By Bronagh Catibusic
The recent protests in Bosnia and Herzegovina have drawn support from across the world. In Ireland, members of the Bosnian community and several Irish friends have been playing their part in this movement for change by bringing the concerns of the Bosnian people to the attention of Irish politicians.
Ireland’s presidency of the European Union, which ended on 30 June, saw Croatia take its final steps towards EU membership and other countries of the Western Balkans make significant progress en route to accession. Throughout this six-month presidency, Bosnian and Irish activists emphasised that Bosnia and Herzegovina must not be ignored in the EU enlargement process and highlighted how Bosnia’s political problems are hampering its European integration. Their awareness-raising was reflected in discussion about Bosnia and Herzegovina among the Irish parliament’s Joint Committee for Foreign Affairs on 8 May. It also resulted in the questioning of Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs,Eamon Gilmore. During a parliamentary debate on 16 May, Deputy Patrick Nulty asked the minister about the EU’s engagement with Bosnia and Herzegovina. Minister Gilmore conceded that this required a ‘comprehensive review’.
As members and friends of the Bosnian diaspora, we welcomed these encouraging words. However, entering the last few weeks of the Irish presidency, we stressed the need for action to ensure a more effective EU approach in relation to Bosnia and Herzegovina. On 3 June, we wrote on this topic for the Irish Times. We then appealed to members of the Joint Committees for both Foreign and European Affairs to place Bosnia on Ireland’s EU agenda. As we were contacting these politicians, news of the demonstrations in Sarajevo began to emerge.
The wrangling over the JMBG law, which threatened the lives of babies, was such a gross violation of children’s rights that we simply had to respond. We organised a small but colourful protest outside the Irish parliament on 11 June to coincide with the mass demonstrations held that day in Sarajevo. At this protest, we spoke with representatives of the main Irish political parties and delivered letters to the Joint Committees, updating them on the JMBG issue and the case of baby Belmina Ibrišević. Afterwards, we submitted similar letters to the Ministers for Foreign and European Affairs and had a productive meeting with an official from the Department of Foreign Affairs who was responsible for matters relating to theWestern Balkans during Ireland’s EU Presidency.
The tragedy of little Berina Hamidović made us step up our pressure on Irish politicians. Reports from the Sarajevo Times proved very useful in keeping them informed. We focussed our campaign on the impending visit to Ireland of the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mr. Valentin Inzko. On 25 June, Mr. Inzko gave a plenary address at the COSAC Conference of European parliamentary committees, which was held in Dublin. The High Representative told a large audience of European parliamentarians that it was now necessary to ‘rethink’ and ‘recalibrate’ the international community’s policy towards Bosnia and Herzegovina.
‘Why now?’ asked Deputy Eric Byrne, one of the Irish delegation at the COSAC conference and a member of both the Joint Committees with which we had corresponded. Deputy Byrne challenged Mr. Inzko, enquiring why ‘we must wait for demonstrations on the streets of Sarajevo’ for the international community to finally decide that a new approach is warranted. Acknowledging the concerns of the Bosnian diaspora in Ireland and contrasting the stalemate in Bosnia with the progress made by other Balkan states, he questioned the High Representative as to why Bosnia had been so ‘neglected’. Mr. Inzko admitted that it had been a ‘mistake’ to presume that EU ‘pull factors’ would have persuaded political leaders in Bosnia to work together and accepted that this had contributed to the current ‘stagnation’.
Our lobbying also led to further questions in the Irish parliament. Deputy Robert Troy and Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs about the Irish government’s response to the JMBG crisis in Bosnia. In a parliamentary debate on 26 June, Minister Gilmore replied, ‘this failure to legislate for the express good of the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina is deplorable’. He continued, ‘I add my voice to those of the protestors calling on the Parliament to act to rapidly adopt this important legislation. The Bosnian Parliament is fully responsible for handling this matter and it is an issue that must be solved at State level.’ Minister Gilmore reiterated these views on 2 July, saying, ‘I am also aware of the tragic death of baby Berina Hamidović, and send my heartfelt condolences to her family’. He expects recent events in Bosnia and Herzegovina to arise for discussion at the EU Foreign Affairs Council later this month.
Bronagh and Mirza Ćatibušić have been involved with the Bosnian community in Ireland since the early 1990s, campaigning to raise awareness about Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bronagh is Irish and Mirza comes from Sarajevo, where he sustained serious injuries during the war.
Photo courtesy of Dara MacDonaill