Episode 012- Charles Crawford

A Former British Ambassador's Reflections on Building Peace in Bosnia

Episode Summary

In this episode, Susan interviews Charles Crawford, who was the British Ambassador for Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1996-1998, Serbia and Montenegro from 2001-2003, and Poland 2003-2007. Crawford previously served as a British Diplomat to the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, South Africa, and Russia. Susan got to know Charles when they were working together conducting a leadership development program for senior women in the Afghan government. Crawford led the component on speech writing – a topic he knows a good deal about. (See Speeches for Leaders, his website and other info in the show notes.) He is a great storyteller with an amazing assortment of anecdotes from a rich and interesting life. In this episode, Crawford talks about his early days as an ambassador in war-torn Bosnia. With colorful detail, he tells the tale of being part of the ambassadorial group attempting to bring conflicting parties together across ethnic lines. He describes his early days arriving in Bosnia and seeing the absolute destruction of war. He observes that the places massacres occurred in the Bosnian war were the very same as where they happened in World War I, II and maybe earlier — perhaps “pay back” for sins inflicted on grandparents. He describes the large industry that pops up during peace negotiations – foreign nationals pouring in, eating too much, getting paid too much in comparison with the local population, an assortment of issues arising including things like prostitution. He provides perspective such as – the internet did not exist when he went to Bosnia and reflects on the potential uses the internet can provide now in peacebuilding efforts. He talks about the dilemma of having to engage the worst leaders if you want a deal – something that will suit the extreme ends of a conflict and might not serve the moderate middle. Most noticeably, in contrast to the many processes explored on this podcast, he describes the typical but top-down approach of building peace in Bosnia and the very real influence of the American president at the time, Bill Clinton, who needed an international policy success with ordinary people having little or no say whatsoever in this peace process. Charles was also in South Africa as Mandela came out of prison and apartheid came to a close. Observing the Truth and Reconciliation Process that came to South Africa a bit later, he talks about the difference between a justice and reconciliation lens. Please enjoy this episode. Charles Crawford is an amazingly bright and interesting teller of a complicated and relevant tale for those interested in creating a more peaceful world.

Show Notes

Susan: Charles welcomes Charles to the podcast and asks Charles to begin by speaking a little bit about his journey that led him to be the UK’s ambassador to Bosnia in 1996.

● Charles began his career as a lawyer and went to the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University (Massachusetts, USA) and ended up in the foreign office

in 1979. He had to begin studying a language, so he went to Yugoslavia to study Serbo-Croatian. He arrived right after the death of communist dictator Josip Broz Tito who had ruled Yugoslavia for decades.

○ Quick overview of the history of Yugoslavia

■ Yugoslavia was created after the Versailles settlement after World War I and after the second world war, the communist took it over. However, Tito broke with Stalin in 1948, so it was not part of the Warsaw Pact. Bosnia was one republic within Yugoslavia.

○ Background on Charles

■ Charles joined the Foreign office in 1979 and his first job was in Yugoslavia which is when he got involved in Bosnia

■ He was the British Olympic Attache living in the Olympic village in Sarajevo in 1984.

■ Returned to London as the Foreign Office speech writer (he has since published a book on this topic which Susan encourages listeners to look into, see link in introduction) ● Has won two “Oscars” in speech writing– Cicero Awards

■ He was in South Africa for the end of apartheid

● In the mid-1980’s, Gorbachev had come to power and there was a period of stagnation in the Soviet Union, Reagan and Thatcher and Gorbachev are all trying to operate together

● Apartheid ended just as the Berlin Wall was coming down, Charles is not surprised by this sequence of events

● He met Nelson Mandela just after he was released from prison

● While all this is happening in South Africa, the Berlin Wall came down, so he went back to London to become an assistant within the department of those dealing with the Soviet Union. A few months after his return, the Soviet Union fell and he began working on Russia for 5 years.

