Frequently Asked Questions:
How did you get interested in eastern Europe?
First of all – I hate the term “eastern Europe”. But one of the earliest things I remember was the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, when I was six. I had a childhood obsession with Montenegro, and spent hours looking at Muir’s Historical Atlas, trying to work out how countries could appear and disappear. We had a Yugoslav lodger who was staying in Oxford to finish high school; she had some connections with the Royalist emigration which I found very glamorous (I wrote about this in the introduction to my book “Deception”). As a teenager I was gripped by Evelyn Waugh’s “Sword of Honour ” trilogy, which I think is the best work of fiction written about the Second World War.
Do you have family connections with the region?
No. My family is English and Australian on my father’s side, and Huguenot and Scottish on my mother’s side. My great-grandfather, Frederick Anderson, was a notable Scottish footballer before he went off to make his fortune in China.
My father, JR Lucas, is one of a group of British philosophers who went to Communist-era Czechoslovakia to give clandestine seminars on banned topics such as Plato, Aristotle and St Augustine. I remember that from my teenage years, and thinking how extraordinary it was that my father and his colleagues risked arrest and deportation just in order to talk philosophy, and the people they were meeting risked a lot worse.
Did you study journalism?
No, and I strongly discourage people from doing so. It is much better to study something useful, like Ancient Greek, pure mathematics or art. I studied economics at university, specialising in the then-fashionable topic of industrial relations. I started learning languages only after my formal education finished – German in Berlin and Bremen, thanks to a scholarship from the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung, then Polish at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow (a summer school in 1986), and then Czech, Lithuanian and Russian in the countries concerned.
You are often called a Russophobe…
I think that’s profoundly unfair. I detest the regime in Russia, but I like the people, language and culture. I think that Russia deserves better than this gang of incompetent crony capitalists, who mask their looting with xenophobia.
You are friends with prominent politicians and take a strongly political stance on many issues. Can you be unbiased?
I do have many friends in the region—it would be surprising if I didn’t after 30-plus years. Some of them have been quite successful in public life. But I don’t necessarily agree with them on everything. I have my own views and state them strongly. I expect to be criticised and I enjoy a good argument.
Who funds you?
I am a senior editor at the Economist, though recently I have worked there part-time. My main responsibility is the daily news app, Espresso, and I also write obituaries, book reviews, leaders and sometimes articles about cyber-security. I don’t have any direct responsibility for our Russia or CEE coverage. I work for CEPA, a think-tank in Washington DC. Details of its funding can be found here. I have a weekly column in the London Times. And I write books and give speeches.
I’m interested in inviting to you a conference…
Please give plenty of notice—I am usually booked up about six months in advance. Bookings for all commercial events should go through my speaking agents, the Leigh Bureau. These subsidise my attendance at charitable and academic events.
How can I contact you?
Best is a Twitter direct message or sms to my mobile phone + 44 7770 380 791. Please don’t just call me out of the blue—I may be in a meeting or busy and I probably won’t answer. Don’t leave me voice-mail; I won’t listen to it. And please avoid e-mail if you can: I get hundreds every day and don’t always manage to read them.