March 1, 2012 – Washington, D.C. – Today marks the twentieth anniversary of Bosnia and Herzegovina's independence. In the two decades since the country split from the now-dissolved Yugoslavia, BiH has faced some of the greatest challenges seen in Europe since World War II. This bittersweet day challenges us all to remember the souls lost in the 1992-1995 war while also looking forward to a future bright with peace and justice in BiH.
The celebrations upon Bosnia's proclamation of independence in 1992 were cut short as conflict loomed on the horizon. When the first shots were fired in Sarajevo on April 6, 1992, the country and its citizens were launched into a war that took more than 100,000 lives and displaced over 2 million people. Approximately 10,000 individuals are still missing, and as years pass it become less likely that they will be identified and receive the respectful burial they deserve. Bosnia, recently referred to as "the land of blood and honey," is soaked with the tears of the mothers, fathers, sons, sisters, and friends we have lost.
However, in the twenty years since independence and the start of war, Bosnia has made progress in the face of nearly insurmountable challenges. ACBH recognizes the critical role the Dayton Accords played in cessation of violence throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina. This was a first important step in rebuilding BiH as an independent state. Bosnia has completed all but one of the necessary steps toward joining NATO. Upon resolving the defense property issue, BiH will be given a Membership Action Plan (MAP) and will begin the process of becoming a member of this collective defense organization. Membership is both a strategic and symbolic step recognizing Bosnia's emergence as a new international actor in European security.
Though the NATO membership process has promising movement, Bosnia and Herzegovina continues to face internal and regional roadblocks to full post-war recovery. While we commend the federal government on its recent formation after fourteen months of stalemate, we urge politicians on the state and entity levels to resolve the Sejdic-Finci case to expand political participation for all Bosnian citizens, regardless of religious or national background. Furthermore, the denials of genocide and ethnic cleansing in Srebrenica and other sites of mass atrocity made by prominent Republika Srpska politicians, including RS President Milorad Dodik, are unacceptable. This, coupled with a recurrence of ethnically charged rhetoric, greatly compromises the peace and security of the Bosnian people and progress toward EU accession continues to be stalled as Bosnia struggles to address these critical issues.
The Dayton Accord, while halting the violence of the war, left Bosnia with a peace agreement hardly appropriate for leading the country into its next stage of recovery and development. Now, twenty years later, BiH suffers because a Dayton has not been transformed into a constitution worthy of guiding Bosnia on its journey to internal success and regional integration. Without urgently needed constitutional reform, government conflicts will continue to halt progress toward accession and EU membership will take decades instead of years.
Bosnia and Herzegovina's most valuable asset is its people, at home and abroad, and on its twentieth birthday it is her citizens who should be celebrated. Bosnians are a strong people who have persevered through years of war and insecurity, but who continue to demand justice and social change from their leaders and each other. As politicians hinder the country's future, regular Bosnians continue to move forward in hopes of building a future of which future generations can be proud.
Today, ACBH honors those who have seen twenty years of BiH's independence, those we have lost in the war of aggression and in the fight for that freedom and, perhaps most importantly, those Bosnians still to come in the next twenty years and beyond. On this important anniversary, we rededicate ourselves to building Bosnia and Herzegovina as a strong, prosperous, and united country for all of its citizens and all who call Bosnia home.