[Opinion] : March 1 is about more than independence (of Bosnia and Herzegovina)

By Michael J. Murphy

Sarajevo, 01 March 2023, – We warmly congratulate the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina on this Independence Day.  March 1 is more than an opportunity to commemorate a historic moment.  It is also an opportunity to celebrate BiH’s democratic progress over more than three decades, and to honor the hard work, perseverance, and sacrifice of citizens that have made it possible.

Independence is often hard-won, as the United States knows, but it carries the opportunity for citizens to determine their own future.  We, and our international partners, have been proud to stand with the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina as they have chosen a future in the Euro-Atlantic community of nations and built the state institutions needed to take them there.  The establishment of these judicial, financial, security, and other state institutions were historic achievements and major steps toward delivering on the promise of an independent Bosnia and Herzegovina as a strong, democratic, and prosperous state.

The greatest of these successes was the formation of the multi-ethnic Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where Bosniaks, Croats, Serbs, and Others serve side-by-side with distinction at home and abroad for the security of BiH and all its citizens.  From supporting training for officers, to procuring vital equipment and supplies and conducting joint exercises, the United States has been the AFBiH’s closest partner over the past two decades.  We look forward to further deepening that strategic partnership in the years to come.

As part of our enduring commitment to BiH, its citizens, and their desire for a Euro-Atlantic future, the United States has provided more than $2 billion in assistance since 1995 to support BiH’s institutions as well as democratic, social, and economic progress at all levels of government.

There have been setbacks, of course.  BiH institutions are now under attack by leaders who seek to destroy the achievements of the past 31 years or control them to satisfy their own corrupt interests.  Many of these leaders are even attempting to distort history itself.

Politicians like Milorad Dodik and his allies ignore the reality that Republika Srpska leaders, including his political party, worked with their Federation counterparts to build these state institutions through the voluntary transfer of competencies in the interest of a better, more functional BiH.  This denial of facts and specious legal claims we hear from Republika Srpska are not just an attack against the state institutions BiH has worked so hard to build – they are an attack on the very spirit of compromise across ethnic and political lines that lies at the heart of the Dayton Peace Agreement.

This brand of self-serving politics has prevented Bosnia and Herzegovina from realizing its full potential.  The failure of the 2006 April Package process was a missed chance to reform and strengthen BiH’s institutions and accelerate this country’s progress toward the European Union.  Since then, this same maximalism has frustrated many subsequent attempts at even basic reform and functionality, culminating in one of the least effective periods in the history of BiH’s governance after the 2018 elections.

In the face of these challenges, the United States and our international partners must step up in Bosnia and Herzegovina, not step away.  Our pledge to uphold BiH’s sovereignty, institutional and territorial integrity, and multiethnic character is not mere rhetoric, but a real and perennial responsibility that we deliver on each and every day.  Those who question our continued commitment to BiH and its place in the West – or suggest that BiH may find stronger allies in Russia, China, or Iran – are deeply mistaken.

More than a year after the start of Russia’s unprovoked, illegal, and brutal full-scale invasion of Ukraine, it is more important than ever for the United States and our allies to redouble our efforts to help BiH strengthen its democratic institutions and to reaffirm this country’s place in the Euro-Atlantic community of nations.

This means using the momentum of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s new status as a European Union candidate country to pass the reforms necessary to move toward accession talks, root out corruption, revitalize the economy, and eliminate discrimination.  BiH needs action, not more action plans, or this moment will slip away.

This means strengthening the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina and making sure it has the resources it needs to modernize and fulfill its responsibilities, keeping BiH citizens safe and contributing to global security.  It also means implementing long-stalled defense reforms necessary to deepen the Armed Forces partnership and cooperation with NATO. 

This means reforming BiH’s judiciary which, far from being a check against corrupt acts, has increasingly become a tool for their execution.  Too many judges work for politicians, not for justice.  Too many prosecutors shy away from pursuing difficult and challenging cases that touch upon the interests of political leaders or their parties.

This means improving the transparency of BiH’s electoral system to fight the kinds of irregularities we saw in the 2022 elections, so that citizens no longer question whether their vote really counts.  It is time for BiH’s parliament to adopt the election integrity package.

The United States will do its part.  We will continue to identify and sanction individuals responsible for corrupt and anti-Dayton activities, and we will continue to provide financial and political support to the institutions of this country and work to strengthen – not just sustain – BiH’s democracy.  We will continue supporting BiH’s Armed Forces, consistent with our long-standing belief that the future for BiH is inside Euro-Atlantic institutions, including NATO.  We will continue to provide assistance to combat corruption, create the conditions for robust private sector-led economic growth, and promote reconciliation.

It is our hope that BiH’s political leaders will do their part as well.

It is our privilege to celebrate Independence Day alongside the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

We look forward to many more together.


Michael J. Murphy is Ambassador of the United States to Bosnia and Herzegovina

scroll to top