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(E) Paddy Ashdown in Financial Times
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  10/27/2003 | Politics | Unrated
(E) Paddy Ashdown in Financial Times

 

Ashdown in Financial Times

Saturday Oct 25 2003. All times are London time.

By John-Paul Flintoff
Published: October 24 2003

A man walks into a crowded room in Sarajevo. He takes
his place at the head of a long table, alongside a
young woman interpreter. "Forgive me if I start with a
bit of nostalgia," says Paddy Ashdown, former leader
of Britain's Liberal Democrats.

"One of the events that changed my life was coming to
this city for the first time in July '92. After that,
I made it a habit to come twice a year during the
siege and to stay for a week. People used to say to
me, 'Why?' People said I was the 'Member of Parliament
for Sarajevo'.

I was heavily criticised, I was insulted and called a
warmonger because I was calling for action. I was
criticised for paying more attention to the problems
of Bosnia Hercegovina than the problems in Britain.
And people said, 'Why?'"

The answer, he explains, is that Sarajevo seemed to
him to possess a vibrant intellectual and cultural
life that the international community, in its
ignorance, was allowing to be crushed. A spirit of
tolerance that was defended most vigorously, Ashdown
says, by the people in this room - who include a
former president of Yugoslavia, an ex-prime minister
of Bosnia, a one-time ambassador to the US, professors
of economics and philosophy and an actor from the
national theatre.

They're members of Circle 99, a liberal Bosnian
discussion group, and many of them led the city
through the desperate months of bombardment from Serb
positions in the surrounding hills, while the
international community presented a spectacle of
impotence: unwilling to intervene with enough force to
stop the killing and the "ethnic cleansing", not just
in Sarajevo but all over Bosnia. But since the war
these liberals have become marginalised.

If they seem hostile this evening that's because,
eight years later, they feel disappointed by the lack
of progress in postwar Bosnia and neglected by
Ashdown, foremost representative of the international
community still running the country.

Most of all, they disapprove of his willingness to
work with the less liberal types favoured by voters as
he works to bring peace, democracy and economic
development to a country where the people hated each
other, and still do.

"I say all that for one reason," Ashdown continues,
fidgeting with a gold pen while his words are
gradually translated. "We will no doubt speak bluntly
tonight - you to me, and maybe me to you. Let me start
off in that spirit by saying I arrived back here 18
months ago.

The dynamism and cultural and intellectual life had
somehow not translated itself into political
engagement. I was stunned by that. And the level of
misunderstanding about what we are trying to achieve
here was bewildering.

"The aim that I set myself when I arrived remains the
same: to use my mandate to set this country
irreversibly on the path to statehood and on to the
path to Europe. My job is to get rid of my job. And I
think that in trying to build the checks and balances
of a European state we are on the right course."

The speech is greeted with silence and long faces.
Then come the questions, more like angry lectures,
about problems that have become acute since the war,
while the world turned its attention elsewhere.

These include: unemployment, the dearth of
international investment, a brisk trade in human
traffic, illegal logging, poor dental services, the
problems of returning refugees and the on-going
failure to arrest suspected war criminals.

The speeches would have hit harder, one suspects, if
the delivery were not slowed by the process of
translation. Ashdown waits till everybody has finished
- nearly two hours later - before responding. "I hope
you will forgive me if I do not attempt to answer all
your questions," he says, before replying to several
speakers by name. His concluding remarks are
conciliatory. "Let me say something about
misunderstandings. I have read criticism [in the
press] from some in this room in terms quite close to
insult. You have said that my decisions would have
been better if I had come to see you before. I plead
guilty. The last year has been very busy, but this is
certainly a group that I should have been to see."

The meeting ends with prolonged applause. For the
interpreter.

Ever since Mark Anthony was dispatched from Rome to
Egypt, talented and clever individuals have attempted
to run other people's countries with variable results.
Anthony fell in love with Cleopatra, went to war with
Rome, committed suicide. Clive of India, charged with
corruption, likewise killed himself. Maximilian, sent
by the French to Mexico, ended up before a firing
squad. General Macarthur is generally agreed to have
made a decent fist of things in Japan after the second
world war - but few have since emulated that success.

Today, intervention and how - or if - to do it is at
the top of everyone's foreign affairs agenda. It
convulses the domestic politics of the US and of
Britain. At the United Nations, ambassadors could
easily become dizzy discussing whether or not to
invade dysfunctional territories such as Liberia,
Afghanistan and Congo. What has tended to get less
attention - at least, until Iraq spiralled into chaos
this year - was how to piece together those shattered
territories afterwards. But the work of Paddy Ashdown
provides a useful case study.

