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IRI Study Mission: Bosnia

Sunday, June 2, 2013 to Wednesday, June 12, 2013

On June 2, 2013 a group of six Bosnian parliamentarians started their study visit to the United States, organized by the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the Institute for Representative Government (IRG).  The group included lawmakers from different levels of authority; two national-level members of parliament (MP): Senad Sepic (Party of Democratic Action, SDA) and Sasa Magazinovic (Social-Democratic Party), three entity-level MPs: Hafeza Sabljakovic (Democratic People’s Union), Predrag Kojovic (Our Party) and Diana Cekic (Party of Democratic Progress, PDP), as well as a local level representative, Danijel Vidovic (Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ BiH) who is the Deputy Speaker of the City Council of Mostar. IRI’s Borislav Spasojevic and Amila Karacic accompanied the group.

The program began on Monday, June, 3 with a meeting at the United States Department of State, with Phil Reeker, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and Michael Fook the Bosnia Desk Officer. Mr. Reeker spoke with the group about the latest efforts of the U.S. Administration to advocate for a constitutional reform in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), one of the country’s two entities. The group underlined that current political leaders in BiH are not willing to compromise reforms and thus BiH has been left behind in the European Union integration process and NATO accession.  Mr. Kojovic added that the generation link between politicians is more important than their ideological affiliation.  Therefore, the conclusion was that younger politicians as more likely to reach compromise on major issues.  Mr. Reeker noted that the lack of political responsibility and transparency is still a great concern to the U.S. Administration and citizens should demand more accountability and responsiveness from elected officials.

Afterwards, the group met with former Congressmen and IRG Board Members Phil English (R-PA), Jim Slattery (D-KS) and IRI Vice President Tom Garrett, in a lunch hosted by IRG  Board Members.  The discussion focused on the current political situation in BiH and the two former Congressmen spoke about consensus building in the U.S. and how the political landscape has changed over the years.  The participants had many questions regarding the role of religion in domestic politics of the U.S. The hosts gave an outline and historical overview on how major issues that have influenced U.S. politics such as abortion, gay rights, etc have been influenced by religious groups and movements over the years. 

On June 4, the IRG participants participated in a Capitol tour and visited the Library of Congress. The tours were followed by a lunch meeting with Ivana Howard, from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).  The discussion focused on NED’s role in promoting democracy and BiH’s on-going political crisis. Ms. Howard talked with the parliamentarians about their cooperation with civil society and what they can do to improve relations between political parties and non-governmental organizations. Later, the group met with John Gizzi, White House journalist and editor.  Mr. Gizzi spoke about his work as a White House journalist and his long-time connections with BiH.  He explained how in recent years and for obvious reasons, U.S. foreign policy priorities have shifted from BiH to other countries, such as Syria and Afghanistan. The group was very interested to hear about Members of Congress who are also members of the Bosnian Congressional Caucus and who still feel very strong about BiH.  Mr. Gizzi provided the group with relevant information about the Caucus and its members.

On Wednesday, the Bosnian delegation visited the Center for American Progress and met with Tom Perriello. Mr. Perriello visited BiH in May 2012 and had already met some of the IRG participants back then.  He introduced the Center and spoke about its influence on shaping policies. Mr. Perriello also spoke about current policy issues such as immigration, tax reform and gun control.

The group then went on to have a meeting at the National Democratic Institute (NDI) with Robert Benjamin, the Director of the European Division. Mr. Benjamin briefly explained what NDI’s program objectives in BiH are and how they cooperate with political parties and civil society. He gave an overview of their main activities and noted that BiH has not made any political progress and continues to stagnate, while its neighbors continue with their European path. The group members explained what their political parties are doing to contribute to the political process, but emphasized that political compromise has not been achieved since the failing of the constitutional reform amendments in 2006.  They noted that a joint effort is required to overcome some of the obstacles and that such cooperation can be initiated by the young generations of politicians in BiH. The Center for New Initiatives, founded by BiH’s center-right parties, is a positive development and should become an example of inter-party cooperation. Following the meeting at NDI, the group met with the Deputy Chief of Mission of the Bosnian Embassy in D.C., Adnan Hadrovic.  Mr. Hadrovic spoke about the Embassy, its activities and their efforts to promote BiH on Capitol Hill. The group asked about the Embassy’s work with the Bosnian diaspora and their integration.  They discussed Bosnia’s foreign policies and how embassies can help in reaching out to citizens abroad before elections and informing them about voting procedures.  Hadrovic explained that the Embassy will launch a new web-site which will be a source of information to Bosnians in the U.S.

