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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Speech to Returning Refugees
Stup, Bosnia, August 30, 1998
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State

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As Prepared For Delivery

Thank you Ambassador Kauzlarich. Friar Andelovic, Cardinal Puljic, Friar Vujica, thank you for your warm welcome to the Seminary. President Zubak, President Ganic, Vice President Soljic, elected officials.


People who look at Bosnia from the outside often see it in a detached and abstract way. We make a list of goals and we check them off: a road built here, a meeting held there, an agreement signed somewhere else. We talk about a multi-ethnic society, a multi-syllabic abstraction that cannot possibly capture the richness of the lives people led here.

Before the war, a thousand people dwelt in Stup, earning a livelihood from industry, business, tourism and farming. Among them were Croats, an equal number of Bosniaks and a smaller number of Serbs. They lived and worked together. They raised their children together. They married whom they loved. There were families here with ties to every one of the religious, cultural and ethnic communities that have long coexisted in Bosnia.

I imagine many saw themselves simply as Sarajevans. When they looked down the street they saw simply neighbors. When they looked up, they saw crosses, minarets, and orthodox church spires, and they knew they were home.

Then the war came, and Stup found itself on the front line between Bosnian government and Bosnian Serb forces. A community that once welcomed every man and woman became a no man's land. People were driven out; everyone ended up in the wrong house.

We can still see the ruins over which the armies fought. But today, Stup is on the front line of a different struggle. Assistance from the United States, from the EU, from the UN, and from NGOs, is helping to rebuild a welcoming community here. Houses, power lines and roads are being fixed. Jobs are being created. People are coming home.

And what we need to remember today is that you are not coming home to invent something new; you are certainly not coming home to lead lives that have been designed for you by outsiders. You are coming to reclaim your lives and to assert your identity. You are coming to take back what you had before.


I do not want to suggest any of this is easy. I know this is a community of proud, hard-working people who have been forced to live the lives of refugees for all or most of the last six years. I have no illusions that you can forget what you have suffered or regain all you have lost. I know you will be living here with the memories of loved ones the war took away. I will not pretend that a house built on rubble can replace the homes where your children and perhaps your parents were born and your memories stored.

But it is precisely because what you are doing is hard that I wanted to come here to stand with you and to salute you.

I want to salute you for not letting the war destroy a way of life that belongs to you, for having the courage to build on what was once a battlefield, for having the faith to believe that the future can be made better than the past.

And I want to explain why what you are doing is so important to us. For if you can come back here and give this community the identity it once had, despite all you have seen and suffered, then so can all of Sarajevo. And if Sarajevo can become an open city and Canton again, if its people can forgive, without forgetting the horrors they have witnessed, then the promise of Dayton can be fulfilled throughout this once divided nation.

And if Bosnia can be united by common interests and aims, if it can face its past and still move forward, then so can any nation struggling to overcome a painful legacy.

Slowly but surely, I believe the people of Bosnia are overcoming the legacy of the war. I have been here many times over the years. Every time I fly over Sarajevo, as I did today, it looks better. Houses that were roofless shells now shelter families. There are cars, trucks, people - life - on the streets.

The signs of progress are certainly more evident today than when I visited here last summer.

Then, hardly any refugees were returning home. Most Bosnian leaders were resisting integration. Hard liners did not worry about competition. Many Bosnians had no access to free media. Few indicted war criminals had been arrested. Many people had the impression that the international community was biding its time, settling for the status quo instead of striving to improve it.

The United States pledged then that the only aid we would support for Bosnia would be aid to help people who were helping Dayton to succeed. We also made a long-term commitment to see this process through; we made it clear that our mission would determine our timetable, not the other way around.

Now, a common license plate has made it possible for you to move freely throughout your country. The international community has shut down biased media. We have diminished the power of police forces to intimidate you. War criminals are going to The Hague. From Sarajevo to Banja Luka to Mostar, the democratic process has produced new officials who are accountable, pragmatic, and focused on the issues that matter to their people.

And we are seeing a real popular movement on behalf of refugee returns. The displaced are exercising their rights - from the Serbs who wish to return to Drvar, to the Bosniaks who have pitched tents in Kotor Varos, to the Croats who are back in their homes in Travnik.

Decent, brave people like you are showing it is not only possible to stop ethnic cleansing; it is possible to reverse it.

Indeed, it is necessary to do this, because people like you have shown us they do not want to be separated from their homes by permanent lines of partition. It is necessary because displaced people are a natural base for extremists who would perpetuate conflict. It is necessary for the hard, practical reason that a forced division of Bosnia would reignite violence.

