La Jolla is first stop on Bosnian ambassador’s West Coast tour
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By Pat Sherman
During her first trip to San Diego and the first stop on a West Coast tour, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s ambassador to the United States, Jadranka Negodic, said she felt she had been transported to a “paradise” only previously seen in movies and news reports.
However, addressing about 60 people at a private La Jolla residence on Mt. Soledad, the newly installed ambassador discussed how, 17 years after the end of the Bosnian War, her country had not returned to its own state of pre-war paradise — particularly its economy.
Negodic’s visit was a presentation of the Ambassadorial Roundtable. Founded in 2005 by global executive coach and La Jolla resident Dr. Ina von Ber, the San Diego-based organization works to promote peace by educating people on international affairs, business and politics. The organization hosts foreign and domestic ambassadors and diplomats on a monthly basis.
As one of seven countries formed by the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, the global perception of Bosnia and Herzegovina has not completely shifted from a war-torn country of refugees to that of a country in transition with great potential for investment, Negodic said.
Bosnia’s primary foreign policy goals are to gain membership in the European Union and in NATO, the latter of which Negodic said is closer at hand and would offer the small country of 3.5 million people stability and security, while boosting its economy.
Sister Balkan nations Serbia and Croatia are on the brink of joining the EU, and Negodic said their inclusion would only help Bosnia’s own chance for membership (Serbia was recognized as an official candidate for EU membership in 2011, while Croatia will join the EU July 1 as its 28th member nation).
“Lots of people ask why we want to be a member of the European Union at a time when the European Union is faced with economic problems and some think it will collapse,” said Negodic, who previously served as the Bosnian ambassador to the United Kingdom. “The answer is there is no other option for us. At the end of the day, we are in Europe. But, there are, of course, lots of obstacles.”
Negodic said economic recovery in Bosnia has been a “long and painful” process. “All the huge companies that were very successful in the former Yugoslavia collapsed and do not exist anymore,” she said. Coupled with the perception of the country as politically unstable, she said, “Westerners were reluctant to think about going to Bosnia and Herzegovina … (instead) investing in Croatia or Serbia.”
Negodic said she hopes to host a one-day conference in San Diego with members of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s chamber of commerce and other political leaders to discuss privatization and investment opportunities in her country, such as tourism, coal, mining and hydropower.
Due to its vast system of rivers, Bosnia is the only country in the Balkans that exports electricity, she said.
However, Negodic said foreign investment alone is not enough to help her country, where the unemployment rate is currently 25 percent. She said an equal emphasis must be placed on education.
“We have now a generation of people who … don’t remember Bosnia as it was. It’s some distant, historical fact,” she said. “Sometimes they can’t see their future. We need to build a country those young people would like to identify with, where they would like to stay.”
During the reception, with a Mediterranean buffet provided by Carmel Valley-based Cedar Grill and Café, Mayor Bob Filner presented Ambassador Negodic with the “key to the city.”
“Thank you so much for honoring us with your presence,” Filner said. “You’ve had a tough history in recent years, but you’re still smiling and you’ve shown that people survive and they come out even better when they go through struggles.
“What we’re trying to do is open up San Diego to the rest of the world,” he added. “To have ambassadors from around the world here educates us all.”
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