“ME AND MY BIG MOUTH”
These are his own words by the way. Of all people on this planet Stephen Fry would be the very last person in my opinion to express disparaging remarks about other nations. Yet, quite uncharacteristically for him, he did. Publicly.
How did that happen? Stephen revealed everything today on his blog, where he wrote:
I was asked to appear on Channel 4 news to comment on the Conservative Party and their decision to ally themselves in the European Parliament with the Polish Law and Justice Party, a nationalist grouping whose members have made statements of the most unpleasantly homophobic and antisemitic nature. I usually decline such invitations, and how I wish I had done so on this occasion.
As I always say, trust your gut instinct. But anyway:
Words tumbled from my lips during that interview that were as idiotic, ignorant and offensive as you could imagine. It all been proceeding along perfectly acceptable lines until I said something like “let’s not forget which side of the border Auschwitz was on.”
Ouch. This is quite a stupid thing to say, in the heat of the moment or otherwise, Stephen.
The Polish government has been trying for years to eradicate the tendency of the Western media to refer to Auschwitz as “Polish concentration camp”. Yes, geographically Auschwitz is in the city of Oswiecim, which is in Poland. But that’s it. Everyone knows – and the government in Warsaw has been trying to reinforce that message – that it was a Nazi camp, in which thousands of Poles were murdered.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that any suggestion – intentional or not – that it was a Polish camp will be met by anger. To say the least.
But Stephen Fry knows that and he did realise he’d done something really bad.
Once the interview had been transmitted I started to receive the odd invitation to talk on Polish radio, explain myself to Polish journalists and make apologies to the Polish people in general.
And this is where Fry’s genius lies. He admits the whole storm initially got him riled even more and that he refused to apologise. But he eventually admits it was a rather irresponsible thing to say, bearing in mind the (still) sensitive nature of the subject and the public outcry following his comment. So he apologised today on his blog:
I take this opportunity to apologise now. I said a stupid, thoughtless and fatuous thing. It detracted from and devalued my argument, such as it was, and it outraged and offended a large group of people for no very good reason. I am sorry in all directions, and all the more sorry because it is no one’s fault but my own, which always makes it so much worse. And sorry because I didn’t have the wit, style, grace or guts to apologise at the first opportunity.
I hope my fellow countrymen – used to seeing cynical politicians who get offended and offend on purpose and without any apology – will see Stephen Fry’s post for what I’m sure it is: a genuine apology for a genuine mistake.
After all, as Stephen Fry himself says:
My father and squadrons of school teachers correctly reminded me throughout my childhood and youth, “Stephen just doesn’t think.”
If only all people who offend by mistake had Stephen Fry’s class and style.
Image © chase-me via Flickr, used under Creative Commons licence