Haris Silajdzic, a member of the three-person presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, discussed the conflicts plaguing his country and called for the United States to aid in its democratization during a speech Wednesday in Riggs Library.

Silajdzic, a Bosniak, served as the foreign minister and prime minister of Bosnia before being elected to the presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina on Oct. 1, 2006. The state of Bosnia and Herzegovina was created from Bosnia, Herzegovina and part of the former Yugoslavia in 1995.

Silajdzic said lingering disputes still need to be resolved, including the status of Kosovo, a semiautonomous region of Serbia governed by the United Nations.

“We are trying to solve problems that we have delayed for 12 years,” Silajdzic said. “It is difficult for historical reasons for Serbia to accept Kosovo’s independence.”

He said Bosnia and Herzegovina should not have to pay for former Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic’s “bloody adventures” in Kosovo.

Silajdzic said that his country learned many lessons from the results of the Bosnian War in the early 1990s. “We cannot bring back the dead or the wounded, but peace cannot be taken for granted. Democracy cannot be taken for granted.”

Silajdzic criticized the 1992 U.N. arms embargo on the warring factions, saying the U.N. “gave the order to us not to defend ourselves” in doing so. “That was the biggest mistake of the international community, morally a cosmic mistake to let people die who could not defend themselves.”

Without the help of the international community, Silajdzic said, “We had to smuggle arms into our own country. Today we have to smuggle democracy into our own country.”

Silajdzic said that he was disappointed with the European Union’s conditional offer of admittance to Serbia. “The message is, `Kill thy neighbor, and you will get away with it,'” he said, referring to the charges of genocide brought against Serbia by the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Silajdzic criticized what he considered the international community’s failure to intervene in the conflict, saying that “pragmatism in politics is unprincipled.”

Silajdzic also called for reform in his country, noting that the presidency will soon begin drafting a new constitution. “The Bosnian constitution is bad because it is discriminatory,” he said, noting that there are ethnic and religious divisions in the country; for example, he mentioned that Bosnia and Herzegovina’s recently appointed foreign minister Sven Alkalaj’s chances for political advancement are severely limited because of his Jewish religion. “The best thing is to introduce a new constitution where we are all citizens. Period,” Siljadzic said.

He added that the United States should “set the tone” for the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina, saying that it would offer an opportunity to help resolve a conflict in a predominantly-Muslim state. “I wonder why the American government is not using this,” he said. “The American government should say, `We are not fighting Muslims, we are fighting extremists.’ . I think that will help heal some wounds and make this dialogue real.”

Silajdzic said that as the Bosnia and Herzegovina government begins to draft a new constitution, it will be calling on American and European experts for help. “It will be very difficult to create the constitution, but we have to do this,” he said.

Silajdzic called Bosnia and Herzegovina “an American project that can still be made successful.”

The lecture was sponsored by the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies, the BMW Center for German and European Studies, the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs and the Master of Arts Program in Conflict Resolution.

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