četvrtak, 24. veljače 2011.


By Dulcie Leimbach

Ambassador Ivan Barbalic 2011
(photo Cia Pak - Webpublicapress Archive)
The country, still dusting off the ashes of war after 15 years, took on the presidency in January.

Ivan Barbalic is a good reader of English. In his monthlong role as Security Council president in January, the permanent representative of Bosnia-Herzegovina relied on press statements when he met with the United Nations press corps. Barbalic, a 35-year-old Bosnian Croat, took over the rotating presidency as a nonpermanent member of the council, presiding over briefings, consultations and open debates ranging from such topics as the country referendum in Sudan to the political jam in Cote d’Ivoire to the Middle East. Bosnia-Herzegovina, a country of nearly five million people, joined the council in January 2010 for a two-year term and was admitted to the United Nations in 1992 as a former federal state of Yugoslavia.

As president, Barbalic (pronounced BAR-ba-lich) first addressed the press corps early in the month, as is the custom, emphasizing that the country wanted to have “permanent and regular communication with journalists in order to make our common work better.” Yet throughout the month, Barbalic rarely veered from reciting council statements, taking questions from the press so occasionally that when he responded with answers, they were often in the mode of “Allow me not to comment on that.” The press corps hardly peppered him with questions, as they expected few enlivened quotes, one reporter said.

Like most months in the council, issues bounced all over the globe. Besides the vote on the future of Sudan (the southern Sudanese voted overwhelmingly in favor of seceding) and the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire (still unresolved), the other issues included the anniversary of the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti, the ending of the special mission in Nepal, a new resolution percolating on condemning Israeli settlements in Gaza and the continuing humanitarian and political situation (and piracy crimes) in Somalia.
The revolts in Egypt and Tunisia, emerging midway through the month, garnered relatively few remarks by the Security Council.
The mission’s agenda centered on an issue dear to Bosnia-Herzegovina: rebuilding a nation after a conflict. Given that Bosnia-Herzegovina went through one of the worst wars in Europe, from 1992-1995, after the breakup of Yugoslavia, the topic was a natural one for the country. Just 15 years ago, the battle along geographic, religious and ethnic lines among Bosnian Muslims, Serbs and Croatians resulted in a bloodbath marked by genocide (most significantly, the Srebrenica massacre of Bosnian Muslim men and boys), systematic rapes, about 100,000 dead and two million people displaced.

