Speech by High Representative and EU Special Representative Valentin Inzko at the Opening of the Civil Society Forum

Are You Pushy Enough?


Ladies and Gentlemen,


I would like to begin by expressing my full support for the aims of this conference. I can only be with you for a short time this morning, but when I saw the prospectus and agenda I was determined to take part in this event.


Basically, your aims – to develop a democratic, intercultural and citizens-based society in Bosnia and Herzegovina – dovetail exactly with the Euro-Atlantic integration agenda.


That agenda has been put on hold because of a political roadblock.


I think this conference needs to send out a clear message – this roadblock will continue to prevent Bosnia and Herzegovina’s progress to Europe unless BiH citizens make their representatives move it out of the way.


The last four years have shown very clearly that – on their own – BiH politicians cannot or will not do this job. Your must get involved.


NGO representatives in this room are among those who can help to ensure that the obstruction of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s path to Europe – an issue that directly affects the future of this country and all its people – is placed at the centre of media coverage and public debate during the election campaign.


I hope that you will come up with concrete proposals on how to do this effectively.


Many of you may be familiar with the Citizens for Europe initiative that is being organised by the EU Special Representative’s Office. It is designed to highlight and explain key steps in the EU integration agenda, and to show how taking these steps will help raise living standards in Bosnia and Herzegovina, even before the country eventually secures EU membership.


Citizens for Europe poses one basic question to BiH politicians and not only politicians. It is this:


How will you bring this country closer to the European Union and thus make life better for the mass of people?


The answers so far have been varied.


But no politician that I’m aware of has suggested that this object will be achieved by carrying on for the next four years as the political establishment has carried on for the last four years.


See to it that things end well


Participants at this conference reject the atomisation of BiH society, particularly among young people.


You reject the dominance of ethno-national criteria in politics.


You want BiH citizens to determine their future, rather than have it determined for them by a small group of political powerbrokers.


I believe the key question before you now must be: how do we lobby effectively for these positions, particularly in an election year?


The Spanish writer, Baltasar Gracian – one of my favourite thinkers – noted astutely that we should “see to it that things end well”.


This may seem obvious, but in reality it has a logic that is often difficult to put into practice, and it points to a political truth that is sometimes hard to accept.


“See to it that things end well,” Gracian says, and then he adds: “Some regard more the rigour of the game than the winning of it, but to the world the discredit of the final failure does away with any recognition of previous diligence.”


In other words: it is commendable to work hard and to strive courageously – but in the end we are judged by what we achieve.


This basic truth should be applied to politicians. Not only to politicians but to all those responsible for good condition of the society.


And it should also be applied to civil society activists.


Why have you failed?


The people of Bosnia and Herzegovina have been made to suffer because the political establishment has failed – or has simply refused – to implement reforms that can raise living standards and that can move this country closer to Europe.


This isn’t just my opinion – it’s a documented fact. As the EU reform process has stalled, poverty and unemployment have rocketed.


The campaign ahead of the October elections should focus on such questions.


Why have you failed – or refused – to implement EU-integration reforms that will make life better?And how are you planning to deal with them in the period to come?


Some candidates will say they did everything that was humanly possible, but they were thwarted because of the intransigence of others.


But politics is about circumventing, overcoming and disarming other people’s intransigence.


I have regularly seen this in practice in Bosnia and Herzegovina – but behind closed doors! The party leaders are experts at dealing with one another in ways that match and modify their respective self-interest; political barter in this country is occasionally world class.


But in public, they routinely assume a default position of blaming one another for failure. Most people must surely be tired of hearing that, for example – They wouldn’t let us enact this law because it’s a state competence; or they wouldn’t let us enact that law because it’s an entity competence.


The glaring disparity between hard-nosed horse-trading in private and ethno-nationalist intransigence in public has led us to a position where political parties do brisk business in allocating public appointments and securing public revenue, while resolutely failing to agree on key laws that will improve the wellbeing of citizens and bring the country closer to Europe.


This is a disaster.


This politics has failed the people of this country.


It is clearer today than at any time since the end of the war that Bosnia and Herzegovina needs a new kind of politics led by the common good. It is up to you, citizens, to demand that politics offers solutions to your daily concerns. I can tell you,  those solutions are best achieved when politicians are pushed by their constituencies to feel the urgency of the hour. Take the recent example of visa liberalisation, when pressured by public opinion politicians made the required compromises in order for this country to move forward on the path to the European Union.


Are you pushy enough?


I noted that Gracian’s maxim – to ensure that things end well – also applies to civil society.


Good intentions are important, independent thinking is important, integrity and the pursuit of truth and justice are important – but none of these important and commendable things counts in the great scheme of state-building if it is not applied to the political process in an effective way.


Civic activism cannot simply be about feeling good; it must be about tangibly making things better.


Has BiH civil society been able to see to it that things end well?


No it hasn’t – at least, not yet.


I see that one of the conference discussion topics is: “Are we pushy enough?”


Let me help with the answer.


No, you are not.


The odds, of course, may be stacked against you; politics in this country are premised on ethno-nationalist criteria rather than on civil society.


The only way this will change, however – and the only way the roadblock to European integration will be moved to one side – is if citizens take charge.


Until now, the political elite has been allowed to do pretty much what it wants.


The results have not been impressive.


The conference agenda includes formulating concrete proposals. Let me say that you will make an important – possibly a decisive – contribution to liberating Bosnia and Herzegovina from chronic political failure if you can advance proposals for civic action that make candidates for office properly accountable to the electorate.


This is a battle that you – and all the citizens of this country – can fight and win. It is a battle being fought in neighbouring countries as well. It is a battle that has been fought and won in the countries that make up the European Union, and that is exactly why your aims and the EU integration agenda dovetail so neatly.


If you produce proposals that can be put into practice during the next six months you can influence the outcome of the October election.


There is a reserve of common sense among the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina that has for much too long been marginalised.


It is time for citizens to change that. It is time for the common sense of the majority – of every ethnicity – to prevail over the self-interest of the minority.


A majority of citizens want Bosnia and Herzegovina to be a normal European state where they can live and work in security and dignity.


Every politician who is obstructing that outcome should be asked very clearly to explain.


Why have you failed – or refused – to implement the reforms that will raise living standards and take us into Europe? And how are you planning to deal with them in the period to come?


If politicians are properly held to account by citizens, then, yes, this election can be a change election.


Thank you