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When the Life of the Party Became Ambassador to France

An effective diplomat, dazzling socialite, and the mother of Winston Churchill’s grandson, Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman won the respect of fellow diplomats and adroitly handled complex problems related to the war in the Balkans, export subsidies, and intellectual property rights during her tenure as U.S. Ambassador to France from 1993-1997. Richard Holbrooke said of her service in Paris: “She spoke the language, she knew the country; she knew its leadership. She was one of the best ambassadors that ever served the United States.”

Pamela Beryl Digby was born in England in March 20, 1920. The daughter of a baron, she was well-educated and moved in prominent circles from a young age. At 19, she married Randolph Churchill. She soon became the confidante of his father, Winston Churchill, and through him she met the administrator of the lend-lease program, Averell Harriman, whom she would marry 30 years later. Together, the Harrimans worked to raise millions of dollars and rebuild the Democratic Party in the 1980’s. Pamela Harriman played such an important role that one biographer called her the “Life of the Party.” Read more

Operation Storm — The Battle for Croatia, 1995

After the fall of Yugoslavia in the early 1990’s, the Balkans descended into a bloody ethnic and sectarian conflict. Although there were roughly six discrete Yugoslav conflicts, the first major war was the Croatian War for Independence. Starting in 1991, when Croatia declared its independence as a nation-state, the war was fought between forces loyal to the Croats and the Serb-controlled JNA (Yugoslav People’s Army). The JNA initially tried to keep Croatia within Yugoslavia by occupying all of Croatia. After this failed, Serb forces established the self-proclaimed Republic of Serbian Krajina (RSK) within Croatia. After the ceasefire of January 1992 and international recognition of the Republic of Croatia as a sovereign state, the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) was established and combat became largely intermittent in the following three years. Read more

Getting Kosovo Right: Working to Avoid Another Bosnia

Yugoslavia had long been a simmering caldron of ethnic and nationalist tensions. After the death of Yugoslav strongman Josip Broz Tito, the thin ties keeping the country together began to fray. Kosovo Albanians demanded that their autonomous province be upgraded to a constituent republic. Serbs in turn saw the high autonomy of the provinces and the weakness at the federal level as inimical to Serbian interests.

Slobodan Milošević came to power in Serbia in 1987 and was able to gain de facto control over Kosovo. In 1990 separatist parties won victories in Yugoslavia’s first multi-party elections and in 1991-92, Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina proclaimed independence. After a string of inter-ethnic incidents, the Yugoslav Wars ensued, first in Croatia and then, most severely, in multi-ethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina. (Photo: Reuters) Read more

Srebrenica and the Horrors of the Balkan War

The break-up of Yugoslavia caused some of the most heinous human rights violations and ethnic mass killings seen in the 70 years since the end of World War II. On July 11-13, 1995 the world stood by as Serbian forces under the command of Ratko Mladic systematically rounded up Bosnian and Croat boys and men and executed them in their campaign of “ethnic cleansing.” The atrocities committed in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, in which over 8000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed over the period of two days by Serbian forces, were the catalyst for the escalation of American and NATO efforts to end the Bosnian War.

The most heartbreaking aspect of the massacre at Srebrenica was that it could have been prevented:  with better communication between UN peacekeepers and NATO, with UN nations more willing to contribute troops to prevent Serbian forces from murdering Bosnians, and with greater comprehension of the genocide being carried out by Mladic and the rest of the leadership of the Republika Sprska (VRS). Read more

The Nazi Invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece

Axis military efforts in the Balkans, compared with the rest of Europe, had not gone well. Italy had invaded Greece in October 1940 but was pushed back into Albania. Germany then put pressure on Yugoslavia to join the Axis, as Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria had done earlier. Prince Regent Paul of Yugoslavia relented and signed the pact on March 25, 1941.

However, nationalist forces violently opposed the idea and carried out a coup. That led Hitler to view Yugoslavia as a hostile state; he decided to bomb Belgrade in retribution. On April 6, 1941, the Axis Powers (Hungary, Italy, led by Germany) invaded Yugoslavia, killing thousands of civilians and soldiers and capturing another quarter million; Yugoslav forces were unable to stop the bombardments or the advance of ground forces. The invasion ended with the unconditional surrender of the Royal Yugoslav Army on April 17.

