The Foreign Service Journal - March 2014 - page 35

MARCH 2014
Is it possible that the various ethnic
groups in the Balkans might finally
be in the process of overcoming
the region’s fractious history?
he late-model Audi, its left rear-view
mirror smashed, surged past a put-
tering Zastava on a dark, lonely road
outside Struga, Macedonia. The driver,
a boisterous Serb named Aleksandr,
talked loudly and blasted pop music by
Ceca, the wife of the Serb war criminal
universally known as Arkan (Željko
Ražnatovi). It was small comfort to be
up front, rather than squashed by the three passengers already
in the back seat.
Aleksandr boasted that he was taking us to “the best club” in
neighboring Ohrid. Fearful it would be a strip bar populated by
James Snyder is a former member of the NATO international staff. This
article is adapted from his book,
The United States and the Challenge
of Public Diplomacy
(Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). Names have been
changed to protect the identities of those who spoke with the author.
trafficked girls from the region, I had no idea what I had gotten
myself into after Aleksandr cornered me halfway to dinner at the
hotel and insisted that I join him and his friends.
I was relieved to learn that the club was a sedate restaurant
with the local equivalent of a mariachi band. Four men (two
guitarists, a fiddler and an accordionist) played old Balkan folk
songs for hire. An elated Aleksandr quickly ordered a round of
potent rakia brandy, and joined the players in the performance.
I was happy to see acquaintances from the conference I was
attending in Struga: a Bulgarian doctoral student, the Macedo-
nian foreign ministry’s chef de cabinet, a Croatian official, an
Albanian member of parliament and a Greek brigadier general. I
had a couple of brandies with them, relaxed and began to enjoy
Most of the patrons knew each other because they had piled
onto a bus together on their way to the NATO summit in Istanbul
in 2004—an experience they remember fondly if they remember
it at all; by most accounts it was well-liquored. In Istanbul they
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