I recently had the opportunity to join OSCE Ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina Jonathan Moore on a multi-day trip across the country visiting schools, mayors, a commemoration at Jasenovac, and the Srebrenica-Potocari memorial. Following three years of service, Ambassador Moore will leave the OSCE Mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina on September 3rd.
In this interview, Ambassador Moore, who has had a long and distinguished diplomatic career in the Balkans and elsewhere, addresses a number of subjects, including criticism of the international community in Bosnia-Herzegovina, his personal style of diplomacy, and some of the many stories about Bosnia the mainstream media has been missing for years.
Balkanist: The OSCE Mission to Bosnia-Herzegovina obviously has a different kind of mission today than it did right after the war. I was wondering if you could tell us a little about how the OSCE’s role has evolved in recent years.
JM: Sure! Thanks for the opportunity. OSCE came to Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of the Dayton Peace accords. The Mission opened up just at the end of 1995. It was given the special role to run the elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina and help restore stability and democracy in the country. That responsibility fell to OSCE for elections in higher levels in 1996, and municipal elections were held in 1997. Until 2002 the primary role of the Mission was to supervise and run the election process for Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 2002, those responsibilities were turned over to the Central Election Commission (CEC) and then the more local election commissions under the CEC. That was the original idea; that in the context of a terrible conflict that had gone on for three and a half years, with over 100,000 victims, who would run the election process in an appropriately neutral and balanced way? Some clever people had the idea this is the sort of task that the OSCE can take on. At one point there were over 20 offices of the OSCE Mission around Bosnia and Herzegovina with over 1,000 employees. They were primarily tied to a very direct process of being present in polling stations and running the election process in a very detailed effort. Over the years, with the election responsibilities having shifted to national authorities (The Central Election Commission), the Mission has focused more on the commitments Bosnia and Herzegovina has to the OSCE which fall into the three dimensions of OSCE’s work – politico-military, economic and environmental and particularly the human dimension – everything under the rubric of human rights. Very specifically in Bosnia and Herzegovina, we work on education with an extensive number of team members. That’s somewhat unusual. Other field operations of the OSCE don’t engage as deeply in education. So starting with the process of not running the elections, the duties of our Mission have changed with the time in accordance with the changing circumstances in the country. When there were separate armed forces in the two entities [editor’s note: Bosnia and Herzegovina is comprised of two sub-state entities, the Federation and Republika Srpska] part of the responsibility of the international community, including the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina, was to help bring about defense reform and to unify those separate armed forces, which happened in 2005-06. There are other processes which are still very much underway trying to provide a secure storage of weapons and ammunition, and trying to destroy weapons and ammunition that are not needed or are in dangerous condition.
Balkanist: I wanted to ask you about your ambassadorship which started in 2014, which was a very challenging time for the country and indeed much of the region, as it was several months after that year’s catastrophic floods. But you also have a long career history in the region doing other diplomatic work. I was wondering if you could maybe say something about what has been different about the work you’ve done with the OSCE and what different kinds of opportunities the OSCE has allowed you as a diplomat?
JM: Well as a diplomat I’ve had a variety of opportunities to work in the Balkans. The longest assignments have been in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Belgrade, at other US embassies over the years. I’ve also had positions back in Washington where I was responsible for some aspects of matters in the Balkans. What I particularity enjoy in this position is that number one, I speak for a very expert team of 320 people working for the OSCE Mission to BiH. But I also am the representative on the ground for 57 participating member states, one of which is of course Bosnia and Herzegovina. There are many issues around the world where it’s difficult to reach consensus, but on the fundamental issue of OSCE commitments and our mandate which is very well established, and again, comes from the Dayton Peace accords, we have a very clear voice, and we have very strong credibility and tremendous access around the country. That means the ability to get out and about and not just sit in the office in Sarajevo Headquarters but to actually visit people, especially at the local community level, to learn from them, to find ways to partner with them, to draw more attention to both problems and successes. Those are the aspects of the job I enjoy the most.
