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President Pahor, honorary speaker at the ceremony commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide at the Potočari Memorial Centre

Srebrenica, Bosnia and Hercegovina, 11. 7. 2015 | press release, speech

The President of the Republic of Slovenia, Mr Borut Pahor, attended the main ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the tragic events in Srebrenica and addressed the participants as an honorary speaker. During their recent visit to Slovenia, the Mayor of Srebrenica and the chair of the event’s organising committee, Mr Ćamil Duraković, and the President of the Mothers of Srebrenica Association, Mrs Munira Šubašić, asked President Pahor to deliver an honorary address at the memorial ceremony, which is a great honour both for the President personally and Slovenia.

Speech by the President of the Republic of Slovenia, Mr Borut Pahor, at the ceremony commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide at the Potočari Memorial Centre

Srebrenica, 11 July 2015

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I came here as a friend, and you received me as a friend. For this I am very grateful. So I will speak from the heart. I would like to invite you to embark on the path of forgiveness and reconciliation.

I understand that my appeal might give rise to conflicting emotions. The task is tremendously difficult. Forgiveness and reconciliation require a great deal of courage and trust. But in my opinion, this is the only door to a better and safer future.

I know it is difficult to ask forgiveness of the people who were victims of crimes. But without forgiveness there can be no reconciliation. Without reconciliation there can be no integration and cooperation. Without cooperation it is impossible to build unity. And without unity, ambitious decisions cannot be taken. And it is exactly ambitious decisions that Bosnia and Herzegovina and all its people need right now. It is not easy. In fact it is very difficult. But this is the only way worthy of the dreams and hopes of all your children.

I know a little bit about this. Let me tell you a Slovenian story. During the Second World War, Slovenians fought not only against the occupying forces, but also brother against brother. We tried to forget this tragedy by retreating into silence. It did not work out.

However, ever since the introduction of democratic changes and establishment of an independent Slovenia, this topic has been a bone of contention. Everybody was trying to tell their own truth. Brother pitted against brother once again. But recently I have seen increasing sympathy for forgiveness and reconciliation. We are finally willing to stand together, shoulder to shoulder, and lend a hand to one another. This is an indescribably beautiful feeling.

Dear friends, I would like to tell you that Slovenians decided on this moral shift from hatred and division to forgiveness and reconciliation all by themselves. After 70 years they finally realised it was time. High time for forgiveness, for reconciliation and for a new beginning.

This decision was mostly received with great hope and wholehearted approval. I personally think that the spiritual renaissance of Slovenians is immensely more important that our economic recovery. But it nevertheless took us 70 years.

And now I come here to Srebrenica, to the site of the horrible genocide, asking you to forgive after a mere 20 years. I do not speak of forgetting. I do not speak of statutory limitation of crimes and just punishment of perpetrators. No; I speak of forgiveness. I know it is difficult. Extraordinarily difficult. It involves a brave intimate decision and unprecedented collective will.

But think about it – without this major shift there can be no future. Putting off forgiveness and reconciliation means putting off the future. Can we – as parents of our children – assume the right to postpone the future out of fear and prejudice, and sentence our children to the past? I don't think we can.

Forgiveness and reconciliation are the founding stones of a united Europe, and sooner or later they will also be the foundation of a modern Bosnia and Herzegovina. This, however, is not the only condition for a better, fairer, more equal, tolerant, progressive and successful Bosnia and Herzegovina. The second condition is a clear European perspective. And putting off the European perspective means holding onto the sad past.

If forgiveness and reconciliation are almost entirely the matter of your intimate choice and collective will, Bosnia and Herzegovina's European perspective is also my commitment and that of all other European leaders. Brussels continues to see enlargement to the Western Balkans as a technical process.

It is not a technical process, but a decisively political one. The moment for accelerating the process of integrating Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Western Balkans in the European Union is now, this must be seen and realised. We should not judge the bureaucrats if they fail to see it; it is upon us, politicians, to understand this necessity and take appropriate steps. Now, right this moment.

I have no desire to sugarcoat my messages with diplomatic rhetoric. Only by respecting each other, by searching for what we all have in common and by defining clear shared goals for the future can we look ahead with hope and faith that the tragic crime of 20 years ago was truly the last of its kind.

Harmonious coexistence of people and nations in Bosnia and Herzegovina and its clear European perspective are the only guarantees that Srebrenica can never be repeated. Without forgiveness and reconciliation, and without a European perspective we risk that similar tragedies might happen again.

Failing to do so, we must be aware that we might have to assume responsibility should it happen again. And who has the moral right not to free our children from fear of the past being repeated? Nobody, in my opinion.

I came here as a friend, and I want to leave as a friend. And be able to return as a friend. Here, before the surviving witnesses of the crimes in Srebrenica and other crimes, I assume responsibility, in the name of the state and the people I represent, to do everything in my power to ensure a peaceful and safe future of this part of Europe.

I would like to encourage you to take the brave decision and forgive, and I – standing here before you – pledge to contribute to the best of my ability to a clear European perspective for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Today, I see sorrow and pain. But in the eyes filled with tears I also see hope and yearning. I see problems, but I also see endless possibilities for you beautiful country. I feel the chill of mistrust, but also the immense warmth of the desire for confidence and cooperation.

I see a peaceful Bosnia and Herzegovina. I see a Bosnia and Herzegovina safe for all its people. I see the power and energy of integration and unity. I see a European Bosnia and Herzegovina. As I look at all of you here, this is the Bosnia and Herzegovina I see.