dangerous for Bosnia, the Balkans, and the rest of Europe. If the status quo represents a potential disaster, the second scenario is dousing the fire with gasoline.
“I’m referring specifically to the divisive actions threatened by Republika Srpska’s President Milorad Dodik—actions inconsistent with Dayton’s minimum standards. President Dodik has been pushing an agenda to peel off the judiciary of Republika Srpska from the national government as a precursor to a separatist referendum. Though he claims legitimacy under the guise of a ballot referendum, we know there’s no true legal path for this action.
“Some in the EU dismiss Dodik’s rhetoric as a lot of bluster. A lot of talk. But I wouldn’t take that risk. I would caution you to pay close attention. He has been steering Republica Srpska away from the federal Republic for many years, making national reconciliation ever more difficult. And if Dodik does press forward with this effort, the international community, in my opinion, must respond. The High Representative retains the authority to revoke the referendum. And the United States can sanction any player who undermines the peace that Dayton achieved.
“The third course is the one I think that all of us would like to see for this country and its people: get back on the path toward the constitutional reform needed for democratic progress and for European integration. Move toward a system that guarantees individual rights, allows full political participation, and opens the shutters to shine a bright light on corruption and lack of accountability in government. And corruption is a very real problem. We have to acknowledge it and correct it. Because you can’t pretend it doesn’t exist.
“Now, it’s easy obviously to lay out that vision. But as the last two decades have shown, it’s much harder to take action. So we need to ask: how do we break this logjam? How do we move past the impediments that have stymied reform for so long?
“Well, as an American visiting this country, the first thing I’d say is that Bosnia needs true friends and real partners to do all we can to help Bosnia get back on track. After all, it’s in the interest of the United States and the EU to see more strong partners on the global stage who support universal values of human rights and human dignity, both for the welfare of individuals and because those values lead to stability and security. It’s in everyone’s interest to see Bosnia advance as a stable democracy.
“For the United States and the EU, that should start by refocusing on the region. Quite frankly, we aren’t paying enough attention. We’ve taken our eye off the ball when it comes to the Balkans, in my opinion. Right now in our State Department, Bosnia-Herzegovina is one of more than a dozen countries overseen by a single Deputy Assistant Secretary.
“I know our diplomats here are doing great work—and there are a lot of hot spots, and our Ambassador is wonderful—but we must do better and think bigger. There are a lot of hot spots around the world, but we need to be more focused on the Balkans.
“We shouldn’t be satisfied with the low bar of relative peace and stability. There’s relative peace and stability. That’s very good. But Bosnia, in my opinion, could do so much better. Its people could do so much better. All of you could do so much better. You are the future of Bosnia. And I’m sure you want a better future.
“Because the countries that are just getting by may be the places where threats linger just below the surface. So again, we shouldn’t be satisfied with the low bar of relative peace and stability. Bosnia deserves better.
“For example—in Bosnia and the rest of the Balkans—we see economies stagnating. We see ethnic division deepen every day as youth are educated in their own language, are taught their own historical narrative, and rarely interact with other ethnic communities. Those are among the factors that create fertile ground not only for deeper rifts in this divided nation, but for violent extremism to grow.
“This is a region that should grab the attention of the West and not let go. The United States and our allies want to see more countries integrated into Europe. We want to see inclusive, pluralistic, and productive societies. And so—whether using carrots or sticks—we need to urge Bosnia to move beyond the status quo.
“But the changes that will carry Bosnia forward won’t be driven from Brussels, or London, or Washington. They’ll start right here. They’ll start with forward-looking citizens and leaders demanding that the debate over this country’s future take place out in the open. Not behind closed doors as in the past. Demanding that civil society, activists, and journalists be part of the conversation. Not pushing their concerns off to the side. Demanding that changes be far-reaching and comprehensive. Not piecemeal efforts that allow entrenched powers to dig their heels in on the biggest issues.
“This week, we’ve seen flashes of this type of leadership. Leaders from this country and Serbia met for the first time in a generation—with an aim toward starting reconciliation, looking for ways to cooperate, and spreading greater stability throughout the region. This should give us hope.
“With any luck it will lend strength to the political will needed to shake loose Dayton’s status quo. To stand up to an outdated ethnically-division driven oligarchic system. To confront those who keep this country divided so that they can to solidify their control over their own constituencies. That’s not good for this country. You know it and I know it.
“Building democracy isn’t easy. The United States knows this from our own experience over the centuries. We’re still trying. And if anyone is paying attention to American politics, you’ll know that even after all those centuries, democracy is never perfect. But it is possible.
“Democracy’s greatest success stories in the 20th century are those of countries that rose from the depths of destruction and conflict to build some of the freest, strongest, most prosperous nations in the world today. Look at Japan and German. In those cases, they were defeated in war in World War II. It took leaders coming to grips with the dark chapters of their past and committing to a brighter future.
“So, in conclusion, that success can happen again and it can happen right here. But it demands that courageous people rise to the challenge. Twenty years ago, peace was achieved only after so much had been lost. Today, what was gained in that peace is at risk.
“And so the people of Bosnia, again, must rise to meet a challenge. To unleash this country’s potential. And to chart a course towards a future of peace with prosperity. You will all be a part of that.
“I look forward to that future. I will continue to do my part, pushing for American leadership and support here and across the region. And I am confident that the future holds many more years of friendship and partnership. Thank you all very much.”