Balkanist: I wanted to ask you a little more about your diplomatic style. You just mentioned that you like getting out in the field. I’ve had the opportunity to see that over the last few days. Why is that important to you?
JM: Thank you for the observation. We find it very useful to engage with people on the local level, to listen to them, to learn from them, to help celebrate what they’re able to accomplish, very often under difficult circumstances. I think many successful diplomats know the value of just going out and talking to people. The difference here is that instead of just delivering lectures you actually get out with the intention of discovering something about a community you didn’t know. For example, when we were together in Rudo there are very many interesting stories there; this was the place where the first Partisans began their work in 1941. We celebrate Rudo now in 2017 because their primary school is a tremendous success. We see wonderful examples of kids from throughout the municipality coming to the same school, engaging in their learning process and other projects together, traveling outside of Rudo together as a group. This is a community which is a bit isolated and not at all wealthy. Education is a unifying force and the community is quite strong. Sadly, there are many communities where that’s not the case. Not just in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but in other countries and frankly in my own country. I see the benefit of traveling around and talking to other people, hearing what they have to say. A message we hear often in Bosnia and Herzegovina is that “nobody visits us and nobody talks to us and nobody listens to us except for you and the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina.” I don’t want to blame any one person or institution. I hear that complaint about domestic politicians in BiH; I hear that complaint about the international community; and I hear that complaint about the media: “Nobody cares about our story” or “Why does nobody tell our story(whether it’s good or bad)?”. We have the opportunity to do that because we’re spread all over the country. We have this network which is currently 10 offices (including our office in Sarajevo) and we get out and interact on a regular, reoccurring basis. When we made that trip to Goražde and Rudo the other day, with great pleasure we brought along members of the international community, most of whom had never been to either place before. Most of whom — and this is not their fault — will not have the opportunity to visit again. We’ve been to these places multiple times on a regular basis. We know the mayors and the school directors and the teachers and the parents and in some cases, the kids… It’s invigorating and at the same time it’s not just for the fun of it. Where we see a society that is still divided on so many levels only 20 something years after the war, when we’re trying to keep the country, its people, its institutions, stitched together, hoping to see them work as well as possible together, it’s important to underline the fact that in some communities quite naturally and without our pressure or a specific goal for us, they’re already very successful. There are other communities where it seems almost impossible to get people to cross ethnic, religious, or political lines, to engage in dialogue. And there are many different ways of trying to facilitate that. I think frankly though that the domestic examples, the natural examples, are the best ones. At the end of the day I’m a guy from Chicago; I don’t have some perfect solution for every issue in Bosnia and Herzegovina. If they did exist, by the way, there wouldn’t have been a war in the first place. In this environment, getting to know people, getting some understanding of what their issues and concerns are, helps us to inform the rest of the international community. So again it’s not just for the fun of it. We sometimes talk about our informal role (it’s not written in our mandate) as the eyes and ears of the international community, though we’re certainly not the only ones. Many embassies and international organizations do get out and about. But for example, when we hear about specific needs or problems we can also draw more attention to them. A different example would be the teenagers at the secondary school in Jajce, when they were told their secondary school was going to be divided, they raised their voices with great concern. They were the products of divided schools at the primary level and at the secondary level they wanted to keep their school together. Many people in the international community paid attention to this problem. We were able to go there, and we’d already been there many times before, to engage with them and give them a platform, to give them moral support, as well as to interact at the political level to support their cause, to get media attention there, to bring members of the international community with us there to meet these kids and to help make sure that their concerns were not forgotten. Like many issues in Bosnia and Herzegovina, there’s no permanent solution. But to bring some attention and some energy… We feel that’s very useful.
Balkanist: You mention this example of divided schools, a subject that you’ve worked to draw more attention to and supported, and which has obviously gotten a good amount of international media attention. It was a rare “positive” story you usually don’t hear coming out of Bosnia. I was wondering if you could maybe describe some other examples of what you feel have been your diplomatic achievements since you became OSCE ambassador in 2014.
