What is a Diplomat? A headwaiter who is allowed to sit down occasionally. (Sir Peter Ustinov)

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Diplomats who disagree with each other do this very diplomatically. You see, it’s after all their profession and is like second nature to them.

Margaret Thatcher, the erstwhile “Iron Lady”, for one (Sir Christopher, a self-confessed “Remainiac”, speak, fervent opponent of Brexit) the best prime minister since Winston Churchill, for the other (Colin Munro) the ogre loved to be hated by so many, especially the Scots, was perhaps the first example of ambassadorial discord. In all fairness they did agree on Sir Christopher’s disagreement with her on German Unification which she had so vehemently and stubbornly opposed.

A true master class in diplomatic criticism of Sir Christopher Mallaby’s book, “Living the Cold War”, however, came from our Austrian Ambassador and current Director of the Diplomatic Academy, Dr Emil Brix, fully entitled to do so since he was the only one who had read the Memoirs, apart from, naturally, the author himself. Thank you, he said after Sir Christopher’s Lecture and continued in a friendly fashion by expressing his disappointment that in this book of 288 pages Austria was mentioned only once. The diplomatic response of several minutes amounted, boiled down, to a mere three words: it was deliberate. Why, I still don’t know. To Dr Brix’s comment on Britain’s global decline Sir Christopher qualified it with the adjective “relative”. It was a relative decline. There you have it. Director Brix probed further: After reading the book it was obvious to him that Sir Christopher’s overriding desire has always been to serve his country to which he responded that he clearly saw his role as a diplomat to protect and promote British interests. As a former Austrian Ambassador, Dr Brix replied, he saw his role in protecting and promoting Austrian AND European interests. Chapeau to that!

“Five Ambassadors and One President” sounds almost like a film title. But, yes: four retired ambassadors, two British and two Austrian occupied the podium, one active British Ambassador listened in the audience and one President, the President of the Austro-British Society, Dr Kurt Tiroch, clearly pained by the enforced brevity that guillotined his welcoming words swiftly handed over to Ambassador Colin Munro, who efficiently moderated the attention grabbing, spellbinding lecture, a panel discussion which followed and a Question-and-Answer session by the audience. The accumulated intellect in the room was impressive.

Dr Zimmermann, a member of the Society, asked in his final question, what the USSR ever got out of it by not resisting the wave of democratisation of their former satellite states, the fall of the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall to which Sir Christopher replied: “One word: Money.”

The discussion continued around the Buffet tables of delicious canapés and a seemingly never ending supply of excellent white and red wine. If for one reason or another you did not attend last night’s lecture you truly missed a great event. But you still have the photographs to look at.


Wolfgang Geissler

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