Dr Reid’s Cordial and Cordiale relationships with Serb leaders

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Dr John Reid

Dr John Reid

In the film Sleepy Hollow, Johnny Depp’s character, Ichabad Crane makes the prescient observation: ‘Villainy wears many masks, none of which so dangerous as virtue’.

Thanks to a recent Private Eye for this reminder: “In 1993, during his (Reid) drinking days, he spent three days as Kardzic’s guest…. at a luxury hotel in Geneva – freebie he forgot to declare in the register of members’ interests”.

The reference is to our new Home Secretary Dr John Reid – in a period that lies smack in the middle of the Bosnian Tragedy (1991 – 1995). At the time he was shadow defence minister.

Digging a bit deeper into the archives, we find that the freebie took place at the five star Le Richemond Hotel on the shores of Lake Geneva – one of the most prestigious in the city.

Brendan Simms, the Cambridge academic and editor of the fine ‘Unfinest Hour: Britain And The Destruction of Bosnia’ provides a kind explanation- “he [Dr Reid] mistook the Bosnian Serb project as the inheritor of the united Communist ideal”. Surely for Reid’s generation of fifty-somethings, the communist ideal should have gone out of the window in 1968 when the Soviet tanks rolled into Prague! One must have been quite a fundamentalist to hold on to communism after Dubcek’s fall!

Digging deeper still into the archives one finds a letter published in the Sunday Times on 6 July 1997 that is is very revealing. Written by Carole Hodge and Mladen Grbin of the Institute of Russian & East European Studies in Glasgow, it referred to ‘free trips’ by MPs to the Balkans: “the apparent breach of parliamentary rules might, in the final count, be less critical than the effect these senior Labour MPs, then the Labour Defence team (and the MP Robert Wareing, in whose company they visited Bosnia on another occassion, at the expense of the Serbian government), may have had on Labour’s Balkans policy during its years in opposition. Despite considerable back-bench pressure from Labour MPs for military intervention to end the war in Bosnia, the Labour front bench was largely bi-partisan, supporting Conservative government resistance to air strikes from as early as 1991. Surely this calls for an open and thorough investigation into the Serb lobby in Westminster since 1991″.

Dr Reid’s host in Geneva in 1993, Radovan Kardzic, was ‘president’ of the Bosnian Serb administration based in Pale during the Bosnian war. The UN war crimes tribunal’s indictment reads, ‘RADOVAN KARADZIC and RATKO MLADIC, from April 1992, in the territory of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, by their acts and omissions, committed genocide’. Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat civilians were persecuted on national, political and religious grounds throughout the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Thousands of them were interned in detention facilities where they were subjected to widespread acts of physical and psychological abuse and to inhumane conditions. ‘ between April 1992 and July 1995, in the territory of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, by their acts and omissions, and in concert with others, committed a crime against humanity by persecuting Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat civilians on national, political and religious grounds’.

Dr Reid’s travelling companion referred to in the Sunday Times letter, the MP Bob Wareing, once famously remarked that Bosnia-Herzegovina was merely ‘a geographical expression’ i.e. not a distinct cultural and ethnic polity. Mr Wareing remembers a trip to the region with Dr Reid. The two were in Northern Bosnia: ‘Before we left – -and they were still digging -there were more than 40 bodies of Serbs and some Muslims who had been murdered when the Croats occupied that part of northern Bosnia three to six months before. I will never forget it’. But what happened? The media in this country did not want to know. The present Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, North and Bellshill (Dr. Reid), who was with me, reported it to a Scottish newspaper’. Mr Wareing’s suggestion is that in his view, and Reid’s, the British media was partisan because it gave more prominence to Bosnian Muslim suffering!

Fancy that! The Serbian-apologists of yesteryear are the Rumsfeld-Bush apologists of today. Any expectations of contrition?

Ah yes! Something more from the archives: On 20 June 1997, The Independent reported that “Bob Wareing, the Labour MP for Liverpool West Derby, was suspended by the party over allegations that he created a consultancy to lobby on behalf of a Serbian steel company which at the time was on a United Nations sanctions list”.