The contribution of Norway in Western Balkans
An exclusive interview with Ambassador Vibeke Lilloe of Royal Norwegian Embassy in Bosnia-Herzegovina
For highlighting the vital contribution of Royal Norwegian Diplomatic Mission, under the Leadership of H.E. Ambassador Vibeke Lilloe in Bosnia-Herzegovina, this interview is presented.
H.E. Ambassador Vibeke Lilloe of Norway ©The Royal Norwegian Embassy in BiH
Q-Norway is one of the European countries that has a strong bilateral relation with BiH, since the mid-1990s. And Norway is among the biggest bilateral donors to BiH. Please give us an overview of the Norway’s contribution during recent years.
Norway has been active in BiH since the war, first with humanitarian aid and reconstruction. We have been among BiHs major cooperation partners. Since around 2000 focus has been on contributing to building a well-functioning democracy, based on the rule of law. When that is said, our main sectors for cooperation with BiH are the justice sector, the security sector, economic development and support to strengthening civil society – especially its watch dog capacity and advocacy ability. Important is of course inter-ethnic dialogue and reconciliation. Norway is a staunch defender of human rights for all – and we cooperate with women’s and minority organizations, such as in the LGBT community.
Norway fully supports BiH’s Euro-atlantic integration processes and see membership in EU and NATO as the best way ahead for BiH.
Q-Another area where Norway has played a significant role, was in the Flood Disaster Relief Operations in 2014. Could you elaborate a bit on this?
I am happy to say that the Norwegian Embassy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Oslo were quick off the mark as regards the terrible floods and landslides that struck BiH in 2014. All in all Norway contributed with more than Euro 4 million, mainly through the UNDP – to humanitarian aid and later to the reconstruction phase. In addition, Norway contributed in the de-mining sector in Brčko and in the justice sector, repairs and refurbishment of court buildings that were damaged. The embassy also had a flood fund where communities and organizations could apply for help directly. I have visited several of these projects to see for myself that Norwegian tax payers’ money was wisely spent – in order to help flood victims in BiH.
Norwegian flood support was broad spectered. Through UNDP we contributed to the “cash for work” programme which assisted with debris clearance but also supported vulnerable communities. With Norwegian funding the central heating system in Doboj was repaired, and it was a very good feeling to push the button which started the whole heating system again, making life easier for some 40.000 households and hundreds of businesses and public institutions. Further, we contributed to restoring livelihoods in the agricultural sector and helped rehabilitate around 50 public institutions, including a new school and a social welfare center. In the housing sector we constructed two new homes for families left homeless in the floods and supported substantially the construction of another 150 houses for landslide victims.
Q-In retrospect how effective was the close partnership between Official Missions like Norwegian, with the International and local actors in that Humanitarian Relief Intervention?
I would like to say that we are very happy with the cooperation we had with UNDP as regards our flood relief contribution. And I think the UNDP did a very good job – in difficult circumstances – to coordinate input from various donors and to share information with the international community. I would also like to add that I was very happy to observe that the armed forces of BiH did an excellent job as regards the floods.
Q-You mentioned that the security sector is one of Norway’s cooperation sectors with BiH. Could you say a bit more about that?
You are right – the security sector is one of our focus sectors in cooperation with BiH.
Norway is a major contributor to demining activities in BiH, and Norwegian People’s Aid NPA is the second most important implementing actor in this field. Their Mine Dog Training Centre in Vogosca supplies highly efficient mine detection dogs to demining not only in BiH but on an International scale.
Further I would like to mention the Human Resource Management project that finished some time ago, aiming at achieving a merit based employment system in the Ministry of Defence, a necessary change from corruption and nepotism over to qualifications and merit as basis for employment is an important part of the reform process in this country – and will ensure that BiH gets the best persons in the vacant jobs.
I would also like to mention the NATO project “Perspektiva” where Norway was among the lead nations. This project retrained soldiers having to leave the army – so that they could get a new livelihood. From 2011 – 2014 more than 2500 beneficiaries were given substantial support in their transition process to a civilian way of life.
Now Norway is active in the “Preventiva Programme” which aims to strengthen the capability and capacity to manage mental health and traumatic stress. The main goal is to support soldiers and veterans who have been or will be deployed in international operations. In cooperation with Denmark and Sweden we have supported the training and development of five new psychologists that have been employed for this purpose.
I would also like to mention an extremely important topic – “Prevention of Sexual Violence in Conflict” (PSVI). This was a UK initiative, which was financially supported by the Norwegian Embassy, a conference that took place in 2014 with William Hague and Angelina Jolie present. We have since then continued to support training of soldiers and others from the region as regards prevention – and PSOTC plays an important part in this important work.
