2 July 1998

Welcome Address

by NATO Secretary General, Dr. Javier Solana

I am very pleased to open this important seminar.

I have visited Bosnia many times before. On each occasion, it has been to conduct talks with political leaders or to visit SFOR troops.

But today is different. Today I have the opportunity to talk directly to the people of Sarajevo and Bosnia. My words therefore are addressed to you - the people who are guiding Bosnia into the next century.

In barely two years from now, we leave the 20th century. It is a century many historians believe really began in August 1914, with the fateful events in Sarajevo. Eight decades later, some predicted the century would end, as it started, with bloodshed in Sarajevo. Indeed, for a while it seemed that history would come full circle.

I do not believe that history repeats itself. Not if we make the right decisions. There is no law of nature that forces us to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. There is no law that condemns the Balkans to be a region of perennial turmoil and conflict. There is no iron law to deny to you - the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina - a future in peace, reconciliation and prosperity. As long as you, the new political generation, have the determination and the will to make this so.

A brighter future is clearly within reach. You know this better than I. You live it day by day. Just compare the situation today to what went on before - in this city and this country - barely three years ago! The fighting has ended, armies have been separated, and nearly 400,000 troops demobilised.

Infrastructure is being rebuilt. Power has been restored to all major cities. Nationwide railroads are running again. Regional airports have opened. The economy is recovering and gaining momentum, and new investment is coming in.

It may be too early to talk of a "Sarajevo renaissance", but compared to what I remember seeing here on my first trips, there has indeed been a re-birth of life in this great European city, of purpose and of potential.

We are on track. But the job is not yet complete. I therefore appeal to you today:

  • continue the transformation of your country so that it can fulfil all the responsibilities of modern statehood;

  • continue to build democratic structures, political pluralism, ethnic tolerance.

A state that upholds the rights of its citizens, a state that fulfils its obligations towards its neighbours and the international community as a whole - such a state would, I can assure you, be a welcome member of the wider Euro-Atlantic community.

Everyone is aware that to manage such a fundamental transformation is a daunting challenge. No one expects a young nation like yours to face it without outside help and assistance. The international community is ready to lend such assistance. Indeed, the reconstruction of Bosnia shows perhaps the most powerful cooperative momentum in Europe's recent history: NATO and its Partners, the United Nations, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the European Union, and many other international organisations and non-governmental organisations are all united in their efforts to help your country develop all the aspects of responsible statehood.

But let me be clear. The international community is not here for moral reasons alone. It is here because we have learned that the quest of a Europe whole and free and at peace would remain incomplete if the Balkans stayed volatile. We have learned that we cannot be secure if our neighbours remain insecure. A stable, democratic Bosnia, like a stable, democratic Balkan region, is an investment in the future of our entire continent.

Our recent decision to continue SFOR's mandate demonstrates that the international community is ready to continue its assistance, without self-imposed deadlines. No one can question the exceptional achievements of IFOR and SFOR - the world can be proud of what they have done. But no one should expect that outside assistance will be available forever. We do not want to encourage a culture of dependency. We want a stable, self-confident Bosnia, a country that can manage its own affairs, that becomes a true asset, not a permanent liability for Euro-Atlantic security.

We need Bosnia as a model for ethnic pluralism and tolerance. For only if this tolerance takes firm root across all of the Balkans can this region manage its transition from an authoritarian past, and prepare itself to enter the new century, both politically and economically.

As we speak, we can see in Kosovo - not far from here - the demons of ethnic intolerance raising their heads again. Hopefully, saner heads will prevail and political negotiations will replace extremism and the resort to violence. NATO and the international community are determined to bring pressure to bear on the parties to make them see that this is the only route to take. But lasting peace cannot be imposed from outside. It can only come from within, from people's minds and from their hearts.

That is why the significance of Bosnia's evolution goes beyond Bosnia itself. A new Bosnia, based on democracy and ethnic tolerance, will set an example for the entire region. It will signal the Balkans' return to the European mainstream. It will bring your country ever closer to the European zone of stability and prosperity, of integration and cooperation. You will join the many nations in the Euro-Atlantic area that are today engaged in political consultation, economic trade and military cooperation.

What are the next steps towards this new Bosnia? Let me give you my personal view of what needs to be done:

  • first, work hard to strengthen the cause of moderation and of inter-ethnic integration in the September elections. These elections will be the first real post-war elections.

    They represent an important chance for the Bosnian people to take control of their future. These elections must demonstrate to the world that the Bosnian people is choosing the path of reconciliation and ethnic pluralism, not of hatred and revanchism;

  • second, continue to build and make effective the civil institutions of governance and the rule of law throughout this country. No democracy can sustain itself without being able to protect legally its citizens and their interests. Get the institutions in place; demand their implementation and impartial, effective functioning. Break the logjam created by political posturing and indifference.

  • third, push for further progress in building a democratic, multi-ethnic military for this country. Democratic civil-military institutions guard against external threats and can check tendencies to militarise governments for nationalist or even personal ambitions. This we have already seen tragically unfold in many parts of former Yugoslavia. Military forces accountable to a civilian government, which is itself under constant scrutiny from an informed electorate and free press, are much less likely to be used for domestic repression or external intimidation.

  • fourth, make further progress towards a free and independent media. For without this, success in pursuing the first three objectives will be hampered, if not de-railed entirely. In today's world, the media has tremendous power.

We have seen how this power can be abused to fan the flames of nationalism and ethnic hatred. That is why we need safeguards that add responsibility to power. State-controlled media must be democratically restructured, and independent media strengthened. Indeed, to help achieve this goal is the aim of today's Seminar.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The key to a brighter future for Bosnia does not lie in Brussels with the European Union or NATO. Nor does it lie in New York with the United Nations. The key is right here with you. You are holding it in your hands.

The international community is there to assist you, but the choice is entirely up to you. You can choose the past, with all the violence, ethnic intolerance and economic hardships this will entail. Or you can choose the future, the future of a democratic, multi-ethnic Bosnia, a Bosnia at peace with itself and with its neighbours, a Bosnia with its rightful place in the international community.

Now is the time to choose. I know that you - people of Sarajevo, citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina - will make the right choice as the new generation. And the generations to follow will thank you most profoundly for that. Now, let's get on with the work that lies ahead.

Thank you.

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