The Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands supports the development and democratization of BiH with around 650 million euros, starting from the end of the war until today
There are many positive examples in Bosnia and Herzegovina where embassies, through various development programs of their countries, support projects of associations and non-governmental organizations, which aim to improve human rights and freedoms. The one guided by such a unique example of good practice is the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Although not all consular activities of diplomatic missions located on the territory of our homeland are always publicly visible, this does not mean that they do not exist or are reduced exclusively to consular activities. At the last week’s press conference, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands announced its support for the Festival “Sloboda narodu”, which is planned for the end of October in Sarajevo. In this way, the Embassy reaffirmed its commitment in supporting human rights and freedom of speech in BiH.
The Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, H.E. Mr. Reinout Vos in his address emphasized that the MATRA program provides full support for the implementation of projects which can make a difference and transform the society.
“Freedom of speech and freedom of press are part of the very foundation on which the European Union is built; these are also key political indicators in the EU accession process. The Netherlands gives great importance to the protection of human rights at home and abroad. Dutch human rights policy aims to strengthen human resistance to injustice and repression. We are committed to strengthening the media landscape in countries where there is no media pluralism. We call on governments to bear their responsibilities to enable critical journalism, including online media. The Festival “Sloboda narodu” exactly refers to this current social problem – freedom of speech, independent media and improving the protection of journalists,” said the Ambassador Vos in his address at the press conference.
Ever since 1996, when the Kingdom of the Netherlands established its diplomatic connection with Bosnia and Herzegovina by opening the Embassy in Sarajevo, the work on improving the rule of law, human rights and freedom of speech has begun in full swing and has continued to this day.
Through various programs from 1995 until today, the Embassy has provided funds of almost 650 million euros for several hundred implemented projects throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, both independently and through support and cooperation with local organizations.
The Embassy supports projects through the MATRA program, as well as regional programs intended for projects in the field of rule of law, stability and security. The selection of projects depends on the area of operation. The focus is on judicial and public administration reform, human rights (especially freedom of speech, freedom of press, LGBT rights and freedom of religion and belief), socio-economic reforms, stability and security.
Within the MATRA program is the project Free Mind, and the Festival “Sloboda narodu” is planned as a part of the formentioned project. It was the close connection between the goals and the vision of the two programs that led to the cooperation between the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Pro Educa Team, which is the author of the Festival.
“The Free Mind project, including the Festival #SlobodaNarodu, deals with a very current, real social problem – freedom of expression, independent media and improving the protection of journalists. Ethnically and politically divided Bosnia and Herzegovina is struggling with politicized media in both entities. This project deals with the relations between the media and politics, freedom of speech and paves the way for identifying concrete actions and opportunities to improve the current situation. And let’s be honest – the current situation is worrying, requires action and extensive improvement. Raising awareness, informing the public, advocating and increasing the capacity of relevant institutions are key activities in this process, and Free Mind deals with all of them”, stated the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Since the Festival “Sloboda narodu” aims to defend and support freedom of speech, to advocate strongly the obligation that public space should serve for free expression of opinions and views, while respecting all differences in society, and above all – respect for human rights, Ambassador Vos points out for news portal Frontal, how situation in our country is critical regarding the freedom of press and safety of journalists.
“The situation regarding freedom of press and safety of journalists in BiH is worrying, if not critical. We have news about endangered journalists every day, while political media ownership and political influence on editorial policy has become common practice. This, of course, must not and cannot be tolerated or accepted. Every year, international organizations which follow these trends around the world put BiH at the bottom of the list. Moreover, the European Commission’s Opinion in its 14 recommendations also makes it clear that these are burning issues that need to be addressed. In addition to Dutch human rights policy, all of the above-mentioned is the reason why my Embassy pays special attention to these areas of basic human rights. Change is needed in several aspects, starting with the transparency of media ownership, the separation of political power from the media (mainly Public Broadcasting), the functioning of the rule of law and the actual application of laws and regulations that are there to protect journalists and guarantee free and objective media.”
Following the statement of the organizers of the Festival “Sloboda narodu” that one of the goals of the festival, among other things, is to influence the change of legal procedures that protect the rights of journalists through workshops and panels in which, besides the people from the media and NGO sector, both rulling and opposition politicians will take part, all in hope that this status of journalists and freedom of speech will be improved, we asked the Ambassador Vos how the Netherlands has solved the problem of censorship (which is ubiquitous in BiH) and whether it is possible to apply Dutch positive practice to our media space.
“We can hardly mention media censorship in the Netherlands. Apart from proper media regulations and strong rule of law, I think there is also a connection with the Dutch political decision-making process, the so-called Polder model. This model applies to policy and business and means that before making a decision, all participants and all parties must be heard and taken into account. This means that all decisions are the result of a democratic debate. Although it takes a long time, it is worth it. I think this is reflected in the way journalists and editors approach their work – they take all sides into account, and that allows good argumentation, and often good fact-checking. Consequently, this narrows the space for censorship. In addition, the government works closely with non-governmental journalistic / media organizations and associations committed to a well-developed, healthy and transparent media environment”, stated the Ambassador Vos.