Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Denunciation by posters

It was good to wake up this morning to the news that Radavan Karadzic has finally been arrested, and will soon be on trial for genocide and other war crimes at the Hague. It brought back for me the memory of our second year in Geneva, when it was the locus of attempts to bring the Bosnian war to an end. There'd been some pretty turbulent demonstrations, and suddenly there were barbed wire barricades and armed guards in battledress patrolling outside all U.N. offices across the city. It gave the city a very different feel from normal - from sober to sombre - a sense of brooding unease at this city of peace taking on the countenance of a war zone. The war was happening in reality just over an hour's flight away. There were many Yugoslavian refugees and well as diplomats and politicians from every faction.

What took me by surprise in that period was the appearance of Karadic's face on huge billboards attached to lamp posts lining several of the broad avenues of the UN campus. These usually advertised major cultural or sporting events. The legend on them read : "Criminal da la guerre" Someone with a lot of money to spare (advertising on that scale in that place is never cheap) had succeeded in hiring the space to denounce the man, at a time when the international community was not yet fully aware of what he and his cronies were up to politically. Everyone knew he was a hard man with lots of military muscle backing him and lots of blustering rhetoric. The siege of Sarajevo was happening but how much worse it would get all round was only slowly dawning.

It was a masterly piece of agenda setting publicity. I never found out who was responsible for it or how they got away with running the campaign in a country whose neutrality as well as its safety and discretion has long made it a desirable place to negotiate the things of peace. I wonder how they got away with it?

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