Speaking at a recent summit in Croatia, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon said the United States wants “strong, stable, democratic partners” among the Balkan nations. “But that means overcoming the divisions, the narrow nationalism, and the inflexible economies that have no place in the 21st century,” he said.
Earlier this year Bosnia and Herzegovina appeared to be getting back on track after a 16-month political stalemate. But there have been troubling signs of regression in recent weeks, said Assistant Secretary Gordon. Narrow personal and political agendas as well as attempts to stoke ethnic fears are again impeding progress on needed reforms.
Work needs to resume immediately on Bosnia and Herzegovina meeting the requirements necessary for submitting a credible European Union, or EU, membership application and beginning NATO’s Membership Action Plan this year.
The rhetoric coming from Republika Srpska’s leaders challenging Bosnia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is another impediment to progress. The U.S. strongly supports a framework of one state, two entities, and three constituent peoples. “Republika Srpska is, and must remain,” said Assistant Secretary Gordon, “a constituent part of Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
With regard to Kosovo and Serbia, recent bilateral negotiations have led to agreements on issues such as cross-border freedom of movement, a customs stamp, and recognition of university diplomas. The United States expects to see Kosovo and Serbia continue to move toward normalizing relations with each other. That means Serbia will have to come to terms with the reality of a democratic, sovereign, independent, and multi-ethnic Kosovo within its current borders, end its support for the illegal parallel security and judicial structures in northern Kosovo, and ensure freedom of movement for all. In addition, Serbia should not block efforts by Kosovo to implement decentralization measures that will give people living there a normal life.
As for Kosovo, it needs to continue the hard work of building a cohesive state and developing its multi-ethnic, democratic institutions.
The United States calls on local political leaders in the Balkans to move past ethnic divisions and personal interests and focus on delivering the genuine reforms demanded by their citizens. “We need partners who share this vision,” said Assistant Secretary Gordon, “who are prepared to put the interests of the people ahead of their own, and who are willing to compromise for the greater good.”