That’s perfectly legitimate and it doesn’t make them racist in any way. However, to link those fears, without any grounds to migration or indeed to the European Union is wrong and it is those lies and that hatred that has been spread by the Murdoch media.
  • However it falls on fertile ground in the UK. There is poor education about the EU, the political class have failed to make the case for the EU, no one has made the big, positive case for it.
  • Britons experience Europe in a different way than continental Europeans do. Partly its geography – being an island – but mainly its mentality – being an island nation and having an oppositional relation to Europe. This makes the way that people deal with all these issues more about emotion than about analysis

Both camps – leave and remain – suspended campaigning today. But the polls are tight, and what’s more – they can all get it wrong. Still – is the remain camp of the pm Cameron getting nervous?

  • Definitely, but its not just David Cameron, we have to remember that the Remain campaign spreads across the political parties, across the political spectrum of Centre-Right and Centre-Left.
  • I think that anyone who, like myself, supports Britain remaining in the European Union is definitely getting nervous.
  • However I think that David Cameron is probably more nervous than most because his job is certainly on the line whatever the result of the referendum.

Did David Cameron make a big mistake in calling for referendum?

  • No, because it is important that people have a say on what is a very important and relevant issue for the UK, but it does raise questions about why, having called the referendum he has run such a dismal campaign. Cameron has failed to make any kind of good campaign whatsoever, or to make the big positive case for Europe – none of the politicians have – which again reflects the difficulties that Britain has in understanding the EU in its complexities but also in the big ideas
  • Mostly this referendum campaign has been a quarrel inside the Tory party, a squabble between cynical populists like Nigel Farage and self-promoters like Boris Johnson. It has showcased the worst rather than the best of British democracy.
  • This is not a proud chapter in the history of British politics, nor of our nation and it does raise questions about how referendums are managed.

Obviously 5 minutes is nowhere near enough time to say all that could be said on these issues but in the context of contemporary news media I’m grateful to Horizont for giving me that much time – and asking great questions!

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It may seem odd that many British people want leave the EU, but to a Brit living in the Czech Republic it comes as no surprise. The low quality of the Brexit debate shows that for too many Brits, Europe is still a strange and distant place.

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The outcome of the British EU membership referendum is likely to come down to a few key factors: the weather (which affects voter turnout), the registration of young voters (who are less likely to vote but more likely to vote to remain), whether Boris Johnson can reign in his ego (and stop comparing the EU to Hitler’s project to “unite Europe”), and which way the country’s corrupt media Barons tell their newspapers to lean.

To steal a phrase from Neville Chamberlain, “how horrible, how fantastic, incredible” it is that such an important issue, which could see one of the most populous and potentially powerful European countries leave the world’s most exclusive and desirable political club, should be at the mercy of such superficial and arbitrary considerations.

For any Czechs and others still in thrall to the UK as the cradle of modern democracy or as an example of an independent voice to look up to in Europe, this state of affairs may come as a something of a shock. For me, however, having grown up in the UK but spent most of my adult life on the continent and most of my career working in the study or practice of politics and government, including for the EU, it comes as no surprise.
You can read the full article in English at the Reporter website http://reportermagazin.cz/a-faraway-country-of-which-we-know-little/  

This article was originally published in Czech in the June edition of Reporter Magazine 
and in Czech and English on their website.

I am a foreigner. A migrant. I live and work in Prague, the city that has become my adopted home. No one forced me to come here, nor even invited me – I decided to come here myself. I have been warmly welcomed by Czech people and love being a part of Czech society. As a foreigner and a migrant with such a positive experience here I now watch in disbelief at the stance the country is taking to the ongoing refugee crisis.

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“Sit Down! Watch this, its important. You’ll remember it for the rest of your life.”

My Mum probably didn’t know it then, but she had sparked a chain of events that would have great importance for how – and where – I live my life and for how and why I am writing this article. Although I was born and grew up in the UK, I live and work in Prague and have lived most of my adult life in Central and Eastern Europe. Time and again when people have asked me – often somewhat incredulously – why I am so interested in this part of the world, I come back to these words and to the impact of the reportage that I was about to watch. Now I come back to them again as a migrant living in the Czech Republic and contemplating the country’s response to the migration crisis.

