The future of the Western Balkans is in the European Union. The EU membership is the most important foreign-policy priority and strategic objective of our country

H. E. Mr. Radomir Bogdanovic is an ambassador who impresses with high erudition, goodwill and sincerity. Here, on the Balkans, everything is familiar and close to him. But when talking about his homeland and his native Slivlja /Gacko municipality/, he passes his peculiar gentle love and admiration towards it to his interlocutors.

Radomir Bogdanovic graduated with a law degree from the Sarajevo University. Then he specialized in diplomacy in Bjelina, Sarajevo, Washington and others. His professional career began in 1974 in the state administration, and from 1977 to 1986 he was the head of the Legal Department and Assistant Minister of the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He has been Secretary-General of the Association of Lawyers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, member of the Presidency of the Association of Jurists of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and Chairman of the State Examination Commission in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
From 1986 to 1992 he held various positions of responsibility in the municipality of Novo Sarajevo. Four years of law practice in Belgrade followed.

At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina he has held different positions: from 1998 to 2000 he was the Director of the Department of Law, Human Resources and Global Affairs, from 2004 to 2008 he was Director of the Department of International Law; from 2011 to 2013 he was a Director of the Department of Consular Affairs, and since 2013 has again headed the Department of International Law. Outside the country, from 2000 to 2001, he has been the interim head of the Bosnia and Herzegovina embassy in Belgrade, and then had two mandates (2001-2004 and 2008-2011) as Deputy Head of Mission.

On the 7th of December 2015, he handed out his credentials as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Bosnia and Herzegovina to our country.

- Your Excellency, the relations between our two countries are traditionally good. At present; one of the main priorities of the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union is the future of the Western Balkans. How important is the question of EU accession for Bosnia and Herzegovina?

- The political dialogue with the European Union is crucial For Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as, the development of close ties of solidarity and new forms of cooperation between the countries. That is why we are grateful for the clear EU request to open the way for the eventual membership of the Western Balkans. We express our special gratitude to the Republic of Bulgaria for the fact that one of its priorities during the presidency of the EU Council is precisely this- the support for the countries of the Western Balkans on their way to acquiring membership.

- A meeting of the leaders of the Western Balkans was held in Sofia during the last days. What is your comment on that?

- A meeting of the leaders of the Western Balkans was held on the 1st of March, in Sofia, under the invitation of the European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker and the Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. On behalf of the European institutions- the Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn, and the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini joined the gathering. The meeting was also attended by the presidents of Serbia - Aleksandar Vučić and those of Kosovo - Hashim Thaçi, as well as the Prime Minister of Macedonia - Zoran Zaev, of Montenegro - Duško Marković, of Albania - Edi Rama and instead of the chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina - Dr. Dragan Covic, who was prevented from coming due to the worsening weather conditions and other unforeseen circumstances, I had the honour and the pleasure to attend. This important event confirmed the prospect of the Western Balkan countries’ European integration. There were also conversations about the regional infrastructure and other projects that need to link the countries in the region. It was found that the speed of the EU accession depends solely and exclusively on the speed of implementation of reforms and the fulfilment of the conditions set by each country.

At the meeting of the Heads of the States and Governments planned for the 17th of May this year, also in Sofia, all these issues will be discussed in detail, and by then all the countries of the region must specifically give their opinion on the priority issues and the interconnection projects, both in the field of road, rail, air, energy, as well as, the field of education and digital connectivity. All this will support tourism, business, economy, and above all, the ties between the people and the nations.

- At what stage are the reforms being carried out in your country, in relation to the pursuit of European integration?

- If we go back in time, we will see that 2016 was particularly successful for Bosnia and Herzegovina in the process of European integration: in February we applied for membership in the Union and in September the General Affairs Council decided to start procedure under Art. 49 of the Treaty of the European Union and request the European Commission's opinion on Bosnia and Herzegovina's membership application. In December, the European Commission's questionnaire on the readiness of Bosnia and Herzegovina for EU membership was received.

I am happy to say that the work over the answers to the questionnaire is now completed. On the 28th of February, it was officially presented to the European Commission’s President- Jean Claude Juncker, during his visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina, together with the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy - Frederica Mogherini and the Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations - Johannes Hahn. As the President of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dr. Dragan Covic, said, this will create a new picture of the country and will open a new chance for the acceleration of its European path, with the help of the European partners.

Regarding the measures of the Economic Reform Program for the 2017-2019 period, aimed at improving economic growth, competitiveness and preservation of financial and macroeconomic stability, as well as, the continuation of the restrictive fiscal and austerity measures in the government institutions, we can say that everything is running at the foreseeable pace. So far the level of implementation has been 53% for B&H, 36% for the Federation of B&H, and 55% for Republika Srpska.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is ready to continue the process of aligning the legislation with the EU standards in the internal market. We will continue to work on reforms in the area of ​​the judiciary, the improvement of human rights, and the fight against corruption and organized crime.

