Benign dictatorship

A Liberal Democrat exercises Absolute Power

A man walks into a crowded room in the Balkans. He takes his place at the head of a long table, alongside a dark-haired 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 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 they’ve waited months for Ashdown’s visit. If they seem hostile this evening that’s because, eight years after the war ended, they are disappointed by the lack of progress, feel neglected by Ashdown and disapprove of his willingness to work with the less liberal types favoured by voters.

“I say all that for one reason,” Ashdown continues, fidgeting with a gold pen while his words are translated. “We will no doubt speak pretty 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 onto 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 the appalling state of the speakers’ homeland: unemployment, human traffic, poor dental services, illegal logging, the problems of returning refugees. These 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 furious 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 emulated that success subsequently.

Historically, interventions of this sort have rarely been so important as they are today. 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.

The position of 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. (Imagine a USA comprising only two states.) 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 in mid-town 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 on both entities strict ethnic quotas. Thus the police force in the Serb Republic is required to employ a certain proportion of Muslims – not easy, because few Muslims want to work there, not least because salaries arelower than in the Federation. And even nationalist parties, if they wish to take up 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 post-war arrangement by strengthening BH at state level. (The state has hitherto been hopelessly feeble, as can be guessed by its annual budget of roughly Euros 300m – slightly less than the amount generated by ticket sales, in the US, for The Lion King.) To do so, 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, the fourth incumbent, will this month – on the anniversary of Dayton – have completed three-quarters of his term as high representative. The job could possibly be extended, but that will depend on how well the former LibDem leader has done.

He was born in New Delhi, where his father was a colonel in the Indian Army, in 1941. When he was four years old, his family returned to Britain. An abiding memory is of passing slowly through a train station where the platform was littered with dead Hindus or Muslims (he couldn’t tell which). The family bought a farm in another territory riven by sectarianism, Northern Ireland; but the farm failed financially and Ashdown remembers clearly the tears running down his father’s face as he informed the family. “The saddest day of my life,” he says. Soon after, the Ashdowns moved to Australia but Paddy stayed behind, to complete his education on an army scholarship.

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 United Nations 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, moving to Jane’s hometown, Yeovil, determined to do something more meaningful. “I had a sense of purpose,” he says, aware that this sounds self-important. (As he points out himself, people have joked for years that Ashdown’s answering machine invites callers to leave a message “after the high moral tone”.) Life in Somerset wasn’t easy. He was twice unemployed, once for six months, and desperately hard up – but determined to stand for parliament. “Most of my friends thought it was utterly, utterly bonkers.” In 1982 he overturned a 10,000 Conservative majority to take Yeovil for the Liberals. Six 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 soon became expert. Reading the diaries it is impossible not to be impressed that he visited Bosnia so often, and in such dangerous conditions. It also reminds you that he is a former 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, now sought as a suspected war criminal, Ashdown visited territory under Serb control. At subsequent war-crimes tribunals, witnesses stated that conditions at the Serb camps had been harsh until one day 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 suspected war criminal, Ratko Mladic, told Ashdown 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 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 for Kosovo. I said no. I was still MP for Yeovil.” (Ashdown stood down as Liberal Democrat leader in 1999 and retired from the Commons in 2001.) “I didn’t believe in doing one job until I had finished another.” 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 instead, and without any electoral mandate.

On a sunny day in early autumn, Ashdown has come to Mostar 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 some other ethnic group.) The visit coincides with an important stage in the rebuilding of Mostar’s symbolic bridge – a medieval masterpiece that gave the city its name – destroyed in hours in 1993.

With Ashdown are the senior deputy high representative, the German diplomat Werner Wnendt, and Julian Braithwaite, Ashdown’s director of communications. They’re greeted by the Frenchman newly appointed to run the high representative’s Mostar office, Jacques Andrieu, who takes them inside for a strategy meeting.

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.” “Alright. Fine,” says Ashdown. 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. “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 might 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. He’s limping, almost imperceptibly, because his shoes are tight; he buys them in England, like his clothes, though he insists that Bosnians are good with leather. As he strides past, 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 mineral water bottles before them and the plastic ballpoints with which they will shortly 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 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 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 spread over his lap. 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. His first job, while the war in Bosnia was still raging, involved sending in (unarmed) British police; a later spell in Belgrade led to him marrying a local woman and achieving fluency in Serbian (or Bosnian, as it’s called here). But when Ashdown was recommended to speak to him about the job in Sarajevo, Braithwaite insisted that he must work on the same basis as 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 the Bosniak nationalist party – the SDA, which took many votes from Lagumdzija’s SDP at the last elections – has failed to show. (Another representative, from national HQ, sits beside her empty seat.) 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 Ashdown is setting up there 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.” What the commission must resolve are the all-important details making this possible.

The mechanism for the commissions was first devised to deal with customs and VAT. “These have been the greatest fiefdoms for people to siphon off their ten per cent,” Braithwaite explains. “We had two separate tariffs and basically two economies. Anyone from overseas would have to be registered in both to do business here. It’s very expensive and corrupt. We also needed to get some money into public finances. So we came up with an international chairman who had worked on the introduction of VAT in Kosovo and at the EU. They went into closed session [with Bosnian politicians] for four months and came up with a solution.” From now on the state will collect money and give that to the entities, not the other way round. “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. That commission did mostly operate outside the media spotlight, which let them come up with a lot, through compromise. One compromise was to locate the headquarters in Banja Luka, not Sarajevo. So the Serbs are quite pleased.”

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 are discussed. Not one. Instead, there is a series of 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; for instance between politicians and broadcasters. 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. But Braithwaite, always optimistic, says brightly that the meeting went better than expected – because by the end they 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. When does this extraordinary operation, with its Gilbert and Sullivan title, end?”

Even if it’s unfair to draw parallels with the Raj, Bosnia does resemble a colony. The mindset of its citizens is cripplingly dependant – 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 use instead 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 baffled 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.

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 daily morning meeting. Today, the inner circle includes Wnendt, plus members of Ashdown’s private office – a team that includes Braithwaite; 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. (For his personal adviser, Ian Patrick.) The walls are decorated with a map of Bosnia and framed political cartoons relating to Ashdown’s previous life. Framed photos clutter the top of a bookshelf: one showing Ashdown with Javier Solana partially conceals a picture of him with Colin Powell. (Not, presumably, a deliberate slight.)

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 how what the SDA’s party leader says. This time Wnendt replies: “They’re going to talk to her. This confirmed what we already knew, 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 was 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 Tiannanmen 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 ten 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.”

Towards the end of the morning meeting, somebody mentions that parents of schoolchildren characterised in the press as unpleasantly nationalist want to see Ashdown. Ashdown says: “Send them to Werner. He hasn’t much to do.” Wnendt takes this in good part: “That’s well known.” Then somebody raises another topic and Ashdown, staring directly at Wnendt, says: “Enver, can you…” He’s interrupted by laughter. Wnendt says: “It’s Werner.” Ashdown: “Oh, God, I promise it’s the last time I do that.” Wnendt: “Well, I have been away for a week…”

The BBC journalist-turned-politician Martin Bell, in his new book Through Gates of Fire, describes a visit to 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 assemblies and councils at 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 much less 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. I have made that case many times. Where is the best repository? On the military side, maybe it is in Britain. 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 in Bosnia, 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 40s: 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 tenth 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.”

5316 words. First published 25 October 03. © FT Magazine