Prof. Norman Davies:  “Speech of Sikorski signals a shift in political patterns in Europe”

Interview with prof. Norman Davies, who just published ‘Vanished Kingdoms: A History of the Half-Forgotten Europe’, by Malgorzata Bos-Karczewska, editor-in-chief of

This week prof. Norman Davies was visiting The Hague to deliver a lecture “Old Europe and New Europe – a historical perspective”. The lecture was organized by the Polish Embassy in The Netherlands to illuminate the Polish presidency of the EU Council. Prof. Davies (1939) wrote several books on the history of Poland and its place in Europe. He is also an author of the bestselling and critically acclaimed Europe and The Isles.

Vanished Kingdoms: A History of the Half-Forgotten Europe, prof. Norman’s new magnum opus, came out a month ago in the UK and in Poland – exactly a year ago. The book is already on the list of the Books of the Year 2011, published by The Financial Times. Though the author, a leading English historian, is famous as a historian of Poland and Eastern Europe, Vanished Kingdoms is nicely balanced between the continent’s west, east and south.

The irony is that  this latest book about the rise and fall of states in Europe is published when the survival of the European Union is at stake. A good opportunity for to talk with prof. Norman Davies about Europe, Poland – holding the rotating EU-Presidency – and Poland’s new role in Europe.

Malgorzata Bos-Karczewska: The main theme of your book is a statement by Rousseau in his “Social Contract”: “ If Sparta and Rome perished, how can any state hope to live forever?”. All human institutions fall apart. The European Union is a man-made construct. What is the relevance of Your book to the EU as we have right now?

Prof. Norman Davies: I didn’t think about this 5 years ago when I started writing this book. But now everybody is I asking me not about the history but about the present. The message is obvious: all institutions are fragile and if we don’t take care of them, reform them in time, then they will collapse. No state, institution, organization, corporate firm is immortal.

Rousseau said: “The Body Politick, like the body of a man, begins to die as soon as it is born; it contains the seeds of its own destruction.”  The organizations which they think are immortal like the Soviet Union are most vulnerable. The Soviet Union was the biggest state in the world, had the biggest nuclear power ever seen, millions of troops and policemen to  preserve it, but it evaporated.

The European Union is very young in terms of political organizations, it has been been enlarging, and everybody’s thoughts have been about expansion and prosperity but not about political governance. The real problem in the European Union is that its organs of  governance are unsuited to its economic structures. They were set up in the belief that the political structures would follow.

The present problem in the EU is not economic or financial, Europe has plenty of money, it is rich. The problem is political. We are in the  situation of a patient with an internal fault. He is perfectly curable, but there is no surgeon to operate him. Surgeons are arguing among themselves who will do the operation.

Mr. Sikorski’s (Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs – MBK) speech in Berlin was brilliant in drawing attention to this problem. The surgeons in the European hospital cannot endlessly argue about who will lead the surgery. They have to create a surgical team and correct this  flaw in the The Body Politick of the Eurozone. Hopefully the patient will recover, if they don’t do it soon, the patient will die.

Sikorski has been invoking a sense of urgency saying: we are on the edge of a  precipice, we have to make clear choices either deeper integration or collapse.

Sikorski’s speech was about the inactivity of Germany which is the largest single player. Germany hesitates because there are  no established institutions to deal with. Germans are full of complexes, for historical reasons. They left political leadership to France, traditionally. But it is no longer acceptable in the Europe of 27. It is a terrible picture Merkel and Sarkozy telling privately Greece what to do. Sikorski’s call is  for rapid political reorganization to provide common structures to deal with economic problems.

Is it typical that a Polish minister of Foreign Affairs is telling something everybody in the EU has in mind?

Yes it is typical. The emperor has no clothes and it is a little brave boy who says: “Mamo, cesarz jest nagi” (Mother, Caesar is  naked). This signals a shift in political patterns in Europe. New member states  like Poland were naturally reluctant to take the lead.

It could well be that Poland whose economy is  now in better shape than it ever was, could become one of the political leaders in Europe.

In which sense a political leader?

Poles, like all countries of Eastern Europe, are conscious that systems can collapse – the communist system collapsed. It was not just the collapse of the Soviet Union and  the withdrawal of Soviet tanks, the economic system collapsed.  The money system collapsed,  there was a hyperinflation in 1989, the Balcerowicz-plan was laying foundations for the market economy.

They have seen a systematic collapse in their lifetimes. People in the West have forgotten. You have to be 80 years old to remember World War II and since then everything here was getting better. West Europeans are paralyzed, by prosperity, by inertia, by not making political reforms before crisis happens.

The Western countries are like rabbits, paralyzed. They cannot act. Countries in the West system cannot imagine a collapse. David Cameron, the British PM who represents a member state from outside the euro zone, he is absolutely paralyzed. He is in a coalition government and the agreement is: “there shall be no initiative on Europe”. The way out is creating institutions and seeing to it that rules are enforced.

Lack of political institutions will not be cured by good will.  It will be cured when Europeans get really frightened.Things have to get worse first. We still have petrol to drive a car. There is still money coming out of cash dispensers.

Political leadership is about taking action before  the crisis becomes very severe. Sikorski was the first person to call it. There will be others.

In Berlin Sikorski demanded action by Germany. The biggest threat to the security of Poland aren’t German tanks or Russian missiles but the collapse of the Eurozone, he said. Was it a historic speech?

Yes, I think so. The European Movement was launched in Western Europe, the people here have still  in their heads, ”the West should  take a lead”. It is something they are used to, but Western countries are not taking the lead. So somebody else has to do that. Hopefully Sikorski’s serious political proposals will be met by some with  open  arms.

I was talking last week to Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Poland is holding the rotating EU-presidency. He is very much aware of a vacuum in Europe. Clearly Sikorski talked with Tusk and they have decided  that since nobody will say what is  necessary, Poles have to tell it.

What can Poland bring to Europe – fresh air and organizing political discourse? Poland has no money to share the burden and is launching ideas?

Ideas drive the world.

The Polish  government is strong at home. This awful period of the Kaczynski twins is coming to an end. The economic situation is good and the Poles are feeling their power for the first time in many decades.

It  isn’t that Poland has some qualities that others don’t have. Poles are the largest of so-called new members, they have experience which West European don’t have. Hopefully the West has  some politicians who have a broader view like Sikorski. He speaks better English than I do. He is a genuine international politician.

You are clearly a great fan of Sikorski?

He was my student in Oxford.

I hope that the Poles will start the ball rolling, encourage a political solution and  then pass it on to Denmark, the next presidency. Poland could set an example for smaller countries to create a forum where serious decisions are taken by all members, some will make proposals, accepted in common and enforced in common. If not it is the end of my book : the patient will die. The Eurozone will collapse.

Thank you.

Malgorzata Bos-Karczewska editor-in-chief of website of the Polish Community in the Netherlands

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Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe
By Norman Davies (Allen Lane/The Penguin Press 830pp £30)

Norman Davies, Wydawnictwo: Znak, 2010, strony : 784
twarda oprawa ISBN: 978-83-240-1462-0



Published at a website, opublikowane w portalu Polonia.NL 03.12.2011, update 05.12.20111

Publisher/ Wydawca portalu: STEP – Stowarzyszenie Ekspertów Polskich w Holandii. Czytaj o nas