In the area of ​​the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU, Bosnia and Herzegovina will continue to further align its foreign policy with that of the EU. An agreement for participation in the Union’s crisis management operations is signed for members of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Armed Forces with the EU.

There is also active work on developing the political dialogue, strengthening the cooperation within the region, and pursuing a neighbourhood policy. In connection with obligations under the Agreement, Bosnia and Herzegovina has signed cooperation agreements in the process of accession to the EU together with Montenegro and Macedonia, while contracts with Serbia and Albania are in different phases of development.

Regardless of the challenges that the EU faces, we must not lose sight of the goal of extending it to the Western Balkans. The future of the Western Balkans is in the European Union. The EU membership is Bosnia and Herzegovina's most important foreign-policy priority and strategic objective. There is no alternative to the EU.

Of course, we expect that the support from the EU institutions, as well as, from the Member States will continue in the future as part of Bosnia and Herzegovina's progress on the path to joining the EU, as well as, in obtaining candidate status.

I would once again like to thank the Republic of Bulgaria, the Presidency, the Council of Ministers and especially the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and also the Parliament, for the expressed support in our process of integration.

- Do you expect any support, expert assistance, or experience-sharing from the Bulgarian side?

- Of course we expect. The help from Bulgaria - by sharing both positive and negative experience accumulated by Bulgaria in the process of joining the EU, will be very valuable to us. During all meetings with the representatives of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Bulgarian side expressed its readiness to share this experience.

- During June, last year, Mladen Ivanic, the then Representative of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was in Bulgaria. In October, Boyko Borisov made the first official visit of a Bulgarian Prime Minister to your country ...

- These top-level visits confirm our good political relationship and reveal new prospects for improving our economic relations. I would like to remind that they were preceded by an exchange of visits by our Foreign Ministers Igor Crnakak and Ekaterina Zaharieva.

Bosnia and Herzegovina and Bulgaria are friendly countries, which is also confirmed by the support of applications for membership in various international organizations, as well as, through the Southeast European Cooperation Process and other regional organizations, by supporting Bosnia and Herzegovina at the UNESCO Committee on Cultural Heritage and by supporting Bosnia and Herzegovina’s candidacy Dunja Mijatovic for the post of Commissioner for Human Rights in the Council of Europe.

- What are our bilateral trade-economic relations at the moment?

- Our good political relations are not sufficiently followed by good economic relations. Despite the constant increase in commodity exchange, the truth is that not all existing opportunities have been used. In the direct contacts I have had with representatives of BCCI and the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce, as well as, with the regional chambers of commerce and the Agency for Privatization and Investments in Sofia- we have always found that there is a good basis for economic cooperation between our countries.

- And what about the tourism between the two countries? What is the perspective in this regard?

- Tourism in Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the fastest growing sectors and, at the same time, an important part of the state's economy. In recent years, it has been among the countries with significant development in this segment, and according to the World Tourism Organization- among those who have seen the largest increase in the number of tourists per year - somewhere around 20%. Between January and December 2017, in Bosnia and Herzegovina there were 1.307.319 tourist visits, an increase of 13.7% and correspondingly- 2.677.125 nights; an increase of 12.3% compared to the same period in 2016. The number of overnight stays of foreign tourists has increased by 16.2% compared to the same period of 2016, according to the statistics.

If we look at the structure of overnight stays of foreign tourists in the past year, we will see that the most nights were spent by: Croatians (11.8%), Serbians (8.1%), Turkish (7.3%), Italians (7%), Slovenians and from the United Arab Emirates (5.3%) and Poland (4.8%) - which makes up an overall number of 48.3%. Tourists from other countries account for the 51.7% of overnight stays.

In the context of what was said by the Minister of Tourism of the Republic of Bulgaria, Nikolina Angelkova, during the international conference "Tourism and Economic Growth", held recently in the framework of the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU, we may possibly consider common regional Balkan routes and attract more and more tourists from distant countries, especially from China, which has been given special attention. Here is the place to mention that the first organized tourist groups are expected this year.

- Besides the famous city of Mostar and the interesting capital city Sarajevo, what other tourist places in your country would you recommend for our countrymen to visit?

- Bosnia and Herzegovina is an extremely beautiful country, with many beautiful cities, towns, and destinations, so I run the risk of missing one of them if I start listing them. However, besides Sarajevo and Mostar, I would not miss to recommend such interesting places for tourists as Visegrad, Trebinje, Banja Luka, Eagle, Konjic, Pocitelj, Neum and many others that have retained the traces of an impressive history with numerous cultural and historical landmarks.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina there are both summer and winter tourist destinations, as well as, those that can be visited all year round. As it is mostly mountainous, it offers great skiing opportunities, which are among the best in Europe and offer popular winter attractions.

