SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — While Britain debates whether to leave the European Union, the president of one of the countries desperate to get into the bloc said Tuesday he is not discouraged.
Bosnian President Bakir Izetbegovic told The Associated Press the European Union will remain an inspiration to countries like his, which is submitting to painful reforms in its bid to join the bloc, hoping this will be a guarantee of the nation's peace and prosperity.
"Whether some of its members will stay or leave, the EU will survive because it is a powerful continent of 600 million well-organized people, and Bosnia needs it as a goal, as an idea that helps us implement sometimes-painful reforms in order to improve people's lives," Izetbegovic said.
Of the British, he said: "I think it would be a mistake if they leave because they would find themselves in a vacuum outside of the family of countries with whom they would have then to negotiate all over again things they already had when they were part of it.
"But it's up to them."
He noted that the European Union is the first choice for people fleeing conflicts, calling it "the best governed territory in the world."
The worst war fought on the continent since the Nazi era was the one in Bosnia after the breakup of Yugoslavia at the beginning of the 1990s.
Part of the cause was nationalist separatism. After 100,000 people died and half of the country's population was displaced, the U.S. brokered a peace agreement and the EU dangled the carrot of membership to inspire Bosnians to overcome their past and start building a unified, stable country.
Since then, Bosnia has been trying to get back on its feet, battle the 40-percent unemployment rate and convince its exhausted population that their dream of living in the prosperous European Union can come true, and that they should get there together as a country rather than trying their luck as migrants.
Izetbegovic said he sees the reduction of inflammatory rhetoric as a recipe for Bosnia's progress.
"Politicians must stop offering people nationalistic, one-dimensional messages that lead down the wrong path," he said.
"Once they stop articulating themselves that way and realize the real interests of their people, things will be fixed rapidly," he said.