Letters: Bosnia on the brink

If Bosnia is to work, it will need a new deal
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The Independent Online

William Hague rightly warns that Bosnia and Herzegovina risks slumping into disarray (12 August). The core problem? To mobilise people, national identity has to be real, not synthetic. Bosnia has no national identity. We (and they) talk about the "Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats", not the Serb or Croat Bosnians.

The 1995 Dayton Peace Accords stopped the conflict over Bosnia's very identity but did not end it. Dayton enshrined an unworkable settlement for one country with three uneasy ethnic communities, namely "one country, two entities". This asymmetry gives Serbs too much (Republika Srpska) and Bosniacs and Croats too little (a shared second entity). The incentives are all wrong. The different political factions believe – correctly – that if they fail to run the country sensibly the costs of the mess fall on someone else, namely the EU taxpayer.

Nor should we forget contradictions between international Bosnia and Kosovo policy, endemic local irresponsibility and corruption inherited from Yugoslav "socialist self-management", and proud Balkan inat (vainglorious self-destructive bloody-mindedness). Bosnia is a sulky donkey with three bickering heads, unimpressed by the EU's remote carrots and unmoved by sharp smacks on its rump from successive High Representatives.

Hopeless? No. I'd go for a New Deal. A fast-track EU membership with visa-free travel for all Bosnians, in return for a new constitution. This would create three regions, each dominated by one community but with substantive responsibility for its own affairs, all with light but real central powers and a push to make Bosnia the least regulated economy in Europe. A fair, coherent structure which rewards responsibility and private initiative.

Alas, to reach there things will have to get notably worse, to bring all concerned in Bosnia and Brussels to agree that, finally, there is no alternative. A future Foreign Secretary will need strong nerves.

Charles Crawford

Faringdon, Oxfordshire (The writer was HM Ambassador in Sarajevo, 1996-98)

GM crops, hype and vandalism

I was very disappointed with your leading article of 11 August on genetically modified crops. You seem to have bought the government-backed corporate hype. Even the GM firms themselves have admitted that in tests GM crops actually produce less than conventional crops.

But even more importantly, you fail to address the most serious and frightening aspect. GM foods hand control of our food supply to the giant multi-national companies. By forcing farmers to grow only their seed, they are gradually extending this control.

There are many cases of poor countries and farmers who are finding they are accumulating massive debts through using GM seed. Those who can are returning to traditional methods.

Finally, you gloss over the issue of declining oil supplies. But what this actually implies is that we will have to return to what used to be known as normal farming methods and is now called organic.

Mora McIntyre


In your short editorial you address all the main concerns of the anti-GM lobby. The continuing opposition to GM clearly now has little more than a New Age ideological basis.

Last year a field of potatoes designed for their pest resistance (the nematode worm, which costs farmers £65m a year) was ripped up. The environmental campaigners have also destroyed almost all of the 54 attempts to grow experimental GM plants outdoors in the UK in the last five years. Now the potatoes are being grown again by a research team from Leeds University. But will the campaigners allow them to complete this vitally important and perfectly legal project?

How can evidence of GM safety and effectiveness in the UK ever be gathered if its opponents keep destroying the fields? Surely the time is overdue for the law to take a less softly-softly approach to such vandalism and bullying tactics.

David Simmonds

Epping, Essex

What is it about the Benn family? The father, Tony, visited the nuclear industry upon us. The son, Hilary, now wants to impose GM foods on us. Is it possible that they carry the gene for believing they are infallible? If yes, then could they be genetically modified before the next generation inflicts itself upon us?

Professor C Vyvyan Howard

Centre for Molecular Bioscience, University of Ulster


Traditional critics of gay marriage

The views of S Smith on gay marriage (letters, 6 August) may "have nothing to do with any religion", but they still are as ill thought through as any religious person's objections. I strongly resent the idea that my sexuality may be "natural" but somehow, nonsensically, still not "normal". Your correspondent flatly asserts that a marriage is between a man and woman and "any other partnership is not a marriage". No attempt is made to justify this position, leading one to assume that they are simply arguing from tradition, a phenomenally weak position to take.

Marriage is between a man and a woman for no reason than that it always has been, because of religious and historical ideas about sexuality, partnership, gender roles, children and property, ideas which are now much more liberally interpreted or ignored entirely, even within religious cultures.

David Lawson


A comprehensive pupil at Oxford

How dare Mike Bell (letter, 12 August) describe Oxbridge graduates as "damaged goods"'. A degree from Oxford or Cambridge is indeed often viewed as more prestigious than a degree from another university, but has it not crossed his mind that perhaps this is because graduates from these universities have, in addition to possessing a great deal of raw talent, received an extremely prestigious education by way of the tutorial system?

Among several sweeping generalisations in his letter is that "State school teachers went to proper universities and understand the truth. Private school teachers went to Oxbridge." A former comprehensive student, I graduated from Oxford University this summer, where I saw the dedication of "access"' scheme staff and students to increasing the number of applications from students from a working-class background.

