Jeremy Hunt – the British Foreign Secretary who replaced the gaffe-prone Brexit-booster and serial adulterer Boris Johnson in mid-2018, the latter resigning to spend more time with his latest mistress and snipe at the government from the side-lines for being unable to enact the have cake, eat cake policy he promoted for nakedly careerist reasons – visited Slovenia on Thursday for bilateral talks on Citizens’ Rights. The headline result was a pleasing one, with assurances from both sides that as much continuity as possible would be provided in the event of a deal or no-deal Brexit.
However, Mr Hunt, a man who by now is surely well aware of the dangers of a slip of the tongue, perhaps failed to make the best impression while on the Sunny Side of the Alps. Indeed, it seems that while travelling from Berlin he and his team did little to prepare for the trip, making at least two unforced and undiplomatic errors in public, and who knows how many more in private.
First the tweet marking his landing in Slovenia referred to the country’s Foreign Minister as Karl Erjavec, the man who left this position after last year’s election to be replaced by the former Prime Minister, and Mr Hunt’s supposed focus for the day, Miro Cerar.
The tweet was deleted, and this screenshot comes from the excellent Pengovsky, who you really should be reading, with his take on the incident here.
But these things happen – after all, Mr Hunt once referred to his Chinese wife as Japanese – and the tweet was soon corrected. More serious, in terms of being indicative of the lack of preparation or historical and geopolitical understanding that seem to surround the entire Brexit project, was what came in the public statement that Mr Hunt made while standing next to Mr Cerar:
This is my first visit to Slovenia as Foreign Secretary, not the first in my life but my first in a professional capacity. And I’m really happy to be here, because as a fellow European country the UK is very proud of the transformation there has been in Slovenia over the last 30 years. A really remarkable transformation from a Soviet vassal state to a modern European democracy, a member of the EU, a member of NATO, a country with a flourishing economy, growing its tourism year in, year out, and this is really an example of Europe at its best.
Now leaving aside the general patronising tone here – why is the UK proud of Slovenia? – or that while being a leading Brexiteer Mr Hunt seems to suggest that being a member of the EU is a good thing, there’s the simple factual error that Slovenia, even when part of Yugoslavia, was never a Soviet vassal state.
Thursday was not the first time Mr Hunt made use of the USSR to insult his negotiating partners
During the Second World War Yugoslavia was occupied by the Germans and Italians, but the partisans, led by Tito, managed to liberate the country with little help from the Russians, and thus the land was never part of the of the Soviet empire. And while in the immediate post-war period there was seen to be an uneasy alliance between Stalin and Tito, this broke in 1948. From then on Yugoslavia took a famously independent approach, receiving aid from the Marshall Plan as well as founding the Non-Aligned Movement. In short, Yugoslavia was never a Soviet vassal state, while Slovenia was always the most open of the socialist republics that made up the federation, a matter not only of historical fact but also considerable pride.
Of course, Mr Hunt’s statement did not go unnoticed in the country, once again proving that just because British politicians can’t understand what foreigners are saying, this doesn’t mean that foreigners can’t understand what they’re saying. For example, Milan Brglez, former Speaker of the National Assembly, made the following comment on Facebook that was then widely reported in the media:
Take a look at the footage below (somewhere around 14:30). A guest (the British Foreign Minister) comes to us with a request (to discuss with our Foreign Minister how to avoid a hard Brexit if the UK doesn’t sign the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU) and arrogantly insult. We have never been "the vassal state of the Soviet Union".
At a minimum what I expect and demand in international relations from my representatives (diplomats and those who have general powers to represent and bind the state under international law – i.e. the president, prime minister and foreign minister) is that they will react immediately when someone insults the state and its citizens. And not that they are meekly silent, perhaps not even noticing the insult.
With President Borut Pahor due in the UK next week, and Britain in desperate need of friends and allies as the March 29 Brexit deadline looms, one can only hope that his hosts in London are a little better informed, and a little better prepared for his visit.
All our stories on Brexit and Slovenia can be found here.