His position as high representative for Bosnia
Hercegovina was created under the Dayton Peace
Agreement of December 1995, which recognised the
rights of Serbs, Croats, Muslims - also known as
Bosniaks - and others to live in the war-torn country.
Dayton established Bosnia Hercegovina as a state
comprising two "entities", each with a high degree of
autonomy: the Republika Srpska, which is predominantly
but not exclusively Serb; and the Federation, which is
largely Muslim and Croat.

Each entity has its own rules: if you take a cab from
Sarajevo airport into the old town and the main road
is busy, drivers licensed by the Federation will stop
the car here and there to conceal their "taxi" signs
while passing through suburbs belonging to the Serb
Republic. As things stand, the entities even have
separate armies, customs and tax regimes.

But Dayton imposed strict ethnic quotas on both
entities. Thus the police force in the Serb Republic
is required to employ a certain proportion of Muslims,
which isn't easy because few Muslims want to work
there, not least because salaries are lower than in
the Federation.

Even nationalist parties that did well in last year's
elections, if they wish to fill their share of
ministerial posts, may be obliged to appoint a party
member from another ethnic group. The high
representative's job is to tidy up this postwar
arrangement by strengthening BH at state level. (The
state has been hopelessly feeble - its annual budget
of about E300m [£208m] is slightly less than the
amount generated by ticket sales in the US for The
Lion King.)

The high representative must overcome a vast array of
firmly entrenched interests, helped only by the
willingness of virtually all Bosnians to meet the
entry requirements of Nato and the EU - both expect
stable government at state level.

Ashdown will this month have completed three-quarters
of his term as high representative. The job could
possibly be extended, but that will of course depend
on how well he has done.

He is no stranger to trouble spots. He was born in New
Delhi, where his father was a colonel in the Indian
Army, in 1941. An abiding memory is of passing slowly
through a train station where the platform was
littered with dead Hindus or Muslims (he could not
tell which). When he was four, his family returned to
Britain and bought a farm in another territory riven
by sectarianism, Northern Ireland. But the venture
failed financially and Ashdown remembers the tears
running down his father's face as he informed the
family - "the saddest day of my life," he says.

Between 1959 and 1972, he served in the Royal Marines:
in Borneo in the jungle, and in Belfast on the
streets. Rather than take a desk job in the army, he
joined the Foreign Office. Posted to Geneva aged 31,
he handled Britain's relations with various UN
organisations and lived in a "massive" house on the
shores of Lake Geneva, with plenty of time for
sailing, skiing and climbing with his wife, Jane, and
two children.

But in 1976 he packed it in and moved to his wife's
hometown, Yeovil, determined to do something more
meaningful. "I had a sense of purpose," he says, aware
that this might sound pompous. (An old joke about
Ashdown is that his answering machine invites callers
to leave a message "after the high moral tone".)

Life in Somerset wasn't easy. He was twice unemployed
and desperately hard up but he was determined to stand
for parliament. "Most of my friends thought it was
utterly bonkers." In 1983 he overturned a 10,000
Conservative majority to take Yeovil for the Liberals.
Five years later he became party leader.

In June 1991, when the crisis in the former Yugoslavia
started to blow up, Ashdown "didn't even know where
all the countries were", according to his published
diaries. But he was greatly interested - he says
that's because he's always had a strong sense of
himself as European and he became expert long before
most outsiders in a position to intervene had decided
that Bosnia was worth worrying about.

Reading the diaries it is impossible not to be
impressed that Ashdown visited so often and in such
dangerous conditions. It is also clear that he was
once a soldier: few other British politicians, under
fire, would write that the barrage consisted of "120mm
and 81mm mortars, at a guess".

At the invitation of Radovan Karadzic, the
psychiatrist who led the Bosnian Serbs and is now
sought as a suspected war criminal, Ashdown also
visited territory under Serb control. At subsequent
war-crimes tribunals, witnesses stated that conditions
at the Serb camps had been harsh until one day when a
British MP - Ashdown - arrived with TV cameras,
followed by the Red Cross. "I still regard this as the
most useful day's work I have done in politics,"
Ashdown says.

Another Serbian war criminal told him when they met
that he could take the besieged Sarajevo whenever he
liked but, "if you are given the chance to kill an
enemy or shoot his balls off, always shoot his balls
off."

