Not a lot seems to be going right for British diplomacy these days. At least as far Muddy Hollows is concerned.
Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs was in town today, talking shop and Brexit with his Slovenian counterpart the other day. And staying true to form, Jeremy Hunt stepped right into it.
Not that it all went swimmingly to begin with.
As Hunt landed in Ljubljana and was greeted by UK’s very capable ambassador to Slovenia, some poor soul at the embassy tweeted (and later deleted) that the secretary is in town to meet his Slovenian opposite number Karl Erjavec.
Which was a bit harsh on foreign minister and former PM Miro Cerar.
Now, one shouldn’t be too hard on the embassy social media people. It’s a tough gig and the UK diplomatic machine is in overdrive these days due to Brexit. True, it’s mostly just spinning wheels, but that’s because Westminster still hasn’t got a clue about what the fuck it actually wants. Down the ladder, grunts get swamped with work anyway.
Besides, the off-key-but-colourful Karl Erjavec was Slovenian foreign minister until a few months ago and seems to have left some residual imprint in the country’s diplomatic community. Which isn’t all that surprising given that his successor Cerar has a more cerebral and, well,
bland conventional approach.
That said, a fuck-up is a fuck-up and there’s no way around that.
Just as there’s no way around the fact that Jeremy Hunt seems to be an oddly fitting pick for the foreign secretary of a former empire engaged in a gigantic public psychotherapy session in coming to terms with its own massively reduced international significance.
Apparently sporting a Cold War mindset worthy on an early Tom Clancy novel, Jeremy Hunt – whose main purpose of the visit was to gain assurances for Brits in Slovenia post-Brexit – went to on to congratulate Slovenia for “the progress former Soviet vassal state has made”.
Now, needless to say that, although being very much a socialist country, Yugoslavia (which Slovenia was a part of until 1991) was anything but a vassal state to the Soviet Union at least since Tito broke with Stalin in 1948. And within Yugoslavia, Slovenia was the most open and pro-Western of the six constituent republics.
Case in point, when Mihail GorbaÄŤov visited Slovenia in 1988, the then-communist republic leadership was very much underwhelmed by the political and ideological insights of the man who went on to become the last Soviet leader, judging him to struggle with issues Slovenian communists dealt with in the 1960s.
Anyway, point here being that the gaffe-prone Hunt was at it again.
Just when he should be on top his game, securing rights for his own compatriots on the eve of what is shaping up to be the mother of all clusterfucks, Hunt was busy bundling Slovenia together with the countries of the former Warsaw Pact, thus engaging in some major political and historical inaccuracy.
And even if it wasn’t for the missing history lesson, it still seems very gauche and patronising to “commend the progress of the country.”
Dude, it’s been thirty years since Slovenia declared independence, give or take. Much has happened since, that goes beyond multiparty elections and market economy.
Like, for example, Slovenia nearly kicking the shit out of England on Wembley three years ago. Or the fact that – for the time being – this country is the reigning European basketball champion. Or the fact that it sports a 4.4% GDP growth rate compared to UK’s 1.8%. Or even the fact that in 21st century Slovenia members of parliament don’t get murdered in broad daylight.
But no, Hunt’s reflex here is to give a pat on the back and a job-well-done.
I mean, behaving as if the sun still doesn’t set over the British empire and not going out of your way to treat countries whose support you will desperately need in the coming weeks as equals, is insensitive to say the least.
And in this part of the world, insensitivity goes a long way.