On June 6, the delegation held a meeting with Robert Hand, Policy Advisor at the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission). Mr. Hand, who has been working on BiH for many years and is well informed about current political development, explained how discouraging the political situation in BiH is and how far behind BiH is compared to its neighbors. He referred to the IRG participants as a generation that has a unique chance to bring about change and create a new political model in BiH, which will be based on mutual trust and understanding.  Later, the group met with Congressman Michael Turner, former mayor of Dayton. As mayor, Congressman Turner was involved in the Dayton Peace Agreement and remembers well how the war ended.  He had also visited BiH and has very strong links to the country and its people. Congressman Turner spoke with the group about the challenges BiH is facing to overcome current political obstacles. He said that he believes BiH needs a “second Dayton”, i.e. a new constitution supported by the international community. While the Dayton Peace Agreement was crucial to end the war, it created a non-functional state.  The group agreed that such an initiative is preferred and should be seriously considered by all stakeholders. In the afternoon, the delegation met with Ajla Delkic, Executive Director at the Advisory Council for BiH, a non-governmental organization based in D.C. Delkic explained how the organization works and what their main objectives are.  She also spoke about their relations with the Embassy and cooperation with U.S. members of Congress.  She noted that they have strived to promote BiH in D.C. and further, by inviting members of Congress to visit BiH and meet authorities.  She said that study visits such as this are crucial for the promotion of BiH and very helpful in drawing attention to current issues. The group praised the work of the Council and confirmed their interest in wirking with them in the future and helping when congressional visits take place in BiH. After the meeting at the Council, the group visited the U.S. Institute of Peace and spoke with advisors and staff about inter-party cooperation and the prospects of building inter-party and multi-ethnic parliamentary caucuses. The Women’s Caucus formed with the support of IRI was mentioned as an important milestone in BiH’s parliamentary system.

On Friday, the delegation had two meetings. The first meeting was at IRI’s headquarters with IRI Vice Presidents Judy Van Rest and Daniel Fisk. The group spoke about the meetings they had in D.C. and how this visit can help them in their careers. They agreed that the visit is only the first part of the program and that a follow up would take place when they get back to BiH. The group members especially highlighted that they would benefit from specialized trainings about drafting legislation and turning good ideas into policies. Ms. Van Rest and Mr. Fisk noted that IRI follow up on this matter and continue to support the group through trainings and other activities. The second meeting took place at the Atlantic Council. The delegation met with Damon Wilson and discussed BiH’s NATO accession prospects. The IRG participants stressed that Bosnian people support the NATO accession, however political leaders have failed to come to an agreement on issues such as the law on state property, which is a requirement for BiH’s accession. As with most of the meetings held, the conclusion was that the current political elite has failed to compromise on important issues and young politicians will hopefully come into power and show a more responsible approach to EU and NATO accession. Wilson added that BiH’s accession depends only on BiH’s readiness to join NATO and this stage will only be achieved once political leaders agree on political priorities and reach a consensus. This was their final meeting in D.C. The visit continued in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

On June 10, the delegation of the Bosnian Parliament, visiting the U.S. as part of a study visit organized by IRI and the Institute for Representative Government (IRG), continued their tour in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The group met with David Briel, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Center for Direct Investment and his team of advisors.  Mr. Briel spoke about their efforts to promote investment opportunities in Pennsylvania and attract foreign investors to explore and consider the state.  During the presentation, Briel underlined that the role of this Center is to serve investors and provide them with all the information they need to start a business in Pennsylvania. The group discussed with Briel and his advisors how such practices could be transferred to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The group agreed that current political leaders have failed to create a good political and economic climate that would attract foreign investors to invest in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They also noted that it would be useful to create links between the Center and Bosnia’s Chamber of Foreign Commerce.

Later on June 10, the group met with Representative Marcia Hahn at the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. They briefly exchanged their thoughts on the study visit and what they wished to achieve as a group when they return to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The group attended a session of the House and all group members were invited by the speaker to join him at the floor when the session began. This was their final official meeting of the study visit.

For program agenda, see attachment below.