“25 years ago, Switzerland recognized Bosnia and Herzegovina as an independent state. Our two countries, often compared with each other, have worked well together these past two decades. I hope they can also inspire each other in the future.”
By Andrea Rauber Saxer, Swiss Ambassador to Bosnia
On 20 October 1992, Switzerland recognized Bosnia and Herzegovina as an independent state. Ever since, our bilateral ties are close. Approximately 60’000 people of Bosnian-Herzegovinian origin living in Switzerland and 750 Swiss living in BiH contribute to our bilateral relations. Trade and Swiss investments have intensified between the two countries. This has been additionally facilitated by an EFTA Free Trade Agreement. About 20 mainly small and medium Swiss enterprises have opened production plants in BiH. About another 30 are active in the trading business or in the service sector. There is definitively room for more! I also see opportunities for more tourists from Switzerland given the beautiful landscapes of BiH and the rich cultural heritage.
“Elements of the so-called dual education system according to the Swiss model are being introduced in BiH”
Looking back, we can proudly say that our partnership has come a long way. During the war, my country hosted around 24,500 refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Afterwards Switzerland actively contributed to the reconstruction of the war-torn state. Nowadays, we are working together on issues like youth employment and adequate care to mental health patients. Switzerland is also engaged with municipalities all over the country who are eager to provide better services to their citizens. The Swiss development cooperation invested more than one billion KM in projects all over Bosnia and Herzegovina in the past twenty years and we are nowadays the forth biggest bilateral donor. Switzerland likes to share know-how in fields where we have a proven expertise like, for example, in youth employment. Switzerland as one of the countries with the lowest youth unemployment rates believes in the power of vocational training. Elements of the so-called dual education system according to the Swiss model are being introduced in BiH: companies, training centers, vocational schools and municipalities have started to cooperate in order for the students to acquire the necessary skills which companies need these days. Improved practical training helps young people to find a job once they leave school. Business incubators in Mostar, Banja Luka, Sarajevo, and other places encourage young entrepreneurs to establish a business and help them succeed in making a living out of it. I could add many more examples of Swiss engagement all over the country. The main goal of our partnerships with authorities, companies, institutions, and people in Bosnia and Herzegovina is to make a positive difference in people’s lives.
“Good framework conditions like legal certainty or rule of law have to be in place”
Now it is time to look into the future. Bosnia and Herzegovina has chosen to apply for EU membership. Even though we are not a member of the EU ourselves, Switzerland shares the same values and fully supports BiH on its European path. While EU membership is not a panacea, it will help the country to structure its reform process and move ahead. The elections next year are an opportunity for the voters to ask the different parties how they suggest to address their daily problems. What are the solutions for burning problems proposed by parties and candidates who run for (re-)election? What are the ideas to keep the young and bright in Bosnia and Herzegovina instead of letting them pack their bags and leave? Where are the programs to convince young parents that there is a thriving future for themselves and their kids in both urban and rural parts of the country? How to offer better health services to the elderly? For the elections to take place next year, the political leaders in this country will have to come up with a compromise on the election law. The baseline for this was very clearly provided by the European Court of Human Rights. I am sure that everyone involved is aware of their responsibilities to adopt the necessary rules in time. Their ability to do so will not only contribute to the credibility of the EU accession process. It will also increase the trust of foreign investors and thus ultimately create more jobs in the country.
Personally, I believe that Bosnia and Herzegovina has great potential. Its location close to the West European markets, coupled with an excellent workforce and favorable production conditions, should make it a prime place for investment. There are good examples which can be highlighted. I have met enthusiastic and dynamic mayors with visions who are actively engaged to make the cities and towns they represent more attractive. I have also seen modern and thriving enterprises all over the country. Obviously, also trees don’t grow massive overnight. However, more trees are needed! More trees are possible. But they need fertile ground. In other words, incentives are needed to foster more private businesses. Good framework conditions like legal certainty or rule of law have to be in place. The reform agenda which was adopted in 2015 is commendable in this regard. Obviously the pace at which it is implemented is also a signal to potential investors whether to invest or not.
“Bosnia and Herzegovina has for centuries been a hub of religious tolerance and hospitality”
Bosnia and Herzegovina and Switzerland are often compared with each other. We are both countries which embrace diversity and have complex political systems. I am sure that we can learn from each other. “Switzerland is a country of mysterious diversity”, our minister of culture and social welfare, Mr. Alain Berset, called it recently. In this view, Switzerland is a country of contradictions in terms of language, culture, and religion. I would agree with Mr. Berset that it is these contradictions which paradoxically link Switzerland together. Maybe we are lucky that the lines of conflict crisscross the country without a clear line. Despite the differences between ourselves and our similarities with neighbor countries we all feel like citizens of Switzerland. We share basic values and the wish to live together in the same country. Often I hear that the citizens in Bosnia and Herzegovina wish for the same. Over the course of its history, Switzerland has experienced that dialogue and compromise are essential in a federal state. Even the referendum is first and foremost an instrument to promote dialogue and compromise in our political system. Bosnia and Herzegovina has for centuries been a hub of religious tolerance and hospitality. It is a bridge between cultures and civilizations which is a very important in today’s day and age, especially in Europe. The Islamic Community of BiH and the Swiss Protestant Church have confirmed this by adopting a joint Declaration on Religious Freedom this spring. I hope that our two countries will continue to inspire one another also in the future, to our mutual benefit.