Philip H. Gordon
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
June 13, 2011

QUESTION: It’s about the political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. What is it like in your opinion, and whether it’s time for Bosnia and Herzegovina to see more engagement of the European Union and close the office of the High Rep?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: In general the political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina I wish I could say was progressing more than I can say. It has been more than eight months since an election that we hoped would really help the country turn the corner, to allow its leaders to focus on economic development and to pursue the path to the European Union. And yet in those eight months it hasn’t managed to form a government at the state level which his disappointing and frustrating, and I would think is frustrating for all of the people of the country. That’s just on the general question of the political situation.

When you talk about EU engagement and the future of the Office of the High Representative, I would say we welcome greater European Union engagement. We’re very closely in touch with the EU in terms of policy here. And the EU’s decision to strengthen its presence is a positive one. The more the international community can be engaged here the better, because we’re all committed to helping this country succeed.

That doesn’t mean, and I want to be clear about that, that we think it is time for the Office of High Representative to disappear. On the contrary, I think we’ve seen a number of occasions in recent months, most recently in April but not just then, where the role of the Office of High Representative, the ongoing necessity of that role was demonstrated. I’m here in part to underscore our continued support for the OHR. I think we’ve been very clear as the international community what conditions would have to be met before it would be time for the OHR to finish its job and unfortunately, those conditions don’t seem to be met. Until they are, we’re going to continue to give it our strong backing.

QUESTION: Can Bosnia and Herzegovina make progress on its path to European integration processes since the High Rep, his action actually represents a form of protectorate in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Is it such a state with limited capacity when it comes to decision-making and can it as such make quick progress towards European Union and European integration processes?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I don’t think anybody wants to see the Office of High Representative exist longer than necessary. Once Bosnia and Herzegovina has fulfilled the necessary conditions to transition beyond that and fulfill the conditions for European Union membership, of course an international presence of that nature would no longer be necessary. That is our goal. Nobody is seeking to perpetuate forever an international role in this country. We would all like to see that role not be necessary.

The real question is not what is ideal for the country or what is consistent with European Union membership, but does it remain necessary to have this institution in place. The international community was clear about the conditions that would have to be fulfilled. They have yet to be fulfilled. Until they are the United States is going to continue to strongly back the institution.

QUESTION: When it comes to the formation of government at the state level it has not been formed yet although it’s been eight months from the election. How much did Bosnia and Herzegovina lose because of that with regard to its international reputation and its internal reputation as a state?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I think the failure to form a state level government in eight months is a setback for the country’s international reputation. I think it is an impediment to the economic growth that the country needs. Not least because it’s an impediment to support from the International Monetary Fund. I think in turn, that is not healthy for the economy because it raises questions among international investors about the country’s future, the country’s future as a potential EU member. So it’s a setback and that’s why we’re strongly encouraging the parties and that’s why I’ll do so in my meetings with party leaders here, to find a compromise and move forward. We really do think this is something that would benefit the country as a whole in a number of important ways.

QUESTION: When we are talking about the formation of the government, the federation government was established with the intervention of OHR, of the High Rep. And it was done contrary to the decisions of the most democratic institution of Bosnia and Herzegovina which is the Central Election Commission. What is your comment about that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I think the intervention of the international community to help bring about a government at the entity level was not a first choice but a necessary choice. Many months had gone by without a government being formed at any level, and ultimately the international community ended up playing a role that it didn’t want to play in the first place but felt it had to play in order to bring such a compromise about. It put forward what we felt was a reasonable compromise proposal that the parties themselves didn’t seem able to come to. One set of parties, the HDZ parties, chose not to go along with the compromise presented and walked away from the process which we regretted because we thought it would be important for them to be represented, but they chose not to be. So a federation level government was formed and is now functioning and helping the federation and getting things done that need to get done that aren’t done when you have an absence of a government. So that’s why the international community reluctantly stepped in and we consider the result of that, maybe the process wasn’t ideal, but the result is a legitimate legal and functioning government and we’d like to see a similarly functioning government at the state level as well.

QUESTION: The legitimate representatives, as they call themselves, of Croat people say that their election will was not respected. Would it be good for Bosnia and Herzegovina to form the government at the state level without two HDZs? HDZ, BIH and HDZ 1990, or is it better to have broader coalition? Is it better for Bosnia and Herzegovina taking into account the tasks ahead?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: It’s not for me to dictate or put forward a specific recipe of what the state level government should be. As a general rules, yes, broader is better. We’d like to see a broad coalition of parties from the entities across the country represented. That would be the best outcome all around. As I said at the federation level not having the HDZs represented was not the first choice, but it was a choice that they made when they chose not to accept the compromise that was put on the table.

