A Conversation With Carl Bildt

A while back, I interviewed the most enigmatic diplomat in the world: Carl Bildt. Mr. Bildt has served as Sweden’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, and held a number of posts in the Balkans, including as the EU’s Special Envoy to the former Yugoslavia, Co-Chairman of the Dayton Peace Conference in 1995, and the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1995 – 1997. He also served as the UN’s Special Envoy to the Balkans from 1999-2001.

Many people are aware that Mr. Bildt has had a distinguished career in the Balkans, but it’s on Twitter that he truly becomes an enigma. His whimsical tweets from airport tarmacs, his ability to strip every sentence of any shred of nuance, and his talent for elevating diplomatic vagueness to high art are all fascinating, even if you find yourself disagreeing with some of what he says. In short, Carl Bildt is an indisputably great Twiplomat, and was also generous enough to give me some of his time and sharp thoughts. I hope that someday, someone builds an AI bot or an art installation based on his poetic tweets about Balkan elections and Baltic Security. 

You became an advisor to an investment group run by the second-richest oligarch in Russia in 2015. Publicly, you’re an outspoken critic of the Kremlin. Some see this as a conflict of interest. How do you see it?

Yes, I occasionally give advice to them as well. And I don’t evaluate people according to the regime of the country they are from. I have numerous Russian friends, and great appreciation for what many of them are doing. But in no way would I make them responsible for the policies of President Putin. It was possible to have Serb friends even during the times of Milosevic and Karadzic.

Some people view you as a sort of anti-Olof Palme, another former Swedish PM who worked in the former Yugoslavia. What was your relationship with Palme? How do you see his legacy?

I wasn’t aware that he had worked in former Yugoslavia. On the international stage, he was seen as active mainly with different regimes in the Third World. It was a different time in very many respects. We certainly did have our disagreements, and they related primarily to attitudes and policies versus the Soviet Union. I was proud to be seen as being against the soviet and socialist systems of those times.

You recently wrote that Russia’s refusal to attend a Minsk meeting was a clear “political-propaganda-military build-up to something.” You also said you were “increasingly worried about buildup of tensions in the Balkans. And the perceived weakness of EU and accession makes it more difficult.” What do you hope your followers gain from such tweets, which some have interpreted as vague?

Well, a tweet is just 140 characters, although I sometimes tries to link to text that give more information.

I am worried about the buildup of tension and adversary rhetoric in the Balkans at the moment. Recently in Sarajevo I was surprised by how many times I was asked by ordinary people if I thought that war was coming back. I definitely don’t think so, but the questions made me worried anyhow. Some words exchanged between Zagreb and Belgrade recently have not been entirely constructive, and what’s happening in the Kosovo parliament hasn’t been constructive either – just to take some of the more recent examples.

You recently tweeted that there are no longer any visible scars from the war in Sarajevo. Do you think that’s something ordinary Sarajevo citizens would agree with?

I hope they also appreciate the enormous sums the international community has spent on rebuilding and repairs after the war, perhaps particularly in Sarajevo. There are a couple of buildings that have been left profoundly scared by the war, but they are very few indeed. I remember whole parts of town – particularly some of the suburbs – being almost totally destroyed after the war. Todays they are almost totally rebuilt.

Many people in the Balkans describe the EU as expansionist. Would you?

Certainly not. But I would hope that it’s doors will remain open to those nations willing and able to join. It is my belief that this is in the interest of both the peace and prosperity of our nations.

Cover photo credit: arctic_council/flickr/some rights reserved

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Lily Lynch

Lily is co-founder and editor-in-chief of Balkanist Magazine. She lives in Belgrade, Serbia. https://www.instagram.com/lynch.lily/