This month marked the anniversary of Srebrenica genocide. Your family is originally from Prijedor. What does this week of reflection personally mean to you?
The Srebrenica genocide and the time surrounding the July 11th anniversary is a difficult time for the Bosnian American community. On personal level, I am grateful to be able to raise awareness about the growing trend of genocide denial that is coming specifically from Bosnia and Herzegovina’s (BiH) entity Republika Srpska (RS) and the countries of Serbia and Russia. Denying what happened to Srebrenica’s non-Serb population does not help the reconciliation process, nor does it guide the country forward. Each year, the Advisory Council for Bosnia and Herzegovina (ACBH) organizes a commemoration event on Capitol Hill where we stand in solidarity with the victims and survivors of the genocide and draws attention to what is happening around the globe.
In regards to my hometown of Prijedor, the human rights abuses continue as the local RS authorities refuse to allow for a monument to be built for the 102 non-Serb children that were killed in 1992. It is important to remember that in May of 1992, the Serb authorities in Prijedor ordered all non-Serb residents to mark their houses with a white flag or sheet, and to wear a white armband if they left their house. As a result of ethnic cleansing of the Prijedor municipality in Bosnia and Herzegovina, including the town of Kozarac – 53,000 of its Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) residents were expelled from their homes, some 3,176 unarmed civilians were executed, and 31,000 civilians were interned in various Serb run concentration camps. This was the first time since 1939 – when the Nazi decree required the Polish Jews to wear white armbands with the Star of David on their sleeve – that members of an ethnic or religious group were marked for extermination in such a manner. This happened in the middle of Europe, after the Holocaust. It is imperative that we remember what happened and remain vigilant in combatting genocide denial.
ACBH hosted its annual discussion in Congress to reflect on Srebrenica genocide. What is the overall mood on Capitol Hill these days in the lead up to the Bosnian elections?
The United States government strongly supports Bosnia and Herzegovina’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as BiH’s NATO and EU aspirations. Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo stated in a press release commemorating the genocide in Srebrenica that the United States remains steadfast in its partnership with Bosnia and Herzegovina. The U.S.-led NATO effort stopped the war of aggression against Bosnia and Herzegovina and the United States has always worked to strengthen BiH’s democratic institutions. The U.S. would like to see more accountability from BiH’s political elite and would like to see them combat corruption more swiftly and efficiently. BiH needs leaders who are accountable and willing to put ethno-nationalist politics aside and move the country forward. Lastly, President Trump has repeatedly expressed the need for NATO-member states to fulfill the commitment to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense. At the moment, BiH is spending significantly less than that. As an aspiring NATO member, and given all the security threats BiH faces, it should consider investing more on defense spending.
A bipartisan and bicameral Congressional Delegation went to Mostar and Sarajevo over the Fourth of July recess. Can we anticipate increased focus from Washington in the coming months? If so, what concretely can Washington do pre and post elections?
I am hopeful that there will be increased focus from Washington as Bosnia and Herzegovina’s stability is imperative for the stability of the entire Southeast Europe. I think that the U.S. Ambassador in Bosnia and Herzegovina has been doing a great job, and the recent Congressional trip only reaffirms U.S.’s commitment to BiH’s progress. I hope to see even greater U.S. engagement in the coming months and years specifically focused on combatting corruption, and ensuring that those who wish to undercut and undermine BiH’s future and the Dayton Peace Accords are named, shamed and sanctioned as was done with RS President Milorad Dodik.
The ACBH gala in May had some big names – for example President Silajdzic and President Clinton. This is the second year of the Gala with last year honoring Vice President Biden. What are your plans for the year ahead and looking five years ahead?
Last year marked the 25th year of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s independence and we were truly honored to have been able to recognize individuals such as former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and former Senator Bob Dole among others for all they did for BiH. This year we celebrated the 75th anniversary of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s statehood, and we are grateful that President Bill Clinton was able to join us along with General Gordon Sullivan, 32nd Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, General Wesley Clark, Bosnian philanthropist Sanela Diana Jenkins, Captain Ermin Mujezinovic, Bosnian American Captain in the U.S. Army, filmmaker Bill Carter and the Hastor Foundation which gives scholarships to underprivileged kids in BiH. For the year ahead, we want to focus on BiH’s economic potential, democracy building and NATO integration. The proactive militarization of the RS police by Milorad Dodik, an infamous genocide denier, is a concerning development. This is further exacerbated by the fact that the training of RS police units is administered by Russia. Moscow is essentially supporting Serb separatists in Bosnia and Herzegovina and that should be a concern to all of BiH’s allies.
You are an American organization and don’t have to register under FARA. This being said, other interests from BiH have registered and are actively working in Washington pre-election. What interaction do you have with these various Washington based stakeholders?
ACBH works with those who support BiH’s Euro-Atlantic integration and a united, multi-ethnic and democratic Bosnia and Herzegovina. There are many individuals and organizations in Washington that work to undermine BiH’s democracy and territorial integrity – something that is not supported by ACBH or those who wish to see BiH progress. Large sums of money are spent on revising BiH’s historical narrative and on shortsighted gains. That money could be better spent on infrastructure, innovation, education and healthcare – all areas that need much improvement and quite a bit of support. Thankfully, BiH still has a lot of friends in Washington who are able to see through these special interest groups that are lobbying for undemocratic policies. However, we must be vigilant in exposing them and working with policymakers on the real issues at hand. I call on friends of BiH to join us in strengthening ACBH so that we can better educate policymakers in Washington and help counter policies that are harmful to BiH’s democratization and progress.