As I return to Poland today I am reminded of a revealing episode back in (if I recall correctly) early 2006.
The Polish Foreign Ministry announced that it planned to revive an earlier tradition of an annual ball in honour of the Diplomatic Community, with a ‘First Post-War Diplomatic Ball’ (ie the first since World War Two).
We all dutifully assembled at the Royal Castle in Warsaw on the appointed evening. As well as the mass of excellent Excellencies various distinguished Poles arrived, including the new Foreign Minister, the late Stefan Meller. Mr Meller had not been at the Ministry long, but already was rumoured to be leaving because of differences with the newly elected Kaczynski twins.
Once the guests had arrived the usual welcome speeches started, led by the Polish Chief of Protocol.
The form on such occasions in Poland is for the most senior guests (and not especially senior guests) to be welcomed by name and title – a formal and often unduly lengthy process.
The Chief of Protocol duly worked his way down the list. But somehow he omitted to mention Mr Meller himself.
Mr Meller spotted this, and to the amazement of the thronging diplomats threw up his arm in anger, uttered an audible imprecation, and angrily walked out. Did he think that the slight had been deliberate?
This intemperate high-profile departure by the Foreign Minister from an event hosted by his own Ministry, the first such diplomatic gala gathering in over sixty years, rather spoiled the evening.
What might a British Foreign Minister might do as the victim of a similar affront?
- Do nothing – in the Great Scheme of World Disasters, this ranks fairly low
- Do nothing, but have a ‘quiet word’ later – making an open fuss draws attention to the error in a way which disobliges everyone and detracts from one’s guests’ enjoyment
- Wait for the Protocol Chief to finish then walk to the front, take the microphone, and welcome the guests with a few words as if nothing had happened
- Or perhaps add a wry but pointed joke to the effect that the Protocol Chief was trying to make his/her presence here a surprise?
- And/or the next day send the Mother of All Rockets privately to the Protocol Chief, or even evict said Chief from his job?
Surely anything but crossly, ostentatiously march out, not to return. That above all would convey to two hundred senior foreign representatives the impression that the Foreign Minister is not in control of the immediate situation, or of his/her temper, or of the Ministry team.
Not a mistake the current Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski is likely to make.