Oslobodenje 12 april 2012
Carl Bildt, Utrikesminister
Past and future
These days we remember the horrors of the past.
20 years have passed since the war began in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and those of us who attended the ceremony in Sarajevo marking the anniversary could see 11541 empty chairs lined up in the centre of the city: one for each life lost during the siege of the Bosnian capital.
I was not in Sarajevo when the war and the siege started 20 years ago. As Prime Minister of my country I was in those days deep into our economic difficulties and our efforts to start our negotiations for accession to the European Union.
But I was here in the late summer and early autumn 1995 when we finally could lift the siege, end the war and start the painfully difficult work of bringing together what so painfully had been torn apart. That become my duty during the following years as the first High Representative.
NATO forces had poured into the country when the peace had been established. But I vividly remember the intense discussions then in the international community on the need for an "exit strategy" from Bosnia and Herzegovina. The US wanted out after only a year.
I then argued that we did not need an exit strategy for the international community but instead an "entry strategy" for Bosnia and Herzegovina into the European Union. That sounded naive bordering on foolish in those days, but for me it was the only true way to peace for the country and the region.
My views have not changed. The future for this country is within the European Union. And now - 20 years after the start of the war - this vision has also become official policy of the EU as well as of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The challenge is now to move from words to deeds, and after years of deadlock and frustratingly slow progress I feel we might be on the verge of a new phase. The new Council of Ministers is talking about 2012 as a year of Europe, and there seems to be a new determination in both Sarajevo and Banja Luka.
When we EU ministers now meet in Brussels we already have our colleagues from Zagreb with us. Soon Croat representatives will take their seats in the European Parliament as well. And in the summer of 2013 Croatia will be as much a member of the EU as France, Poland or Sweden.
Serbia has been granted candidate status as recognition of its impressive reform efforts, and if those favouring continued European reforms succeed in the elections in May we will soon start discussing when formal accession negotiations for Serbia can start.
There is no fundamental reason for Bosnia and Herzegovina to lag years behind Croatia and Serbia. And in spite of all the other divisions between its political leaders, there is no reason why they should not work together to catch up with the neighbours on the road to the EU.
I certainly know all the challenges ahead. But compared to the ones that have already been overcome these are minor.
I remember a country in late 1995 that was little more than three more or less competing political armies in the midst of a ruined and destroyed country. More than 100.000 people had lost their lives, and millions had been forced to flee their country - many finding a new home as we in Sweden opened our doors to them.
The horrors of the past will never disappear. The chairs remain empty. But you have come a long way, and we can now also talk about the opportunities of the future.
As a friend of the country, I sincerely hope that the new spring that we now see will turn into real political and economic progress in the months and the years ahead. It will not be easy, but I know it can be done.
Because that is what the country needs.
Because that is what is required to be part of the positive regional momentum.
And because that is what it takes if 2012 is truly to be the year of Europe in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Swedish Foreign Minister