On March 1 this year, Bosnia and Herzegovina is celebrating 30 years of re-established independence. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was one of the first countries to recognize it on April 17, 1992.
Unfortunately, soon after its independence, the Serbo- Croatian conflict spilled over the border into what became a four-year long aggression.
This attack was an attempt to divide the country, its multicultural society and eliminate Bosniaks, not only from the political sphere as a sovereign European nation, but also to subject them to annihilation.
During the war, Saudi Arabia played a key role in supporting people of Bosnia and Herzegovina, especially refugees and victims of the genocide. Then US President Bill Clinton said: “The only world leader out there really plaguing a way to get us (the US and international community) involved was King Fahd. They were not Arabs, they did not have any money, they did not have any power, but they were his fellow Muslims and they were being oppressed in Europe.”
His Majesty King Salman, the governor of Riyadh at the time, was personally involved in supporting Bosnia and Herzegovina and its people. He headed the Saudi High Commission for the Relief of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and visited the country twice.
Thirty years after independence, Bosnia and Herzegovina again stands at a crossroad counting on its friends in the world.
Saudi Arabia was pushing for a peace agreement, and always looking for a fair and just resolution of the conflict.
Under international pressure, the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, also known as the Dayton Agreement or the Dayton Accords, was finally reached. Having been initiated in Dayton, Ohio, on Nov. 21, 1995, the full formal agreement was signed by Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, and Croatian President Franjo Tudman in Paris on Dec. 14 that year.
After the war, Bosnia and Herzegovina went through a process of reconstruction and reconciliation, which was not always smooth and without objection, especially from those political players who feared taking responsibility for ethnic cleansing, genocide and other crimes they planned, committed or supported.
However, with international commitment, and the key role in prosecuting war criminals by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, Bosnia and Herzegovina managed to achieve remarkable success in reintegration, facing the past, reconciliation, and economic development.
With a lot of obstruction and in a very complex system, the country managed to build state institutions and move from the Dayton phase to the Euro-Atlantic integrations. A land known for war and atrocities became a favorite tourist and student destination, and started attracting investments from all around the world.
Amid the challenges of complex decision-making mechanisms and constitutional reforms, things have continued forward. At one point there was a consensus on EU and even NATO membership. On those paths, significant achievements have been made.
Even at this stage, Saudi Arabia plays an important role, making sure that it acts in the interests of all Bosnian citizens, not only Bosniaks, while providing financial support for reconstruction and state building efforts. All these years, the Saudi Fund for Development has financed various projects in Bosnia, especially in infrastructure and housing programs for thousands of internally displaced people who remained homeless after the war.
Unfortunately, this progress is under threat.
Bosnian-Serb leader Milorad Dodik, who currently serves as the Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite inter-ethnic presidency, and who openly advocates for the secession of the Serb-dominated region from Bosnia, announced recently that the leadership of one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s entities, the Republic of Srpska, will take measures aimed at unravelling key institutions of the state.
He is moving forward with plans to withdraw from the army, judiciary and tax systems, which has drawn criticism from the international community. For almost half a year representatives from the Republic of Srpska have blocked state legislative and executive institutions, except when in their interests, have denied the genocide at Srebrenica, and defied the amendment made by the former high representative on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s criminal code outlawing the public denial, condoning, trivialisation or justification of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes in a way that is “likely to incite to violence or hatred.”
With the deteriorating security situation in Eastern Europe, especially after the Russian invasion on Ukraine, it is time to bring international focus to Bosnia and Herzegovina with a clear goal of preventing it from becoming object of a new struggle between the East and the West.
The international community should send a clear message to regional hegemons and local separatists that their destructive agenda in Bosnia and Herzegovina will not be tolerated, and global powers should move away from a Cold War mentality.
The horrible pictures from the war, and all the progress that has been made since then, should serve as a warning, but also as encouragement not to repeat mistakes from the past throughout the region.
We are sure that Bosnia and Herzegovina can count on Saudi Arabia’s constructive and consistent support as we have these last 30 years, especially in light of growing economic and tourist interests from both countries.
Three decades of re-established independence is seen by most citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and their friends all around the world, as an inspiration for new challenges and opportunities to come.
• Muhamed Jusić is the ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.