20 October 2017
Göran R Buckhorn writes:
The other day, Boris Johnson, Her Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – ‘Foreign Secretary’ for short –, invited a delegation of eight European foreign ministers to Chevening House in Kent to discuss Brexit-ridden Great Britain’s continuing commitment to the security and defence of Europe, writes The Sun.
The article, in this poor excuse of a newspaper, is reporting less about these talks than of Boris (as he is commonly known in his country) leading his European counterparts around on a stroll. Coming to the little lake on the grounds, where there are some rowing boats, he tried to persuade the foreign ministers to go for an outing with him.
In a Sun video, you can clearly hear Boris’s wife, Marina Wheeler, asking her husband to give up the endeavour, as ‘we don’t want to drown the foreign ministers’; well aware, as she is, that despite her husband’s years at Eton, he did not row there, he played rugby. But Boris, being Boris, decided to disregard his wife’s advice – seldom a wise thing to do – as he got one taker, the brave Ivo Sramek, Czechia’s Deputy Foreign Minister. The two men went for a short voyage on the lake, by The Sun coined as a ‘bizarre activity’. An international incident was avoided due to both ‘oarsmen’ staying afloat.
Read The Sun article and see pictures (including video) about the event here.
You may think whatever you like about Britain’s Tory Foreign Secretary, but plying the oars together with representatives of foreign countries is not a bad idea. This aquatic activity, a sort of ‘diplomacy at the oar’, has a fine tradition in my native country of Sweden, where the Swedish prime ministers since the 1950s have taken out foreign political guests in a rowing boat, the famous wooden Harpsundsekan, at the Harpsund manor house, the country estate for the Swedish prime ministers. Not only foreign politicians have visited Harpsund, discussions and talks between government officials, members of the Swedish industry and other organisations are held here, which have given the proceedings a name of its own, ‘Harpsund Democracy’.
Going for an outing with foreign leaders in Harpsundsekan was the idea of Tage Erlander, leader of the Swedish Social Democratic Party, who was Sweden’s Prime Minister between 1946 and 1969. The 23 years of government tenure led to Erlander being known as, according to Wikipedia,
‘Sweden’s longest Prime Minister’ referring to both his physical stature – 192 cm, or six feet and four inches – and tenure (the Swedish word lång meaning both long and tall).
One of the most renowned oarsmen during an Erlander outing (the Swedish prime minster seldom rowed himself, he allowed his guests to ply the oars) was the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in June 1964. Later that year, in October, Khrushchev was ousted and replaced by Leonid Brezhnev.
During Erlander’s time as Swedish premier life jackets were unheard of, but later times’ Swedish prime ministers and his political guests have been seen wearing a personal flotation device (PFD) rowing in Harpsundsekan. Other world leaders plying the oars in the Swedish prime minister’s boat through the years were Willy Brandt, Urho Kekkonen, George Pompidou, Frans Vranitzky, Kofi Annan, among many other prominent political figures.
I would like to recommend that all world leaders receive some training in the ‘diplomacy at the oar’ – by Jove, if that was the case, Brexit would have been fixed long time ago, though Cameron did not succeed last time he rowed.