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Monday, May 16, 2011
Bob Webb Flash back to the fall of 2000 when Sarajevo hosted the ICF's World Media Assembly giving that historic old city's name to a document -- the Sarajevo Commitment -- that was to become known globally with its vision of mass media as a more constructive force in the 21st century than in the 20th.
One of the document's first signers, pledging himself to its high ideals, was Kemal Kurspahic, Editor-in-Chief of Oslobodjenje during the siege of Sarajevo in the Bosnian War. As one of the assembly's major speakers, Kurspahic expressed his vision for the city he so loved.
"There is a need for the truth to be told, so that innocent people on all sides can reach out their hands and live as neighbors in tolerance and respect," he said. "We used to live like that in our city of four religions. There were no problems. On the contrary, we were all the richer. That is the Bosnia I would like us to experience again."
The Dayton Agreement ending the war was signed in Paris on December 14, 1995. But while it brought peace to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kurspahic's vision has not been fully realized. That became evident when the US Institute of Peace, where he had once been a Fellow, announced a program, 10 May 2011, titled "Deep Political Crisis in Bosnia and Herzegovina: how can the international community help bring stability?"
By happy coincidence I'd just read the comprehensive section on Bosnia in the new book, Religion, Terror and Error, subtitled US Foreign Policy and the Challenge of Spiritual Engagement, by Dr Douglas M Johnston, Jr, founder-president of the Washington-based International Center for Religion and Diplomacy and former Executive Vice President and CEO of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He also founded and directed the Harvard University Executive Program in National and International Security.
"Left unattended, the situation in Bosnia could easily deteriorate, with unpleasant consequences (as it has on more than one occasion in the past," Johnston writes. He says that "the EU, United States and other allies like Turkey and Norway need to formulate a common policy for Bosnia."
That theme was reinforced by Dr. Valentin Inzko, the Austrian High Representative and EU Special Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, as the sole speaker at the two-hour USIA event which generated a standing room audience of academics, journalists, policy specialists and others from across the Washington landscape.
Inzko said it was time for the international community to be energized again to help preserve the Dayton Agreement. He was quick to note three of Bosnia's rotating presidents were removed for corruption. Only one house of the bicameral legislature is operative. Bosnia has no president now. Seven months since elections the country essentially has no government. While seemingly pessimistic, Inako concedes "there has been much reconciliation." But obviously far more is needed.
What struck me was the USIP's distribution of its "Special Report" titled Make it Theirs, the imperative of local ownership in communications and media initiatives. The author is Simon Hasebok, a visiting scholar at the Annenberg School for Communications at the University of Pennsylvania and an associate of the Programme for Comparative Media Law and Policy at Oxford University.
"Not since the end of the Second World War had the international community had experience in nation building on the scale embraced on in Bosnia after the Dayton Agreement was signed," he writes. "Even the wars of the collapsing Yugoslavia that coincided with the democratization of the Soviet Union and the old Warsaw Pact could not compare to the devastation and division that was Bosnia at the beginning of 1996 as evidenced in the media itself." He says "media had been instrumental in fanning the fire that led to the war and had been traumatized dramatically by it."
One of the earliest challenges of the Office of the High Representative after the Dayton Agreement, Hasebok writes, was to free Bosnian media from "the three hard-line sectarian parties that had prosecuted the war".

Oslobodjenje was an exception, having published heroically against heavy odds throughout the war.

Asked how Bosnian media are performing today, Inzko said that some mornings after reading an article "I want to take poison." But he emphasized the importance of press, radio and television. He said Oslobodjenje is regarded as "socialist and the other papers as anti-socialist".  Significantly, he said some of the best reporting is by Belgrade media which cover B&H stories Bosnian media won't.
Recalling the key media role in bringing democracy to Germany and Japan after WWII, Hasebok cites the Madrid Peace Implementation Council's 1998 declaration calling for "The establishment of a free, pluralistic, multi-ethnic and professional media throughout BiH (Bosnia and Herzegovina) with strong public and commercial sectors, promoting co-existence and reconciliation among ethnic communities." May it yet happen.