Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Not so cunning linguists

Presidential election, latest poll: Donald Tusk 40%…Lech Kaczynski 34%…Andrzej Lepper 12%...Marek Borowski 9%...Jaroslaw Kalinowski 1%...Janusz Korwin-Mikke 1%

New regime is in need of language lessons.

What have outgoing president, Aleksander Kwasniewski, outgoing prime minister, Marek Belka, and former foreign secretary and onetime presidential candidate, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz got in common?

Apart from being members of the ex-communist SLD, they are all fairly proficient in the English language.

Kwasniewski, for instance, learnt his English when he came to London in the early nineteen seventies and worked (illegally!) in a pub just round the corner from the Arsenal football ground. As a consequence, he’s been inflicted with a lifelong support of the north London club, but a good knowledge of English as compensation.

But who at the top levels of the new rightwing coalition can match the ex-communists in the linguistic department?

The short answer is, not many. Law and Justice’s (PiS) Oxford graduate, Radek Sikorski speaks fluent English, with an almost aristocratic accent. Former head of the central bank, Civic Platform’s Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz speaks well, so do MEP’s like PiS’s Alan Bielan.

One of the main players in Sunday’s presidential election - and someone who has had a slight movement in the right direction in the last few`days in the opinion polls - is Lech Kaczynski. But he doesn't speak any English at all.

Donald Tusk - the odds on favourite - does know some, but it very shy about speaking it. We tried to get him to talk in English when we were doing a kind of profile about him a while ago. But he got ‘mic fright’ and refused to do it. The same happened when a colleague of mine door-stepped him in the radio building, and again, he refused to play ball.

The British Council has been putting on classes for politicians who want to learn the lingo of international diplomacy, but we can’t find out what kind of level.

So English speaking heads of state will be hoping Tusk gets the nod this weekend. I just hope there are not many microphones around when they meet him.