I have now begun the Teach First programme, where "top"' graduates choose to spend at least two years teaching in a school in challenging circumstances in a bid to address educational disadvantage. Teach First is the second largest recruiter of Oxford graduates, dispelling Mr Bell's idea that Oxbridge graduates don't teach in state schools.

As a teacher, I will certainly be encouraging my very brightest students to apply to Oxbridge. Myths such as that Mr Bell promulgates, that Oxbridge is some kind of "club", do not help.

Rhian Harris

Telford, Shropshire

The Beatles' last live concert

I'm sure you will have been besieged by Beatles obsessives eager to point out a few errors in Tony Paterson's otherwise excellent article on the new Beatles exhibition in Hamburg (12 August).

Though unquestionably chaotic, the Beatles' 1965 Shea Stadium concert was in no way "abortive". The band completed a typical 30-minute set, although the screaming was so loud they couldn't hear themselves playing.

Nor was it the Beatles' last concert. That took place on 29 August the following year at Candlestick Park, San Francisco. The band did appear on stage together on two further occasions, once at the Saville Theatre in London in November 1967 to make a promotional film for "Hello, Goodbye", and last but not least, on the roof of the Apple building in in January 1969.

As for Let It Be being the band's last album, true it was the last to be released. But the last album the Beatles actually recorded together was Abbey Road, recorded in the first half of 1969 and released in September that year. Let It Be finally surfaced in May 1970, having been "salvaged"' (some would say "savaged") by rock music's maddest-ever producer, Phil Spector.

Rob Prince

London SE13

Police act against child abuse

Beatrix Campbell, in her article "Now we can hope to halt the tragedies of the future" (12 August), claims that Lord Laming said "the police should only get involved [in child protection] if there is a crime".

On the contrary, in the Victoria Climbié report, Lord Laming stressed how important it was that all agencies worked closely together in preventing child abuse. The police, at that time, needed to get better at their core business of investigating criminal child abuse, but not at the expense of detaching themselves from social workers and joint working arrangements.

There has been a huge investment in most police forces in child protection staff in the past five years, and now the training is better than it has ever been and the officers carrying out that difficult task are some of the best detectives available. All over the UK there are wonderful examples of close integrated working between police officers and social workers.

John Fox

Former Detective Superintendent

Titchfield, Hampshire

Beatrix Campbell is right about Lord Laming's role in our toothless child-protection, but she fails to recognise the harm done by amalgamating local authority education and child protection departments into single children's services departments.

When I discovered my local council had done this, I assumed it was a penny-pinching scheme designed to look good while saving the cost of one departmental head. In fact, it was a directive from the Government following Lord Laming's report on the death of Victoria Climbié. The result was that many good education directors got a small pay rise for taking on responsibilities they weren't really qualified for.

It is easier for Ed Balls to sack hapless directors of children's services than to reconsider the Government's unquestioning adoption of Lord Laming's policies.

Peter Scott


The unfolding account of the horrors suffered by Baby Peter engendered in me a sense of depression that such things could happen in our society. However, some of the correspondence on your letters page (13 August) regarding the decision to offer protection to the perpetrators of those unthinkable acts, suggesting that justice would be best served by letting those people "take their chance" on release, simply compounds that depression.

Philip Stephenson


Wise union members

I challenge the assertion of your article "Unison officials appeal over wise monkey ban" (10 August) that low-paid delegates of Unison's National Conference are "more familiar with bar-room racism than Buddhist culture and proverbial monkeys." Low pay does not mean low intellect.

Nick McCall


Stockport, Greater Manchester

They don't get it

Alan Duncan thinks that MPs are "living on rations and treated like shit". Perhaps he should spare a thought for those not lucky enough to be employed in what is in effect a part-time job for the paltry sum of £64,000. This is yet another example of why a huge percentage of people have lost faith, trust and above all interest in our politicians. They are so far out of touch it is unreal. Let's all get out there and vote for the Monster Raving Loony Party.

Keith Anderson


Fifth university

Rosemary Morlin (letter, 10 August) is mistaken. Scotland had five, not four, universities by the end of the 16th century, the fifth being in Aberdeen. Marishal College, the first post-reformation foundation, was founded in 1593, allegedly because King's wasn't admitting Protestants fast enough. The two foundations remained separate until the Scottish Universities Act 1858 mandated their amalgamation.

Jim Russell

Church Crookham, Hampshire

In the swim

Perhaps I can add to the debate about the Gallic requirement for tight trunks to be worn in swimming pools (Hit & Run, 12 August)? When I lived in Brussels in the 1990s, staff at our local pool told me not only were they more hygienic, but more importantly, they prevented "undesirable elements" from bringing knives into the water with them. Has anyone else heard that one?

Rachel Davies

Tonbridge, Kent

BBC water

So it costs the BBC 5p per day per employee for bottled water (letter, 13 August)? That's the equivalent of about 50 litres of tap water, so I'm left wondering who is really missing the "bigger picture".

Rob Hatcher