SARAJEVO, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA —
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday the western Balkans can only prosper if Bosnia develops well and that despite its problems she believes the country has a future within the EU.
Merkel met with Bosnian leaders in Sarajevo at the last stop of her Balkan tour that also included Albania and Serbia. All three countries are aspiring for European Union membership.
Merkel urged Bosnians to launch social and economic reforms that would create jobs and speed up the EU membership process. Although the country's Muslim Bosnian, Serb and Croat leaders signed a joint declaration in January expressing readiness to implement all EU reforms proposed by Germany and Britain, the Bosnian Serbs revoked their commitment in June.
Still its leaders are optimistic. The chairman of Bosnia's three-member presidency, Mladen Ivanic, said his country "is not ideal'' but it can offer opportunities to people who are looking to the future.
Bosnia's unemployment rate is over 40 percent and the country is one of the poorest in Europe. It is also lagging behind its neighbors on the path toward EU membership but Ivanic said he believes it will catch up and obtain candidate status by the end of 2017.
"We stand by the European perspective of all countries in the region and we know that the problems which have to be solved here in Bosnia-Herzegovina are very complicated but that the entire region can only prosper if Bosnia-Herzegovina develops well,'' Merkel said.
Her visit comes as the country is marking the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre — the worst crime in Europe after the Nazi era. Bosnian Serbs killed some 8,000 Muslim men and boys after they overran the eastern Bosnian town in July 1995.
"We will all need courage — and this counts for all the responsible here who are forming the future — to make sure that such horrible events never happen again,'' Merkel said.
As Merkel stepped out of a car in Sarajevo to visit a photo exhibition dedicated to Srebrenica and meet with families of the victims, dozens of by passers begun applauding and yelling `Willkommen!' Bodyguards had a hard time keeping away people who wanted to approach her. Some women managed to kiss her and others cried as they reached their hands toward the Chancellor.
Majority Muslim Sarajevans believe Germany can help the country launch reforms that will bring jobs and prosperity and they see Merkel's visit as a sign of greater German engagement.
"We said we wished she would have been with us on Saturday when we mark the anniversary,'' said Munira Subasic, the head of the association Mothers of Srebrenica. "We told her that everything she does is good and that we wish there would be more people like her in Europe.''