Ian Traynor, the Guardian’s globally respected Europe editor, died in Brussels on Saturday after a short illness at the age of 60.
Ian witnessed, reported and interpreted the critical turning points in post-cold war European history including the fall of the Berlin Wall and Germany’s reunification, the rise of Solidarity in Poland, the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia, as well as the European Union’s expansion and subsequent crises.
Ian was one of the finest reporters of his generation, who brought a rare level of knowledge and expertise to his work, said Katharine Viner, the Guardian’s editor-in-chief. He covered many epoch-defining events for the Guardian, from the breakup of the Soviet Union to the Greek financial crisis, and he will be hugely missed by colleagues and readers alike.
Rare among journalists, Ian was a true linguist as well as a gifted reporter. He started studying Russian and German in school in Glasgow and then at Aberdeen University, visiting both countries as a student in the 1970s. He worked as a translator and editor of foreign broadcasts at the BBC monitoring unit at Caversham Park, near Reading, before getting a job as a subeditor at the Guardian. He stayed in London only briefly. When a stringer’s position covering central Europe became vacant in 1988 he took his young family out to Vienna. It was a characteristically prescient move, as central Europe was on the brink of a revolution with the fall of the Berlin Wall.
He filed to the Guardian as a stringer initially but was put on staff as eastern European correspondent in 1990. He covered the Balkan wars from Vienna and then went to Bonn to report on the evolution of a new Germany, moving to Berlin as the capital shifted, and then to Moscow in 1999. He moved to Zagreb in 2003, covering much of Europe from there, before establishing himself as Europe editor in Brussels in 2007.
I think I’ve been out in the field longer than anyone, he proudly told a visitor not long before his death.
His colleagues from the conflicts in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia remember him both for physical bravery and for vivid and crafted writing, but most of all for his sharp analytical mind.
Allan Little, who reported the Bosnian war alongside Ian for the BBC, recalled the UN security council passing an ill-fated resolution in April 1993 establishing Srebrenica as a safe area under the protection of UN peacekeeping troops.
Ian unpicked that resolution with forensic precision and focus. He wrote about how vulnerable that left Srebrenica. He knew what would happen two years in advance, said Little. He was a ferocious critic of the UN intervention. Working alongside him, I learned a lot from him about the place.
Jamie Wilson, the Guardian’s head of international news, said: Ian was the journalist’s journalist. He was a brilliant foreign correspondent: supremely knowledgeable, always one step – but usually three – ahead of the opposition, a fantastic writer with that all too rare art of being able to pull a splash out of his back pocket on those days when there really was no news. The world will be a much poorer place without Ian reporting on it.
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