HURD BURIES THE SERBIAN HATCHET
by Francis Wheen
The Guardian, London, 4 September 1996
When Douglas Hurd took up a job with the National Westminster Bank last year, only three months after retiring as Foreign Secretary, I was rather puzzled. Not by the indecent haste with which he scampered off into a City boardroom -- that's par for the course these days --but by his apparent lack of qualifications. In his long and undistinguished career he had been a cane-wielding prefect at Eton, a suave Foreign Office mandarin, an even suaver Foreign Office minister and an author of fair-to-middling political thrillers. But his experience of high finance was precisely nil. What, then, could he offer his new employers that would justify a salary of £250,000?
Now we know. On July 24, in his capacity as deputy chairman of NatWest Markets, Hurd enjoyed a "discreet breakfast" in Belgrade with Slobodan Milosevic, the president of Serbia. NatWest has been hired to prepare the Serbian post and telephone system, PTT, for privatisation -- which should earn the bank a fee of more than $10million. For good measure, it has also won a contract to adviseMilosevic’s government on debt management.
"Hurd came to thank Milosevic personally for the business," a source in Belgrade told the Sunday Telegraph, "and he did this because NatWest wants to scoop up forthcoming privatisations in the electricity and oil sectors which will be worth millions." Accompanying Hurd on the trip was another newly-recruited NatWest executive, Dame Pauline Neville-Jones -- who was, until very recently, political director of the Foreign Office and attended last November's peace talks in Dayton, Ohio, as the senior British representative from the so-called Contact Group. Balkan experts remember her from Dayton as a "very tough" negotiator who was continually pushing the Bosnians to accept the de facto partition of their nation.
Now, only a few months later, she turns up in Belgrade as a client of Milosevic. The Belgrade breakfast was, by all accounts, a convivial affair -- a gathering of old chums quietly neglecting the past while toasting the future, rather like the characters in James Fenton's poem, A German Requiem: "It is not what they built. It is what they knocked down. It is not the houses. It is the spaces between the houses...It is not what you have written down.It is what you have forgotten, what you must forget. What you must go on forgetting all your life." How comforting it is, Fenton concludes, "to get together rand forget the old times...Grief must have its term? Guilt too, then. And it seems there is no limit to the resourcefulness of recollection."
Hurd is certainly a resourceful chap. While breaking bread with Milosevic, he probably managed to suppress any recollection of hi svisit to Belgrade two years earlier -- when he claimed to have delivered a "very frank" ultimatum to the president, warning him of "disastrous consequences" if he failed to persuade the Bosnian Serbs to accept the latest peace plan. No doubt Hurd had also expunged any memory of his confident prediction, as long ago as January 1993, that sanctions would soon force Milosevic from power; and I'm sure his host was far too polite to mention it.
Besides, the Serbian leader knows better than most that politicians are not on oath when issuing official statements. For public consumption, Britain and its allies had to pretend they were taking a hard line against Milosevic: they could hardly do otherwise, since it was he who started the war and sponsored the ethnic cleansing. But in private, as the American envoy Lawrence Eagleburger has admitted,Western governments understood perfectly well that the Serbian president's position would be strengthened, not weakened, by sanctions.
Hurd himself came close to a similar confession in April 1993, when he wrote an extraordinary letter to the Daily Telegraph explaining why the arms embargo against Bosnia should not be lifted. Although "at first sight it seems an act of justice", he argued, in practice it would merely create a "level killing field". The only possible inference to be drawn was that he preferred an uneven killing field, on which Milosevic provided the Bosnian Serbs with troops and weapons while the Bosnian government had to make do with whatever equipment it could buy on the black market or grab from captured enemy soldiers. Confirming this interpretation, Hurd said that allowing the Bosnians to defend themselves would "only prolong the fighting". More tellingly still, he adopted the Serb lexicon of cant -- referring to the Bosnians as "the Muslims" and describing the fighting as a "civilwar".
It was nothing of the kind: the Bosnians were defending their sovereign state from an invasion masterminded by a genocidal and expansionist neighbour -- a Balkan version of Saddam Hussein, if you like. The main difference is that the Butcher of Baghdad can scarcely blow his nose without incurring the threat of a retaliatory air-strike from the Western allies, whereas the Butcher of the Balkans was treated as a responsible statesman who should be indulged and flattered at every turn.
Still, I expect that even Saddam has his redeeming features. When the present fuss has died down, perhaps the super-salesman from NatWest markets should try touting for business in Baghdad. If so, he oughtto take along someone who knows a thing or two about trading with Iraq. The ideal candidate would be the senior civil servant who prepared John Major's evidence to the Scott inquiry. Her name? Dame Pauline Neville-Jones.