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Slobodan Milosevic and the Road to Dayton

Slobodan Milosevic was in many ways a paradoxical figure. Long criticized for being a corrupt opportunist, he could also be engaging and charming. Often described as being a paranoid psychopath, he could quickly swing from the role of staunch Serbian nationalist to conciliatory peacemaker. As Yugoslavia disintegrated in the early 1990’s, leading to violent conflict, the United States began to view the protean Milosevic as the key to reaching a peace agreement in the region.

Rudolf Perina served as Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade from 1993-96 and describes working with Milosevic, who usually worked without a staff and avoided putting anything down on paper. He also details Assistant Secretary (and later lead negotiator) Richard Holbrooke’s early involvement in the Balkans, the tragedy in the making that was Kosovo, and the beginning of talks which would become the basis for the Dayton Peace Accords. He sadly notes the the passing of his colleague, Deputy Assistant Secretary Robert Frasure, who died with two others in a car crash on the road to Belgrade. Read more

Negotiating the Dayton Peace Accords

During the 1990s, the world witnessed the worst conflict since the end of World War II.  The violence, bloodshed and ethnic cleansing within the Former Yugoslavia was unthinkable. The conflict began after Bosnia and Herzegovina declared its independence on February 29, 1992. As a result, a group of Bosnian Serbs rebelled and created their own republic, the Republika Srpska. With the support of Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic, the Bosnian Serbs gained territory throughout three years of killing and ethnic cleansing. Fighting ensued for several years between Bosnian Croats, Bosnian Serbs and Muslims.  After the events and widespread media coverage of the shelling of a Sarajevo marketplace, the Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys, and the capture of UN peacekeepers as hostages, the goal of a successful peace agreement became imperative. Read more

Secretary Ron Brown’s Plane Crashes in Croatia

On April 3rd, 1996, just before the Easter holiday, Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown was killed in a plane crash in Croatia. He was 54 years old. He was on a trip to Dubrovnik, flying from Zagreb to meet with President Franjo Tuđman on an official trade mission. Brown had offered to make the trip on behalf of President Bill Clinton as the President’s schedule was very tight and Brown was available. The crash occurred as the pilot attempted to land at Dubrovnik’s Cilipi Airport on visual flight rules in severe weather. The plane crashed into a mountainside; Ron Brown and 34 other people were killed instantly. Only Air Force Technical Sergeant Shelly Kelly was able to survive the impact; however, she died on her way to the hospital. In March 2011, the new United States Mission to the United Nations building in New York City was named in Brown’s honor (see photo below).  Read more

A House of Cards – The Collapse of Yugoslavia

Over a bloody three years, hundreds of thousands of Europeans were dislocated, imprisoned, raped, tortured, starved and massacred as an amoral dictator pursued an agenda of ethnic cleansing and carved out a homeland for his own people. Half a century after Adolf Hitler brought the word genocide into the global vocabulary, Slobodan Milosevic and his fellow ethnic Serbs launched a campaign of extermination against the Muslims and Croats living within the nascent country of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The violence grew from the ruins of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, a conglomeration of Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks, Slovenians, Albanians, Macedonians, Slovaks and other ethnic groups united under a single flag.

Yugoslavia collapsed when the growth of nationalism inflamed ethnic tensions to the point that, on June 25, 1991, regions with Croat and Slovene majorities declared independence for the nations of Croatia and Slovenia.

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The War in Bosnia and the Moral Dilemma of Refugees

The Bosnian War, which began April 5, 1992, was the result of the breakup of Yugoslavia. Pressure began to build in Bosnia-Herzegovina in February 1992 after the government passed a referendum for independence from Yugoslavia, which further exacerbated ethnic tensions in the already tense territory. Bosnian Serbs, who wished to be united in a Greater Serbia, boycotted the referendum and launched an attack on the capital city of Sarajevo after Bosnia declared its independence. The Croats and the Bosniaks possessed their own forces and the three competed in a bloody battle for dominance over the territory. One of the conflict’s tragic features was ethnic cleansing, which was carried out primarily by the Bosnian Serbs, though all sides were guilty of it to some degree. Read more