JM: I would say that some of the most successful efforts that the OSCEMission to BiH has been part of are exactly those efforts where we have been a “player/partner/collaborator” in the best sense of the word. One of the other issues I’d like to point to is Zvornik, where there was a terrorist attack in April 2015. A radicalized local resident attacked a police station, killed a policeman, injured another policeman, and was himself killed in return fire. Zvornik is a community where some very terrible crimes occurred during the war. From a distance it didn’t appear to many people to be a well-unified community. Sometime ago the OSCE Mission to BiH had supported the creation and continued work of a Coalition Against Hate in Zvornik before this attack had occurred. It was extremely important that when the attack occurred, the mayor, the Islamic community, and members of the community in Zvornik, as well as the Coalition Against Hate all spoke with the same voice saying “we are one community; it not ‘us’ and ‘them,’ there will be no revenge, there will be no retribution. We need to work through this together; we stand together as a single community.” That was extremely heartening. That taught us a lesson that coalitions against hate, which were originally intended more for the monitoring and reporting of hate crimes, as well as hate speech, graffiti, or attacks on people (verbal or otherwise) had an even broader role to play in the context of violent extremism, which as we see with almost daily attacks around the world, continues to grow. This was something we saw for the first time in Zvornik, and yet it taught us a lesson in how to give communities these kinds of tools, that this methodology can help strengthen community values and in fact, how to recover from that sort of incident.
Balkanist: You rarely hear people talk about that in the media: what happens to a community in the aftermath of an attack.
JM: Nobody can promise that there will no longer be terrorist attacks. Very often, as in this case of Zvornik, one individual, without any network, without any other connections, takes these terrible actions. There’s no justification for that. What the experts have pointed out to us is that even in more well-established countries with very strong institutions and a good history of democracy and well-established sovereignty, terrorist attacks can be very polarizing. Bosnia and Herzegovina, we have to be honest, is not as strong, stable, and secure as some of the countries that have been on the map of the world for hundreds of years. The war only ended in 1995. For some people that’s a very long time, while for others it was just days ago, mentally speaking. In that context we have to do everything we can to give people the tools they need to make sure that some future attack — should there be one, and I hope there isn’t — will not be the spark for a broader conflict, or waves of retributive violence and revenge.
Balkanist: This seems like something that would be applicable in a lot of different countries in the world. This idea of recovery, and how any community deals with the aftermath of a sudden, unexpected act of violence, that’s very interesting.
JM: The community’s role is especially important because each municipality or city, of which there are 143 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, has one mayor. At higher levels, the Dayton Accords gave the state level a complex framework. There are three members of the country’s presidency. There are multiple minsters, as well as the Council of Ministers, though that’s not strange. The two entities both have a lot of authority. If there is an attack, such as the one that happened yet again in Paris fairly recently, you don’t have the single voice that you awoke to, the President, the prime minister, to speak for the country. Unfortunately, there isn’t really a single person in a political sense who speaks for the entire country, but multiple voices. Sometimes they coordinate their voices but not as often as they should. So then who matters when something like this happens? This is not to say that the higher-level institutions don’t matter, but we really have to look to the local mayors, and we’re fortunate that in many cases, if not all, citizens have chosen mayors regardless of whether they belong to one particular political party or another. Of course in some cases, especially after these last elections, many independent candidates for mayor were elected. Mayors know their fellow citizens and they interact with them every day. They don’t hide themselves away in some distant office, but they live their lives there and their kids go to the same schools. That gives them a special level of responsibility, credibility and opportunity. It gives us a special opportunity to engage with them and learn from them. They don’t have tremendous control over their budgets, so as we’ve heard over the past few days, visiting a variety of mayors, whether they’re in Republika Srpska, the Federation, or people here in Brčko, there’s the same frustration that other levels of government control their budgets, and that’s especially true in Republika Srpska. But we also see people that even with minor resources are able to make a difference. Whether it’s in Rudo, bringing kids from different settlements to the school, or in Goražde, helping the secondary technical and vocational school, or in Bijeljina, in helping to develop this Eco Park and encouraging its volunteers. These are all examples of initiatives that happen at the most local level.
