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Ambassador no.26

The special one

Sarajevo [PETER SØRENSEN]

The walk to work has become a lot more interesting for Peter Sørensen since the start of the year. The EU special representative to Bosnia and Herzegovina now passes smoke-blackened buildings in the capital, Sarajevo, that protesters set alight in February. He sees demonstrations against the country’s complicated, ethnically divided system that – two decades on from the end of the war – has enriched politicians but left most Bosnians in the economic doldrums. And he can hardly miss the placards asking the EU for help.

Given the history of international intervention, Bosnia is not a place where someone in Sørensen’s position can fly below the radar. The former handball player from Denmark is a high-profile figure in the country, taking an active role in national affairs. “That’s the difference between being a special representative and an ambassador,” he says.

A media scrum moves in as he plants a lime tree at the riverside Ambassadors’ Alley; reporters want to know if Sørensen can help dig Bosnia out of its current hole. He certainly knows his way around the western Balkans, with previous postings in Kosovo, Serbia, Croatia and Macedonia before he arrived in Sarajevo in 2011.

“I like the way of life here,” he says. “People are friendly, they like good food and cracking jokes. But when you get into politics it becomes a different story.” Understandable, given the dizzyingly complex set-up in Bosnia. The Dayton peace accord ended the war in 1995 but it also left this country of barely four million people with three presidents and 14 prime ministers, spread across two “ethnic entities”.

With Bosnia now targeting EU membership, the special representative is at the forefront of the movement for change. “My challenge is to snap it out of that environment into the next phase,” says Sørensen. “Doing the reforms that would take Bosnia from a post-crisis country to a pre-accession country. That’s a complete change of thinking.”

In common with many in Bosnia, sport is Sørensen’s pressure valve. He takes his sons to handball matches and is savouring the national football team’s forthcoming World Cup debut. “Perhaps we will be in the news for something other than conflict,” he says.

The embassy
Purpose built in 2008, the EU delegation’s headquarters is in the central Sarajevo area of Skenderija, just steps from the Miljacka river and Federation parliament building. The eye-catching orange sofa on which monocle interviewed the ambassador arrived by mistake.

The staff
The are 154 people working at the delegation and special representative’s office, 43 of them international. Departments include political, legal, and home affairs & public security.

The challenges
Helping Bosnia along the path to becoming an EU member state. The delegation says this will require a “huge amount of reform across almost every sector”.

Silent partner

India [FOREIGN AFFAIRS]

While smaller countries from Sweden to the UK can punch above their weight diplomatically, few manage as little hit for their heft as India. The world’s biggest democracy will almost certainly have a new external affairs minister this month but whether he or she will have any serious impact remains to be seen.

India is one of the highest contributors of troops to UN peacekeeping forces around the world but its diplomats’ efforts to shape events in house and elsewhere have been negligible. India abstained on a recent UN general assembly vote on the crisis in Ukraine and has a similarly forgettable record on most other major issues that don’t have a direct impact on south Asia. If India wants to be a permanent member of the UN security council it needs to show the rest of the world it actually has something to say. — sjb

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