Obituary: US diplomat Richard C Holbrooke, Bosnia’s broker

Article published on Dec. 14, 2010
Article published on Dec. 14, 2010
The young aspiring journalist, eighties banker and current US ‘Af-Pak’ (Afghanistan and Pakistan) special envoy has died aged 69 in Washington on 13 December. Snapshot of a man who helps us trace American interest in Europe through his time working with four democrat presidents. For young Europe it's the passing of a man who was a part of so many lives but yet not at all

Tributes to the American diplomat, who suffered a torn aorta whilst in a meeting with friend and colleague, US state secretary Hillary Clinton, have poured in from all tiers of Europe. British politicians David Miliband and William Hague have tweeted and hailed a man who personified US foreign policy. Holbrooke served as a civilian in Vietnam (1962-1969), Morocco (1970-1976) and was a US convoy to Kosovo and Cyprus in the late nineties, where he was quickly exasperated by the complexities of Cyprus EU membership over Turkey's.

Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic sent his condolences from prison in the Hague. He is being held for war crimes during the Bosnian war of the early nineties. Courrier des Balkans, a French-language media focused on the Balkans, bring him into Holbrooke's story, making a point of reminding us how the latter claimed the negotiater had promised him he’d be 'safe' if he left politics. The Spanish blog reaction is on a ‘man who knew how to negotiate’. Like other commentators around him Ramón Lobo (El Pais) describes Holbrooke as a 'choleric, intimidating man obsessed by information, with blue-iced eyes and a tough, serious voice'. Holbrooke was a man who negotiated with evil, runs most consensus.

Yet whilst in general most are apathetic, one young Bosnian who was a child travelling around the country during the war when Holbrooke brokered the Dayton peace accords in Paris in 1995 describes having a feeling of that ‘nasty relative who has died’. Holbrooke remains relatively unknown in Germany, where he helped found the American Academy in Berlin as a cultural exchange centre; he was ambassador between 1993-1995. The diplomat was born in New York to German-Jewish and Russian-Jewish parents. He leaves behind his third wife Kati Morton, an America which will miss his reputation and a young Europe which is still making up its mind.