Christopher (Krsto) Cviic was born in Croatia in 1930 and went to school and university there, writes Fr Leo Chamberlain.
From when Krsto was seven his father was absent and he had to work both at his own education and to help his mother. He early showed much of the quiet and determination and ability that was to characterise his adult life.
He learned English as a boy (his spoken and written English was perfect), and as a young man, and in spite of circumstances, became a convinced and thoughtful Catholic.
He was attracted by the personalist philosophical stance later widely known because of the interest of Pope John Paul II. His Catholic devotion was profound, and not to be labeled with slogans of Left or Right.
He was neither overtaken by extravagant interpretations of the Second Vatican Council nor by nostalgia for the Catholicism of the past. His service to the Church was to engage calmly, constructively and learnedly with the realities of the present. He was untainted by the virulent Croatian nationalism which posed acute problems for Church.
Equally, he rejected Communism on principle and with personal knowledge of an evil and corrupting system. He held these strong convictions as a civilised, courteous and charming man, carefully objective in his professional work. He had a judicious caution in statement, but was nonetheless trenchant and highly readable. One of his articles on the break-up of Yugoslavia referred to Slobodan Milosevic as the arsonist of the Balkans. But he was equally critical of the Communist Croat general Tudjman, and spent time in the 1990s in Zagreb editing a magazine, Tjednik (“Weekly”) to support a properly democratic alternative.
He was a regular contributor to the Croatian Catholic magazine Kana until three months before his death. He had taken a BA degree from the University of Zagreb. When he applied successfully for a post with the BBC World Service he eventually got permission to come to England in 1954.
His Catholicism and his interest in books and all things English (including Bertie Wooster) rendered him suspect to the Yugoslav regime, but they preferred him to some alternative voices in the West, though he was unable to return to Yugoslavia for a research visit in the later 1950s.
At the BBC he simultaneously worked for a second degree at the LSE and then researched in Oxford at St Antony’s College for two years. He returned to journalism and first worked on the English side of the BBC World Service, becoming Deputy Head of Talks at the European English Service in Bush House. From 1969 to 1990 he was on the staff of the Economist as a leader-writer and London-based east Europe correspondent and specialist in religious affairs.
Subsequently he joined the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) as Editor of The World Today, the Institute’s monthly journal, and associate fellow in the European Programme. In 2007 he finished a seven-and-a-half year stint as senior political counsellor responsible for the Baltics and central and south-eastern Europe at the European Bank for Reconstuction and Development (EBRD) in London.
Over the years he has contributed widely to the international media on European political and religious affairs. He wrote much for the Tablet for many years. In 1991 he published Remaking the Balkans (Second Edition 1995; Italian translation 1993).
His joint book, with Peter Sanfey, on the political and economic transition in south-eastern Europe since 1989 was published in July 2010, and when he died he was working on a book on the Habsburgs and Central Europe. Even with these heavy professional commitments he made time to support those who worked to help the suffering churches under Communism.
Aid to the Church in Need had his steady support, and so for some years did Keston College. His advice and help was important to the success of the first major conference to bring together religious figures from central and eastern Europe, presided over by Cardinal Hume at Ampleforth in 1990.
He had many affectionate friends; he was, a characteristic of a fine journalist, a good listener and fun to know. A small example of the way he lived his convictions: challenged to do something really difficult for Lent one year, he gave up wine, and stuck to it.
He married Celia Antrobus in 1961. They had two children, Stephen and Antonia, and lived in Wimbledon, where he was a member of a parish family group that met for years (and still meets) and included Sir Michael and Mary Quinlan and Lord and Lady Hunt.