● While he was working with a focus on Russia, war broke out in Yugoslavia and he was asked to return to Bosnia to be ambassador after the Dayton Accords, which was pushed through by Richard Holbrooke, United States diplomat and Bill Clinton.

● He returned to Bosnia after the conflict, so he was not on the ground during the conflict.

○ Setting the scene in Bosnia for post-war reconciliation process. What did it look like? What problems did he have to solve?

■ There are many levels to this:

● Philosophical- What is going to make this thing called “Bosnia” work

● Go on Youtube and see maps of Europe for the last thousand years and Bosnia is there at 1300, and disappears for 700 years and then comes back.

● In April 1996, he was allowed to return without fully taking on his role as ambassador and he asked the listeners to image the absolute disaster and mess war makes if you haven’t seen it first hand. Everything was smashed but people are living there because that is their home.

○ When the SU broke up, there were 15 republics. The decision was made that SU would break up along the lines of these republics. When Yugoslavia had to break up, the question became: Should it break up in a more tidy way across republic lines, or should it break up according to some other principle? Self-determination? It was decided “by the world” that Yugoslavia should break up along the lines of its republics. However, those republics were not necessarily meaningful… they weren’t necessarily “countries.” There was a big question as to how Bosnia should exist because there was much ethnic diversity within Bosnia.

○ “Ethnic category” called Muslims who were just as geographically Yugoslavian as any other group, but people viewed them as not fitting into the society because they were not Christian or Catholic and they identified more with Turkey and other Muslim cultures. Under the communist rule, this ethnic group was allowed to call themselves “Muslim” even though not all of them were religiously Muslim. This confused people when Yugoslavia broke apart and people didn’t know how to define these people. They started calling themselves “Bosniacs” to themselves from the religious identity. This group was the largest in the country, but not the majority.

● What do you do in a country when a third of people no longer want to be a part of it?

○ Bosnian Serbs enjoyed being part of Bosnia when it was part of Yugoslavia (because the country had other Serbs), however, when Bosnia becomes it’s own country, they now become a minority in a country dominated by another ethnic group, the Muslims. Because of this, Serbia and

Croatia make a deal to divide Bosnia between them and this becomes the “civil war.”

○ As the republics of Yugoslavia are becoming their own countries, things become difficult because, often, ethnic and religious boundaries did not fall on the lines of the republics. This led to the creation of minority groups in countries that hadn’t existed before, causing wars to break out as the republics are solidifying.

○ If you look at where the mass violence occurred in this 1990’s war, it mirrors World War I and II. Some of this is payback for violence generations ago.

● Charles arrives in Sarajevo in 1996 and most of the city is smashed. The first problem was building an embassy.

○ In 1995, the Dayton Agreement was signed and NATO flooded in to begin enforcing the agreement. Goal is to have democratic elections in October 1996.

○ He was there as one of the only ambassadors who knew about the peace agreement but also spoke the language and knew some of the history of the region.

○ Of the ambassadorial crowd, 2 ambassadors spoke the language. Everyone there was improvising.

○ The struggle of just living in this place was huge. Wife and children were not allowed to the country. Not easily accessible by plane.

○ When you have these peace agreements, the international community floods in and gets paid too much compared with the locals and works very hard. Sometimes locals find a way to work with the international community on these projects. The issue of prostitutes comes up because troops are present.

● What follows is controversial:

○ You have 3 communities with the proportions 3:2:1

■ Option 1: One country, one political space

■ Option 2: One country, three political spaces, one for each community

■ Option 3: One country, 12 political spaces, divided up very small

■ Option 4: (the only one that makes no sense, but was agreed upon at Dayton) one country, 2 political

spaces where one space is for the Serbs and the other will be shared by Muslims and Croats.

○ Susan asks who made this decision?

■ When the Cold War ended, it was the “end of history” and there was a real sense of history, but then this horrible violence occurred in the Balkans. This was huge news because the world was looking forward and in Europe, mass violence is occurring and London and Washington disagree about how to respond to the violence. US did not want troops on the ground and the UK has troops on the ground who had to leave because the US wanted to bomb.

