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Interview with Prof. Norman Davies

How did you learn Polish?


Norman Davies: By living in Kraków. I never had a lesson of Polish in my life.


Do you feel that Britain could have done more to help Poland in 1939 and again during the uprising of 1944?


Norman Davies: In 1939, no. In 1944, yes. In the period prior to the Warsaw Rising, both the Poles and the British were very complacent in the joint planning.


What is your view of Churchill: leader of Britain in its finest hour, or betrayer of Poland at Yalta?


Norman Davies: I never use the word `betrayal', which implies a deliberate act of betrayal.


On trivia: is there any truth in the story that Churchill used three matches to show Stalin how the new borders of Eastern Europe could be drawn up at the Yalta Conference?


Norman Davies: Yes, but at Teheran, not Yalta, and in reference to the future frontiers of Poland.


In your book "Heart of Europe" whose new edition was recently published by Oxford University Press you wrote that Poland lies in the heart of Europe not only in the strictly geographical sense. After so many years since the book publication do you still support this opinion?


Norman Davies: Yes.


I was very much taken by your publication "Złote Ogniwa" which was published in Polish. I think this publication would be of great value to Polish people living abroad and would like to present their country to English speaking friends. Are there any plans to publish "Złote Ogniwa" in an English version?


Norman Davies: No.


In what ways do academics affect political decisions, in other words does the study of history help politicians in present day situations?


Norman Davies: It varies. I know that Chancellor Schröder read my history of Poland and Microcosm (about Wrocław) before visiting Poland for the first time.


How do you write history? Do you write it objectively or do you try to entertain the reader and has your style changed over the years?


Norman Davies: There is no conflict between objectivity and entertaining style.


Why did you feel that people reading Rising ‘44 were unable to handle Polish names, resulting in the depersonalising of characters, by simply referring them to Mr M or Stan M?


Norman Davies: Thirty years of frustrating experiences. Most of the characters were not depersonalised and were referred to by English versions of their pseudonyms.


It is said that the roots of European identity can be traced back to Greek philosophy, Roman law and Christianity. Are there any other influential factors which you think could be added to the list?


Norman Davies: Yes. Please read the introduction to Europe: A History


In the history of the twentieth century there are some events where the truth has yet to be discovered. How soon, in your opinion, will historians be allowed to investigate those documents that are still classified? Is it known which archives may reveal the greatest secrets?


Norman Davies: I have no idea.


Is it possible for a historian to discover the truth and find an objective version of events?


Norman Davies: It is not possible for historians to reconstruct a completely accurate picture of the past.


What is it about Poland that made it such an appealing place to settle? Was it the fact that there are strong similarities between Poland and Britain or was it the reverse; they are so different that being in Poland is an adventure?


Norman Davies: If this question is addressed to me, I have not settled permanently in Poland. You're right; being in Poland IS an adventure.


What made you choose to concentrate on twentieth century history rather than another period?


Norman Davies: I think, because I wanted to understand the immediate origins of the world in which I lived.

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