So we strongly encourage the parties to talk to each other and find a way to have the broadest representation possible so there can be a government at the state level which would be in the interest of everybody in the country.

QUESTION: What do you expect from the structural dialogue which already started when it comes to judicial reform? And in your opinion, what is the judicial system in Bosnia and Herzegovina? Is that reform which we have seen so far, did it actually yield the expected results?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I think everybody would recognize that more progress needs to be made in terms of the judicial institutions of this country. That’s one of the reasons the European Union has been prepared to offer such a structural dialogue. It’s part of the EU accession process so it’s necessary for Bosnia and Herzegovina in that sense, but it’s also necessary to have a more effective and efficient and functioning judicial system. So that is a positive development. I don’t think it should be seen as a reward or punishment for anyone’s behavior or solely in terms of what the country needs to do to be on the EU track, but while clearly we believe this country needs state level judicial institutions, those institutions, there’s room for progress and the EU has a pretty strong track record in advising countries, in particular candidate countries, on measures it can take to ensure the rule of law and the fight against corruption which is absolutely essential for any country’s future.

QUESTION: So far we have heard different rumors and speculations on Dayton II. Do you think that for Bosnia and Herzegovina this new Dayton II is needed or consistent implementation, application of Bosnia and Herzegovina could also open the path to Bosnia and Herzegovina to European Union and NATO?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I think I understood you were talking about Dayton II?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I just wanted to be clear. We don’t talk about Dayton II. Anything called Dayton II would imply a major international effort to redo institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina and to rethink the basic elements of the institutions of this country. That is not what we are thinking about, it’s not anything we have proposed. We’re strongly committed to the Dayton institutions as they exist.

It is true that from time to time over the past years different ideas about constitutional reform have come up, usually in the context of EU membership, and in the context of creating a more functional state. As I’ve said, a more functional state would be in the interests of all of the people of this country and should be considered, but needs to be considered by the parties.

So we have never put forward major institutional changes. This is necessarily for the people and the leaders of the country to do. And very specifically on the issue of Dayton II it’s not something that is on our agenda.

QUESTION: What are the priority requirements Bosnia and Herzegovina should meet? Not immediately, but it was all ready to meet them yesterday. What is your opinion? What are the priorities for Bosnia and Herzegovina, priority requirements to meet so it could become a stable and prosperous state in this region which is always kind of shaky?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Again, I would underscore it’s not for me, it’s not for an outsider to say what the priorities of the country should be. I believe a number of leaders of this country have said their priority is to join Europe in the broadest sense of that term. To benefit from the same degree of stability and prosperity and democracy and openness and rule of law that the countries of the European Union benefit from. Countries, I would add, that have overcome the harshest of disputes and wars and crimes and killing realized after several of these wars, that their future was in cooperation regardless of their ethnicity or religion or borders. I think all of those countries of the European Union would tell you that learning that lesson was one of the most important things they ever did and the consequence of it now is that they are among the wealthiest countries in the world, among the most stable, among the most open.

I think that’s what, if I were a citizen of this country, my priority would be. To overcome those divisions, come to terms with the past, and focus on reconciliation and getting over ethnic divisions rather than perpetuating them. And by doing so, taking a step for my country down the road to the European institutions which would protect the country’s security and prosperity and stability.

QUESTION: In your opinion, is Bosnia and Herzegovina a safe country? Taking into consideration that there are still persons who are considered a security threat. It had an obligation to get rid of these persons 30 days after the Dayton.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Tell me more specifically what you’re referring to.

QUESTION: I’m talking about persons of Afro-Asian origin who are deeply incorporated in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s structures. They have become part of domiciled population included domiciled population into the Wahabbi movements last year. We saw the terrorist attack in Bugojno, and that’s why I’m posing this question. It’s related to these persons.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: You’re asking if Bosnia and Herzegovina is a safe country. All of our countries face security threats, face threats from extremism of different sorts. We all need to take measures and be vigilant and develop the types of institutions, judicial institutions, police forces, rule of law, in order to prevent that extremism from posing a threat to the well-being of the citizens of the country. I think that is true, as I say, across the board, and this country needs to do work in that area just like other countries do.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.