© The Guardian 1996
Daily Mail, Wednesday, November 6, 1996
The grandee and a question of genocide
by Noel Malcom
DOUGLAS HURD is such a busy man these days. Since he stepped down from the Foreign Office last year, he has been leading the life of a (part-time) international banker on a salary of more than 200,000 english pounds, jetting round the world, meeting mass-murderers such as Slobodan Milosevic and offering them his help.
But he did find time on Monday to join Kenneth Baker in a chorus of disapproval over Home Secretary Michael Howard's Plans for tougher sentencing. The two Tory Grandees, both former Home Secretaries, were united in their attack. How high-minded.
What a contrast to the "working breakfast" which Mr Hurd recently enjoyed in Serbia with President Slobodan Milosevic, the man widely known as the Butcher of Belgrade. It was technically quite legal and above board. It was defended on those grounds.Yet armed forces directed, funded or assisted by Mr Milosevic have murdered more than l00,000 people - some of them in concentration camps - raped thousands of women and destroyed many tens of thousands of homes.
When the story broke that Mr Hurd was leading the negotiations by his bank to privatise Serbian Telecom and one or two other industries in Belgrade, he responded to his critics with an air of ever-so-slightly wounded surprise.
Surely it was a good thing, he said, that, Milosevic was starting to "liberalise and privatise", instead of keeping Serbia as an old style communist system. In which case, he said, it followed that 'we were entirely justified in gaining this legitimate bussines for NatWest Markets and for Britain'. Reading that anyone who knows the real facts of economic and political life in Serbia will wonder whether to laugh or cry.
If Mr Hurd seriously thinks that Milosevic is seriously interested in developing a liberal, Western style system in his country he must have spent the past five years living on a different planet (or, what is much the same thing, in the British Foreign Office). Milosevic is a classic representative of the old-style communist system. His political party, the Socialist Party of Serbia, is the old Communist Party: the only things that have changed are the name and a little of the rhetorc.
Far from being a believer in privatisation, Mr Milosevic is one of the few people in eastern Europe:to have actually takenover important industries during, the past few years, putting what had previously been self-managing companies under more direct state control.
These moves were presented at the time as emergency war-time measures but they were reconfirmed by special decree as recently as December 1995, after the war had ended.
It is true that various new companies and private banks have sprung up in Serbia in recent years. Many were scams and Mafia-style operations. Some were fronts put up with the help of Milosevic's government, either to evade sanctions or to channel funds to the paramilitary gangs which he sponsored.
Much of Serbia's offshore trading activity was transfered into thc hands of a mysterious company, 'Karic Brothers' which is now one of the biggest enterprises in the Balkans.
Who exactly were these brothers? Not whizkid financiers Fresh from Harvard Business School, but friends of Milosevic who had previously formed a folk-music band in the provincial town of Nish.
The Karic brothers are taking a controlling stake in Serbian Telecom's new cellular phone system, so Mr Hurd will probably end up negotiating, with them, too.The only reason why Milosevic talks of privatising industries now is to gain a life-saving injection of cash to preserve his political power.
A man of complete ruthlessness, he has worked ceaslessly for ten years to concentrate power into his own hands: crushing up; opposition building up a private army of military-style police and launching a bloody war for power and teritory against Croatia and Bosnia.Thc scale of Milosevic's responsibility for what happened in Bosnia becomes more and more apperent as further evidence emerges.
When he claimed at the time that it was just a Bosnian internal 'civil war' and had almost nothing to do with him, few people appeared to believe him.
One of the few was Douglas Hurd, who constantly misrepresented the war in those terms and insisted on maintaining an arms embargo which prevented the victims from defending themselves. This policy made Britain popular in Belgrade, hated in the Moslem world, disliked by key NATO allies (America and Germany), and distrusted by a wide range of other east European states.
In fact, Milosevic continued to fund and support the Serb military forces in Bosnia throughout the war. Units of his own army were involved in every single attack on a UN-designated `safe area' including last July's seizure of Srebrenica, which ended in the cold-blooded massacre of 11,000 men.
The first wave of 'ethnic cleansing' in Bosnia was conducted by the Yugoslav army, under Milosevic's direct control, and by paramilitary gangs which had been given money and training by government agencies in Serbia. Thousands of Peaceful Moslem and Croat villagers died in those early attacks. Survivors were then herded into concentration camps, where women were systematically raped and men were beaten to death with iron bars or decapitated with chain saws. In one attested case, a man bled to death after a wire had been tied round his testicles and his other end attached to a motorcycle which was driven off at high speed.
One senior commander, General Mladic, has been indicted as a war criminal because of what happened at Srebrenica. Already, as a detailed report by two leading American annalysts has demonstrated, there is enough evidence to frame an indictment of Mladic's paymaster and sponsor, Slobodan Milosevic.
If Milosevic ever stands trial, will he call Banker Hurd as a character witness? Personally, if I had any shares in NatWest, I would sell them now. I sold my shares in Douglas Hurd's credibility a long time ago.