Originally published in Czech in Reporter Magazine on 12/10/2015
Read the full text in English at: http://reportermagazin.cz/a-migrants-story/

and in Czech at http://reportermagazin.cz/migrantuv-pribeh/ 

Commentary on Timothy Snyder’s talk ‘Russia, Ukraine and the Central Significance of Civil Society’, Charles University, Prague, 27/01/2015.

 

By Benjamin Tallis

On 27th January, the renowned historian Professor Timothy Snyder spoke to a packed hall at Charles University on the central role of civil society in understanding the Ukraine conflict and what is at stake in wider tensions between Russia and the West. Snyder compellingly made the case for critically re-examining received wisdoms about what civil society is, what it does and why it matters. He situated his analysis of the need to re-invigorate and actively enact civil society in relation to the complacency of Francis Fukuyama’s ‘End of History’ thesis. Snyder claimed that following the great upsurge in civil society activity of 1989 we have allowed ourselves to become complacently post-historical in expecting both a vibrant civil society and ‘progress’ (towards liberal market democracy) to occur “automatically”.

Snyder based his argument on discussion of the convergence and divergence of Russian and Ukrainian histories and national myths. He then presented insightful analyses of certain aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their links to civil society, history and collective memory, particularly with regard to the driving forces and goals of Euromaidan and the obstacles to achieving these. Snyder also provided an illuminating contextualization of the Ukrainian conflict with regard to the wider objectives and orientations of the Putin regime’s domestic governance and foreign relations. However, this led into a discussion on propaganda, which, I argue below, was became less credible the more it was pursued and actually showed the flaws in Snyder’s own arguments and methods. This was particularly the case when he linked the fight against Russian propaganda back to the importance of believing in history, which, he had earlier asserted, provided the platform for effective civil society. Snyder also repeatedly contradicted himself – something he accuses Russian propagandists of doing – and was also guilty in some instances of aping their dissembling tactics, while trying to slip through claims that do not stand up to further scrutiny.

 

Civil Society and the Malleable Communities of History and Memory

The presentation began with a very reasonable definition of civil society as occupying the space between the level of the individual and the level of the state and as providing a way to translate private concerns into meaningful collective action. The collective aspect of this necessitates the delineation of communities within and for which with such action can take place. As Snyder argued, an important example of such a community is a nation, although he dismissed related although different ideas of ethnicity and language as “silly.” For Snyder (and many others), the role of history and the nation’s collective memory is a key aspect of community cohesion, which can also help it bond with other communities or create distinctions from them. This led into a discussion of the contested legacy of the Kyivan Rus, which Snyder pointed out was populated by “Vikings and Jews” yet is nonetheless claimed as a part of both Russian and Ukrainian heritage. He identified the formation of the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth in 1569, as significant because it meant that the sizable parts of Ukraine that were included in it experienced ‘normal’ European development – “the renaissance, reformation, counter-reformation” – while Russia did not. Despite Snyder’s ostensible rejection of Fukuyama, this analysis points to an acceptance of some aspects of the ‘historicism’ that were smuggled in with ‘the end of History’, specifically the notions of natural or correct paths of development.

 

Snyder then jumped to the divergent experiences of Ukraine in the early Soviet period, with particular reference to the industrialization and collectivisation of Stalin’s first 5-year plan, which led to the Holodomor, the starvation famine that affected Ukraine to a far greater extent than Russia. However, Snyder then noted that the experience of the Second World War served as a unifying force, with narratives of great patriotism obscuring the activities of Ukrainian nationalists to a significant extent. Echoing the arguments made by Andrew Wilson in a recent book on the Ukraine crisis, Snyder then claimed that the events of the last 18 months had “overwritten and overwhelmed” memories of WW2 as the intense experience of (Euro)Maidan and then the conflict with Russia had been such an intense experience that it had created a new socio-political national myth that left Russia and Ukraine “as different as any pair of European countries”.

