On 16th May 2018, the Sarajevo City Hall ‘Vijećnica’ was a beacon of multiculturalism. Representatives of BiH’s national minorities, relevant Ministries and representatives of institutions on State, Entity, Cantonal and Brčko District levels, together with civil society organisations, international organisations, and other relevant stakeholders gathered together to learn more about the new initiative of the EU and CoE to strengthen, protect and promote national minorities rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Head of the EU Delegation and EU Special Representative in BiH Ambassador Lars-Gunnar Wigemark underlined that rights for minorities are among the so called funded fundamental rights for the European Union and emphasised that minorities have equal rights in BiH regardless of where they live in. "It is important that minority rights is not just a letter on a piece of paper that you have signed up in terms of legislation, but also that is implemented, and that minorities have the same rights in terms of education and in terms of work. Unfortunately, in all our countries there are different forms of discrimination, in particularly against minorities, who are less able to exert their rights, but can make a valuable contribution. You see in this country for instance, when Roma are given the opportunity to education and to work, they do often very well," said Wigemark.
Minister of Human Rights and Refugees BiH, Semiha Borovac, said: “Bosnia and Herzegovina is, without question, willing and committed to ensure full respect and protection of national minority rights. In this regard, BiH Ministry for Human Rights and Refugees allocates significant funds for protection and promotion of national minority rights.” Minister Borovac also added “I am especially pleased that this project will carry out the analysis of the current legal framework and propose certain measures of improvement in the best interest of our citizens, that is, members of national minorities.”
Ambassador Drahoslav Štefánek, Head of Council of Europe Office in Sarajevo pointed out that this project will award 5 small grants to municipalities in Federation, Republika Srpska and Brčko District that will be chosen based on the transparent open call and has the aim to improve lives of national minorities directly in their municipalities: “Today is an important day for persons belonging to national minorities but also to all other citizens of BiH, since democracy is also measured by the fact how many rights the majority would provide for minority,” said Štefánek.
The project already established Minority Coordination Group that includes all relevant stakeholders in order to strengthen institutional cooperation and coordination among them, the inaugural meeting of this particular group will take place in June 2018. It will also increase knowledge of the general public about the existence, roles and rights of national minorities, including minority languages in BiH.
Tihomir Knežićek, Chairman of the Council of National Minorities in BiH, said that “the institutions of the government do not recognise members of national minorities in terms of political participation.” He also added that members of national minorities are not among the representatives of the legislative and executive authorities in BiH and stressed the importance of investing further efforts in addressing these issues in a more systemic way.
The launch ceremony was followed by a meeting between Minister Borovac and representatives of all national minorities. This is the second time that Ms Borovac is meeting national minorities during her term. The discussion of the meeting was focused mainly on the current situation and priorities of national minorities.
The project "Strengthening the protection of national minorities in BiH" is funded by the European Union and the Council of Europe and is implemented by the Council of Europe. It is part of the joint programmatic framework “Horizontal Facility for Western Balkans and Turkey” and has a budget of 400 000 Euros.