To mark our 25th Anniversary this year, a number of conference industry professionals have shared their memories of the many significant events held at the Centre over the years. In the first of the series, Sally Greenhill shares her memories of organising The Peace Conference on Yugoslavia in 1992:
One of my strongest memories of The QEIICC is from 1992. At that time I was Head of Logistics at Spectrum Communications and Spectrum had been appointed to help the Foreign & Commonwealth Office with the organisation of events associated with the UK’s tenure as President of the EC from July to December 1992 (it was called the EC then). In addition to the events and conferences we knew about when we were pitching for the work, several major conferences were added at very short notice.
One of the most significant of these was the Peace Conference on Yugoslavia in August 1992. We were given just ten days to organise this as the situation in many of the former Yugoslavian countries was so serious. I can recall that the FCO drove a very hard bargain and insisted that for everyone on the organising team a working day was 24 hours, not around 8 hours like it was usually. With so much to organise at such short notice it was essential for everyone to work these long hours anyway but we would have been happier if we could charge the FCO for more than 1 day!
My recollection is that 42 countries took part in the conference and we had to create offices and areas within The QEIICC for each of them, with a strict hierarchy of who got the largest spaces. Such was the delicate diplomatic handling of the situation with the former countries of Yugoslavia, that a special table had to be made to ensure that no one country seemed any more important than another. At the end of the conference John Major, PM at the time, presented everyone on the organising team with a commemorative cartoon of the making of this table.
Without the fantastic teamwork between everyone at The QEIICC and our team at Spectrum, we never would have been ready on time and by the opening day everyone was completely exhausted. Yet we had to find the energy to deal with the skirmish caused by Radovan Karadzic, the evil Bosnian Serb politician, on the opening day. He had not been invited to the conference so he stormed into the area where the logistics team were running registration and accreditation, and started throwing things at the logistics managers, shouting and raving in order to get himself on TV and get maximum notice. Thanks to the intervention of the inimitable David Reilly and his magnificent security team at The QEIICC, he was quickly escorted out of the building.
Sadly, despite the best efforts of the conference, the fighting continued in Bosnia until 1995 and some of the worst war atrocities ever, including the siege of Sarajevo, are attributable to Radovan Karadzic. He wasn’t captured until 2008 but he is now in the UN detention unit at Scheveningen for war crimes against Bosnian muslims. To this day the sight of him sends shivers down my spine.
I’m pleased to report that I have since had many more pleasant memories of events held at The QEIICC!
My apologies for not having credited everyone else who also worked on this event.