Remarks by Glenn Ruga
Executive Director, Center for Balkan Development
We have been planning this conference for the better part
of this part year. Originally the conference part was to be
small and the awards banquet was to be the major event. Both
were originally timed to coincide with the tenth anniversary
of the Center for Balkan Development, which at the time was
called Friends of Bosnia. The conference was delayed six months
and our anniversary has come and gone.
But once we started talking publicly about the conference,
it quickly took on a life of its own as people from many different
perspectives wanted to participate, and the conference has
become what it is here today—a very packed weekend with
a tremendous range of panels, videos, exhibits, theatre, and
Why? Because the people here today are eager to discuss a
cataclysmic moment in history—beginning with the war
in Croatia in 1991 and continuing up until today and likely
into the foreseeable future.
This chapter in history relating to the breakup and reconstruction
of the former Yugoslavia has deeply effected millions of people
and perilously challenged two great international institutions,
the UN and NATO.
The greatest number of people affected—and those whom
we owe the most to—are the innocent victims swept up
in the tides of war. Many lost their lives. Others have permanent
scars from the physical and psychological traumas of war.
Many fled their homes and now live in all corners of the world.
But most remain in their homes, villages, and cities in the
former Yugoslavia and with our collective help and support
are rebuilding new communities, new societies, and new nations
with new rules in a new world.
Many of the people in this room today are of a different category.
Those of us from outside the former Yugoslavia also have—for
as many reasons-- been deeply affected by the events of the
part 13 years. Some became involved because it seemed like
there was no other choice available after learning about the
atrocities of Omarska, Preijodor, Sarajevo, Bijeljna, Visegrad,
Srebrenica, and Racak, and seeing that the our nation was
incapable of standing up to the plate.
Many people here are professional diplomats, legal experts,
journalists, aid workers, and policy experts. But I dare say
that Bosnia and the former Yugoslavia was not just another
assignment. There was something fundamentally profound about
what happened during those years, what did not happen, and
what is still happening. And our involvement in the region,
the people, and the issues has deeply touched all of us.
I also dare say that we are here today because—as the
world’s attention has gone elsewhere—we believe
we have something important to contribute to the critical
issues of war and peace in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Sudan. We
have learned something about diplomacy, nation building, peacekeeping,
international law, reconciliation and reconstruction and it
would be wrong not to provide a forum for this knowledge,
and occasional wisdom, to be passed onto this current generation—eager
to do good in nations wracked by war.
I would like to make two of my own observations about lessons
learned from the interventions in the former Yugoslavia. If
the conclusions to these observations seem partisan, they
are not meant to be.
One is that the interventions were truly multi-lateral and
this was essential to their success. There is no better testament
to this than the coalition that General Wesley Clark put together
on the eve of the war in Kosovo and through extremely difficult
diplomacy managed to maintain during the 78 day war.
The other lesson that I believe was learned relates to answering
the question of when it is right to intervene to stop atrocities
against civilians and to prevent genocide. During the debates
relating to intervention in Bosnia, there were many who said
we cannot be the world’s policemen. On the other side
were those—myself included—who understood that
we could not intervene everywhere, but when there was a good
chance that we could achieve success by intervening and without
putting our own security at undue risk, than we should lean
heavily toward intervention if there was adequate support
from the public, Congress, the White House and the Pentagon.
The interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo were brief, successful,
with a minimum of civilian casualties, and no US combat casualties.
They were also costly and reconstruction is still in progress
many years later with mixed degrees of success. I hope this
conference can look at how to keep the reconstruction process
on track as there are significant unfinished issues to look
at and there is a tremendous resource of people here today
to weigh in on these issues.
I would like to close by saying that I dedicate this conference
to the civilians of Darfur who are suffering as our elected
leaders equivocate in the face of genocide. There is clearly
more that can be done, and one lesson of Bosnia is that US
leadership and decisive action can help alleviate the suffering
of millions who face rape, war, pillage, starvation and disease.
As in Bosnia, I believe there are options available to us
in Darfur that are achievable and do not put our security
and soldiers at undue risk.