The UN’s Failure: An Interview with Tadeusz Mazowiecki

Bernard Osser and Patrick de Saint-Exupery, translated from the French by Marc Romano

In 1989 Tadeusz Mazowiecki, a founding member of Solidarity, was elected the first non-Communist premier of Poland. In August 1992, two years after resigning his premiership, he accepted an appointment as special representative of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in the Yugoslavian conflict. For nearly three years he investigated in the field, eventually publishing eighteen reports. He was the sponsor of many UN initiatives in the war, notably the creation of “safe areas” around Muslim enclaves in Bosnia-Herzegovina. His letter of resignation from this post, dated July 27, 1995, has yet to be released by the United Nations General Secretariat in New York. The following interview was conducted in August for Le Figaro.

When you resigned on July 27, you said that you wanted to teach a “lesson.” What lesson is that?

Tadeusz Mazowiecki: I want to make the leaders of the United Nations think. We have reached a critical point in the former Yugoslavia. In Bosnia, all the rules of international order are being mocked.

The safe areas are the most eloquent example. The UN resolutions that created them are merely scraps of paper. NATO, a much more powerful organization, hasn’t been able to defend them effectively. How can men like Radovan Karadzic, the leader of the Bosnian Serbs, take on the whole world with complete impunity? We are facing a serious setback to the principle of international order.

You don’t believe in the international order anymore?

I have doubts about a great many things today. What is the point of passing seventy-eight resolutions on the former Yugoslavia if not one of them is respected? Can the international community remain silent in the face of an act of aggression? No. Then why do we accept one so easily in the case of Bosnia?

Another question: Can I, in Poland, feel secure in the wake of these events? The towns of Srebrenica and Zepa have been abandoned. Who says Poland won’t also be abandoned one day?

From the very beginning of your human rights mission in the former Yugoslavia you knew that your assignment was risky. Nevertheless, you remained there as the UN’s representative for three years. Why did you finally resign?

At first I didn’t know. It took time. The international community’s acceptance of the fait accompli took place by stages, and I often declared my opposition to it. Don’t forget that the creation of the safe areas was one of my suggestions. As soon as they started being attacked I very clearly stated that not enough was being done to defend them.

But at the time we were in the midst of international chaos. The situation was very serious: at the London conference [on July 21], no one was in agreement. The result: We drew a “red line” around Gorazde and Sarajevo, but we didn’t say a word about Srebrenica and we started mourning for Zepa in advance. And yet Zepa was still resisting—it took a whole week after the London conference was over for the…

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