Margaret Thatcher - Angel of Mercy?

Globus (Zagreb) 11-10-1991

History, says CHRISTOPHER LONG, is a question of time and place. The Serbo-Croatian war has been a spectacular example of the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.

On Friday, Croatia's foreign minister Mr Separovic arrived in London for a brief visit. It was the worst possible day for him to come. Prime Minister John Major's ruling Conservative Party was ending its four-day annual party conference in Blackpool. This was the last real chance the Conservatives had to convince the British that the problems of the economy, unemployment, Britain's role in Europe, the future of the National Health Service and the ghost of Margaret Thatcher would not cause the opposition Labour Party to win the next election in 1992.

And Mr Separovic wanted to talk about a war in Croatia.

In fact, Croatia was not on the agenda and through no fault of his own, Mr Separovic had no significant meetings with anybody who mattered.

As any sportsman and any lover will agree, timing is everything. Hit the ball at precisely the right time in precisely the right place (or seduce your lover in exactly the right circumstances) and success is guaranteed. In Yugoslavia, the timing of the current war could not have been worse.

Slobodan Milosevic, Blago Adjic and General Kadievic do not appear to be good sportsmen or great lovers, but they have been very lucky. If ever there was a good time to invade Croatia, this was it.

On the same day that Mr Separovic arrived in London, I spoke to a fellow journalist – a senior television news editor.

"Christopher, we really cannot afford to have a war in Yugoslavia," he told me. "The Gulf War and the Russian Revolution have cost us a fortune. We've overspent our foreign news budgets. I don't think either the BBC or ITV (commercial TV) can afford to treat Croatia as a full-scale war. The cost of reporting it, satellite time and all the news-gathering back-up is more than we can cope with. In these circumstances we're watching events very carefully, but treating it as a civil war or a local conflict is a more realistic concept."

And he's right. The BBC spent millions of pounds covering the Gulf War and the ITV companies are, today, waiting to hear whether they will be granted franchises to exist and broadcast into the 21st century. Their futures as broadcasters, in a market economy, are as uncertain as the future of Croatia as an independent, sovereign nation.

Again, on the day that Mr Separovic arrived in London, I spoke to an investment banker – a friend I've known for 20 years.

"The Croatian situation worries me. It seems half the world expects us to respond to their begging bowls. It's difficult enough trying to do business with Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and the USSR – the old communist regimes. They have no real understanding of what it's going to cost them to develop market economies. And they think they can build capitalism without any capital. Then they come to us and we have to compete at a profit to help them develop themselves into nations that can compete with the developed Western world."

"We try to help them and then, as fast as we try to research and understand their situations, they tear themselves apart into separate nations. Look at the USSR – how many separate states, economies and legislative bodies do we have now? Ten, fifteen perhaps. And then you ask about Croatia. How many separate states will need development assistance if Yugoslavia breaks up?"

I understand his problem. He is a cool, logical and sophisticated businessman. It seems the whole world has suddenly turned into 50 worlds, each holding out a begging bowl for investment and development. Croatia has 'chosen' a bad time to seek independence when 300-350,000,000 people have made the same decision in the same year in dozens of separate states throughout Eastern Europe, at a time of economic recession in the developed Western world.

On Tuesday last week I asked Christopher Cviic and Col. Edward Cowan to meet me to discuss Croatia. At the Oxford & Cambridge University Club in Pall Mall (a few hundred metres from Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament in Whitehall) we were joined by Robin Harris, Margaret Thatcher's personal assistant.

As we shared drinks and opinions, Presidents Tudjman and Mesic and Prime Minister Ante Marcovic were still surprised to be alive after discussing a peace treaty with Serbia following the apparent rocket attack on Zagreb.

"This war couldn't have happened at a worse time," says Col. Cowan. "Britain hears that the Soviet Union and America want a peace dividend and to cut their nuclear forces. Britain needs to do the same and will soon be the leader of the European Rapid Reaction defence force. But right now Croatia shows that perhaps we can't afford to cut our forces, that our defences are still arranged to meet the threat of nuclear war with Russia. The Rapid Reaction Force doesn't yet exist."

Christopher Cviic says he fears the worst is yet to come. "There is still the dreadful prospect of Bosnia-Hercegovina being divided," he says. What he doesn't say, because he doesn't need to say it, is that the British people are only just beginning to understand that there is indeed a country called Bosnia-Hercegovina (which sounds like two countries joined together). After all, how many Croats know where Kent, Norfolk and Northumberland are on a map of Britain?

In other words, just when the British are having to accept new countries such as Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Georgia, the Ukraine, Kazakstan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Moldavia and dozens more, 'Yugoslavia' would like us to forget Tito's propaganda and accept that there are up to eight new countries in the Balkans.

My view is the same as it has always been: why didn't the Presidents of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia meet together on the island of Brione and agree together to form a union of independent sovereign countries dedicated to supporting each other with unified political, economic, diplomatic, monetary, defence and foreign relations policies. And why, I ask, do they not do this now?

Europe would have to listen and respond and provide assistance. Serbia would have to behave itself.

Margaret Thatcher's assistant, Robin Harris, is strangely unwilling to express a view on the Croatian situation.

I don't know what Christopher Cviic and Colonel Edward Cowan are thinking, but I suspect that Margaret Thatcher is secretly unwilling to help resolve the Croatian crisis. After all, Mrs Thatcher does not like the idea of a federal Europe. She certainly doesn't want Britain to become part of it. The Croatian crisis shows just how difficult it is for Europe to agree on a policy for solving the Serb invasion. Croatia has shown the weakness of the European dream. It's embarrassing for Britain, France, Germany and the others. Mrs Thatcher's view is likely to be proved correct as long as Europe cannot agree on what to do next.

In other words, the Serbo-Croatian war is perfectly timed for Mrs Thatcher even if it is badly timed for everyone else – especially when there is a Conservative Party conference in Blackpool which she thinks she should be leading. In fact her influence in Britain is now very small indeed.

As I write this, the radio beside me says that fighting in East Croatia and Sisak is continuing. The Serbs are saying that we didn't understand them correctly when we thought there was an agreed peace treaty last week. But even if they do leave Croatia, it will take one month. It took them only a few days to arrive. And that, of course, is a lesson in good timing.

Translated by Globus but no cutting of the published item retained –. This article apparently caused much controversy and provoked a vitriolic attack on me in the pages of Slobodan Dalmatcia by Croat nationalists masquerading as independent journalists!

In the event Europe was indeed unable to prevent the escalation of the war over the next four years and Margaret Thatcher did indeed watch the European 'Union' debacle with apparent relish.

© (1991) Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
The text and graphical content of this and linked documents are the copyright of their author and or creator and site designer, Christopher Long, unless otherwise stated. No publication, reproduction or exploitation of this material may be made in any form prior to clear written agreement of terms with the author or his agents.

Christopher Long

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