Crucially, Snyder emphasized the role of civil society in this process and countered claims that EuroMaidan was led or dominated by Ukrainian-nationalists or Ukrainian-speakers by asserting that it’s driving force was Kyiv’s Russian-speaking middle class. Language, had thus gone from “silly” in other analyses to significant in Snyder’s and was about to become even more so. He plausibly identified a confluence of Ukrainians’ desire for ‘European’ governance and disgust at the “oligarchical pluralism” that had characterised governance in independent Ukraine. The failure to sign the Association agreement meant the continuation of the latter at the expense of the former and provoked a spontaneous surge in civic activism, culminating in the overthrow of the Yanukovych government. Snyder argued that this showed exactly why civil society was so threatening to Putin-type governance, at home and abroad, particularly because the protestors shared a common language (and much else) with Russian citizens, again seeming to contradict some of his previous claims. He then went on to talk about various dimensions of the conflict that ensued, focusing on its military, strategic and propagandistic elements.

 

Dimensions of Conflict: Military Tactics, Strategic Worldview and the Propaganda War

With regard to military tactics, Snyder termed the well-described ‘hybrid’ warfare of the Eastern Ukrainian separatists and their Russian allies as ‘reverse asymmetric warfare’. This label implies that the state (normally the ‘stronger’ party in asymmetric conflict) has in effect adopted the tactics of ‘the weak’, of guerrillas and irregular combatants. This analysis jarred with Snyder’s assertion, when trying to emphasise the magnitude of the conflict earlier in the talk, that Eastern Ukraine had witnessed the largest tank battles since the Second World War (between Russian and Ukrainian regular forces). However, the notion of reverse-asymmetric warfare fits Snyder’s overall analysis of Russian strategy, which he describes as “strategic relativism” – an idea that has long been common currency in the discipline of International Relations, but was presented by the Historian as something new. Snyder argued that Russia sees itself as relatively weak compared to the powers supposedly aligned against it: the West (in various configurations) now joined by a corrupted or kidnapped Ukraine. According to Snyder, this is why the seemingly stronger side in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine adopts the tactics of the weak, although there are also plenty of other reasons for doing so.

Snyder also argued that this self-perception of relative weakness, which does fit with narratives of victimization and humiliation in international affairs that have been prominent in much Russian discourse since the end of the Cold War, also lies behind Russia’s propaganda war against the West. In this analysis, a weak Russia can become stronger by weakening other powers, particularly the EU. This weakening has taken two forms. Firstly, Snyder claimed that Russia has sought to undermine European unity by supporting anti-EU parties and groups on both the far-right and far-left, many of whom have bought into the type of propaganda discussed below. Secondly, Russia has sought to undermine the confidence of Europeans and their political leaders in the EU and in their own societies, branding them as decadent. As Snyder cleverly pointed out, this term not only differentiates the EU from Russia in terms of values – “gay latte drinkers [vs.] true defenders of Christianity” – but also implies the decay of Europe and European societies. If true, this would weaken the basis for political action, by states and by the EU, as well as by civil society actors, which Snyder claims requires a re-assertion of true ‘history’ rather than the nihilistic relativism that he sees as further weakening Europe.

To achieve the goal of a relative re-balancing of power, Snyder claimed that the Kremlin has employed methods of dissembling and confusion, throwing up enough lies (of varying degrees of plausibility) to obscure what Snyder sees as ‘the truth’ in the long run, or even ‘facts’ in the short term. He claimed that this type of propaganda not only effective in Russia, where it falls on favourable ears and eyes, but also in the West where rather than trying to get us to believe something in particular, the propaganda further “corrode[s] our ability to believe anything.” Snyder links this to the West’s embrace of what he sees as a radical postmodern skepticism that has not only undermined our ability to read the present, but has also undermined our “confidence in history.” Crucially, Snyder sees this undermining of history as having a doubly detrimental effect in that it hinders the action by both civil society and states (and the EU) in the face of situations such as that which has developed in Ukraine, as both interests become obscured and communities fail to bond or to believe they should or even could act.

