The Passing of Two Balkans Giants


Sadly, two weeks before Christmas, two very important, if diverse, personages for the emergence of a peaceful succession to the Yugoslavia breakup and wars passed away. I had been lucky enough to briefly meet both of them and be impressed both by their knowledge, their dynamic and their heartfelt dedication to the region.

Richard Holbrooke, the erstwhile Afghanistan/Pakistan envoy of President Barack Obama, who in 1995 had negotiated and bulldozed through the Dayton Agreement had brought peace to this horrific ethnic cleansing and profiling of Bosnia-Hercegovina. While today many think that this accord stands in the way of a true Bosnian nation, at the time this was a monumental achievement wrought by Holbrooke out of Serbian President Milosevic and Serb-Bosnian leader Karadzic. I met Holbrooke on the occasion of a Johns Hopkins SAIS Bologna Center celebration in Bologna in 2000, where he gave an impressive speech on US foreign policy: succinct, clear, strategic – in stark contrast to the second speaker, then EU President Romano Prodi, who slouched over the lectern, mumbled incoherent sentences and lacked vision, clarity and communication skills. For us Europeans, it was embarrassing and painful to see this stark contrast between a U.S. and a European leader. Much of the present dilemma of the EU could then be perceived by comparing these two speakers. In a brief face-to-face encounter after the speech, Holbrooke exhibited his charm, his generosity, his charisma.

Chris Cviic, who succumbed on December 11, was Croatian by birth and in heart and had worked as a journalist and analyst for BBC, the Economist and other British media. From 1999 till 2007 he was the political adviser for the region at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in London where his analyses, insights helped the Bank to become a significant actor in the reconstruction of the Yugoslavia successor states: Chris’ love and attention belonged to all of them: Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia (FYROM), Bosnia-Hercegovina, and even Kosovo. Again, I was lucky to meet him on several occasions in the EBRD after he had retired from there. He impressed me equally with his knowledge and his gracious manner. He was the kindest man imaginable, always interested, always curious, always willing to listen. And: He was an indefatigable optimist about the future of his beloved ex-Yugoslavia. This latter trait he showed in his recent book “In Search of the Balkan Recovery”, jointly authored with EBRD economist Peter Sanfey, and reviewed in this blog. The presentation of this volume last October was the last time I saw Chris. I invited him to a lunch at the EBRD Executive Dining Room where we had met before several times. Unfortunately, shortly thereafter Chris fell ill and did not recover. I deeply regret this lost opportunity to talk to him again and hear his wisdom.

Holbrooke and Cviic: two very dedicated men, two very different careers and fates. It is to be hoped that their passing during the same week does not bode ill for the region which both of them loved deeply.

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