Chris Cviic: Broadcaster and writer who became a leading expert on Yugoslavia and the Balkans
Friday 04 February 2011
Chris Cviic was a writer and broadcaster who became a leading expert on the former Yugoslavia and the Balkans. Born in Croatia, the son of a businessman, he settled in Britain in 1954. His career took him to the BBC World Service, to St Antony's College, Oxford, to Chatham House and finally to the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, which promotes foreign investment and economic reform in former communist countries.
The early life of Krsto Cviic was not easy. When the Nazis invaded Croatia in 1941, the Gestapo chief for Croatia was billeted in his flat. (The man tried to be friendly – bringing flowers to the flat and even presents for the young Chris. But the Gestapo man was usually out at night, interrogating suspected members of the Resistance.) He also witnessed the deportation of Jews, including at least one classmate, and later spoke of his disgust after being taken to visit a Nazi-sponsored anti-Jewish exhibition.
After the war he fell ill with TB but was able to graduate in English at Zagreb University. As a Catholic, his prospects under the Tito regime were limited, and in 1954 he got a job in the Yugoslav section of the BBC. It was not all plain sailing, because at that time Yugoslav citizens did not have the automatic right to go abroad. He got permission to leave only after a BBC manager had interceded on his behalf with the Croatian communist leader, Vladimir Bakaric.
While working at the BBC, Cviic also obtained a degree in International Relations at the LSE, as a pupil of Ralph Miliband. Then, in the late 1950s, he became a student of St Antony's College, carrying out research on pre-war Croatian politics.
In 1963 he was recruited by the late Gerard Mansell to the English World Service of the BBC (as it is now known), which is where I met him. The World Service was at that time a true powerhouse of ideas, to which Cviic soon became a valued contributor; a radio documentary which he produced on the 10th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian uprising was specially commended by the BBC Board of Governors.
Although he won rapid promotion, he decided in 1969 to accept the offer of a job at The Economist, where he worked until 1990, specialising in, among other things, ecumenical affairs, and Eastern Europe, which he frequently visited.
From the mid-1980s to the mid-'90s, Cviic edited the Chatham House journal The World Today. This was a period which saw the unexpected end of the Cold War and the even more unexpected turmoil of what came after. Cviic was well able in this situation to mobilise his numerous contacts to explain what was happening. On leaving this job at the age of 65, he returned to Croatia to promote democracy under the auspices of the George Soros foundation. The final phase of his career was in the years 1999-2007, when, long past retirement age he took on a largely full-time job as political adviser on Balkan affairs to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
To the end of his life, Cviic was a frequent contributor to the Croatian media. Two of his English books, Remaking the Balkans (1991) and In Search of Balkan Recovery (2010, written with Peter Sanfey) have become standard works in their field. When he finally gave up his job he began writing a book on the cultural heritage of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Cviic was a person of manifest integrity which impressed even strangers: immediately after his naturalisation as a British subject, the Scotland Yard officer who had interviewed him in accordance with Home Office procedure offered his congratulations and invited him to meet for drinks. Among colleagues, Chris was extraordinarily popular, as I saw for myself. He was not, however, by temperament a pacifist; nor was he afraid to speak his mind. In the early 1970s he displeased the Tito regime by criticising its crackdown on Croatian nationalists (though he continued to be invited to the Yugoslav embassy). In the 1990s he was outspokenly critical of the British government's unwillingness to use force to end the Yugoslav civil war. He also criticised the methods of Croatia's first president, Franjo Tudjman, who then tried to sue him for defamation in the Croatian courts (the case eventually lapsed).
Chris Cviic was a person of solid convictions: a committed Roman Catholic and in politics a philosophical conservative (who was often willing to challenge my own political perspective). His friends think of him not so much as an Anglophile but as a quintessential Englishman – of a type who probably no longer exists, if ever he did. It was these virtues of tolerance and commonsense that he sought to convey to his country of origin, which was at one time riven by ethnic conflict. He made a strong impact there, which earned him an obituary on Croatian television. In a personal message to his widow, the Croatian president Ivo Josipovic praised him as a man of "wisdom and reason" and said that he had made "an immeasurable contribution" to the development of Croatian democracy.
Towards the end of his career he became influential in his country of birth and in 2001 received the OBE for helping to promote democracy in Eastern Europe. Cviic is remembered by his friends as a person of unstoppable momentum – as his career demonstrates. For them it is a matter for regret that he never found the time to write his own memoirs.
In 1961 he married Celia Antrobus who survives him together with a son, Stephen and a daughter, Antonia.
David Wedgwood Benn
Krsto (Chris) Cviic, writer and broadcaster: born Croatia 3 October 1930; married 1961 Celia Antrobus (one son, one daughter); died 11 December 2010.
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