United States Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina Maureen Cormack – Welcome Reception Remarks

Ladies and gentlemen, good evening to you all.

Thank you for your warm welcome, both tonight and in the days since we arrived. We’ve had a wonderful introduction to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and we are grateful for everyone’s kind hospitality and well wishes. My husband Bill sends his regards— he is a construction engineer with the State Department and had to continue on to his job in Pakistan— and he and our two other children very much look forward to visiting Bosnia-Hercegovina in coming months. My daughter Margaret, who has finished her university coursework and is waiting to graduate in June, is here with me and we have very much enjoyed discovering beautiful Sarajevo together. I am so pleased to be here after having a very, very long time to prepare for this job— almost 18 months in Washington, DC, if anyone was counting.

Over the past three weeks, I have finally been able to begin to engage in person on all the issues I’ve studied from afar for so long, and it has been wonderful to finally meet my wonderful staff at U.S. Embassy Sarajevo, as well as all of you with whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. As you may have heard me mention, I plan to seek out ideas and insights from people in all sectors of society, from all across this country.  I very much want to hear diverse perspectives, and I look forward to speaking with all of you, both tonight and in the weeks and months ahead.

I won’t speak for too long this evening, because I want time to speak with you individually, but I do want to mention a few immediate priorities that I’ll be focusing on, with the hope of making some tangible progress on the problems that are all-too-familiar to everyone in this room.

First and foremost, citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina understand that the path to a prosperous future is through membership in the European Union, your largest trading partner. Your country has been stuck on that path for several years, but the newly-elected leaders realize that the country is at a pivotal, “unique opportunity,” presented by the European Union, which they must seize. The signing of the Written Commitment to Reforms necessary for EU membership reflects strong resolve on the part of the Presidency and is a positive initial step.

As the Presidency members have said, however, the critical phase of this reform agenda lies in its implementation, and the United States remains firmly committed to supporting this effort. In the meantime, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s leaders should be adopting business-friendly policies at all levels that will create the jobs the country so desperately needs.  Leaders need to act on recommendations from groups like the Foreign Investors Council and American Chamber of Commerce to kick-start investment in strategic sectors such as energy, agriculture, and information technology, and boost the economy.

We see encouraging signs of tireless entrepreneurs starting new ventures such as the successful technology hubs in Banja Luka, Tuzla, Sarajevo, and Mostar —but they are succeeding in spite of the environment, not because of it. In a country where businesses have too often benefited only politicians, it is time for politicians to create a healthy business climate that will generate jobs for the next generation.

And I can’t talk about the struggles facing entrepreneurs without mentioning the pervasive corruption that corrodes all aspects of social and economic development. Corruption is an issue I intend to keep raising publicly and privately, because we truly want to identify opportunities for U.S. policies and programs to contribute to visible progress in advancing the rule of law a basic right every citizen deserves.  We have recently launched a new effort to encourage the professionalism of prosecutors and help reduce case backlogs which clog the court systems and deny citizens the right to justice.

Every public opinion survey finds corruption as one of the major concerns of citizens, but too little is being done to fight back. All segments of society must demand that politicians at every level of government honor their campaign promises by making the fight against corruption a top priority. Every small victory will move the country closer to a prosperous future.

Bosnia’s future path also lies with NATO.  I would like to congratulate the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which have repeatedly demonstrated their professionalism and competence both in Afghanistan and in Iraq, as well as here in BiH during last year’s floods.  The progress they have made as an ethnically-integrated institution serves their citizens at home and serves as an example for troubled areas abroad.  Divesting the Armed Forces of BiH of properties of no use to the Ministry of Defense would free up significant resources that could be used towards the public good.

On these issues and others, it is vital that citizens can and do raise their voices and play a role in moving society in the positive direction they wish it to go. To do this, all citizens much enjoy the fundamental human right of freedom of expression. Bosnia and Herzegovina can NOT afford to compromise the freedoms its citizens depend on to speak out against corruption, ensure political accountability, and bring about the reforms that will finally move their country forward.

Today is the Remembrance Day. As I’ve begun to explore Sarajevo and see reminders of a painful recent history that will never be forgotten, I feel immense sorrow for the tragedies that have occurred here. I also feel frustration that the political and economic momentum of the late 1990s and early 2000s has stalled.

But I also feel a sense of hope that the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina, particularly the young people I’ve spoken with since arriving, are ready to engage to build a better future – and I am ready to engage along with them.

I am honored to have the opportunity to work with all of you on making the twentieth year of peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina a turning point— from surviving to thriving, from tolerance to genuine acceptance, and from peace to true progress.

Thank you so much for being here this evening.