Peter Whaley, 1950-2005

Occasionally one picks up stuff by Googling old friends and acquaintances which is not very welcome news. Peter Whaley was the first US diplomat to be posted full-time to Banja Luka in Bosnia in early 1998, after I’d been there for a year myself. (They’d had a succession of people parachuted in for a month or so at a time; he was supposed to be staying there long-term.) We clicked at once, and I found him a really helpful mentor in the minefield of international politics. He didn’t describe himself as a career diplomat, but as a failed novelist who had gone into foreign relations as an alternative; yet at the same time, by taking me and my work seriously, helped me to realise that I had become an expert in Balkan politics with marketable skills.

He was a very modest guy, never mentioning his role in attempting to prevent the Rwanda genocide, though occasionally railing against the stupidities of US foreign policy (it being Bosnia in 1998, his unorthodox views on refugee return – proved spectularly right in Zaire – were frequently aired; also his opinion of President Aristide of Haiti was very much lower than is stated in his obituary). I only saw him really annoyed once, when a particularly juicy piece of political gossip flowed from me to my Sarajevo colleague to the US embassy in Sarajevo, unfortunately bypassing him en route. He raced furiously into my office (down three flights of stairs, across the road and then up another flight) to demand the details from me in person. We sorted it out over a beer, though (and anyway it turned out in the end that the story wasn’t true).

I understand that he left Bosnia not long after I did, and parted company with the State Department shortly after that; I never got back in touch with him, and to be honest probably wouldn’t have got around to it quickly. But it’s sad news, if old news by now, and I’m sorry that he never got the chance to write his novel.

One thought on “Peter Whaley, 1950-2005

  1. I read the Gormenghast books as a teen and loved them. It’s only now that I re-read them and really wonder what substances Peake was taking at the time!

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