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Center for Balkan Development
Tel: 978-461-0909
Fax: 978-461-2552
[email protected]

Opening 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 other events.

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.