I have opened a new writing flank with the fine US diplomatic publication Diplomatic Courier.

Here is my first piece. It tells the tragic tale of the Franco-German speech disaster in Sarajevo in 1997, beginning as it mesans to continue:

All happy speeches are alike. All unhappy speeches are different in their own particular way…

The horrible fiasco then unfolds:

… Védrine and his team have given no proper thought to how best to deliver his speech to such a big audience that is standing up and mainly does not understand French. He delivers his speech in dull and wordy long paragraphs, leaving the interpreter a tricky job in remembering and conveying in Bosnian everything he has said in equally dull and wordy long paragraphs.

His speech meanders on. After a while people at the back of the room not unreasonably conclude that Védrine and the interpreter are saying nothing to interest them, and they start chatting quietly among themselves.

This creates a disconcerting effect across the audience as a whole. Those standing immediately in front of the two speakers have no choice but to pretend to listen politely. More and more people at the back of the room decide to ignore the speaker completely and start talking. Those in the middle start to feel uncomfortable. As does Herr Kinkel, watching in dismay as the proud European message of his distinguished colleague is ignored by a small but steadily growing part of the audience.

After about 20 minutes of platitudes Védrine’s speech ends, to fitful applause. Herr Kinkel takes over. Unfortunately for him, his speech too has been written to be delivered in lengthy passages in German followed by lengthy passages in Bosnian spoken by the interpreter. This way of handling consecutive translation for a speech dooms from the start any hope of creating a sense of conversation between speaker and audience.

By now the massed Bosnians at the back of the room have given up on the occasion and are talking openly among themselves. Herr Kinkel gets visibly angry at this open Balkan disrespect for Modern Europe. He raises his voice to try to bring everyone to listen to him.

Bosnians are made of stern stuff and have long memories of Nazi atrocities in World War Two. They tend to be unimpressed when Germans talk loudly at them. The louder Herr Kinkel talks, the louder the Bosnians talk.

A ghastly sonic arms race ensues. Herr Kinkel is determined to drown out the insolent Bosnians. The bored Bosnians are no less keen to drown out that German man at the other end of the room spoiling the reception by making such an annoying noise.

My subsequent reporting telegram to London recorded this amazing scene:

It also is striking how diplomatically ineffective our main European partners seem here. The Védrine/Kinkel visit here last week seemed to sum things up, in presentational terms at least. At the large Holiday Inn reception for the visitors with a top-level turnout of Bosnian, Serb, and Croat leaders, Védrine’s tame speech was the normal Dayton platitudes. Kinkel delivered an energetic address on the general lines of ‘We have done a lot for you! You shall be grateful! And cooperate!’

Stirring stuff, but not enough to enthuse the Bosnian audience, many of whom rudely carried on talking among themselves while it was delivered.

All in all, a grimly instructive diplomatic fiasco…

Read the whole thing.