The Politics of Appeasement -- Again and Again??

There’s an excellent and moving interview with the British politician Lord Paddy Ashdown in today’s Guardian. He is leaving Bosnia three years after being appointed high representative to Bosnia by the Peace Implementation Council (PIC).

His wide-ranging discussion with Ed Vuillamy is not only a timely survey of the Bosnian conflict, but also testament to his personal involvement with that conflict since the early stages of the war: “I am here because I think it was a terrible sin of the West to allow those years of war.”

Speaking of first visiting Bosnia a decade ago he says: “We who came here saw what was happening, that this was far more than a war in a faraway place. This was a moral imperative, a terrible vision of the future. The generous way of putting it is we were not ready for this. The less generous way is to say “How was it possible to return to the politics of appeasement of the 1930s?”

The parallels with today’s war of ethnic cleansing in Darfur are so clear it is hard not to despair a little (or a lot). I heard that Robert Zellick is going back to Darfur , that will be his second trip and Condelezza Rice has also visited Sudan this year. So the US is in discussion with Khartoum, potentially a positive sign, but let us hope and pray they are not engaged in the politics of appeasement.

Lord Ashdown’s words echo in my ears. Those is us who have been to Sudan and seen what is happening see a terrible vision and feel a moral imperative to act in whatever ways we can to help. I now understand even more clearly why the people who have given me most support in keeping this moral flame alight, are those who lived, worked and suffered in Bosnia. Among them are war correspondents, poets, humanitarian aid workers and Bosnians.

If there is hope for democracy and rebuilt lives among the returnees in Bosnia, I suppose there might be hope for the Sudanese. It has 10 taken years to approach a viable basis for democracy in Bosnia, and Ashdown does make clear that all is far from resolved: “The greatest failure is that although we have created institutions we have not created a civil society”. It is hard to imagine a quick resolution is Sudan. When I was in Chad in October, one veteran aid worker reported that when UN envoy Jan Engelund was there a year ago he had told the refugees they would be home by the next Ramadan. Ramadan is about to end and I saw no evidence they will be home by next year either.

Action and intervention are what is needed. We share a moral obligation to keep this crisis front and center stage. Appeasement is not an option.