The late Croat leader, Franjo Tudjman, sat next to
Ashdown at a dinner in London and sketched on the back
of a menu a map showing how he intended to carve up
Bosnia. And Ashdown met Slobodan Milosevic, the
Serbian former Yugoslav president, several times; most
recently at the Hague where he testified against him.

For all these reasons, Ashdown made a compelling
choice as high representative. "The job came up not
once but again and again. [Tony] Blair asked if I
would allow my name to be put forward. I said no. I
was still MP for Yeovil. I didn't believe in doing one
job until I had finished another." Ashdown stood down
as Liberal Democrat leader in 1999 and retired from
the Commons in 2001. In 2000 he was asked to take over
in Bosnia.

He agreed, and the appointment was ratified by the UN
security council. Thus a man who spent a significant
part of his career trying to get elected leader of his
own country found himself in charge of somebody else's
country, and without any electoral mandate.

On a sunny day in early autumn, Ashdown has come to
Mostar, a predominantly Muslim and Croat city in the
south, to launch a new initiative, a commission,
chaired by a foreign diplomat charged with
streamlining the city's expensive and inefficient
government. (Hospitals routinely send patients to
Sarajevo, three hours away, rather than to other
hospitals in Mostar regarded as serving a rival ethnic
group.)

The visit coincides with an important stage in the
rebuilding of Mostar's symbolic bridge, a medieval
masterpiece destroyed in hours in 1993. With Ashdown
are his senior deputy high representative Werner
Wnendt, who is a German diplomat, and Julian
Braithwaite, Ashdown's director of communications.

They're here for a strategy meeting with Jacques
Andrieu, the Frenchman recently appointed to run the
high representative's Mostar office.

Ashdown's face has caught the sun. His previously
reddish hair is now mostly grey and he's craggier than
British voters may remember. In thoughtful moments,
listening to others, he takes off his specs and
dangles them from his mouth.

At other times he pushes them up his forehead to stare
out from beneath them. Trying out a line for the press
conference, he says: "This is a solemn week. We have a
memorial to Srebrenica." (The massacre of more than
7,000 Bosniaks, in September 1995, finally led to
decisive international intervention.) But one
colleague advises against linking Mostar to
Srebrenica, which is far away. "We will maybe lose
more than we gain." Ashdown agrees. He tries another
idea: "We are not just in the business of
reconstructing buildings" - the famous bridge - "but
men's minds."

Finally, he runs through the names of the politicians
expected to sign the new agreement - even setting up
the new commission requires a major signing ceremony.
"Do I announce the names? Mirsad? Is that right?
Jelko? Zhelko? Poo-bah-cha?" But Braithwaite, the
spin-doctor, suggests there may be a problem with
calling out names because somebody could be missing.

Soon after the strategy meeting, and a morale-boosting
speech to staff, Ashdown paces out of the building,
surrounded by security men muttering into microphones
hidden in their cuffs. The assassination in August of
Sergio de Mello, the UN man in Baghdad, is not the
only reminder that Ashdown's job is potentially
dangerous: this afternoon he will visit the Swedish
embassy to sign a book of condolence for the murdered
minister Anna Lindh. As he strides along, people look
up from pavement cafes to say "Hello Paddy!" Three
young women, walking towards him, break into giggles
as he passes with a gruff "Hi!"

Arriving at his destination, Ashdown sweeps past the
press photographers, up two flights of stairs and into
a meeting room with a mile-long table surrounded by
nervously smiling men in cheap suits. They take their
places, ignoring the bottles of mineral water before
them and the plastic ballpoints with which they will
sign the agreement. A liberal party leader, Zlatko
Lagumdzija of the SDP, has still not appeared, which
could be disastrous - the SDP boycotted a previous
commission on Mostar (with which Ashdown was not
involved) and Lagumdzija blames Ashdown for failing to
support moderates at the recent election.

Will he derail this commission too? No: he arrives
just as the press and TV cameras are allowed in. "Hi!"
says Ashdown jovially. "How are you, my friend?"
inquires Lagumdzija. Everybody makes a speech. The
deputy mayor, speaking last, affirms that he is truly
a "great optimist". "You have to be," says Ashdown,
"in this country. Thank you very much indeed. I don't
think we could have got off to a better start. Perhaps
now we could pass the folders." And the agreement is
signed by one and all.

