The fog that never fades – welcoming the EU friend who never came

Posted on 20. March 2017

by Adnan Rahimić

1-adnan-rahimicIt was a sunny and beautiful day in Sarajevo on 2 March 2017.  The city was full of blue and yellow flags, signs of celebration from the day before – Independence Day. Flags were left hanging from buildings a day longer, probably on purpose – to gently sway and greet very important guest our country was about to receive: Federica Mogherini, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission. Her visit to Sarajevo was part of her Western Balkan’s tour of countries that are EU member state candidates/candidates-to-be. The plan was to meet with the members of the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), to talk about the country’s current issues and problematic path toward EU candidacy and also, to give a lecture on the same subject to the academic community of the University of Sarajevo.

As a part of the delegation of the University of Sarajevo, I can confirm this was a special day for the academic community and very stressful for the hosting administration. It is very rare, yet much appreciated, to have a political leader of the economically strong EU address a community that is not directly engaged in the political life, yet contributes through its educational infrastructure. The University of Sarajevo prepared for this day several weeks in advance. For several weeks, the Delegation of the EU in Bosnia and Herzegovina made sure the university was checked, daily prepped and informed, tested for security, instructed and complied with the rules and regulations that were part of her visit. Hundreds of emails were exchanged; there were numerous phone calls and drafted agendas; representatives of all higher education institutions and their students were invited, students prepared, schedules changed, and the rooms and ceremonial hall secured, while the university also had to deal with press releases and other media coverage. It was an honour for this prestigious institution to host one of the leaders of the European Union who, as she claimed, worked to see every single one of the Western Balkans partners move forward on the reform path, towards the European Union, to ensure the process is irreversible.

At the University of Sarajevo all rectors, vice-rectors, deans, academics, students and other representatives of the BiH academic community gathered in one place. People from different backgrounds, nationalities, different political views and understandings had to get up very early to come to Sarajevo, to the capital of this decentralised country to welcome Mrs Mogherini. The Ceremonial hall of the Rectorate of the University of Sarajevo was filled to the brim, cameras and photographs awaited the arrival of Mrs Mogherini. Rectors, vice-rectors, students continued to be patient, although many hours passed.

Until the breaking news arrived: Mrs. Mogherini will not come to the University of Sarajevo; she will not come to Sarajevo at all. The reason for it: “weather condition”.

Instead of Mrs. Mogherini, the Head of the EU Delegation to BiH and the EU Special Representative in BiH Ambassador Lars-Gunnar Wigemark came and greeted the gathered crowd. He apologised on behalf of Mrs Mogherini, stating that she was unable to arrive to Sarajevo due to the fog that was present in Sarajevo that morning. Everybody instantly looked through the window where sunshine hugged the clear blue sky. He smiled nervously; the academic community smiled back.

Although he was very open to speak and answer all political and sensitive questions and acted professionally, Ambassador Lars-Gunnar Wigemark knew that he was not the star of the day, and that people expected somebody else, from the heart of the European Union, to meet with them and to light the path that is left in the dark by local politicians.

For many people in BiH, the fog might be a term used to describe the seriousness of the situation that our country is currently in: every few months politicians cause different political crisis just to avoid the serious economic and social problems that this nation is facing. Causing a chaotic state in Bosnia and Herzegovina (with much help from the media) and drawing the attention away from the real problems, nothing has changed in Bosnia and Herzegovina, for better or for worse. In just several months, citizens of this country (no matter the religious, national or political views) were confronted with referenda in the Republika Srpska entity, the public presentation of the census, application for the membership to the EU and establishment of the coordination mechanism, revival of the genocide lawsuit, and many other events that increased tensions, and yet nothing changed. Actually, for the politicians, change is what they don’t need right now. The old Latin saying: “divide and conquer” is something that is well implemented in and explanatory for this situation.

So, what can we do when the fog comes in? In normal conditions, we wait until it is gone in order to go on. But with the political fog, many people find their exit … well in exiting the country. I can’t help but wonder, what would be the better solution: should I stay and fight an unbearable and impossible-to-win battle, wasting the best years of my life? Or should I leave the country and become a simple statistic data … a migrant and feel like stranger behind the walls of the European Union?

Mrs Mogherini did eventually visit Sarajevo in the following days. She met the government representatives of Bosnia and Herzegovina to discuss economic and social reforms and future steps into Bosnia and Herzegovina’s candidacy. According to the media, it was a good visit and Mrs Mogherini left the country satisfied. However, she did miss an opportunity: to meet with real people, from different political and academic backgrounds and to open a discussion with them. She missed the possibility to see their will for cooperation and desire to create infrastructure between universities, regions and the EU and to see that Bosnia and Herzegovina, the real anti-crisis Bosnia and Herzegovina is ready to become a partner in many fields.