Balkanist: Everything you’ve just described, and much of what I’d seen over the course of the past few days has kind of struck me. These are stories about Bosnia we don’t usually get to hear in the news. As someone who works in media, this has been quite striking. I’m curious, as someone who has spent the last several years here as ambassador, and in different capacities in years prior, what do you think is going on now that hasn’t received a lot of media attention that you would like the world to know about?
JM: There are many good stories in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We have to be realistic, there are many sad, tragic, and complicated stories as well. The difficulty, and I’m not a journalist so I wouldn’t try to parse every detail, is that some of the good stories are buried under so many layers of other things. How many people have the attention span, the time, or the interest to look into the details? It’s very easy to be superficial and to just to talk about the sort of monolithic divided groups (Bosniaks, Croats, Serbs). Everybody knows that the more time you spend in the Balkans, especially talking to people in local communities, the more you find out that all of the things you’ve been told earlier are wrong. There’s an exception to each and every rule. Sometimes those exceptions are terrible and tragic, and sometimes those exceptions are wonderful and inspirational. For every story that you have about the typical or average behavior on one day of the conflict you can find a counter-narrative, a story that contradicts that example. The idea of trying to pigeonhole people by saying “well because this person is of that citizenship or that nation or that religious belief, that means x, y, z”, these types of stereotypes and overgeneralizations you often hear are extremely unfair. As somebody who’s spent a lot of time outside his home country in a variety of countries around the world, I love that my kids have had the opportunity to be able to see countries and societies that operate in very different ways and have very different kinds of understandings. What’s important is keeping an open mind, hearing different stories, and realizing that some of the stereotypes can be (dare I say) accurate, but also being aware that they overlook the exceptions as well as just opportunities to be honest. External stereotypes are often reinforced by domestic political players in particular who find it convenient to play on the exact same stereotypes in election campaigns. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, you have largely nationalist political parties, meaning one of the primary focuses of any election campaign is “vote for us because we are the best for our national group”, and in that sense it’s not popular for parties to say “vote for us because we work with the others very well”. I was heartened that there were quite a few mayors who got elected or reelected last October who are not from nationalist parties but from individual, smaller political parties or as independent candidates because they established high levels of credibility among the local population. National issues of “us vs. them” did not play as much as before into the vote for local elections. I think that’s extremely important.
During the conflict in 1992 – 1995 in Bosnia and Herzegovina — and I’m only trying to speak about Bosnia-Herzegovina right now, I’m not trying to imply there are broader examples, although there may be some — there were many instances where people committed war crimes and other offences while claiming that they were operating on the basis of being blessed by one faith or another. Instead, we have seen many examples of what’s happening now in reality. There are many examples of religious communities working together and crossing lines. We see this in very small communities, where priests and imams exchange views (and even their students for religious classes), or through the head of the Islamic community making joint visits with Vladika Grigorije from the Serbian Orthodox Church to different communities in the country. Again, the stereotypes of an inability to interact are often transcended by visionary religious leaders. On a variety of issues they find themselves interacting quite reasonably and practically with regard to common interests at the local level, including on the expectation of many parents that there will be religious education in public schools. That’s very important and that’s the reason why we support the state-level inter-religious council, which includes the Jewish community and other communities as well, including Catholics, Orthodox, and Muslims, but which also means very local interactions with the types of leaders who recognize the role religious leaders have, not just for their believers but for their broader communities.
Balkanist: In the beginning I asked you about what the OSCE’s role had been in Bosnia historically. I’m curious as to how you think OSCE’s presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina will look in the future and how will might evolve in the years to ahead?
