Ambassador Cormack’s Remarks at the “2020 Vision for BiH: Prospects for Progress”

U.S. Ambassador to BiH Maureen Cormack
Remarks at the “2020 Vision for BiH: Prospects for Progress”

May 16, Sarajevo

Good morning distinguished guests, ladies, and gentlemen.

Five months ago, our hosts today from Johns Hopkins SAIS brought many of us together on Jahorina to begin a discussion on taking the necessary steps to build a Bosnia-Herzegovina that its citizens deserve.  At that time, we reflected on past accomplishments, and heard officials, academics, and others focus on solutions and the steps necessary to clear the political obstacles that hold the country back.  I welcome the opportunity today and tomorrow to further these discussions.

Looking Back
In recent weeks, I have been reflecting on the stages that brought Bosnia-Herzegovina to where it is today.  The past twenty years have been mixed in terms of progress toward political cohesion and economic prosperity in BiH.

It can be easy to dismiss past accomplishments – and it can also be easy to believe that reforms are unrealistic.  The reality is that past accomplishments came when key leaders displayed a willingness to take difficult, and sometimes unpopular, steps.  And to be fair, these accomplishments also came at times when civil society and Bosnia-Herzegovina’s international partners spoke together to demand action.

In the past five months, officials at all levels have tried to tackle difficult issues, with several politicians taking the necessary political risks to reach compromises.  We acknowledge the submission of the application to the European Union, and a number of technical decisions made behind the scenes to advance on the path toward the European Union.  Few of these measures are headline-worthy, but they are necessary and support the ongoing reform initiative.

Resolving Tough Issues
Let’s be honest though.  No matter how much we want to celebrate these strides, we are hesitant to do so because we know a number of serious obligations remain unresolved.  Moreover, we know that the real reforms, those that will improve the lives of the citizens, will be more complicated than those today.  The ongoing intransigence with regard to the situation in Mostar, and the seeming inability to conclude a Defense Review before the Warsaw summit, are prime examples of how the leaders of this country are failing to meet their obligations.

I frequently hear that it is difficult to resolve delicate issues like Mostar and Defense Review.  I have to respond that governing requires more than outlasting your political rivals.  It requires political courage.  It requires leadership.  All that remains is a choice between finding ways to compromise in the interest of all people of this country, or deliberate stagnation.

In the past year, BiH has worked towards and committed to a socio-economic reform agenda that seeks to address the hardships facing its citizens.  Commitment is a strong word that requires action.  Unfortunately, the inaction on EU requirements like SAA adaptation, the coordination mechanism and the census, and hesitation on Mostar, Defense Review and similar obligations, reflects on the seriousness of the country’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations.  Parties have initiated change, and in some cases made significant progress, but it is now time to resolve these long-outstanding issues and move on to the next ones.

In a democratic society, the people share an obligation to ensure elected officials know and respond to the interests of the electorate.  It is clear as I travel the country that inspiration lives in the hearts and ideas of so many I meet – but average citizens are not yet prepared to effect change on their own.

Conferences like this one should be catalysts for progress; so it is important that we focus on identifying and promoting viable options, and encouraging cooperation.

The Way Ahead

Bosnia and Herzegovina is at a crossroads.  If regression — to division and increased nationalism — lies in one direction, opportunity and progress lie in the other.  We all know the issues – beyond Mostar and Defense Review, we have SAA adaptation, implementing a functional coordination mechanism, and releasing the census data.

We need to build a deliberate approach by officials to resolve these issues expeditiously, and then move steadily on to rule of law and other issues that will

  • help establish a modern business climate,
  • improve the functionality and efficacy of government at all levels,
  • and implement the real reforms necessary to connect BiH to European markets.

This final point is crucial to the well-being of all citizens in this country.  As we look to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s neighbors, it is clear that foreign investors are ready to come.  They only seek a fair shot, and a government prepared to root out and abolish predatory actions that damage the business climate.  Within five years, BiH could be exporting high value products — rather than low value natural resources — and expand its nascent technology sector which is already attracting interest and blossoming into active entrepreneurship hubs.

So today, let’s not talk about talk about problems.  We know them all too well.  Let’s talk about solutions.  And even more importantly, let’s have concrete discussions about practical steps to implement those ideas.  I would like to commend our hosts and organizers today, and look forward to the discussions on how we can work toward the BiH that its citizens deserve.  To that end, the United States remains strongly committed to supporting the citizens of BiH, and asks all of you here today to join us in working towards these common goals for the good of all the wonderful people of this beautiful country.