Bosnia and Herzegovina: Speech by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at Operation EUFOR Althea

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Your Excellencies, Ambassadors, Ministers, dear Generals, Soldiers, Mayor of Sarajevo,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to start my visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina at this Butmir camp. Thank you, thank you Commander General Wessely for your leadership and for hosting us today. Thank you to all of you, EUFOR troops for your service to peace and security in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Thanks to all Troop Contributing Countries for Operation Althea – without you, without your people, equipment and assets, we would not be standing here today providing security to the people of Sarajevo.

In the course of the last weeks, it is the security of the whole of Europe and beyond that has been challenged by the unprovoked and brutal Russian attack on Ukraine. We are witnessing indiscriminate bombing and destruction. The Russian military is waging war against democratic Ukraine and we are facing what we thought could be unimaginable today.

Here, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the war in Ukraine brings back painful memories of the war that swept across the Balkans in the 90s. Today is almost 30 years ago that the Sarajevo siege started, of Srebrenica and of millions of refugees and missing persons across the countries and nations of this region.

In this clash between the rule-of-law and the rule-of-gun, it is good to remember that you are a peace force. But in order to maintain peace, sometimes we need force. In the fight between the rules-based order and a world of aggression, the United Nations [General Assembly] has spoken, asking for an immediate end to the Russian aggression. And Bosnia and Herzegovina has demonstrated its commitment to international law by aligning with European Union statements and decisions on Ukraine.

And in this critical moment, your presence here, the EUFOR’s presence here to support the authorities in maintaining a safe and secure environment has become even more important. More important than ever. That is why we have almost doubled our presence on the ground, with 4 additional companies and there are further assets offered by European Union Member States to strengthen our capabilities even more. In this tense moment, I want to reassure the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina of our unwavering commitment to maintain safety and stability. That is your duty and I thank you for that.

We have reinforced our ability to react swiftly in case of crisis. This reflects the European Union’s commitment to the unity, to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina. And we will continue deterring those who would feel emboldened to undertake destabilisation actions.

Each generation, at any moment, carries its own responsibility to peace and stability. 30 years ago, the situation here was much worse. And we have inherited the past – with the good and with the bad – from our ancestors, but we borrow the future from our children. And if we care, we all need to do the right things: to prevent crime, to support victims, to expose and punish perpetrators. And none of that would be possible without you being here.

The European vision for Bosnia and Herzegovina that you are protecting here offers prosperity and security, underpinned by the rule of law and free movement of goods, capital, people and services. That is a vision anchored in the future, not in the past. The difficulties and the wounds of the past have to be overcome in order to build a better future for everybody in this country. You are future builders.

But we should not be here forever. The vision of this future only will become a reality with and when the domestic forces – the governments, the civil society, the media and the citizens- make a concerted effort. Because only the citizens of this country can bring this country to the future we want.

So, I encourage everybody to work together, not to create new political crises, not to block State institutions. When you look at ways to maximise your economic potential and the functionality of a State by fighting corruption, this is the way out towards the future that you are protecting.

That is why in this solemn moment, 30 years after the starting of the siege of Sarajevo, in front of you, soldiers of Althea Operation, I call on all elected parliamentarians and authorities to work together, to find political solutions; and on Republika Srpska authorities to return to constructive decision-making within the Bosnia and Herzegovina institutions.

I am saying that loudly because I strongly believe that Bosnia and Herzegovina’s and the region’s future lies in the European Union, as the best provider for peace and security.

It is our partnership that brings prosperity, stability and real benefits for every citizen. Bosnia and Herzegovina citizens, and European Union Member States alike, want to see more progress and want to see it now. The current situation requires that even more urgently. It is the agenda on which we need to work on together.

Thank you to your contribution to that. I have always admired the way the army forces work, based on the sense of duty, the sense of honour, discipline, respect to your responsibilities, acting together. You are the strongest show of solidarity and strength at the service of peace. Allow me to express my strong gratitude – more than that – my admiration, for the people who employ their lives, their efforts, sometimes risking their lives, to ensure peace for everybody, to ensure prosperity – shared prosperity. You may be proud of what you are doing here.

I thank you a lot.

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