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The Warsaw Voice » Other » November 4, 2002
BRITAIN IN POLAND
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Reflections on the Golden Jubilee 2002
November 4, 2002   
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The jubilee year is a time for reflections. Do the British love their monarchy, and are these feelings aimed more at the institution or the Queen herself?

The British are a rather pragmatic nation, and their instinct is to love people rather than institutions. They respect the monarchy as an institution, they love the Queen as a person. They love the Queen because she represents to them what is perhaps the ideal package of British characteristics-intelligence, interest in all that goes on around her, a balanced approach to life, a sense of humour, a love of family, a loyalty to her institutions, a sense of duty to her country. If you ask a Briton-I won't say an Englishman, Scotsman or Irishman-what they see as the right sort of person living in Britain, those sorts of characteristics would come through.

What were the Jubilee celebrations like in Poland?

The jubilee celebrations in Poland were a huge success, I can say without a shadow of doubt. Of course there were the events in June, when we had our great fireworks party, and our jubilee reception, with our bands and marches. We also had other events, such as the commonwealth ambassadors' special day to celebrate the Queen's jubilee as head of the commonwealth. We also planted trees in the residence garden. We had a series of events in the regions, ending last week in Lublin, when the British festival there had a Jubilee element in it.

I like to think that the people of Poland understood that this was a special year for us. Certainly, everyone I spoke to was aware of this, and they all took pleasure from it. It is not always the case that people understand the special meaning for another nation of a particular event or date, but in this case ordinary people in the street in Warsaw, Cracow or Poznañ would come up to me and
say “congratulations for the Queen on her jubilee".

Historically, European royal families have played an important role
in uniting Europe. What role can they play in the European Union today?

I find this a difficult question. Clearly, royal families no longer have a directly political role. In the case of the Queen, she has made clear her commitment to the European Union, and to Britain playing a full part in the union. She sees many of her royal relatives from Belgium, Spain, the Scandinavian countries, and there are close and regular personal contacts.

Could the Queen or Prince Charles do more to advance the cause of the European Union? I think that would be a mistake. The head of state in our system should remain very much non political. Britain's membership of the European Union is accepted by the very large majority of the people of Britain, but there are certain elements, such as entry to the Euro zone, that are politically controversial. It would be quite wrong for the head of state to become involved in that sort of controversy.

You have said publicly that Poland is a victim of her own success. What did you mean by that?

What I meant by that was very simple. When the Department for International Development, our development ministry in London, started to provide funds for Poland after the fall of communism, from 1990 onwards, they did this on the basis that Poland was a poor country, comparable to some of the poorest countries in the world. That ministry has a specific responsibility to provide money, training, support and investment for very poor countries. Since 1990, the department has provided something around £120 million, or a quarter of a billion euros, to Poland, in addition to the money we have given through the European institutions.

As we all know, the Polish economy since 1990 has been a huge success story. Everything can be done better, we never reach the end of the road, but comparing the Poland of 1990, and the Poland of 2002, there is a very big economic change—the amount of foreign investment in this country I think now amounts to about 60 billion euros for that period. There is clearly going to be an enormous new influx after entry to the European Union, many tens of billions more euros. So in that sense, Poland has had such success that the money for development is going to be transferred elsewhere, to countries further east, and particularly to Africa and parts of Asia, where people are genuinely very poor indeed. This does not mean that British investment, aid or assistance to Poland will stop. It means that a particular channel of aid set up for emergency purposes 13 years ago is coming to an end. It is only in that sense that Poland is a victim of her own success. It is a very limited, specific victim—in every other sense Poland is enjoying her success, and quite rightly too.

Poles see you as a person closely linked with Poland; you have learnt the language, and have great knowledge of Polish history. How do you see our relations, not economic ties, but emotional relations?

I am fascinated by the development in this area. I came out here just under two years ago, and when I was due to arrive in Poland, people would say to me, “Oh yes, Poland—interesting country, difficult history sometimes, difficult years under communism, we all hope it will do well." Two years later, Poland is a subject of real interest. This is partly because we all now believe Poland will be a partner in the European Union and partly because we in Britain now realise that Poland is not just another country in central Europe, but a major player in the world scene, and certainly on the European stage. In other words, Poland is a first division player. What has brought it about are the prospects of European membership, an increase in direct contacts. The President of Poland was in London in March, visiting the Queen, and Prince Charles. The prince in turn came here, as did the Lord Chancellor. There is an endless series of unusually high-level visits, and that produces media coverage and publicity, and all of that is very positive.

I think there is also a flurry going the other way, of Poles going to Britain, and most of them come for the right reasons—to develop themselves, to contribute to Britain, to contribute to the two-way flow of ideas. Once entry to the union is achieved, that will become an increasingly large flow. There are many people from Poland working in Britain, and they are highly appreciated. Everyone knows the story of the Polish builder. When he arrives in London, he is immediately set upon by about four or five people, all saying “Ah, we need a builder, you're Polish, you are the best, come and work for me!"

But it is not just the builder, we want to see skilled workers, high-tech workers, investment from Poland in England, just as Poland wants to see it the other way. And all of that is expanding all the time. There is a lot more we can do, and a long way still to go. But I have noticed what I call a step change in the last 18 months, and at the heart of this I think is the prospect of European Union entry.
So, in a couple of words, what is the state of our emotional relations? Good, and getting better all the time, and entry to the union will bring about another step change.

You are a football fan, and a supporter of Arsenal Football Club. What do you think of the club's recent successes, and how do you see the club progressing?

I am indeed a supporter of Arsenal Football Club. I have been a supporter since 1948, or for 54 years, and I can only tell you that I have never taken as much pleasure in supporting Arsenal as I do today. Not only because they are now the best team, but because they are so good.

Of course I share this fanatical support with many people in Poland, including perhaps the one of the most distinguished of all fans of Arsenal, who lives here in Warsaw, and this is a subject I discuss with him from time to time. If I may say so, I think Arsenal represents one of the best lessons of Europe. I think the first team contains four Frenchmen, a Swede, a couple of other Europeans, a Brazilian, and some English players. It is truly a union of nations, and the only regret I have is that we did not in the end get Poland's Jerzy Dudek, who would have been a great addition. But who knows, perhaps Dudek will join Arsenal next time!
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