Poland’s president bestowed a prestigious state honor Tuesday on an English philosopher for his contributions to Poland’s anti-communist struggle in the 1980s.
President Andrzej Duda presented Sir Roger Scruton with the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland, the highest award that can be given to a non-Pole.
In bestowing the award, Duda spoke of the influence Scruton’s book “The Meaning of Conservatism” had on his own political vision. He said Scruton’s support for the anti-communist struggle “contributed to the growth of social courage.”
The ceremony came as Poland was celebrating the 30th anniversary of the first partly free elections in 1989, a key moment in the unraveling of communism throughout the Eastern Bloc.
It also came two months after the British government fired Scruton as head of a public housing body after he was quoted in a British magazine making statements about Muslim asylum seekers, billionaire George Soros and China.
Scruton has said that his words were twisted and has denied the bigotry ascribed to him by critics.
In the interview in the New Statesman magazine, published on April 10, Scruton was quoted as saying that the term Islamophobia was “invented by the Muslim Brotherhood in order to stop discussion of a major issue.”
He warned that “Hungarians were extremely alarmed by the sudden invasion of huge tribes of Muslims from the Middle East.”
He defended Hungary’s controversial leader Viktor Orban’s campaign against George Soros by insisting that “anybody who doesn’t think that there’s a Soros empire in Hungary has not observed the facts.”
And he warned of China: “They’re creating robots out of their own people… each Chinese person is a kind of replica of the next one and that is a very frightening thing.”
After his comments were slammed as racist, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic, he accused his detractors of taking his words out of context or deliberately misunderstanding them.
His comments on China were a critique of the regime’s authoritarianism, not of Chinese people, he said.
His depiction of a “sudden invasion of Muslim tribes” was meant to convey how average Hungarians experienced the massive influx of Muslim asylum seekers into Europe in recent years, not to dehumanize the migrants.
One defender, commentator Douglas Murray, said the New Statesman article had deliberately left out the sentence that followed Scruton’s “Soros empire” comment: “It’s not necessarily an empire of Jews – I mean, that’s such nonsense.”
Soros has been a target of right-wing ire for his progressive advocacy initiatives in Europe and elsewhere, but also of far-right conspiracy theories that depict him in classic anti-Semitic terms as a Jewish puppet-master secretly manipulating world affairs.
A spokesman for the Board of Deputies of British Jews backed Scruton’s sacking from the government housing committee, saying after the April comments, “As soon as we saw Sir Roger Scruton’s unacceptable comments we contacted Government to make our concerns heard. We are satisfied that the right decision has been made to dismiss him.”
At the time of his dismissal, a British government spokeswoman called Scruton’s comments “deeply offensive and completely unacceptable” and said they were distracting from his work as a government adviser.
A London PR firm that represents Scruton told The Associated Press that quotes were falsified in the interview by former New Statesman deputy editor, George Eaton.
Eaton has since been demoted at the magazine.