Friday, Sept. 20, 1996
My last day in cyberspace, and it feels a little bit like the last day of summer, when one attends a night-long farewell party and then exchanges addresses and phone numbers with people one will never see again. In fact, that’s actually a rather faithful description of this Friday. First because I’m going to drive with my friend Jim to Dubrovnik for the weekend (still the most enchanting jewel of the Adriatic; Dubrovnik, I mean), and probably will have my last sea bath this year. But there is an even more stunning parallel: I did not sleep at all last night. Nothing sexy there, I hasten to stress. It was much more exciting than that.
I started the day by revisiting the apartment I found (it is in a part of town where water is abundant and one can shower almost daily, hurrah!), then came back to continue editing the report that the International Crisis Group is about to publish on the Bosnian elections. We decided to issue our report Friday, before anyone (such as the head of the OSCE Mission in Bosnia, Robert Frowick, for instance) declares officially that the poll was rather free, roughly fair, and somewhat democratic. Not that our report, which is rather critical of the human-rights conditions in Bosnia, will change the course of history, but it’s great to state the truth, and to do so loudly.
So here I was, using all these colored pencils, Post-its in three colors, flagging the pages, making additions, a total mess. In the smokers’ room (Sir Terence Clark, our boss here, keeps the office smoke-free), the deputy director, John Fawcett, started laughing rather joyfully, as if he had just been told a great joke. John is fun, and I am ready to do a lot for a good joke, so I rushed there.
And here we get to the real exciting part: John and Chris Bennett were back there preparing the last part of the report, the boring one, with numbers–of ballots cast and the voter population. The joke was that the turnout seems to have been 104 percent, because there were 2,432,554 ballots cast, and the maximum theoretical voter turnout is 2,341,100.
This took place about midnight, and of course, we were crunching numbers the whole night. I did not go home at all. This was a real smoking gun. In the morning, we checked with our sources at the OSCE and the United Nations, with VIPs here and there, and it seems that everyone is puzzled. It is fishy; I know it is.
So, after spending the whole night playing statistician and putting the last touches to the report, we decided to scrap the report and release the fishy numbers. But we had to rush, because we had called the press conference for 1 p.m. I did the press release, Chris did the number-crunching, Sir T delivered the speech, and John patiently explained the whole thing to the assembled journalists. It went wonderfully, but I had to write the numbers on an impromptu prompter while John and Sir T were announcing them to the press.
The journalists were all confused, but excited; they could see that something was wrong. Even the intelligence officer from the U.S. Embassy came (he was standing next to me, and was completely lost). John was great, fending off all the questions, making Babylonian calculations look easy, even cracking a joke here and there, and generally sporting an air of, “I know nothing, I’m just the janitor here, but let me explain to you. …” The hacks were at least two or three numbers behind what John was saying, and interrupted him constantly: “Now, excuse me sir, the Serbs from formerly Republika Srpska which is now Federation but they live in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, how many did you say came from Serbia to Srpska?” It dawned on me that perhaps it was not such a bad idea, after all, to drop out of journalism for a while.