PRAGUE — Bosnian war-era UN envoy Thorvald Stoltenberg says diplomats were better off being against Serbs – in order to avoid criticism and ensure acceptance.
The former Norwegian foreign minister told RFE in an interview 20 years after the start of the 1992-95 war in Bosnia that he “knew from the first day of the war” that in order to be completely accepted and avoid criticism, “one had to be against Serbs, support Bosniaks (Muslims), and look the other way when it comes to Croats”.
Those diplomats, “such as himself”, who chose to support a side “based on concrete developments in the field”, faced fierce criticism, he added.
Stoltenberg said he was deemed to be “pro-Serb” because of his desire to remain unbiased, and added that he was also forced to give up on speaking the Serbian language – which he had learned during his previous diplomatic post in Belgrade – and switch to English. This came because he was criticized that “when he spoke Serbo-Croatian, he spoke the Serbian variant too much, and the Croatian too little”.
“Specifically, my accent was too Serbian. For this reason I started speaking English, so my knowledge of Serbo-Croatian didn’t help much in the negotiations,” the Norwegian diplomat recalled, and stressed that he never wished – then or now – to be a judge, but worked to contribute to ending the war, in his role of a UN envoy.
According to Stoltenberg, a failed peace plan hammered out in 1993 was more favorable for Bosniaks than the one accepted in Dayton two years later – during which time thousands of people died and tens of thousands more were displaced. However, he revealed, the United States had suggested to the Bosniak side to reject the 1993 plan:
“The reason given was that the territory that would belong to Bosniaks was too small. The agreement envisaged that they should receive 33.3 percent of the territory. Today, after Dayton (peace accords), they essentially control between 26 and 28 percent of the country. The 1993 agreement also envisaged the creation of tree units within Bosnia-Herzegovina: Bosniak, Serb, and Croat.”
He further commented on the role of the United States by saying that they “at the time made reaching an agreement more difficult”. The former UN envoy said he at first hoped that Washington would take part in the negotiations sooner, but that he accepted then U.S. President Bill Clinton’s argument that the war “a European issue”.
“I though that to be a fair approach. However, the U.S. did not completely withdraw from the region, they stood on the sidelines, giving instructions to some of the participants, which, in fact, made reaching a deal more difficult,” he was quoted as saying.
As for Bosnia’s future – considering that the country is still divided along ethnic lines, and dysfunctional as a state, Stoltenberg said it was up to the people in Bosnia to make decisions about “life in peace” – rather than anyone else, the United States included.
“I am convinced that all these issues will be solved, and without war. I do not consider the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina to be the most dangerous in the Balkans,” Stoltenberg revealed, and added that he was “much more concerned about the situation in Kosovo,” but did not further elaborate on his stance regarding the province.