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Edward Ferguson

British Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina

Part of UK in Bosnia and Herzegovina

9th October 2014

Elections: Leadership and moderation please

I recently visited Srebrenica with a group of visitors as part of a UK Government-funded project which aims to learn the lessons of Europe’s only genocide since the Second World War, and to apply them to improving relationships between diverse communities in the UK.

During the visit, I met a number of mothers who had lost husbands, sons and wider family members in the massacre. I expected to be moved by their stories of bereavement, and I was. But what shocked me most was to hear that, even today, nearly 20 years later, they continue to live in fear.

The week before, the new Orthodox Church had opened on a hill close to the Potočari Memorial Centre. On the day of the opening, a small group of young men paraded loudly through Srebrenica wearing Četnik insignia and carrying pictures of Mladić and Karadžić. The mothers were too scared to come out of their houses. There is nothing manly or heroic about intimidating elderly ladies who live alone.

But what frightens them more than the crass behaviour of this youth is the political language which is being used by some politicians in this pre-election period. Instead of presenting a positive and constructive vision for the future of BiH, too many politicians speak only of division and mistrust, using ethno-nationalist rhetoric that is all too familiar from the early 1990s. Often simply to cover for their own failures. With such language back in circulation, is it any wonder that people are concerned about the appearance of electoral slogans focusing on unity, strength and victory. Victory against whom, exactly?

Some of the nationalist parties from all the main ethnic groups appear at times hardly to have moved on at all since the war. As a new arrival in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but with experience from a number of less developed parts of the world, I have never before seen such immaturity in politics. It is clear from the polls what the electorate wants: economic growth, secure jobs, better education and health. And yet some parties barely touch on these issues, preferring instead to instil a culture of fear that shores up their vote, while stultifying political, economic and social development. And with it the future of those they claim to represent.

My point in writing this blog is not to tell people in this country who to vote for. That’s entirely their decision, and the British Government will respect the results. We stand ready to support anyone who is prepared to work constructively after the election to deliver the reforms this country needs. But at the moment, with the debate deliberately clouded by embarrassing, cheap political tricks – particularly those that misuse religious symbols or institutions – it is frankly difficult to see where this new leadership and new ideas will come from.

At the very least, I would like to feel that Bosnian citizens – Bosniak, Croat, Serb or others – are putting pressure on their political representatives to moderate their language and behaviour. It is disastrous for the country’s international image, deterring investors and alienating potential allies. But most of all, there are many vulnerable people in this country – returnees from all ethnic groups. As human beings, politicians should be going out of their way to make them feel comfortable and secure. That would be an act of true political leadership. It is unacceptable that today’s political debate is intimidating once again those people who suffered so much 20 years ago.

4 comments on “Elections: Leadership and moderation please

  1. Your Excellency,

    Thank you for this very interesting blog and to read about your recent visit to Srebrenica.

    We are English barristers working in Sarjevo for 3 months for an NGO, Trial – which is supported by the British Embassy. We are working on issues facing victims of sexual violence, particularly when they come to give evidence at the War Crimes Court.

    We are also keeping for our friends and colleagues:

    They will be very interested to read your blog too, so we will post a link.

    Kind regards,

    Michael Edwards
    Rachel Chisholm

  2. Thank you for sharing your interesting views on preelection time in BiH.

    Setting up your blog and keep it going may mean your mission hear is not going to be only living life of a carrier diplomat without making much of an impact to neither BiH well being nor for Brits interests in Balkans / BiH.

    From one election to another kicking the ball away and expecting BiH citizens to make change and bring new leaders in who are expected to make the change is not what you believe in?
    Who would you give your vote to had you been from around here? It is not easy one, is it?
    Friendly advice if I may. Please consider making a call on Mr Bogic Bogicevic and have an informal chat with him on BiH from policy angle. If you wish to set yourself apart from an average diplomat in BiH and from your predecessors I am positive you will benefit from the meeting greatly. Consider who would you take with you for interpreting! (Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people).
    Best, Nero

    1. Many thanks Nero. You won’t be surprised that I’m going to side step the question about who I would have voted for! We in the UK are ready to work with anyone in government who is prepared to pursue a positive reform agenda. But I’ll make a point of trying to meet Bogic Bogicevic – thank you for the suggestion.

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