 

History, Politics and Critique

In responses to questions, which unfortunately were required to be in written form which hindered the level of critical engagement, Snyder discussed how Russian propaganda could be countered, while emphasising the importance of not resorting to counter-propaganda. Instead, Snyder made a convincing argument for the need for reporters on-the-ground to provide information and for academics and others to point out the contradictions or inconsistencies in propaganda and political messaging. Both measures are attempts to re-assert the value of ‘truth’ and ‘fact’ in opposition to the confusing “postmodern” “cacophony” that Snyder bemoans. It was unfortunate therefore that when answering a question on the supposed presence of right wing or ‘fascist’ elements in Eastern Ukraine, Snyder resorted to the same tactic. He offered a bewildering list of those that have been alleged combatants, ranging ranged from the Polish army to Blackwater and the (non-existent) NATO foreign legion, in order to cast doubt on the validity of claims that the those such Azov battalion, which has been pictured using fascist symbols, are indicative of a right-wing presence.

This essay has shown some of the inconsistencies in Snyder’s own positions, which do not necessarily undermine the overall thrust of his argument, but do cast doubt upon some of the foundations upon which his scholarship is based. This is particularly the case with regard to the inconsistent treatment of ‘language’ and ‘ethnicity’, which move from being “silly” constructs to ‘real’ factors in explaining conflict and community as suits the argument. This is perhaps linked to Snyder’s unwillingness to talk about intersectional identity politics for fear of its proximity to the postmodernism he so abhors, but it is not good scholarship and nor were his quasi-orientalist remarks about Russian and Chinese propensities for skulduggery and cunning respectively. Despite criticising the complacent assumptions and conclusions of the ‘end of history’ Snyder reproduces many of its aspects, particularly regarding its liberal goals, while somewhat incredulously claiming to be “true left wing”.

More worryingly, Snyder also smuggled in big, political claims under the banner of academic scholarship, such as the questionable assertion (particularly in the EU context) that “you cannot have a foreign policy if you don’t have an army.” Taken together with Snyder’s argument that we need to believe in history rather than fall prey to dangerous critical relativism, this amounts to an attempt to put his own politics beyond the pale of serious critical questioning. This sits uneasily with the first point Snyder made – the need to critically examine received wisdoms or stabilised concepts, such as the notion of civil society. This inconsistency is the most serious critique of his talk as it undermines his own challenge to the propagandists, who he is more similar to than it would be comfortable for him to admit. There is much to admire in the detail of Timothy Snyder’s scholarship, as the astute observations reported above testify, but we should also hold his work up to the critical standards that he applies to others, rather than allowing it to be off-limits to thoroughgoing critique.

A Full video of Timothy Snyder’s talk is available here

Clashes In Kiev As Police Try To Clear Protest Camps

The EU can seize the moment created by the protestors on the EuroMaidan to help Ukrainians and help itself 

by Benjamin Tallis

The barricades on the EuroMaidan have been reinforced with snow-filled sandbags, following the sneak attack by chainsaw-wielding police and protestors are holding firm in Kyiv city hall having repelled the riot squad. The protestors must be hoping to avoid a repeat of what Carl Bildt, the Swedish Foreign Minister yesterday described as “Eurasia versus Europe in streets of Kiev tonight. Repression versus reform. Power versus people.”

Bildt, like his Polish counterpart, Radek Sikorski has been steadfast in support of the pro-Europe protestors and EU foreign policy Chief Catherine Ashton also paid a morale-boosting visit to the Maidan. Using its unexpected popularity, the time is now ripe for the EU to seize the moment and act decisively, but, as Bildt tweeted, “the Government of Ukraine has discredited itself in terms of economic help from the EU.” Geopolitical eminence grise Zbigniew Brzezinski agreed, commenting in the FT that “Ukrainians have to realise that European taxpayers are not enchanted by the prospect of paying for the misdeeds and corruption of the current Kiev elite.”

However, there is an option that would allow the EU to give real support to the protestors not the regime, remain true to its values and revive its best traditions and, in the process, potentially resuscitate its Eastern Partnership, of which Ukraine is the centerpiece. The EU should lift the requirement for Ukrainians to have a visa for short-term travel to countries in the Schengen zone, a step known as Visa Liberalisation.