Meanwhile Braithwaite slouches in a corner seat,
flicking through newspapers. The son of a career
diplomat, he physically resembles the actor Rupert
Graves. But his professional ability, manner and
vocabulary owe rather more to the four years he
recently spent at 10 Downing Street working alongside
Alastair Campbell.

In fact, Braithwaite is not a New Labour man - he's a
civil servant, on secondment from the Foreign Office.
A spell in Belgrade led to him marrying a local woman
and achieving fluency in Serbian (or Bosnian as it is
called here). When Ashdown spoke to him about the job
in Sarajevo, Braithwaite insisted that he must work on
the same basis as Alastair Campbell worked for Blair:
at the heart of the decision-making process. So he
usually knows what's going on. Ashdown confirms this:
"You know the phrase of Richelieu or whoever, when
Metternich died? 'What can the old fox have meant by
that?' Julian is brilliant at understanding why an
event has taken place."

And despite the late arrival of Lagumdzija,
Braithwaite was right to worry that Bosnian
politicians might not show up. Fatima Leho, local
representative of a Bosniak nationalist party, the
SDA, has failed to materialise. Leaving the building
when the ceremony is finished, Ashdown barks at a
colleague scampering behind: "What is this SDA
disappearance?" She replies: "I don't know, but it's
not a good sign." Braithwaite, typically unruffled,
plays it down. "The local bunch are headbangers," he
tells me. "We hold the party as a whole to this
agreement. I'm amazed that only one person decided not
to come. That's good by local standards."

Among other commissions that Ashdown is setting up is
one on defence. The idea is to knit together the two
armies already run by the entities. In March, Nato's
Bosnian peacekeeping force found plans in Banja Luka -
headquarters of the Serb Republic - for an invasion of
the Federation. "We used that to launch reforms," says
Braithwaite.

"The stick was that they had been planning to invade
each other, so a minister had to resign. The carrot is
that, in principle, they can join Nato's Partnership
for Peace, a waiting room for full membership. The
professional military desperately wants that, and
politicians want it too because it's respectable.

They will be able to tell citizens that they're
delivering a normal country again." But the commission
must resolve the all-important details to make this
possible. "Compromise is a dirty word in this part of
the world. It's seen as betrayal. It's very difficult
to get to a position where no one gets everything but
everyone gets something," says Braithwaite.

At a meeting on Bosnia's public broadcasting system, I
see for myself how hellish it can be to achieve
consensus. Twelve representatives, from three public
broadcasters (State, Serb Republic and Federation)
line up across the table from Ashdown, Braithwaite and
Wnendt. Also present is a representative of the BBC,
acting as consultant.

Ashdown opens the meeting with a robust warning. If
the people gathered here don't make the changes that
are necessary then Ashdown will make them himself. If
they do it, that will be regarded as a plus when
Bosnia applies to join the EU; if Ashdown does it, a
minus. He says he's sorry to speak so bluntly but they
must understand that just because he is handing over
the process to them that does not mean he doesn't care
about the outcome. Because he does. Then he leaves.

For the following hour, precisely none of the
individual points in the draft law is discussed. Not
one. Instead, there are speeches by politicians and
broadcasters drawing attention to the deep divisions
between them.

These divisions are more complicated than one might
expect: parties from the various ethnic communities,
predictably, have their own interests. For instance,
the group from the Serb Republic would prefer to keep
their own modest broadcasting infrastructure than
share something better with the Federation.

But the ethnic groups are also divided among
themselves. Politicians from both entities and at the
state level agree that they deserve more respect from
broadcasters. ("We are not savages!" says one.) The
broadcasters, likewise, have shared interests: one
points out that it's impossible to run a public
broadcasting system if politicians, enraged by some
piece of reporting, successfully and with impunity
encourage citizens to withhold subscriptions.

Wnendt, the German diplomat, has a wonderfully dry
sense of humour - but he brilliantly conceals this
beneath a stiff, formal appearance and unflappable
good manners. After each intemperate speech, relayed
through headphones, he replies to the effect that
these are interesting and valuable points which should
be borne in mind as the process goes forward. Then yet
another politician or broadcaster says, "If I may make
one more point..." and proceeds to do so.

By the end of the meeting the BBC man looks shattered.
He confides that this is "the second meeting from
hell" that he has attended, out of a grand total of
two meetings. I suspect that, like me, he finds it
baffling that Bosnia's leaders can't just put their
grudges behind them and concentrate on making
progress.