■ When war broke out, the Germans and the U.S. were angry because the Muslims and Croats would not join forces with them against the Serbs (because in the opinion of Germany and the U.S., the Serbs were the problem.) The Muslims and Croats set up a political unity against the Serbs called The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

■ Where you start, it makes a huge impact on where you will end up, because if you make a mistake in the beginning, it is very difficult to fix ten years later.

■ The problem got really out of control when the world insisted that Yugoslavia break up along the borders of its republics without having a clear plan of what to do if this goes wrong.

■ Bosnia is a very difficult space to manage because there aren’t roads and it isn’t accessible militarily. Muslims and the Croats were forced to set up this get against the Serbs, and that was the basic layout for the Dayton Peace Agreement. In 1995, this created the Bosnian Constitution. A huge effort was made to get people back to their original homes after displacement due to war. The philosophical layout of Dayton is a failure. This was almost entirely designed by two U.S. Americans, Clinton and Holbrooke. The accord was negotiated on a military base in Dayton, Ohio, USA. Ordinary

people had absolutely no say in this accord whatsoever.

○ Another question is: who sits at the table at a peace agreement?

■ There were no local women at all. All big leaders.

■ If you want to have a deal, you have to make a deal with the worst people, the people who started the whole mess in the first place unless you are prepared to remove them from the political map. If this deal is made, it will suit these people, and not necessarily the moderates or the locals.

■ How to deal with “bad leaders” (people who are willing to let their countries get destroyed for power, money, pride, etc.)

● If you don’t bring them in, they are influential enough to ensure that your agreement doesn’t work.

● If you do bring them in, the agreement will only work on their terms

○ Have to remember that the reason the Dayton Accords occurred the way it did was because Bill Clinton needed to a foreign policy success in order to be reelected in 1996.

■ The steeper problems of the conflict were never really addressed.

■ This agreement established:

● New Bosnian Constitution

● Papers allowing NATO to go into the region and implement the agreement

● IMF and World Bank financial packages to rebuild Bosnia

■ People who had no connection to the conflict are suggesting what should be done in a situation they know little about.

○ Charles talks about a class he sat in on at Harvard about peacekeeping that covered some important questions in his career.

■ United Nations Peacekeepers keep a small card in their uniform telling them when they are allowed to shoot because they generally don’t know anything

about the language or the conflict context. They are merely there to keep the peace.

■ Another tough question: voting systems. How do you set up a good voting system in Bosnia? Which type of voting do you use? Where do people vote?

■ No real thought was given to how the voting system should work in Bosnia to encourage reconciliation.

○ Retrospectively, if you wanted to engage more citizens, what would he do differently?

■ Insist that at least a quarter the people involved are women

■ Give some serious thought as to how the voting system will work because everyone is going to vote on an ethnic ticket. How do you then organize things so that you get some kind of mutual trust across ethnic lines for politicians?

■ There are many different ways to run a democracy and there are ways you can play with this.

■ There was no internet when he started

● Ways to electronically vote

● Ways to prevent corruption

■ You could be very sophisticated in the way you build the peace agreement

■ Include people whose motives are rooted in the people’s desire

○ On people’s ID cards would be their ethnicity. Positive discrimination occurred so that there was an equal distribution of each ethnic group in certain jobs. They were used to this.

○ The Constitution developed a 3 person presidency all elected from different regions and you need to living in certain region and be a certain ethnicity to run for president. The very constitution discriminated against ethnicities depending on where they lived. It is unique in that is against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

○ How do you ensure ethnic representation in a 3 person presidency without discriminating against any person based on where they live: lawsuit that has yet to be solved.

○ What about someone who does not fit into one of these categories? They could not run for president.

○ Has the peace negotiation worked?

■ War has not started again. People have returned to their homes. Mines have been removed.

