Blog from Bosnia

1st February, 2014

In recent years Sarajevo has moved from being a city ravaged by war, conflict and devastation, to a busting hub with a large student population. I was really struck by the diversity in the city, with mosques, synagogues, orthodox and catholic places of worship within short walking distances of each other in the city’s old town.

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is a place with a rich cultural and ethnic heritage, that now faces considerable political, constitutional and economic challenges, in spite of, or perhaps because of, this. As many of its regional neighbours move ever closer to deeper integration within the EU, efforts are being made to ensure that BiH moves with them and that it is not, as some fear, left behind.

I’ve always had a great interest in the history of the region. Much of my Christmas was spent reading books like ‘The Balkans’ by Misha Glenny and ‘The Bridge over the Drina’ by Ivo Andric to remind me of the events that have taken place over the years in that part of Europe.

With this in mind, I headed to Sarajevo to meet with some of its main political leaders, including Prime Minister Bevanda; the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Zlatko Lagumdzija; and the members of the Joint Committee on European Integration. I also gave an address at the Economic and Business Faculty of the University of Sarajevo on the Irish EU experience and perspectives on EU enlargement to what was largely an audience of students and NGOs.

As a Member State that is deeply committed to enlargement, Ireland is very supportive of BiH’s ambitions towards greater EU involvement. There are, however, a number of outstanding issue, relating to discrimination and the ability of the country to speak with a strong and single voice, that need to be worked out if a credible EU application is to be made.

The fact that other countries in the region, such as Albania, Serbia and Croatia, now as a full member, have been making progressive strides, appears to be acting as a motivating factor in moving BiH along. The one thing that is clear, however, is the fact that whatever direction BiH takes in meeting these challenges, the solutions simply have come from their own leaders. For credible and workable solutions to be found, the leaders in BiH must demonstrate more willingness to work together for the good, and in the interest, of their people on relations with the EU.

In my speech at the university I made the point that when it comes to finding solutions, creation and ownership are inextricably linked, as, in most cases, solutions that created by others rarely work. The situation is no different in BiH. It is those, and only those, who represent the people of BiH that are best placed to chart a way forward.

The road to EU membership has never been easy; and that has never been truer than it is today. As the Union grows and develops, there is an onus on aspiring applicants to meet rigorous and wide-ranging conditions, as they reform their political and cultural systems to reflect the values of the EU.

I reiterated the fact while this might sometimes seems like an uphill battle, the rewards, in terms of improving standards of living and being able to avail of the freedoms that come with Union membership, are worth the effort.

I told the students that it sometimes falls to the younger generation to assist their elders in unlearning the habits of the past. I can only hope that as the current leaders strive to identify the best way forward for the country they so dearly love, their efforts will be rewarded by those who come behind them as Bosnia and Herzegovina inches closer towards full membership of the EU.

Following what was a very full day’s events, I hosted a reception for the Irish community in BiH which was attended by, among others, those working for the OSCE and representatives of the travel industry in Medjugorje. The reception was also attended by members of our Defence Forces, of whom we are exceptionally proud, and who continue to play a vital role in maintaining peace and stability for the people of BiH.