Today’s hearing focuses on the countries of the Western Balkans: Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.
We are focusing on these countries, because they are important. From a Helsinki Commission viewpoint, they are not the worst human rights violators among the OSCE States, nor are they the least democratic. In fact, 15 years after the Dayton Agreement ending the Bosnian conflict, just over ten years from the Kosovo conflict and a decade since Milosevic was ousted in Belgrade, the region has made enormous progress. We nevertheless want to maintain our focus on them, because the United States, the EU and the international community as a whole has invested so much time, attention and resources to achieving this progress. We must make sure the job is complete, and we cannot afford to see backtracking.
In addition, to varying degrees these countries are all on the path of Euro-Atlantic and European integration, and they are about as attentive to the opinions of Washington and Brussels as counties will likely ever get. As a result, while U.S. foreign policy priorities may be elsewhere and the European Union grapples with its internal developments, a little time and attention - along with some reasonable and effectively used resources - can go a long way in promoting positive change.
We are focusing on these countries today, because events particularly in the second half of 2010 give us some reason for optimism about the future. The International Court of Justice’s opinion regarding the legality of Kosovo’s independence paved the way for starting new, talks between Belgrade and Pristina on a range of technical issues.
Bosnia held regularly scheduled elections that could end the deadlock in deciding on the constitutional reforms that will enable the country to become more functional as it moves closer to the European Union. Of direct benefit to the people, the European Union has extended visa liberalization to most countries of the region. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Clinton paid an important visit to the region to demonstrate continued U.S. engagement, and she took the time to directly engage young people during her visit knowing that they are the future.
If the international community hopes to capitalize on these and perhaps other positive developments in the region in 2011, or to overcome the stagnation that still exists, I think that clarity needs to be a key characteristic of U.S. and EU policies. These countries need a concrete sense of direction. For example, will the apprehension of Ratko Mladic and other at-large indictee for war crimes be a high priority for full integration. For me, who wants to see good relations with Serbia and progress on European integration as much as any Senator, it should be the clearly stated that Belgrade actually needs to get the job done.
While the U.S. position regarding the territorial integrity of Bosnia and independence of Kosovo seems firm, what exactly is the position of our EU partners, with whom we must coordinate a common approach? We hear mixed signals, and the ambiguities are obviously used by politicians in the Western Balkans to their own advantage.
I certainly look forward to working with the new House co-chair in 2011, but today I want to acknowledge Alcee Hastings’ achievements in the past four years and to encourage him to remain active in the next Congress. While he is known for increasing the Commission’s focus on Mediterranean affairs, Mr. Hastings has also been active on Balkan issues. I believe he already has visited every country in the region. Here in Washington, he chaired briefings on Serbia and Albania, and met with countless visiting officials from the Balkans.