Any conference on Bosnia has its permanent features of standard rhetoric. Today’s meeting in Geneva wasn’t any different in that respect.
However, it fell to the Foreign Minister of Switzerland to stand for most of it. That was interesting in that it deprived others of that particular burden as well as showing a Switzerland somewhat more engaged on the international stage than so far has been the case.
As usual, much of the attention was focused on whether what we achieved in Dayton a decade ago was good or not. Everyone agreed that it did end the war, but then there were the usual discussions on whether the constitutional framework as agreed then is the appropriate one for the future.
Indeed, it has emerged as conventional wisdom that the Dayton framework need to be changed in a number of respects. But the problem is that opinion differs very widely on what needs to be done, and there is no truly serious dialogue on these subjects.
Making speeches is not the same thing as establishing a dialogue, and we see far too much of the former and far too little of the later.
In my speech I both went back to what the situation really was a decade ago and how peace was finally achieved in Bosnia. It’s a story somewhat different from the popular mythology on the subject, but that makes it even more important to tell it.
And then I wanted to say some thruths that are much too easily forgotten at more diplomatic gatherings like these, primarily on the failure of the politicians of Bosnia to concentrate on the economic reforms so urgently necessary. Indeed, if they are not pursued, there is a serious risk of an economic and social meltdown in the country some time in the future.
There is really nothing in the constitutional framework of today that prevents the responsible politicians in Bosnia from taking the decisions on economic reforms that are so urgently necessary.
Those interested can find my speech through the link to my webpage.
After the initial opening session, the conference broke up into different working sessions on different issues. As you could expect, the smallest number of people went to the session on economic issues, although that in reality should have been the most important one.
Bosnia is now on the verge of an important transition from the international protectorate established in 1997 – after I left – towards entering into a process of European integration. Commissioner Rehn announced that in all probability Bosnia will enter into negotiations on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the European Union towards the end of this year.
And very soon my old Office of the High Representative will have to diminish its powers and its role. A decade after Dayton it is high time to give Bosnia its sovereignity.
There is much to be worried about in Bosnia today – but also the possibility of opening up a new phase in its development towards a more normal European country.