■ They have not figured out how to run the place. Corruption is high, the people are over governed and overtaxed. Business and investment are bad. For the amount of money the world has invested in Bosnia, the results have been mediocre.

■ Everything is politicized– it took them 2-3 years to open a McDonald’s in Sarajevo because no one could agree and the issue was politicized. This is ridiculous because you need to encourage foreign investment. Peace agreements should really include business people and investors because you need to have money to keep the country stable long term. This is not looked at holistically.

■ After the war, people were not interested in building a new, modern, updated country. Most were interested in making the country look like it had before the war had happened, which was doomed.

○ What do you do well and what do you wish you had done differently?

■ Charles says he did well report back to London because he was one of the only people who really understood it all

■ He took Bosnia seriously– he really wanted to make this work

■ 3 official languages– name of the embassy in 3 languages, but some people didn’t want this because languages were associated with oppressor

■ He did a lot of little things to get people talking across these divides

● Britain only has a foreign policy towards Bosnia, not just Serbs

● Ethnically neutral number plates for cars so that no one could tell which region you were from when you crossed into different regions

● Speech in Stockholm on Bosnia is on website

● You need to take out the bad apples– you need to take the worst fighters out of the picture by arresting them. Need to deal with war criminals. Need to have a vision for empowering moderates.

○ Clinton would not send in troops to arrest war criminals and he would not put boots on the ground. London eventually did but they only went after smaller war criminals. Without arresting war criminals, the effort looks ridiculous.

● Need to follow the money

○ Bosnia was a poor country, but even in Bosnia, there was still about 9 billion dollars. You need to take account for how money is spent so that everything is transparency and to prevent corruption. Use transparency to empower people.

○ The international opinion can be overruled if the locals all agree against it, but in Bosnia, there was the incentive to disagree, not agree.

○ Now, no one really thinks these countries will last forever. There is a sense of unfinished business in the region.

○ What are the lessons we can learn from this situation?

■ Charles doesn’t really have too much confidence in lessons learned in peacebuilding because no case is ever going to look like another case and no one has time to sit down and read about every single case, so lessons become almost irrelevant.

■ However, you have to think a little bit about reconciliation or a break from the past. Is peacebuilding really a break from the past or not? You need to get people motivated to do something very different.

■ Sometimes it seems like you just need a whole new set of leaders a generation afterward so the same people don’t always get elected because people don’t always vote for what is good for their country in terms of peace.

■ Important idea is that a reconciling of peace and justice is necessary. Let’s make something that is a self-sustaining success.

■ Can you have the peace without the justice? People can’t really get over past violence. This worked in South Africa because one side “won” and power transferred to a majority of people. Something rather African about the forgiveness aspect and the ability to move forward and forgive. Would this have worked in Bosnia? There was so much money just bringing people to the trail and there was no reconciliation at all.

■ Story about reconciliation in Bosnia

● Charles’ driver was a Bosnian Muslim who lived on the frontline of the war. People were living with this constant violence. He lived in the same apartment building with a Serb and they would get along until the Serb moved across the border and violence occurred. The Serb called up his driver to apologize for what happened. Neither of them knew why they contributed to the violence.

● There is a therapy process in this peace process. The difficulty is linking it to the legal process. Is it better to build peace through forgiveness or is it better to build peace through justice? This will be different every where. Psychological break with the past might be the most important part.

● In Bosnia, literally nothing was agreed upon, it was either on one side or the other side. The division of it all became hard wired and tackling this is very tricky.

● The Dayton Accords was really a deal for the West, not deal for the Bosnians as who they are. It was too pressed by time and everyone wanted success. It was too rushed.

● On the right-hand column of Charles’ website is an endless amount of information on Bosnia and make sure to check out Charles’ book, Speeches for Leaders, link above.

Notes by Mary Grace Donahue.

Rsources Mentioned In This Episode

"The best way to predict the future is to create it".

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