Besides the interesting towns and cultural and historical sites, the country offers different types of tourism related to rivers, lakes, national parks, sea and marshlands.

Apart from all this, we have to mention our religious tourism, which is an important segment of the tourist supply and includes destinations where many different cultures and religions interweave.

- Which are some of the more interesting cultural events and festivals that take place in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

- Without exaggeration, I would say that every month there is at least one festival in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which plays an important role in the formation of the tourist supply. It is simply impossible to list all the interesting and original cultural events, so I will mention at least some of them. In addition to the already popular Sarajevo Film Festival, I will add: Sarajevska Zima, Baščaršija noći, Leto na Vrbasu, Kočićev zbor, Evening poetry of Jovan Ducic in Trebinje, Evening Poetry of Šantić and The Comedy Festival in Mostar. And because I mentioned Mostar, I must acknowledge an incredible attraction there which draws the attention of visitors and participants from all over the world – that is the popular jumping in water from the Old Bridge, which is by itself a landmark. Built in the 16th century, it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Just this month, namely 15th-18th of March, the music festival FESTIVAL 84 will be held on the Jahorina Mountain, and the first regional fair dedicated to gastronomy and restaurant business will be held in Sarajevo from the 15th to the 17th of March.

- Is the cultural exchange between our countries developing and are there any joint projects?

- When we talk about the cultural exchange between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Bulgaria, I think that it has still not reached a satisfactory level and that there is quite a wide scope for development on both sides. This year we expect the participation of our different culture and art associations in folklore festivals in Bulgaria. I would like to remind you that this year the Bulgarian Guards Orchestra will also take part in the official opening of the Sarajevo Winter Festival. One more thing - more and more filmmakers from Bulgaria take part in the Sarajevo Film Fest.

- This is one of the most famous international film festivals and during the last years there has been a strong Bulgarian participation ...

- The Sarajevo Film Festival has established itself, over the years, as a unique cultural project. The number of visitors and participants grows from year to year, gaining popularity and authority. But the most valuable thing is that it has won dozens of friends - directors, artists from all over the world, who do not miss any new edition.

I am glad that among those friends there are more and more Bulgarian film representatives. Your country did not go unnoticed at the 23rd International Film Festival in Sarajevo in 2017. Three Bulgarian productions won valuable prizes. The film directed by Stefan Komandarev took the Special Jury Prize for the cast of the film. The Minority co-production "Son of Sofia" was awarded with the prize of the International Art-Cinema Federation CICAE - Art Cinema. And the project of Mina Mileva and Vesela Kazakova "Cat in the Wall" received the award of Cinelink Arte International Relations.

- What events do you plan to organize to promote your culture and traditions in Bulgaria?

- Besides the participation of our singing and dance ensembles at various festivals and events in Bulgaria, we are planning to present part of our cultural and musical heritage within the framework of the Economic Forum, which we will be organizing by the end of the year.

I hope that this year we will continue and we will bring to a successful end the already started actions for the towns of Banja Luka and Veliko Tarnovo to become twin towns. Here I would also mention an interesting but perhaps not so famous fact: after the devastating earthquake in Banja Luka in October 1969, with the help of the Bulgarian state a school, named Georgi Sava Rakovski, was built as a gift. Today it is still known as the "Bulgarian School". All this will open wide possibilities for the mutual understanding and rapprochement of our people.

- You have been an ambassador in Bulgaria since the end of 2015. It seems as if for these two years there have been more government-level visits from both sides than during the previous ten years...

- I am proud that during my time we have succeeded in raising even more the already good, friendly relations between our people. I am proud of the visits at the highest level, with ever greater cooperation and support. This year we also expect President Rumen Radev to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina.

I am very pleased that in the framework of the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU, intensive work is being done on connecting the regions of the Western Balkans with the rest of Europe, through roads, railways, air transport, developing energy, education and digital projects for bettering our networks; most of all, I am happy about the purely human connection between the people in our region, which will certainly help and improve both tourism, business and the economy.

- What is your impression of our country? How do you spend your free time, what are your favourite activities?

- Bulgaria is a wonderful country with numerous natural, cultural and historical sites that often remind me of the natural beauties of my country. I was very impressed by the cities and the cultural and historical monuments that I had the opportunity to visit - Veliko Tarnovo, Plovdiv, Nessebar, the Rila Monastery, the Shipka Peak Monument, the Seven Rila Lakes, the Rhodope Mountains- the wonderful nature. In other words, in Bulgaria I feel at home. I'm sorry that because of my many business commitments, I have too little free time to visit more places. I am sure that even after my term in your country, I will be very happy to return to Bulgaria in order to meet again with the wonderful friends I met here.

The photo is provided by the Embassy of Bosnia and Herzegovina.