Norway also has a successful cooperation project with the BiH Intelligence Bureau, OSA, involving the Norwegian Foreign Policy Institute NUPI.
Finally I would like to mention a few other important contributions – such as security upgrade of weapons and ammunition storages, donation of IT equipment, and finally the regional project “Building Integrity” which aims to improve transparency and build integrity as regards troubled procurement processes in the Defence sector.
Q-Could you say a bit more about the other focus sectors of BiH-Norwegian cooperation?
The justice sector is without doubt the biggest sector in Norwegian cooperation with BiH. We have supported effectivization and rehabilitation of the BiH court system for a very long time. We have had several seconded persons here in the justice sector. And courts in all parts of the country have benefited from Norwegian contributions. Norway has supported HJPC from the very start, and most of the cooperation in the justice sector – more than Euro 12 million since the establishment of the HJPC – is channelled through the HJPC.
I would also like to mention the last major sector, economic development. And we have particular emphasis on youth and women. Previously Norway has funded the establishment of three incubators/innovation centers, in Banja Luka, Tuzla and Mostar. I am very happy to see these three centers cooperating well. They work on promoting entrepreneurship, often aimed at young people and women. “Start-up weekends” is a relatively new concept, introduced by Intera in Mostar.
In support of the EU initiative Compact for growth and jobs – Norway cooperated with the EU to arrange three huge job fairs, in Zenica, Banja Luka and Mostar. The result of those fairs – more than 3800 people actually got a job through those events, is impressive – and proves that the money was well spent.
Q-Please tell us about the ‘The Program in Higher Education, Research and Development’ (HERD) that the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Norway has been engaged in BiH.
From 2010 – 2015 Norway has supported the regional HERD programme with the objectives to contribute to educating a national workforce that has adequate qualifications in the maritime, agricultural, ICT and energy sectors. Further, the objective has been to stimulate innovation, product and process development in the said sectors, through support to applied research and development in the Western Balkans, and finally to provide insight into development challenges by supporting regional social science research in the region.
We consider that HERD has been a success. Projects and sectors have produced the expected outputs and delivered important additional positive results, such as strengthened regional networks. These have led to more joint undertakings due to the sense of validation along with the resources that the projects have provided.
I would like to mention only a few key words such as curriculum development, peer-learning, strengthened links to the private sector, employment, emphasis on gender equality, pro-active and constructive partners.
Q-Your Mission has been organizing and sponsoring a large number of cultural activities, like Art Exhibitions, Musical Concerts, Film Festivals – at the same time providing Funds and Scholarships for the Artistic-Creativity and Writing projects. Why is this important?
Culture is an important part in building a well-functioning democracy – which again is a condition for success on the EU path. I am happy to note that during the last year or so, the EU integration process has seen progress, even if lots remain to be done. But culture is also in itself valuable. Our embassy is a proud partner in several cultural projects and events across the country. Let me just mention some: the annual international Jazz Fest, with Norwegian performers, and workshops bringing together young musicians from all the region, Sarajevo Film Festival, Operation Kino which unites young people from divided cities, Mostar Rock School which attracts musicians from all parts of the country and further apart. We also support the Museum of Literature and performing arts with their Ivo Andric celebration in the summer. The Museum of Contempory Art in Banja Luka is also among our partners. We have assisted with modernization and digitalization.
Q-To conclude this interview we would like to turn the view into future and ask what are the long term visions that Norway considers in BiH.
First let me say that I will be leaving BiH in August after very nearly five years here. These have been good years for me, I have enjoyed very much living here. For BiH I hope for continued progress on the path to EU and NATO membership. Norway believes that is the best way ahead for BiH. Continued strong efforts are needed in order to achieve further progress. What we have seen during the last year or so gives some hope, but there is still tough work ahead. It is important that both politicians and people realize that.
I think quite a lot about the young people of BiH. I sincerely hope for a better future for them. The very high youth unemployment is alarming. The young people of BiH must get the chance to get a proper job, obtained based on qualifications and not depending on the “right” connections. It is important for politicians to take serious steps to rectify the system and ensure that working life is based on qualifications and merit, rather than what is the reality now. In order to succeed, BiH needs to keep its young generation – the future of this country – rather than seeing them go abroad to a better life. In order for that to happen, things have to improve. This is the challenge and responsibility of the politicians of this country.
BiH also needs to exploit the potential of the whole population. It is Norway’s experience, that women’s participation in the labour market since the 1970s has meant more for our country’s economic prosperity than the petroleum sector. Gender equality does not come automatically, but needs to be actively promoted, inter alia by enacting policies that enable women to combine work and family life, and that encourage equal participation of women and men in public and private spheres.
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