Over breakfast, tea or dinner

Published : Oct 25, 2017 12:30 IST

EXCERPTS from a nine-page essay on diplomacy in general, and on its peculiarities in England, by Ivan Maisky, published in The Maisky Diaries edited by Gabriel Gordetsky.

“...The most important and substantive element in the work of every ambassador is the actual contact he has with people. It is not sufficient to read the newspapers—that can be done in Moscow. It is not enough to work with books and statistical reports—that too, can be done in Moscow. ...An ambassador without excellent personal contacts is not worthy of the name.

“Every country has its peculiarities. The nature and number of the contacts differ in accordance with the varying political, economic and individual conditions of each state. There cannot be a single template in such matters. What is acceptable in Paris may be completely unsuited to Tokyo, and vice versa. ...In the case of England, the creation of these vital personal contacts is extremely difficult and requires a great deal of the ambassador’s time. ...in order to be au courant with what is happening in different areas of English life. It is not enough to know one or two people in each group. ...It is quite simply not enough to have contacts with, for example, the secretary for foreign affairs and his deputy, but also one needs to know the head of the Northern Department of the FO [Foreign Office], for the USSR falls within his sphere of competence. ...It is necessary to maintain contact with around 15-20 people in the FO alone, and of course our work requires us to have business with other Ministries: the Ministry of Trade, of Finance, of the Economy, of Defence and so on.

“Or else, to take another example, consider Parliament and the political parties. This is an extremely important element of English political life. It is most useful to attend the more important sittings of Parliament (which works for about eight months of the year): you get an exceedingly accurate impression of the current mood of the country. But this is not enough. If you wish to be well informed of the different areas of interior and exterior policy, then you need to be in personal contact with a significant number of Members of Parliament. ....

“The press. This is an extremely complex and active group, with an immense number of people belonging to it. The people are capricious and don’t stand on ceremony. They come to you with all manner of questions, surveys and clarifications—personally, or else by telephone, at any hour of the day or night. ...In order to maintain normal contacts with the press, one needs to know about 50 people. ...The sort of contact which can be useful from our point of view must be a much closer contact. This means that you must meet the person more or less regularly, invite him to breakfast or dinner, visit him at home, take him to the theatre from time to time, go when necessary to the wedding of his son or his daughter, wish him many happy returns on his birthday, sympathise with him when he is ill. It is only when the acquaintance has come a little closer to you (and Englishmen need to scrutinise someone for quite some time before they count him among their ‘friends’) that his tongue starts to loosen, and only then may you start to glean things from him, or else start to put the necessary ideas into his head. ...In England, all meetings usually take place at table—over breakfast, at tea, at dinner, etc., to give them the information it is decided to give them, to nudge them in a direction favourable to us. But this work does not have any clear boundaries...”

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