But that specimen of "common sense" is perhaps too
easily adopted by outsiders - and takes insufficient
account of the widespread feeling that justice has not
been done and atrocities have not been avenged.

Braithwaite, always optimistic, says brightly that the
meeting went better than expected, because by the end
the group had at least agreed to take the draft law as
a subject for discussion at the next meeting.

Earlier this year, Ashdown was accused by the European
Stability Initiative, a think-tank, of running Bosnia
like the British Raj. He brushes that off: "I have
been criticised more strongly than that before.

The thing that bothered me was not the language but
that they didn't speak to us. Most of the things they
criticised us for not doing we were doing already. But
the questions that they ask are perfectly legitimate."
Even if it's unfair to draw parallels with the Raj,
Bosnia does resemble a colony. The mindset of its
citizens is cripplingly dependent - and this could be
the hardest thing to overcome.

"I'll give you an anecdote showing the attitude of
people here. On my first night I was asked to give
prizes in a football match. (I have stopped doing that
now, because it's not my job to act like a president.)
It had been a very bitterly fought game, and not every
decision of the referee was accepted. So one man came
up and said, 'What is the point of having you here, if
you can't sack the referee?'"

Ashdown frequently acknowledges the urgent need to
transfer power. "When I started I said we wanted to
have a 'white dot' plan, because that is the last
thing you see when you turn off the TV. We are setting
up institutions and then closing our own departments.
But I can't tell you when we will leave."

And who is taking over? Many - though not all --
Bosnian politicians serve merely as puppets for others
whose criminal records, including war crimes, rule out
an official role. With no local constituencies,
representatives are appointed from party lists and
make few direct appeals to voters. Ashdown, from the
British political tradition, has made a good
impression by talking to citizens, reports Sead
Numanovic of Dnevni Avaz, Bosnia's bestselling daily
paper. At press conferences, Bosnia's weaker
politicians typically ramble, so press and TV
reporters instead use Ashdown's more appealing
soundbites. As a consequence - but also because of the
fragmentary nature of Bosnia's community - Ashdown is
twice as popular with voters as even the most favoured
Bosnian politicians. Which, though gratifying for him,
will do nothing to advance his stated intention of
empowering the locals.

At a press conference launching a draft law on
Bosnia's intelligence service, Ashdown takes care to
lean far back in his chair so that he's out of the
photos showing prime minister Adnan Terzic shaking
hands with the Hungarian diplomat who chaired the
intelligence commission. Afterwards, from his office
upstairs, Braithwaite phones his counterpart in
Terzic's office: "Tariq, it's Julian... Your prime
minister did very well at the press conference. Should
be pictures of him shaking hands with [Kalman] Kocsis
on the front of tomorrow's papers."

But this calculated boosterism is undermined, at the
press conference, by Terzic himself. Responding to
queries from journalists clutching freshly distributed
copies of the draft law, he says: "I wish to express
my satisfaction and thanks for this. My information
tells me that it was drafted to European standards and
in compliance with democratic control...
Unfortunately, you journalists have read this law
before me so I can't answer your questions."
Inevitably, somebody asks Ashdown: "High
representative, how is it possible that the prime
minister has seen this law only after journalists?"

An hour later, sitting in the prime minister's office
across the river I'm expecting Terzic to be enraged
about this embarrassment. But he appears to hold no
grudge; and is no less enthusiastic about Ashdown than
he is about smoking cigarettes - which is to say, a
very great deal. Indeed, he compares Ashdown
favourably with previous high representatives and
hopes Ashdown will stay in Bosnia long enough to
finish the job ("I would like him to remain for the
next two years as my partner in closing down the
office of high representative"). I'm puzzled by this
unexpected goodwill until Braithwaite later tells me
the prime minister had seen the draft law - though not
perhaps the latest print-out - and only denied having
seen it to distance himself publicly from Ashdown;
with whom he does in fact get on well. Whatever the
truth of the matter, it's clear that Bosnia's
politicians are not altogether to be regarded as
merely Ashdown's stooges and sidekicks.

Indeed, Terzic believes that Bosnians employed by the
office of the high representative (OHR) don't want to
lose their highly paid jobs. The average salary, in
Bosnia, is about £1,800 a year. OHR staff earn much
more. Even some diplomats, Terzic hints, don't want to
finish the job in Bosnia because if they do they may
be posted somewhere less congenial, such as Liberia.
"It's much safer to work here." This may seem unlikely
to outsiders, but many Bosnians believe it.