After NATO, American and Russian forces stepped in to stop the infighting, final peace came through the 1995 Dayton accord, which had been brokered by Richard Holbrooke, the American diplomat and former ambassador to the UN, who died in December. The country consists of an alliance of Bosnian Muslims (also known as Bosniaks) and Croats and the Bosnian Serbs in their autonomous region called the Republika Srpska, all operating under a power-sharing central government. Sarajevo is nominally the national capital, although Srpska functions as a separate entity on many issues.
The three joint presidents are Bakir Izetbegovic (Bosniak), Zeljko Komsic (Croatian) and Nebojsa Radmanovic (Bosnian Serb).The country is currently making a concerted effort to join the European Union, but many matters remain unresolved.
A UN mission was set up in the country from 1995 to 2002 to maintain a cease-fire and cope with the major humanitarian needs. The UN was in charge of demining efforts, human rights issues, elections and basic physical restructuring. In addition, a UN International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, located in The Hague, was instituted to investigate war crimes during the conflict. Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader who is said to be the architect of the ethnic cleansing that occurred during the conflict, was captured in 2008 and is on trial.
So it was fitting for this country, still licking its wounds and seeking to build trust among its former warring parties, to discuss peace-building during its Security Council presidency.
“Personally, I believe that the sooner you start building institutions and the sooner you strategically start implementing the peace process, the better chances that peace will be permanent,” Barbalic told the press corps. Political, financial and economic rebuilding efforts are vital to recovery, he added, with international players and civil society taking a role in the work, too.
“Bosnia-Herzegovina is still going through this process,” he said.
The post-conflict peace-building open debate, held Jan. 21, featured 43 speakers, including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, José Luís Guterres, the vice prime minister of Timor-Leste, and Peter Wittig, the chairman of the UN Peacebuilding Commission (through January) and the permanent representative of Germany, which is also a nonpermanent member of the Security Council.
In his presidential statement, Barbalic noted that the early stages of the peace-building process are crucial and that they should include “building accountable, legitimate and resilient institutions” rather than relying on the traditional approach of leaving that focus for later, after addressing humanitarian relief and rehabilitation efforts. “The immediate post-conflict period offers the greatest opportunity to strengthen the institutional capacities needed to see peace-building efforts through,” he said.
Barbalic also said that peace-building missions should have more flexibility to adapt better to changes on the ground and that organization is important. “Coordination between the Security Council mandated missions and country teams, including development agencies and donors, must be clearly defined in order to avoid redundancy and overlapping,” he said.
Two lessons that can be drawn from the stabilization process of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Barbalic concluded, were the unification of its armed forces, which operate under civilian command and with democratic oversight; and the electoral procedures, organized first with help from Europe but gradually handed over to domestic authorities, allowing Bosnia and Herzegovina “the full ownership of this process and the capacity to conduct fair, transparent, and credible elections.” [To read the full statement, go to http://www.bhmisijaun.org/Statements/un-security-council-open-debate-on-post-conflict-peace-building-institution-building.html]
Barbalic, who is married and has been living in New York for two years, is boyish looking and was prone to wearing solemn dark suits with purple ties at his UN appearances. He was partly educated in the United States, graduating in 1997 from the University of Bridgeport with an economics degree. In 2001, he received his master’s degree through an interdisciplinary program from the University of Sarajevo and the University of Bologna in democracy and human rights in Southeast Europe, writing his thesis on the disintegration of Yugoslavia.
He was a founder of the Association Alumni of the Center for Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Studies (ACIPS), a nongovernmental group devoted to development policies in Bosnia. In 2005, he was a lecturer at the International League of Humanists, which is based in Sarajevo; and was a member of the research team of the early warning system, part of the UN Development Program in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He also worked as part of the country’s negotiation team for stabilization with the European Union; had stints in public relations and marketing; and is a vice president of the European Movement in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a nongovernmental organization. He is a nephew of a deputy foreign minister in his country.
During his presidency at the Security Council, he held an interview in the Bosnian language with the Voice of America in January, and with Diplomatically Incorrect, an English-language media site that covers the UN.
Barbalic conceded in a phone interview with The InterDependent that the council presidency had been a “challenge” because it was the first time the country went through such an experience, but that he enjoyed it nevertheless.
He “did accomplish everything that was in front of him,” said Erol Avdovic, a freelance journalist originally from Bosnia who writes for Deutsche Welle Radio; Dnevni Avaz (Daily Voice), the biggest daily newspaper in Bosnia; and Webpublicapress (an independent multimedia project) and who also worked at the Bosnian mission briefly as a communications director. “He was a very good student of the Secretariat of the UN.”
Avdovic found Barbalic “articulate on the issues that he was questioned on” -- an achievement for a young diplomat and a “good showing” for Bosnia at the UN.
“However, he still has to work a lot to gain knowledge and to work on his diplomatic and professional integrity,” Avdovic added, saying that Barbalic has to understand “that he has to contribute more added value to his country” and to “gain experience here in changing the sort of bad old habits of corrupted Bosnia, full of political and other nepotism.”
The issue of corruption was also mentioned on a separate occasion by Ivo Josipovic, president of Croatia, at an event commemorating the 15-year anniversary of the Dayton accord signing, held at New York University on Feb. 9 with the Clinton Global Initiative. “Fighting corruption,” Josipovic said, meant improving the “legitimacy of judges and prosecutors” in the government. Proper recovery takes time, he said, adding that it is “not easy to solve everything in 15 years” and that fear among the country’s ethnic groups lingers.

Dulcie Leimbach is the director of publications for UNA-USA. She previously worked for more than two decades at The New York Times.

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