JM: I ask myself that every day and members of my team ask me too. As an organization that has 57 participating states, it takes those 57 states to discuss both issues like our mandate and of course our budget for all OSCE operations. It’s difficult to predict. In terms of our mandate, we’re in a very secure position. Our mandate is very broad and very deep because it goes back to 1995 and the Dayton Peace Accords, so whether we’re working with local communities or the presidency in Bosnia and Herzegovina, we have a very high level of access and credibility. We are careful about what we say, we focus on the issues within our mandate, which again has multiple aspects and three main dimensions, as does all of the OSCE’s work. At the same time, the intention of the entire Dayton peace process and the accords was to give authority in many areas to Bosnia and Herzegovina itself. This is a sovereign country with democratically-elected political leaders. They have chosen a path of integration where it’s not up to the OSCE to define the terms, or to answer the questionnaires from Brussels; these are all national responsibilities of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Elections were turned over to Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2002, and the formation of the unified armed forces was achieved in 2005. There are quite a few examples of handing this authority over, step-by-step, to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The OSCE Mission to BiH is not a permanent presence here. For example, there was a mission in Croatia until a few years ago, but it’s no longer needed. The OSCE missions in other countries will come and go depending on circumstances. I’m deeply proud of what the OSCE has been able to do with its Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine. That is clearly the flagship operation of our organization. I am personally very impressed, and some of our colleagues have volunteered to work there. In terms of our work in Bosnia and Herzegovina, what happens in the future will depend on these factors and the level of support and priorities of the participating states and ultimately, the people and government of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Balkanist: Is there anything else you would like to add?
JM: We were visiting Tešanj recently, trying to focus on those communities that are very strong and providing good examples for the rest of the country that should be replicated elsewhere. Economic development makes a big difference. Unfortunately, there are still too many public enterprises that are rich feeding grounds for nepotism and patronage. Private business tends to be much more successful and practical without political influence. They tend not to care about the nationality of who’s working for them; they care about the qualifications of their employees and what those employees are able to do.
Žepče is a very good example of the administrative unification of schools. Discrimination, segregation, education, are rampant in the country in different forms and in different places. It has been possible for administrative unification of the phenomenon “two schools under one roof” and Žepče in particular is a shining example of that, where none of these communities have excessive financial resources. They can save money by having one school director instead of two, by combining classes where the curriculum allows for that, and by the way, just keeping the kids together. The future that a lot of young people want is to be outside of the country for education or for employment. Many people in the Balkans find themselves associating with each other abroad, speaking similar languages and sharing many of the same perspectives. I’ve seen that in Austria, Germany, the United States, and other places. It’s possible because there are a lot of common interests and common backgrounds. So it’s strange that in fairly small communities here, schools have to be completely divided when the same kids from that area who are a little bit older will be associating with each other very freely. So there are many of these aspects of division that we would like to try and overcome.
We do get criticism — and I think the criticism is fair — and there are multiple kinds of criticism of the international community. It does sort of put you in the “you’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t” category. Or “you’re doing too much or you’re not doing enough if you haven’t solved our problems”. There’s of course also a corollary, which is “you’ve created a problem and you haven’t fixed it”. All of it is frustrating and some of it is true. If the circumstances hadn’t come about where we got involved in the first place we wouldn’t be here. But we are where we are. We have a practical role. This is again (and come back to a point I made before, and I apologize for being repetitive) but this is why one of the things we like to do is to find these authentic, (forgive the use of this word) organic, domestic successes, and try to replicate or transplant them somewhere else, to be able to say to a mayor “why do you have this division that’s costing you money, that you can’t afford, when a mayor who belongs to the same nationality you do, the same constituent people, and the same political party, has managed to fix this same phenomena in his or her community?” Force of logic is not always enough, and we only have the force of argument to try and change something. We [the OSCE] certainly can’t do more than that. We can try to show a path forward. I still feel we’ve done that successfully. We continue to find good and inspiring examples, and we continue to get the international community to visit these localities, cities, and towns where good things are happening so that the moral support is there so that the story gets out, and so the people in the media and then the consumers of the media get some more information about what’s going on. A lot of the places where we spend time, people who have lived their entire lives in Bosnia and Herzegovina, have never had the occasion to visit very senior political leaders. So that’s also part of our job, to demystify, to open up, to provide the opportunity to give credit to people who are doing good things.