"One of the things I have done aggressively was
'Bosnianise' the OHR," says Ashdown. "We have kicked
out a lot of the internationals." Roughly
three-quarters of OHR staff are Bosnian, but none of
the half-dozen people gathered at Ashdown's morning
meeting. Today, the inner circle includes Wnendt, plus
members of Ashdown's private office - a team that
includes Braithwaite; head of the political department
Ed Llewellyn, who used to work with Margaret Thatcher
and Chris Patten; and Julian Astle from the Liberal
Democrats.

On Ashdown's large desk there are two trays: an 'In'
tray and, less predictably, an 'Ian' tray, which is
for his personal adviser, Ian Patrick. The walls are
decorated with a map of Bosnia and political cartoons
relating to Ashdown's previous life.

After diary announcements, Braithwaite reads out
newspaper headlines relating to yesterday's work in
Mostar. "Ashdown will not allow domination of the
majority," says one. Ashdown asks: "That report is
fairly straight?" "Very much," says Braithwaite. "And
the SDA doesn't figure at all. It only says that
Fatima didn't show." Ashdown wants to know what the
SDA's party leader says. This time Wnendt replies:
"They're going to talk to her. This confirms that
there is a difference between those in Mostar
[Braithwaite's "headbangers] and those who are here."

Ashdown: "We had a report from [Alija] Izetbegovic [a
former Bosnian president] that he is in favour.
Julian, can you find some subterranean way to get that
out into the press?" Braithwaite: "I think it might be
wise not to brief Izetbegovic." "He briefs me!" "But
we have European standards." "Well, it would be nice
if this fact got out there somehow."

Julian Astle once said that working for Ashdown was
like being the Chinese student who stood in front of
the tanks at Tiananmen Square. Ian Patrick talks about
"hard-hat days". "I caught him saying that to Jane one
day," Ashdown admits. "I can be unbelievably rude, for
what I think is incompetence. I can get impatient, but
my staff will say, 'You're wrong, Paddy.' In this
country, in this extraordinary job, you get crises
coming 10 to a box. You deal with issues of a sort
that will not often come up anywhere else. And they
all end up with me. So it can be quite
nerve-wracking."

The BBC journalist-turned-politician, Martin Bell, in
his new book Through Gates of Fire, describes visiting
Ashdown in Sarajevo. Ashdown told Bell there can be
such a thing as too much democracy. "When wars end,
the west believes that what these countries need first
and foremost is immediate and abundant elections: just
wave the magic wand of democracy and set the people
free to elect their own, and all will be well. Look at
what we did here," says Ashdown. "We held elections
all over the place and as soon as we could, for all
levels of government. What we should have done was put
law and order first. Once that is in place you have
the foundations for a real democracy." As Bell
comments, the same mistake has been made in Iraq.
"Liberation without law and order is not much of an
achievement. It merely replaces tyranny with anarchy."

"I'm a great UN supporter," says Ashdown, "but we need
to know what the UN can do and can't do. One thing it
can't do is fight wars. But it has a role after the
legal war, if there is such a thing, in constructing
the legal peace. This is one of the world's great
growth industries. We have become extremely good at
fighting these short, high-tech wars. But we are not
so good at fighting what Kipling calls the 'bitter war
of peace'. We are manifestly not very good at this. We
need to make this something like a science. I have
argued that we need a kind of college to pass on the
knowledge. A soldier has to make a gearshift from
being in hot pursuit and a killing machine to being
almost a policeman. To do that, they need to be
trained. The British solder is like that, after long
practice. The American is not. But I'm not blaming
them."

In every aspect of his work, Ashdown provides a model
either to be followed or rejected in Iraq. But he's
reluctant to discuss the situation outside Bosnia. "I
do not allow myself the luxury of an opinion [on Iraq]
because that would make my job more difficult. But I
would say that you should beware of lightly and easily
commenting. Look at Europe in the late 1940s: could
you ever have believed those nations would get
together?"

The University of Lausanne, he says, has shown that
crimes against individuals are no more common in
Bosnia than in Switzerland. "We have freedom of
movement, less violence in elections than in the
Basque country or Northern Ireland, and a stable
currency. But if you looked at this place in the 10th
week after the war it looked like a complete disaster.
There were Serbs digging up their dead in Sarajevo,
and Croat houses burning down. The world was full of
wiseacres making judgments."

John-Paul Flintoff is contributing editor of the FT
Magazine

john-paul.flintoff@ft.com

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Croatian Constellation



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