Cutting the Gordian Knot

If Visa Liberalisation doesn’t sound like a big deal to you, then you probably don’t need a visa to travel to too many places. For average Ukrainians, this is THE hot button issue in relation to the EU. Although many visas are granted each year, the experience of the laborious and humiliating procedures and many people are put off from applying because of them. Activists and the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry agree that current practices amount to “consular sadism” and leave many in no doubt that they are considered ‘second-class’ Europeans. It is a sad indictment of everyday perceptions of EU neighbourliness that the artist and activist Nikita Kadan could suggest that the section of the Berlin wall symbolically displayed outside the German embassy in Kyiv should be relocated to the Polish-Ukrainian frontier, which, because of current visa policy, marks the border of “real Europe.”

Removing the need for Ukrainians to have a visa for short-term travel to the EU would not only make life easier and better for millions of people, it would send an important message – we recognize you are Europeans, we are with you and you are welcome to visit us. Too often the EU has sent the opposite signal to Ukrainians, betraying a fear born of ignorance and chauvinism. This has been compounded by an overly cautious approach to security in its neighbourhood that has failed to balance the risks of closer engagement with the opportunities that it brings for people on both sides of the current border.

The EU has been dragging its heals over short-term Visa Liberalisation for several years, blaming the failure of the government to ‘do its homework’ and implement necessary reforms. However, the current situation actually rewards those in power, the corrupt officials and their cronies, who can already travel freely thanks to special dispensations – this effectively welcomes the winners from and friends of the Yanukovych regime as wealthy tourists.

A visa-free policy for short-term travel would benefit ordinary people, not oligarchs, and would provide them with a tangible sense of European belonging, putting clear blue (and yellow) water between the EU’s democratic magnetism and Putin’s cronyism and coercion. Many Ukrainians – like those on the Maidan – are determined to change skewed perceptions of themselves and their country. They also want to learn about the EU, its standards and values by experiencing it for themselves, so they can bring the best of what they find back home. Visa-free travel would let them start to do both of these things.

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Doing Well by Doing Good: Embracing Ukraine is in (Almost) Everyone’s Interests

For the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who have turned out on the freezing yet fiery streets of their capital, whatever Putin is ‘offering’ cannot compete with the long-term potential of integration with the EU. They are willing to bear the inevitable costs and hard work of making change in order to transform their prospects and those of their children, but need help and support to do so. The EU rightly defends democratic standards as the best expression of its values, but the best way that it can support the demonstrators in Kyiv and help Ukrainians choose the hard but worthwhile road of reform would be to be inclusive in both principle and practice. In the short-term this means Visa Liberalisation.

The vast majority of protestors in Kyiv are not only demanding integration with the EU, but are rejecting their self-serving government’s brutality and guarding against attempts by right-wing extremists and nationalists to hi-jack this moment. They demand the type of benefits that association with, and eventual accession to, the EU would bring and which were built by eschewing old style power politics and embracing value-driven, democratic development to deliver real economic prosperity for people. The EU should trust its instincts and its capacity to act as attractive force for change from the bottom-up, rather than punishing Ukrainian people for the sins of their governing elites.

By being bold and acting in the interests of Ukrainians, the EU can revive its tottering Eastern Partnership and re-invigorate itself by returning to the values that made it the world’s most successful peace and prosperity project. The Eastern Partnership was launched in order to help spread this peace and prosperity further and faster, making both EU citizens and their neighbours richer and safer through closer co-operation and deeper integration. This is the logic that has driven the EU’s own success and it remains sound. The EU needs a Ukrainian government that is serious about reform to be a partner in a free trade area, but the best long-term security move that the EU can make is to take seriously Romano Prodi’s old phrase about creating a ‘ring of friends’ around it. By treating the Ukrainians on the Maidan this way, the EU might soon find that it also has friends elsewhere – in Belarus and even in Russia, where it should be made clear that opposing Putinism does not mean being anti-Russian.

