Although I have written more about international law, it is my writings on post-war Bosnia that have attracted by far the greater level of attention. Bosnian politics remain in a state of perpetual mortal struggle, even some 15 years after the end of the country’s war. Bosniacs, Croats and Serb politicians harbour dramatically different visions of their country’s future, and attack vociferously those who argue for a view at odds with their goals. International officials engaged with the country also have strong vested interests in advancing a narrative that comports with their efforts. My writings have challenged the conventional international community narrative in particular. I have argued that international community state building efforts in the country were both politically naive and incompetently executed. These works have hastened the now inevitable and permanent collapse of the country’s central government. Republika Srpska will become “independent” in some form or other. Indeed in many ways it already is; and the west is in great measure responsible for this result.
I cannot therefore be surprised when others criticise what I say. For international officials involved in Bosnia’s state building exercise, my analysis must be discomforting. What does surprise me, however, is the intemperate tone in which my critics convey themselves. Consider the following unsolicited message, that I have just received from a former senior diplomat in Bosnia, a man whom I had never met or spoken to before:
“Dear mr Parish,
“It was very interesting to read your book on Brcko. What made it so worthwile was to get so intimately acquainted with the state of mind of an midlevel civil international servant posted in a tiny city in an tiny country. It reminded me very much of stories from the colonial era about povincial representatives of the colonial power who compensate their frustration about the limits of their horizon in their opinions on those who are placed on higher levels behind their own horizon. It constitutes good stuff for stories, even novels. It becomes more problematic however when this kind of frustrations are reflected in books which pretend to be of a objective political and/or legal character.
“Your book is supposed to deal with Brcko, but it had in fact more to do with settling accounts with the IC in BiH in general and with the OHR in particular. So far so good, but it is written with so much of emotion, not to say frustration and bitterness that it becomes more a caricature of reality than a compilation of well considered observations and opinions. The term “absurd” is the most frequently used adjective for everything done in or coming from Sarajevo. What is particularly disturbing that almost every “episode” or “incident” starts with this qualification followed by the “facts” to support it rather than first giving a thorough and objective analysis and then draw the conclusion. The result is a book full of twisted truths, half-truths and blatant lies. The only sensible story (I am not talking about what you write on Brcko since my knowledge on that phenomenon is rather limited) I could catch you on is that on police reform. The rest is humbug in various degrees. My glosses go from question marks to the frequesntly used word “nonsense”. Just one example: Ashdown has punished the Constitutional Court (in fact the entire juducial system in BiH) by decreasing theri salaries, affecting especially the international judges and prosecuters. First of all, there is no relation with the case you mentioned (Tadic/Covic). The decreasing of salaries was already for quite some time on the agenda because of the widening discrepansies between the salaries paid to the officials in the judicial system and the general level of government salaries and the increasing burden they had become on the budgets of the various courts. Furthermore, is is untrue that the measure affected the internional judicial officials. They were all appointed on the basis of secondment and paid by their respective governments according to the standards prevailing in their own countries. This is just one example, but your book is full of them.
“Conclusion: a missed chance. There is good reason to hold the actions of the IC in BiH against the light and analyze their good and bad sides. I am afraid that your book does not contribute to the formulation of a balanced and objective opinion on the IC presence in BiH.”
The Gentleman who wrote this – a former Ambassador to Sarajevo of an important European country involved in Bosnia during the war – had participated in the international community’s failed efforts on police reform. In my book I am sharply critical of those efforts. It is therefore little surprise that he did not like my book, and I cannot expect him to be an objective reviewer. Moreover, his allegations of factual inaccuracy are unfortunate: had he asked me to document my assertions (of which I had first hand experience), I would happily have done so. I stand by the veracity of every one of the (admittedly extraordinary) factual narratives my book offers. I may have many faults, but I write only about subjects with which I am genuinely familiar.
Yet what I found hardest to understand is why this gentleman wrote to someone about whom he knows nothing in such unpleasantly personal, even nasty, terms. What did he hope to achieve by this? He is supposed to be a diplomat, yet he apparently lacks the ability to be diplomatic. Perhaps this goes to my thesis about international community incompetence. After the memories of war faded, the best people were not sent to Bosnia.