Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Bosnia’

Holocaust Memorial Day

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 27th January, 2019

auschwitz entranceOn this day we remember the six million Jews exterminated by the Nazis in Germany and the occupied territories, along with the Roma, disabled and LGBT people deemed imperfect or undesirable by the Third Reich. I was born five years after the War, but during my childhood the black and white pictures of Auschwitz and other death camps were a shocking reminder of what had happened not that long before. The slogan “Never Again” was popularised and for me came to embrace much more than concentration camps, as I hated the whole idea of war as well — especially the mindless death mill of the Western Front in the First World War and the millions of civilian casualties in the Second, along with the wholesale destruction of historic cities, their art and civilization. That is why I became such a strong supporter of the European Union — the European Project — as it developed, creating a Europe in which Never Again could be a reality, though on the fringes of the EU terrible things did happen, such as the massacre of young Muslims by Serbs at Srebrenica in 1995.

bosnia intenment cmpGenocide has reared its head in many parts of the world, from the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia to the machete slaughter of Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda. That is why Holocaust Memorial Day is so important, to remind us constantly of the barbarity that can be part of the human condition unless people are educated and structures put in place to make it impossible. I have often heard people in Britain saying complacently that it could never happen here, but such confidence is misplaced. Had the Nazis occupied mainland Britain I am sure they would have found some people willing to help them with their dirty work. If you don’t believe me, look at the hatred on the faces of some of the far right demonstrators who have taken to the streets in recent months, their intimidation of people they disagree with and the callous attitude to refugees and migrants rising their lives to get into Europe or across the Channel into Britain. “Let them drown!” I have heard people say, their “patriotic” sense of entitlement driving them to repel all boarders, cheered on by the more disgusting elements of the popular Press. For some Brits, “migrants” are not human, and once you start to dehumanise groups of people you have started on the slippery slope that can lead to genocide. The evidence is there; it has happened before.

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Remembering Paddy Ashdown

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 23rd December, 2018

85F45194-2F0C-4119-85D7-EDB22A8486DBI first met Paddy Ashdown, who died yesterday from cancer at the age of 77, in a queue for coffee at a Liberal Party Assembly (probably his first?), some time after he had been adopted as candidate for what was assumed to be the “safe” Conservative seat of Yeovil, in Somerset. He had the advantage of having put down roots in the area and of being eminently presentable. Only later would we all learn of his exotic background in India and elsewhere, his sterling service in the Special Boat Service and the Diplomatic Corps (possibly with an MI6 sideline). He was quite diffident at this stage and eager to learn. He thought it would take three elections to crack Yeovil, but in fact he did it in two, seizing the seat in 1983, the year that the great anticipated Liberal-SDP Alliance breakthrough failed to happen, mainly because of Mrs Thatcher’s fortitude and good luck in the Falklands War. The Liberal Democrat Party emerged out of the wreckage of the Alliance; Paddy would have preferred we rebrand ourselves as the Democrats, clearly underestimating the affection many Liberals had for their long tradition and values.

00280C49-71D1-42FE-A736-E5E1D0BD1818When David Steel’s leadership of the Party ceased to be really tenable, Paddy threw his hat into the ring, emerging triumphant in 1988. But triumphant over what? The Party’s standing in the opinion polls was so low that it once appeared as an asterisk — so minimal as to be within the margin of error of non-existent. Undeterred, he sought to rebuild it with the same military determination that must have helped him in Borneo. He was aided by a string of by-election gains in southern Tory seats, masterminded by Chris Rennard, and he established weekly meetings of an advisory group (inevitably, but misleadingly, dubbed the “kitchen Cabinet”), which foregathered early in the morning in his office. I was a member of this, each time rushing off afterwards to fulfill my work obligations at BBC World Service radio. I was impressed initially by how he did listen to other voices, but as time went on, he would become less tolerant of dissent, even impatient. This would eventually come to a head when he entered a political bromance with Tony Blair, which stuck in the craw of many of us who had had to deal with the nasty side of the Labour Party in the North.

7619CB55-4509-445A-932D-BBB8D58E5C87Blair’s landslide win in 1997 put paid to any possibility of a Lib-Lab coalition or working relationship, and Paddy started to look elsewhere for opportunities to use his talents. He had asked me to put him in touch with my literary agent, who placed his first book based on fact-finding visits he had made round the countr when he assumed the Party leadership, but later he would go on to produce much more substantial works, including volumes of diaries and military history. By then he had also moved into a new sphere as High Representative to Bosnia-Herzogovina, with plenipotentiary powers, which he clearly savoured. Later he made good use of being part of that anachronistic but often valuable institution, the House of Lords. I would run into him in Parliament or at various occasions and he would reminisce over all that had happened over the past four decades since our first meeting— often with a little cheeky side-remark in Mandarin Chinese, which we had both studied as young men and which created its own, special bond.

 

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Mladic, Serbia and the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 29th May, 2011

The arrest of former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic is a significant step towards the normalisation of Serbia’s relations with the rest of Europe and the country’s eventual accession to membership of the European Union. Belgrade had come under considerable criticism from some quarters for allegedly not doing enough to track down the man accused of responsibility for war crimes, notably the killing of an estimated 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in Bosnia in 1995. Following the discovery of Mladic — looking considerably aged and weakened — in a village in northern Serbia (some of whose residents must have known he was there) opens the way to his being tried in The Hague. Mladic’s son insists his father was not guilty of ordering the Srebrenica massacre. It will be for the Court to decide. Certainly, there are some Serbian nationalists who still believe Mladi to be a hero, not a war criminal, as witnessed by the crowd which demonstrated outside the parliament building in Belgrade this evening. Meanwhile, to the relief of Serbia’s President, Boris Tadic, the end to the 16-year manhunt removes an obstacle in the way of Serbia’s EU membership. European integration has been a top priority for the Serbian government since it was elected in 2008. The following year, the European Commission in Brussels proposed visa liberalisation for Serbs. Just how many years it will take for Serbia to be allowed into the EU, however, is another matter, not just because of the rate of progress in accession negotiations but also because of the outstanding issue of Serbia’s non-recognition of the independence of the breakaway, predominantly ethnic Albanian province of Kosovo. There is also a certain enlargement fatigue among some of the EU’s current member states. Moreover, some other countries in the Western Balkans — notably Croatia — feel that they deserve to be let in first. One way or another, though, it does seem that most constituent parts of former Yugoslavia will follow Slovenia’s lead and inegrate into the Union, which is a development that should be welcomed.

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