For Europeans – and many in the Muslim world too – there are few events which have changed our view of the modern world more than the terrible war of genocide and horror in Bosnia and Herzegovina which started 20 years ago this week.
It reminded Europeans that they still had to be vigilant if the terrors of our past were not to visit us again. Our inaction in the face of this catastrophe put at question Europe’s ambition to be a power on the international scene as well as the commitment to pluralism which lies at the heart of the European ideal.
That Europeans have, at least in part, learnt the lessons of Bosnia is evident from the activist stances key European nations such as Britain and France took in Libya – and are still taking in Syria. This would have been simply inconceivable without the searing experience of what happens if you stand aside, which we learnt in Bosnia.
For Muslims the Bosnian war initially appeared to many to be a confirmation of the double standards of the West – even if in the end with the final intervention by the International Community, the Dayton agreement and the long, slow, dedicated and vast scale international effort to rebuild Bosnia in peace, proves exactly the opposite.
This is, above all a time to remember that that task is not finished.
There is a real danger that some who have a responsibility to finish the job in Bosnia, believe that this task is now completed. It is not. Sadly, after twelve initial years of real progress towards a unified functional light level state, the dynamic in Bosnia, has now been allowed to revert back to one of disunity and dysfunctionality. There are still some in Bosnia, even at the highest level who would go further and wish to see the break up of the state – the original aim of Radovan Karadzic. To his great credit, William Hague and the British Government see the dangers of this very clearly and are prepared to act to alert others to it. On this anniversary it is more important than ever that this effort succeeds. We know now the dangers of 1992. It is vital that we in the international community do not allow ourselves to sleep walk back to them.