Earlier you asked the question “what specifically have we accomplished?” We can point to the Mission’s role in a variety of things, such as looking for successful businesses, especially private entrepreneurs who are hiring qualified people, in some cases in very rural areas, agricultural companies that are expanding what they can do for the diary industry, the meat industry. More classical 20th century manufacturing is not necessarily the path to success in the future (I’m not an economist so it’s not for me to say), but currently there are some niche markets in agriculture that clever people are pursuing with great economic results. Also food processing. One of the most fun trips we had recently, prior to the ones we’ve had during your visit, was to the cookie factory in Tešanj, part of a conglomerate that has 4,000 employees, and sends products all over Europe. Eighty percent of what they produce is exported. Their employees receive quite a decent salary and have good working conditions because not only are the business people dedicated to their employees but they also know they have to meet international standards so they’ll be able to export. This is a very positive contrast to some public enterprises that have far more employees than they can sustain and follow very old rules. I say this not because we’re unsympathetic to people who have been on contract for 20 years and are now wondering about their jobs and pensions, but the only way to help transform the economy right now is to make investment more possible here, for both international investors and domestic investors. There are plenty of citizens who live in Bosnia and Herzegovina who would be more inclined to expand existing businesses or to create new businesses if the rules were more practical, if the layers of bureaucracy were fewer. That’s another reason why we shine a light on the successful communities that have been better at economic development than others.
We’ve been talking about youth; you’ve heard the fact that we have a youth advisory group. This is something that we created here a few years ago. It has become a model for other OSCE institutions to follow. The first step was bringing together a variety of young men and women from around the country to get to know each other and to share some initial views, to try and get some advice on how to make our mission more effective. Over time, realizing the strengths and the insights that they were able to offer, instead of just gathering them in our headquarters in Sarajevo from time to time, we’ve started taking that act on the road. And whether it’s for conferences and interactions in different parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, or even international conferences, they’ve joined us, they get a seat at the table, and more importantly they get time at the microphone to provide their perspectives directly. I was thrilled to bring some of the members of the youth advisory group to meet the teenagers from the high school in Jajce. I enjoyed the kids in Jajce, they’re very smart. If the future is in their hands (and indeed it will be) then we’ll all be better off than we are now. They’re certainly polite listening to me but I was very happy to sit back and let them engage with people who are only a few years older than they are but have completed part of their university educations, and who are also able to give them that moral support and encouragement. That interaction was very positive. When we engaged with the media we’ve had opportunities to have members of our youth advisory group present as well to tell their stories and to share their perspectives. Youth mainstreaming is very different from gender mainstreaming. Our youth advisory group is of course male and female. But our circumstances are not such that we can specifically hire younger people. We do have the opportunity when it comes to hiring in general to be gender neutral. We’re able to hire the best qualified people, but gender mainstreaming means taking steps even beyond that, it means for example when we conduct a public event on countering violent extremism we make sure that both men and women from the community get a chance to answer questions, to ask questions, and to share their views so it’s not just a matter of academic experts or bureaucrats sharing their views but women and men from the affected communities being able to directly challenge their politicians, bureaucrats, and the experts, and to provide very direct practical views as opposed to simply being ethereal and academic. That’s important too. The constant blend of theory and practice helps us focus on both the world that we’re in and the world we would like to live in. So by bringing this combination of religious leaders and men and women together, and of course young people, as well as staying open to everyone in the society, we find ourselves more effective in our work.
Cover photo credit: The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
Interview transcribed by Milos Markicevic