Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Where Is Bosnia for Us?

Adelina Marini, April 6, 2012

With the approach of the 20th anniversary of the siege of Sarajevo I could not stop thinking how we should mark the day. What kind of a text should I right, since the most important at this stage, that concerns Bosnia and Herzegovina's future, I wrote on the occasion of the debates in the European Parliament on the country's progress toward European accession. I also wrote about the main obstacle for the European integration of the tri-ethnic country. But these are texts that concern the present and the future. However, without an adequate assessment of the past any future is doomed. This is one of the important lessons from the transition in South-East Europe.

And while I was wondering what could be said about Bosnia and Herzegovina 20 years later, I cam across an article in The Economist of a colleague who refused to join a group of journalists who were planning to gather in Sarajevo for the anniversary. According to him, there is nothing new to be said and the only thing that could emerge after such an event will be the same old stories and footage from Bosnia from the "nostalgic correspondents who have no idea what the place is like now. Still troubled, is the answer". I have similar feelings, although I was not a correspondent in Sarajevo at that time.

This is why I will write nothing but my sad observation that obviously not only a few journalists find it hard to write about Bosnia and Herzegovina 20 years after the beginning of the war, but obviously many European institutions had not find the right words too. I have to admit that the war in Bosnia, without being a witness of it, has stuck deeply in my mind because, be it for my youth then or for ignorance, but I never imagined that in the end of the 20th century a war was possible in Europe, accompanied by brutal slaughter, ethnic cleansing and other barbaric crimes.

As Azra Nuhefendic writes for Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso, a colleague and witness of the beginning of the siege, no one believed from the outset what was to come. "Vivid and intense memories from the beginning of the siege of Sarajevo. Friends turning into enemies and loved ones leaving the city. Disbelief as the war starts to tragically unfold Since reading that twenty years ago even the Bosnian General Jovan Divjak did not believe that war would break out in Sarajevo, I feel less of an idiot. I, just as the General, did not take the ominous signs, the unmistakable warnings seriously. I did not believe them, I did not want to believe them. Even the day after the first attack on Sarajevo, between 5th and 6th April 1992, I continued to have my doubts. And as I did, so did many neighbours, friends, colleagues and relatives".

And as I really believe that this is a very shameful moment in European history, I hoped that, having nothing to write I will get, as usually, a statement at least of EU's High Representative for Foreign Policy Baroness Catherine Ashton on the occasion of the anniversary. Alas. I looked at the websites of the Commission, the Council, the European Parliament - nothing. It's true that in Western Europe people are in a vacation for Easter but as there are statements for the tragedies in Mali and Myanmar I hoped that there could be a word about Bosnia and Herzegovina. No and no.

Even sadder is that there is not even a letter on the web page of the Bulgarian foreign ministry or those of the other new member states, for whom this war should mean something. Should mean that their transition was peaceful but for others it was not. Only on the web page of the Croatian foreign ministry I found a short pres release from the meeting of Minister Vesna Pusic with Bosnia's Deputy PM and Minister of Foreign Affairs Zlatko Lagumdzija. The press release says that Croatia saw Bosnia and Herzegovina as a partner with whom it shared a lot of interests, first and foremost the stability and prosperity of the region.

For Bosnia and Herzegovina Croatia is the only neighbour that will soon join the EU, in the words of Lagumdzija, for whom it is important mechanisms to be found that could help the country take advantage of Croatia's accession experience. The two ministers also discussed the establishment of a bilateral committee that will work for tackling outstanding issues between the two countries, and undoubtedly there are such precisely as a result of the wars, caused by the break-up of former Yugoslavia.

After such a meeting that took place on the eve of the anniversary, there is hardly anything else to be said. It is sufficient that a country from the region is reaching out for Bosnia and Herzegovina, it is encouraging it that it is not forgotten and that it has a future. Therefore, really moving is the web page of the British foreign ministry, large part of which is occupied by a photo from Sarajevo and a title "Sarajevo Siege: 20 Years On" with a link to a statement of Prime Minister David Cameron:

"Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the beginning of the siege of Sarajevo and start of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the succeeding months and years, the images of the suffering in Sarajevo imprinted themselves on the conscience of the world. As their city was smashed around them, the people of Sarajevo never gave in, never lost hope, never let their spirit be broken.Two decades later, Bosnia is looking to a brighter future, as the slow, painful work of recovery continues. Today is a day for the world to remember Sarajevo, to remember Bosnia and all those who lost their lives in that terrible conflict.

A day to renew our commitment to stand by Bosnia until the recovery is complete, to support it in its path towards NATO and the EU, and to repeat that any unpicking of the Dayton agreement will not be tolerated. A day to renew our commitment that those responsible for the crimes that were committed must face justice, as many are now doing - and to remind all those who commit crimes against humanity, including in Syria today, that international justice has a long reach and a long memory.Above all it is a day for the world to remember that to stop slaughter requires firm, united and decisive action. We remembered that lesson in Libya. We must not forget it as we search for an end to the killing by the regime in Syria".

I cannot write anything. There is no need to. What can and should be said was done by the prime minister of a faraway Britain and by neighbouring Croatia. The rest of Europe is silent. Why?

Western Balkans
Bakir Izetbegovic, Andrej Plenkovic | © Council of the EUBakir Izetbegovic, Andrej Plenkovic | © Council of the EU
In Sofia, EU Closed the Door to Enlargement but Left Money and Instructions
Aleksandar Vucic, Recep Tayyip Erdogan | © Serbian PresidencyAleksandar Vucic, Recep Tayyip Erdogan | © Serbian Presidency
Serbia between the Past and the Present in Its Draft National Security Strategy
Jean-Claude Juncker, Zoran Zaev | © European CommissionJean-Claude Juncker, Zoran Zaev | © European Commission
Juncker's Tour of the Western Balkans - Breaking the Ice