On February 25, 2017, on behalf of the Bosnian American Institute, I attended the Advisory Council for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s (ACBiH) 10th Anniversary gala event celebrating the 25th anniversary of the U.S. Recognition of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s independence. ACBiH is an NGO dedicated to promoting the interests of Bosnian Americans in Washington D.C. It was an incredible opportunity at a stunning venue where I had the chance to meet many friends of Bosnia.
The general atmosphere of the event was one of celebration. It was clear that, with the high-profile guests in attendance – former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, the ambassadors of Bosnia and Bulgaria, Bosnian Army General Jovan Divijak, U.S. Major General James Adkins, Bosnian Television and News Personality Senad Hadzifejzovic, and many others – the event served as a powerful indicator about the state of Bosnian-American relations. Bosnia-Herzegovina will always have supportive allies in the U.S., but it was apparent as the speeches were delivered that the current U.S. Presidency of Donald Trump and recent volatility in the Balkans have made many feel uneasy. Nonetheless, there was optimism for the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina, especially with so many allies in the room. The venue was sold out.
The Vice-President’s Speech
Vice President Joe Biden, the keynote speaker, gave an emotional speech about his history with Bosnia. Mr. Biden began his speech with a personal story about his meeting with Serbia’s President Slobodan Milosevic for the first time, face-to-face. In Mr. Milosevic’s office, Mr. Biden said he made it a point to ask about Mr. Milosevic’s influence on Radovan Karadzic, now convicted President of the self-proclaimed Serb Republic of Bosnia. Mr. Milosevic told Mr. Biden he had no control over Mr. Karadzic. Then, Mr. Milosevic asked Mr. Biden if he would like to meet Mr. Karadzic. Mr. Milosevic made a call, and soon after, Mr. Biden heard someone rushing up the stairs. Mr. Karadzic, out of breath from running, walked into the room saying, “Sorry that I’m late.” Mr. Biden turned to Mr. Milosevic and asked, sarcastically, “Really? You have no control over him?” Mr. Biden ended the meeting by saying to Mr. Milosevic, “I will not rest until you are tried as the war criminal that you are,” for which he received a vigorous round of applause from the gala audience.
Mr. Biden recalled his stories as a first-hand witness of genocide in Bosnia. He recalled a United Nations dump truck full of civilians, packed to the brim. As the gate of the truck opened, people dropped out. In the middle of the mass was a 4-year-old who had suffocated.
The former Vice President recalled the moment of his arrival in Sarajevo under sniper fire. He spoke about how he entered a hospital where he saw a young girl staring deeply into the ceiling. He asked one of the nurses what had happened to her, only to realize that the girl’s optic nerve was severed by a sniper’s bullet passing through her skull. These instances left an emotional scar on Mr. Biden and strengthened his resolve to support U.S. intervention in the Balkans.
He also expressed strong support for Bosnia-Herzegovina and its independence, making a point to mention how detrimental the decision was to wait for American intervention to help the Muslim population. He conveyed his deep belief that America should have intervened much earlier (in fact, he noted that he had put forward legislation to help Bosnia that was stalled by opponents). After his speech, he was given a standing ovation and was swiftly escorted out of the building.
Mr. Biden gave a heart-felt speech with personal stories about the origin of his support for Bosnia. Now that he has stepped away from his previous position, it is difficult to tell what role Mr. Biden will play in the future, but it is important to retain an ally with such a reputation, publicly expressing his unconditional support for Bosnia-Herzegovina.
It is a testament to the strength of the Bosnian community in America that we have ACBiH in Washington D.C. as an organization that can form and retain such strong alliances. For more information on ACBiH, please visit www.acbih.org.