Signs of Progress in Brcko and Bijeljina

Speaking to a computer science class at Bijeljina's "Filip Visnjic" high school.

(Please click here to read this post in lokal jezik)

Bijeljina and Brcko are both communities working to promote reconciliation among ethnic groups.  Clearly, there is more work to be done, but progress is being made.  These are my conclusions after a recent trip to both cities.  Mayor Mico Micic, in Bijeljina, described the work to promote returns of Bosniak residents, and in Brcko a high percentage of Bosniak and Serbs have returned to their former communities.  Infrastructure projects and programs that promote more employment are essential in both areas. 

Education was an important topic in both cities.  I was hosted at the Filip Visnjic Gymnasium in Bijeljina by Principal Dobrila Djukanovic.  I was very impressed by the skills of the students in the English-language class where we had a great exchange of views on many topics.  I also had the opportunity to meet with six students and a teacher from the local economic, medical, and technical high schools, who were selected to participate in the Embassy’s Youth Leadership Program.  They – along with students and teachers from Bihac and Orasije – will spend a month living with families in Salem, Oregon, and attending a local high school.  This is a wonderful program, and I will speak more about it in a separate blog entry. 

Under the direction of the Brcko international supervisor, the schools in Brcko were integrated.  This was a difficult process with many challenges.  I had the pleasure to meet with a number of highly dedicated teachers, administrators, and a former student who lead the process.  They took great pride in their accomplishments, which should serve as a model for school integration throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Today the schools of Brcko produce well-educated students who are leading the way in their communities toward peaceful, prosperous, and well-integrated lives.

Meeting with Brcko educators who helped integrate the District's schools.

In my travels throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, I have met many dedicated individuals who are working to promote human rights, fight trafficking in persons, strengthen democratic principles and the rule of law, assist youth programs, and encourage greater participation by women in society.  This trip was no exception.  In Bijeljina I met with leaders of Bona Fides and Lara – NGOs that are working to prevent human trafficking, protect abused women, and promote the role of women in all sectors of society.  I also met with representatives of the Helsinki Committee, which has long worked for human rights and strengthened democratic practices.  In Brcko, I met with representatives of a number of NGOs dedicated to protecting and promoting women’s role in society.  These dedicated people are working hard to improve civil society in their communities.  They deserve our support.

The poor economic situation is a great burden on citizens of both Brcko and Bijeljina.  Unemployment is a serious, even oppressive problem.  The Sava Semberija food processing plant in Bijeljina is an example of private investment and good management that is creating jobs and improving the quality of agricultural products.  Agriculture and the industries related to it are crucial to the economic recovery of this region.  The U.S. is providing some assistance in this sector, but the future lies in promoting exports of quality products to the EU market.  This is one reason why the U.S. is strongly supporting Bosnia and Herzegovina’s integration into Europe, including membership in the European Union.  This path will bring economic prosperity, political stability and better educational opportunities for all citizens.