In January 1990 on the occasion of the belated visit to East Germany by Douglas Hurd (DH), Ambassador Broomfield and I told him that the GDR was finished. He said he would tell Mrs Thatcher she would just have to get used to it.
I was attached to DH for his day in Leipzig, known as the “Hauptstadt der Revolution” (the capital city of the revolution) and a packed series of meetings and interviews. For each of these I had provided DH with a speaking note that I would be confident of interpreting without hesitation. DH stuck to my scripts until the last meeting. This was in the Nikolaikirche. We were on a podium, live on British and German TV. DH began to speak, but not to my script. I felt my knees turn to jelly – the longest 20 seconds of life – until I realised two things. First that I could easliy interpret what he was saying. Second, he would not know whether I had got it right. Apparently I did. He wrote me a very kind letter afterwards.
The second occasion was much less successful. In 2001, I was Wolfgang Petritsch’s deputy (High Representative) in Mostar. By October I was public enemy number one for the Croats, and a hero for the Bosnjaks. I was invited to appear live on a Croat TV talk show.
My passive command of the local language (Bosnian Croatian or Serbian depending on ethnicity) was good. But I could not put across complicated political points. The format, so I had been told, would not be suitable for my interpreter. I would have to rely on them. All became clear when I entered the studio. I sat alone on a chair opposite my hosts. Above my hosts was a TV screen so that I could see myself. They could be heard but not seen. Above my head was a banner with the title of the 1966 Spaghetti western, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” I was Lee van Cleef, not merely bad as in the movie but Evil (Zlo). My answers were correctly translated, but always there was a comment that, as an evil person, I could not be expected to tell the truth. When I remonstrated on departure, that I might be bad but not evil, declining the offer of a post interview drink, they said. It was just our little joke.
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