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Heads up – Embassy 16 – April 2009

Road to reform

The bright side of being a diplomat, reflects Jadranka Negodic, is having a ringside seat to historic events in your country – and when that country is Bosnia and Herzegovina, diplomacy is never dull.

A trained lawyer, she fled Sarajevo during the Balkan wars to the relative safety of Dubrovnic. But soon after the war she uprooted herself again and returned to her beloved Sarajevo, which still bore the scars of a long and bitter siege, to join the newly-formed foreign ministry of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

She has very fond memories of the early days at the foreign ministry. "There was a lot of enthusiasm. Most of us were not career diplomats yet we were all involved in building a new state and its institutions."

The Ambassador headed the Department for Neigbouring Countries - a challenging job requiring all her legal expertise to deal with complex post-conflict issues such as border delimitation, restitution of property and refugees.

Negotiations were intense, but very rewarding, she says. "When I started at the department our country had no relations with Serbia, but we started to prepare the foundations for relations. So it was very satisfying to travel to Belgrade when diplomatic relations were established. It was a very important day in our history."

Having helped to forge bilateral relations with the neighbouring countries, Negodic was then posted to London before she entered the frenetic world of Brussels diplomacy last year as head of Bosnia Herzegovina's mission to the EU. It was the final sprint finish in a very long marathon to sign the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU.

"The signing of the SAA is a huge milestone in the history of Bosnia Herzegovina," she smiles. Now EU candidate status beckons, an objective supported by over 80% of the population.

"The signing of the SAA meant so much to the people, " she says. "They could see the light at the end of the tunnel. We had joined the club of countries moving towards the EU and instantly the atmosphere in Bosnia and Herzegovina changed. People felt that they were part of Europe."

But the Ambassador is first to admit that her country will have to undergo fundamental changes before the flag with the blue and gold hoop of stars is raised alongside the Bosnian flag outside the Lexham Gardens embassy.

For one thing, country's overly complex political system – a legacy of the Dayton Peace Accords of 1995 created to maintain an equilibrium between Bosnia's three main ethnic groups – needs to be reformed.

"The Dayton Peace Agreement was the instrument to stop the war and that was the best that could have been achieved at the time. But that was 1995 and now it's 2009 and now it is time to move to another phase," she says.

"The structure we have is very expensive and inefficient. All the political leaders are aware of the need for constitutional changes so that the state is more functional, efficient, modern and democratic – more the state that we would like it to be as a future of member of the EU."

Joining NATO is also on the horizon and Bosnia and Herzegovina expects to submit its application for the NATO Membership Action Plan by the end of this year.

During her tenure in Brussels, the Ambassador was also instrumental in launching the visa liberalisation dialogue. Although there is a raft of criteria that the country has to fulfil, she hopes the dialogue will eventually put an end to the suffocating isolation that Bosnian students, business people and travellers currently experience. "Our people feel like second-class citizens in Europe; they want to feel free."

The prospect of EU membership has given the country resilience in the face of potentially destabilising events such as Kosovo's declaration of independence, which Bosnia and Herzegovina elected not to recognise, largely due to objections from the Serbian population in the country.

"We always have to be wary that we are a complex country and we must respect the rights of all the people living in Bosnia and Herzegovina. So we can't go against the will of half of our country."

Having proved themselves in the face of adversity, Bosnia and Herzegovina also has its hopes pinned on being elected as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2010-11.

In addition to these foreign policy goals, the Ambassador wants to attract British investment in key sectors such as mining, hydropower and tourism. She also plans to operate an 'open house' policy for Bosnian nationals in the UK, many of whom fled to the UK during the war and represent an untapped wealth of talent.

"They are a huge asset for the country even if they don't return because they represent their country in the best way. They can help with knowledge, experience and connections in this society."

Through the diaspora, cultural events, business and tourism, the Ambassador and her team hope to chip away at the stigma of war that still lingers over her country. "If I can change the perception of just one person, it will already be a success," she says.

Ambassador Negodic has set herself a very ambitious agenda, but as her track record shows, when she comes to town, she doesn't leave without results.
HE Jadranka Negodic

“The signing of the SAA is a huge milestone in our history. It meant so much to Bosnians – they could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Finally people felt that they were part of Europe”

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