Inaugural Speech

Author: Paddy Ashdown
Uploaded: Monday, 08 July, 2002

Inaugural Speech by Paddy Ashdown, the new High Representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina, delivered to the B-H Assembly in Sarajevo

It’s great to be back.

And a great honour to be taking over from my distinguished predecessor, Wolfgang Petritsch. He has left us with a foundation to build on and, with your help, I intend to build on it.

My wife Jane and I are really looking forward to making our home here for the next few years, and I am looking forward to working with you as you travel on the next stage of your journey towards statehood and Europe.

But that destination is not yet assured, for there is a fork in the road ahead of us.

One road leads back to division and instability.

If we take this road, then this country will become an island of squabbling refuseniks left behind by its neighbours who are already moving ahead to their European future. A place that the international community cannot leave because of instability. But in which they have lost patience and interest.

The other road leads to a different kind of future.

The one most people here want.

The one the international community supports.

And the one I remain confident we can – together – achieve.

This road is the road of reform. If we have the courage to take it, it will lead us to statehood, prosperity and ultimately to membership of the European Union itself.

For BiH, our European destination is not some abstract idea – some piece of meaningless political jargon.

It means a better future for you and your children. It means providing new jobs, giving the young a better education, and giving every citizen confidence and security.

That is the choice ahead of us. Stay as we are and be left behind. Or push forward with reform, and create a new future for this country.

So my aim is simply stated:

It is to work with the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina to put this country irreversibly onto the road to statehood and membership of Europe.

Please note. I do not say this will be either easy or quick.

But if I didn’t believe it could be done, I would not have accepted this job. I have grown to love this country very much. I believe in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And I believe in you.

The Past Six Years
Now, I am a rather open person. And I will tell you honestly what problems lie ahead.

But first, let us recognise how far you have come already.

You know, some complain that Bosnia and Herzegovina has been making progress too slowly. And it’s true that we must now go faster.

But building peace after war is no easy thing.

If my home of Northern Ireland had made as much progress in thirty years as BiH has made in six, the conflict there would have been over much sooner.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is at peace.

Refugees are returning in huge numbers.

Freedom of movement has been restored.

You have joined the Council of Europe.

And the ethnic tapestry of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s proud past is slowly being mended and restored.

There are now mosques in Prijedor, Bosniak businessmen in Doboj, Bosnian Serb communities in the Neretva valley and a Bosnian Croat community in Bugojno. A Bosnian Serb has been appointed chief of police in Drvar, a Bosniac, as deputy police chief in Srebrenica.

You are entitled to feel proud of these achievements.

But we are still far from our destination. There is much – and especially much that is difficult - yet to do.

But I cannot do it for you. You have to look to yourselves.

So a good motto for Bosnia and Herzegovina on the next stage of the journey would be, to paraphrase John F Kennedy, “Do not ask what the international community can do for you. Ask first what you can do for yourselves”.

“Ne pitajte šta medjunarodna zajednica može uraditi za vas. Pitajte prvo šta vi možete uraditi za sebe."

Do that, and I am confident we can succeed.

Priorities for the Future
But huge problems confront us.

Next year, BiH’s debt will leap from KM160 million to more than 235 million.

At the same time, foreign aid, on which we have become far too dependent, is going to fall year after year.

Rising debt, falling aid, and, because we have not reformed fast enough, little prospect of attracting inward investment to close the gap.

The pressure on government expenditure will be severe.

So we have no option but to take a long hard look at how Bosnia and Herzegovina is governed.

You have 1,200 judges and prosecutors, 760 legislators, 180 Ministers, four separate levels of government and three armies – for a country of less than four million people! You have 13 Prime Ministers! That’s a Prime Minister for every 300,000 citizens!

The cost of government in BiH is a staggering KM1.8bn – and that’s just for the government machine itself, it doesn’t include the cost of services such as health, education and pensions. That means that just paying for politicians and bureaucrats costs every citizen of working age in BiH KM900 every year – that’s almost 3 months’ wages for the average worker!

The truth is Bosnia and Herzegovina spends far too much money on its politicians, and far too little on its people.

And we have no option but to change that.

And the same is true for defence.

Proportionately, BiH spends twice as much on defence as the United States, and four times more than the European average.

Why? Who do we think we are defending ourselves against? Serbia? Croatia? Today, these countries are focused on European integration, not territorial expansion.

A great American statesman once said:

“Every gun that is fired, every rocket made, signifies a theft from those who hunger and are not fed - from those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone - it is spending the sweat of its labours, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”

There is probably no place on earth to which that applies more, than Bosnia and Herzegovina – except, perhaps, North Korea!

This is nothing short of madness when many people here are struggling just to feed their families.

So there is no alternative to reform and to setting clear priorities.

Here are mine:

First Justice. Then Jobs. Through Reform.

Prvo Zakonitost. Zatim Zaposlenost. Kroz Reformu.

Justice, because the rule of law is the starting point – the essential requirement for a decent life for the people of BiH and for progress in everything we do.

Jobs, because employment is the key to human dignity and to a decent future for our children.

And reform, because we cannot have either justice or jobs if we don’t first change the system that has denied both to far too many, for far too long.

I shall return to these priorities in detail, with some specific proposals, later in this speech.

Dayton and the Future of BiH
But first a word on Dayton.

The peace agreement that was drawn up in Ohio in 1995 was designed to end a war, not to build a country.

Dayton is vital. Without it there would be no peace.

But Dayton is the floor, not the ceiling.

It is the foundation for the state we are trying to construct. And like all foundations, it must be built on.

Now, I know there are those who believe that the letter of Dayton is all that protects their identity and safety.

To them I say this:

I will never permit any constitutional change that fundamentally threatens the identity or security of any of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s constituent peoples.

It is a characteristic of modern, successful European states that they see diversity not as a threat but a positive advantage.

That’s why governments right across Europe are becoming increasingly decentralised and power is being increasingly devolved.
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