Visa liberalization can help gain the popular buy-in for long-term change, convince skeptical Ukrainians that the EU cares about their interests and help pro-EU and pro-people politicians build a serious platform to oppose Yanukovych. Encouragingly, the penny seems to have dropped with EU leaders that this is a chance for change, for themselves as much as for Ukrainians, as Commission President Barroso recently stated “When we see in the cold streets of Kiev, men and women with the European flag, fighting for that European flag, it is because they are also fighting for Ukraine and for their future […] Those young people in the streets of Ukraine, with freezing temperatures, are writing the new narrative for Europe.”

Its time for the EU to put its policy where its mouth is and bring Ukrainians in from the cold.

Central European politicians have been hogging the headlines in the last few weeks. Aside from the slow-motion car crash of Viktor Orban’s government in Budapest, Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski and Czech President Vaclav Klaus have attracted considerable coverage, but have left very different impressions.

On September 17, Mr. Sikorski appeared in the op-ed pages of the New York Times, writing alongside his German counterpart Guido Westerwelle. Marking the publication of a report by the Foreign Ministers from a group of eleven EU member states, the pair outlined their vision for guiding the EU out of its economic crisis, safeguarding peace and re-invigorating European prosperity.

Mr. Sikorski and Mr. Westerwelle asked “Aren’t you weary of reading and hearing news that heralds the blighted state of the European Union and its impending demise? We are.” Instead of succumbing to the fatalistic political economy that sees the EU as doomed, the ‘Future of Europe’ group proposed a democratization of European integration in order to empower both European people and institutions.

In their vision, a redesigned Eurozone and an integrated foreign policy that would allow Europeans to punch above their weight on the world stage and better deal with the blows of economic fate requires “greater powers at the European level” but “only if they are democratically legitimized. Therefore we also propose to strengthen the European Parliament and the involvement of national parliaments.”

Predictably, Mr. Klaus had a different message. In an interview with the conservative, Eurosceptic British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, the conservative, Eurosceptic Czech President received a warm reception as he lashed out at those, like Sikorski and Westerwelle, who dare to see a positive vision for European politics.

According to Mr. Klaus, this is part of the “final phase” of the destruction of democracy and the nation state by “two-faced” politicians who have supposedly “managed to short circuit the minds of the people, making a link between Hitler’s aggressive nationalism (nationalism of a totally negative type) and the traditional nation state.”

Typically, Mr. Klaus cited the Czech past as a reason for his Euroscepticism “Especially after our Communist experience, we know, very strongly and possibly more than people in Western Europe, that the process of democracy is more important than the outcome.”

However, Mr. Sikorski, also claims the past as justification for his present position. On September 21, addressing a gathering of British Eurosceptics outside Oxford (his alma mater), he chastised them for their shortsightedness and delivered a strong defence of European unity.

“Do not underestimate our determination not to return to the politics of the 20 century. You were not occupied. Most of us on the continent were. We will do almost anything to prevent that from happening again. It’s not difficult to see why. Poland wants to be with Germany and France as partners, leading a strong, democratic European political-economic space.”

Despite contrasting communist-era experiences (Mr. Sikorski was a dissident, Mr. Klaus a well-placed official at the Czechoslovak state bank) their difference of views on the EU is significant, given their instinctive Atlanticism and controversial veneration of Margaret Thatcher.

Mr. Klaus continues to steer Czechs on a course of parochial isolationism, and a ‘principled’ defence of democracy that has embraced Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian regime. Mr. Sikorski however has come to see not only the pragmatic, but also the principled benefits of democratic European integration that puts Poland at the heart of Europe.

While Mr. Sikorski bestrides the world stage, doing the hard political work of winning hearts and changing minds through debate and discussion, Mr. Klaus is seemingly content to spend time in odious echo chambers such as the libertarian Mont Pelerin society or snipe from the sidelines, courting controversy to support sales of his latest book.

Despite the Daily Telegraph’s fawning Mr. Klaus has neither the courtesy nor diplomatic skills to get a good hearing for his views, as anyone from Czech-Canadian schoolgirls greeting him on a state visit, to EU diplomats visiting the Prague Castle at Christmas can testify. Czechs deserve better than a self-serving leader hiding behind a veneer of principle and, with presidential elections looming, they may look enviously across the border as they seek a candidate who can better represent them at home and abroad.