Unfortunately, a reversal of progress in Bosnia is still possible. We are working here with our eyes open -- and much of what we see remains disturbing. Bosnia's peace is not yet self-sustaining.

The international community has much more work to do -- to help train a multi-ethnic police force, to support reconstruction, to supervise the next round of free and fair elections. But perhaps our biggest challenge is to work with communities such as this one to create the conditions that allow displaced people to return home, as equal partners in their municipalities.

We must also acknowledge that we cannot return refugees to communities that are not yet ready to receive them. It is wrong to stop refugees from coming home. But I hope our European allies will recognize that it is also irresponsible to force them to return where there is no security, no housing, and no jobs.

Bosnia's leaders and Bosnia's people also have work to do to meet their basic commitments under the Dayton Agreement.

Bosnian Serb authorities, particularly in some municipalities in the east, are still resisting minority returns and still protecting indicted war criminals.

Croatian authorities have also in many cases failed to protect returning families, some of whom are living like prisoners in their homes, sleeping in shifts to guard their property.

And in spite of the progress we see here in Stup, Bosniak authorities are not yet doing nearly enough to permit refugees to return to Sarajevo Canton. They are forgetting that the capital of a multiethnic Bosnia must set an example. It must be a symbol of tolerance, not the emblem of a sterile, separatist vision.

These are the problems for which I am urging that the leaders of each community take responsibility as I meet them today and tomorrow.

But as we urge, there is a principle we will keep in mind. Multi-ethnic institutions cannot be imposed from the outside, for this is your country, and we will not be here forever. Nor can they be imposed from the inside, as they were in Tito's time.

Forced unity is false unity. True and lasting unity must be based on a consensus that can only emerge from democratic choice.

That is why our belief in democracy is at the heart of our strategy for implementing the Dayton Agreement.

That is why Bosnia's coming elections will be so important.

It is not the place of outsiders to tell the Bosnian people how to vote in September. But we can point out that this election offers a real choice between two very different visions of Bosnia's future.

On the one hand, there are leaders campaigning for your vote who want to see Bosnia take its rightful place in a peaceful, united Europe. They may not agree with the international community or with each other on every point, but they do agree that the responsibility of government in Bosnia is to provide you with the services you need to resume normal lives.

They know that self-isolation is self-deception; that there is no way to bring investment and opportunity to the people they represent if Bosnians are cut off from each other and the world.

On the other hand, there are still leaders campaigning for your support who do not want peace, because they owe their own influence to success in war. There are still leaders who do not want a transparent market economy, because they owe their own fortunes to the black market. There are still leaders who want you to be angry, bitter and afraid, because they know you will never vote for them unless you are angry, bitter and afraid.

Fortunately, this will be a competitive election in a pluralistic society. For the first time in Bosnia, the candidates will debate each other on national television. Then you will have the chance to decide. I urge you to seize that chance by voting.

Election day belongs to you. It is your chance to tell us what kind of country Bosnia should be, not the other way around.

At the same time, we have no interest in subsidizing intolerance. Whatever the outcome of the vote, we will provide support only to those communities that meet their responsibility to implement Dayton, by welcoming refugees, by making joint institutions work, by upholding justice and the rule of law.

Communities committed to reconciliation will continue to receive aid and investment; their economies will grow and their people will prosper. Communities that choose to be isolated will be isolated.

I say that with confidence that given a choice, most Bosnians will choose to live in a tolerant, united country. That is not just an expression of faith, but a conviction based on experience.

I believe it because with each Bosnian election in the last two years, the forces of tolerance have gained support. I believe it because I have seen people like you vote with your feet for a better future -- by coming home, by judging your neighbors not by their genealogy but by their character. I believe it because most people are pragmatic enough to realize that they have nothing to gain by fighting with their neighbors.

No one has expressed that conviction better than a police officer from my home town of Washington, DC, who came to Bosnia a couple of years ago to participate in the International Police Task Force. "This conflict is almost like sparring with a mirror," he said. "How are you going to knock out the guy in the mirror? You may bloody your hands; you may smash it; but you're still going to have to deal with your own reflection."

Here in Stup today, we can see that there is no reason why the lines which divided armies during the war should continue to divide communities today. And all around Bosnia, we can see that your courage and your tolerance are contagious.

I believe with all my heart that you will succeed. I am convinced that others will keep following your example. And I pledge to you the continued support of the United States.

[End of Document]

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