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Srbija 2020

Knifing a sleeping Balkan beauty

One thing that many of the new states of south eastern Europe seem to share is an abundance of visiting and semi-permanent foreign diplomats who periodically pop up in the media to lecture local citizens on the benefits of embracing European Union norms, such as democracy, the rule of law and human rights.


I remember these sermons when I see the long queues for visas outside EU member state embassies in cities like Belgrade and Sarajevo and I wonder what those waiting in line to enjoy the expensive lottery that is the visa application process think of such fine words when considering their own freedom of movement in this brave new Europe.


In contrast to those queueing outside consulates, I've seen enough embassy garden parties to realise that the internationals  don't need to worry themselves about freedom of movement nor the rule of law.


With diplomatic number plates, one can drive where and how one likes in the Balkans - drink-driving and speeding fines just aren’t an issue - as one UN staffer boasted to me last week and as for the the rule of law, well, rumours of tax-free dalliances with oligarchs, mistreatment of local staff and other forms of inappropriate/illegal behaviour can be blamed on a hostile media out to undermine your support for “a democratically elected government committed to the rule of law” etc.


Nevertheless, in neighbouring Bosnia & Herzegovina one foreigner is managing to break the cordon sanitaire protecting the corps diplomatique from public humiliation.


Known as “the sleepwalker” within the organisation he nominally heads, High Representative Christian Schwarz-Schilling is currently being outed in local and international media for being quite literally asleep on the job as boss of the Office of the High Representative (OHR).


He has had to work quite hard to manage this, dozing off in as many interminable meetings with as many different groups of Bosnians and internationals of all persuasions as was possible.


Now the game is up and the knives are out. CSS has slept for Bosnia but has done little else for the country besides earning a great deal of money.


Moreover, Schilling's ample posterior makes a nice target, especially for those who remember how his predecessor, High Representative Paddy Ashdown suffered thanks to the report of a small Berlin-based think-tank which now supplies some of CSS's somewhat shabby inner circle.



Apart from removing those committed to fighting organised crime, sleeping and occasionally threatening the odd politician, Schilling has been going around saying that Bosnia will be run by the Bosnians, strangely enough.


 “Local ownership” if not “self-management” became the somewhat tired party line emanating from the OHR.


Now chickens are coming home to roost and Mr. Schwarz-Schilling, or CSS as he is known, is retiring again. Local and international media have been having a go and the coup de grace will come in the form of an International Crisis Group  report documenting CSS’s  activities, or lack thereof, although the best stories are  restricted to the diplomatic cocktail circuit.


Those in the visa queue may wonder why everyone in the embassy is laughing, but the applicants themselves will be in no mood for giggling along with the gossip.


This is because Schilling’s peculiar brand of sleepy self-management means that Bosnia has moved no closer to EU association targets during his year-long tenure. This means that the visa queues will be still be there next year.


Schilling’s successor may want to drive past those visa queues once in a while, just to remind himself of what the job is really about.


I remember some time ago,

a Ukrainian (I believe) diplomat at the UN was caught DUI in NY city, and was stripped of his credentials and fined.

On the other hand, in 2000 (if I remember correctly), some soldiers on patrol in Macedonia were so drunk that they drove their armored carrier wrong way into a tunnel, caused an accident in which some Macedonian politician was killed - he was a member of parliament, I believe - and the soldiers were reprimanded.

A friend of mine was killed in Belgrade many years ago, during the meeting of MMF. His car stalled on the boulevard next to hotel "Jugoslavia", he got out of the car trying to push it with some friends, and he was behind the car. It was 3am. A banker, completely drunk, smashed into him from behind with a rented car and killed him instantly. No charges were filed.


Did you mention an ICG report on Schwarz-Schilling and the OHR in Bosnia? Hmmmm....

Perhaps it will be out on Monday....or Tuesday.....depending on the editing schedule........

For the time being

During the last 10/15 years we saw so many semi-"permanent" solutions, resolutions, staffings, shutle-diplomacy efforts, missions, strategies, etc. Therefore, we should consider a semi-proposal on adding add the prefix "semi" for some of the countries in this region:
- Semi-republic of S.
- -"- of -"-
- Semi-semi-republic of B-H

not bad

we should consider a semi-proposal on adding add the prefix "semi" for some of the countries in this region:
- Semi-republic of S.
- -"- of -"-
- Semi-semi-republic of B-H

It is an interesting idea, people like new terminology it is a sign of a change I guess:)
We have some kind of new speach, so to say...military-technical-agrement for a capitulation, adminstrative-line for the frontier, extraprofiter for a big tief, etc. I can imagine a semi-president or semi-prime minister. Way not?


