Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen, distinguished colleagues, and honored guests,
I am very pleased to join the Igman Initiative today as you celebrate the 20th anniversaries of both the courageous trip over Mt. Igman that launched your initiative and of the Dayton Peace Agreement. The importance of your thought-provoking conversations on Bosnia and Herzegovina is reinforced by the series of events here in BiH that we have seen in recent months, including the decision of the RS government on Thursday to cease cooperation with State-level judicial and law enforcement institutions.
What we have seen in recent days and throughout the year is that Bosnia and Herzegovina is at a crossroads. In one direction are those who seek to fan ethnic tensions and thrive from corruption within the system. In the other direction are those who are fed up with the status quo, and understand that ethnic pride does not have to come at the expense of opportunity and personal well-being.
On the one hand, some politicians are constantly seeking excuses to undermine progress in order to hide corruption and economic failure. This includes efforts to try to capitalize on a lack of trust between constituent peoples by fear-mongering. We urge officials to exhibit greater restraint before reacting in ways that unnecessarily heighten tensions; to resolve issues and differences through dialogue, and to urge calm among security officials in the coming days to avoid unnecessary provocations while the issue is being resolved.
Among the factors contributing to this negative path, corruption is the single greatest impediment to progress in Bosnia and Herzegovina and it is an obstacle that must be addressed, not only for BiH to join its neighbors on the path towards EU and NATO membership, but for every citizen of this country to have hope for a more positive future
This week, our Embassy expanded International Anti-Corruption Day into a week of events – in order to raise awareness of the problems in the country, to highlight some of our anti-corruption partnerships, and to recognize those citizens and groups that are doing good work to combat this problem. Yet these efforts alone mean little without pressure and demands for leaders and citizens to show the political will to address the problems. Everyone has the power to combat corruption and everyone has a stake in improving the justice system – and they need to exercise their civic right to do so.
On the positive side, 2015 has seen significant progress for Bosnia and Herzeogvina. BiH has held the chairmanship of both the Council of Europe and the Adriatic 5, and conducted both with distinction. The three levels of government have come together with political leaders to commit to the EU Reform Agenda and begin implementation of some key aspects. For this path to fully succeed, we need to see reforms moving at a faster pace, but as we close out this year, we need to acknowledge the progress that has been made.
The Igman Initiative is symbolic of another very positive area for BiH – the changing neighborhood framework. Croatia is now in the EU and NATO, Montenegro has made significant progress on its EU path and has now been extended an invitation to NATO. And this year, Serbian relations with BiH have made significant progress. Events like the joint session of governments in Sarajevo and PM Vucic’s participation in the Srebrenica investment conference are very positive steps forward.
Over the past month, I have attended numerous conferences reflecting on the Dayton Accords, the end of the war, the years that followed, and the conditions facing the citizens of BiH today. Last week the U.S. government supported a conference on Jahorina led by Johns Hopkins University that sought answers to basic questions about how to achieve socio-economic reforms, how to build on those efforts to enact meaningful political reforms, and the need to tackle a broken judicial system.
As we commemorate this twentieth anniversary, we commemorate the determination that was needed to accomplish the peace accords in Dayton, and all of the successes that followed during Bosnia and Herzegovina’s first post-war decade. We must now commit ourselves to resolving BiH’s remaining challenges with the same determination. BiH made great strides in the first decade following the war, proving that Dayton can indeed function and BiH can progress within this constitution if political will and true leadership are present. Corruption, patronage, and political self-interest impede progress, but these are not byproducts of a peace accord, or of a constitution. Detractors blame Dayton and stoke fears of insecurity when they run out of reasons for not addressing transparency, accountability and economic development.
The opportunities are here, be they the socio-economic reform agenda, anti-corruption efforts, or political reforms, and there is incredible potential to change the conditions in this country. Both Moody’s Investor Service and the World Bank predict growth rates for BiH of 3% and over in coming years — but only if reforms are implemented and people ready to put in the hard work to fully implement those changes.
In closing, I would like to thank the Igman Initiative for the opportunity to join you today, and express my hope you will use this conference to renew your commitment to creating institutional mechanisms and a strong civil society to enhance regional cooperation across the western Balkans, to help Bosnia and Herzegovina and all the counties of the region take their rightful place in Europe, as their citizens so deserve.