It is indeed refreshing to chance upon a blogger on b92 written by a sensitive person who is not calling for lynching of everything native in our neck of the woods (or at least what WAS our neck of the woods). Otherwise, all other bloggers, I came upon, are high octane adrenalin droolers and Serbo-trashers.

Living in the Balkans as members of the supremo UN class is becoming less dangerous than for us underdogs who came to your lands of freedom and prosperity, not as lawmakers though. Feels like Kenya in the good old days (as far as driving is concerned)?

Please forgive me for my dose of cynicism and dejection, but how else could I be honest.

As David Mamet once said or wrote, humans communicate because they want something, I would like to find out why do you, Mr. Griffiths, blog?

easy solution for Bosnia...not

Not to be too cynical, but what else could we expect from the UN!?! It is well-known that UN mandates have been relatively weak, inefficient and lacking in authority on the ground. UN and government representatives (especially those participating in the "democratization of the Balkans") talk about the presence of democracy and ethnic/national/cultural reconciliation in BiH. They boast of the development of a market economy generated by small and local businesses and ongoing privatizations. However, they lack mention of escalating ethnic tensions (I guess a soccer match would be enough to rekindle old sparks), the widening rift between the Federation and Republika Srpska, and the prevalence of mafia bosses, or elite businessmen..whatever your preference, and their well connected groups that still silently govern. The UN turns a blind eye to problems that it cannot solve. I am really not surprised by Mr. Schilling.

Great text Hugh. I

Great text Hugh. I particularly agree with this part:

... as for the the rule of law, rumours of tax-free dalliances with oligarchs, mistreatment of local staff and other forms of inappropriate/illegal behaviour can be blamed on a hostile media out to undermine your support for “a democratically elected government committed to the rule of law” etc.

If a text like this one were written by a Serb or a Bosnian, they would undoubtably (and instantly) be labeled as hostile towards both foreign diplomats/UN staff (therefore towards Western countries in general) and democratically elected government. This would naturally lead to the assumption that they do not support democratic processes and changes that these foreign diplomats/UN members of staff are actually trying to introduce here, that they are conservative-oriented nationalists who oppose European integration and who are therefore acting against our chances to become a democratic, modern and free-thinking society.

Perhaps I'm exaggerating a litte, but I hope you get my point.

So, Hugh, what you're

saying is that Western Balkans is still a place to be, for all sorts of 'diplomats': parties, booze, snorting C with the big boys, girls, boys, money, name it, w/ever rocks their boats... By all appereances, stuff that all banana republics are made of.

Thanks, Hugh. Great text (despite its grim messages), it was a great pleasure and honour to meet you!

Hugh,I work for an


I work for an international NGO sponsored by USAID with many ex-pats. All of them say that Balkans is the best thing that could ever happen to them-great place to be, live, and earn.
The worst thing is that many of them are quite incompetent for the positions that they take, and they don't care nor have any clue how their bad actions or lack of any could do harm to the communities they work in.

Regards from Novi Pazar

Esprit de Corps

I don't know why, but this reminded me of Lawrence Durrel's "Esprit de Corps". Brilliantly funny. It seems that some things will never change.


...foreign diplomats who periodically pop up in the media to lecture local citizens on ...

Sadly, this has been true in so many cases. Intercultural incompetence and blatant disregard of the context in which they found themselves, arrogance, and very often pure ignorance damaged not only the organizations they represented, but also the potentially good projects, ideas, causes... The reasons are manifold, but the most important ones - poor selection process (accompanied by the low interest of highly qualified professionals) and no internal accountability within these organizations. The only warning they get is that they should not make major mistakes, such as be involved in drugs or human trafficking... Everything else can be taken care of.

I have been working for one international organization and on several occasions I have witnessed this attitude: I am an international, therefore I know and now I'm going to tell you. (Un)fortunately ignorance and stupidity never get lost in translation.

Welcome to the blog, I really look forward to reading more and I hope next time it will be less grim :-)