About the Author: Patrick S. Moon serves as U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The next generation of Bosnia and Herzegovina's leaders said they felt inspired and energized by Secretary Clinton's Town Hall meeting October 12 in Sarajevo.
"Young people here don't think they have a chance to say anything, but she gave us a chance to raise up our voices," said Demi Comage, a law student from the University of Sarajevo and president of a local youth organization. "It was quite inspiring to me. This talk gave me the power to walk on."
A diverse mix of 400-some students from across the country -- ranging from high school students from Islamic madrasahs to graduate students from mainly Croat areas and university students from the Republika Srpska -- came to the National Theater for a chance to have a conversation with the Secretary during the first stop of her visit to the Balkans. Before the dialogue began, though, the students heard a simple plea from the Secretary.
"The United States believes in the future of this country and believes in the potential of the young people," she said, adding later, "Now is the time to build on the gains that have been made in recent years. Now is the time to strengthen democratic institutions, to deepen peace between neighbors, and to create the conditions for long-term political, economic, and social progress."
The young people were full of questions and comments for the Secretary. A young woman asked for advice on integrating divided schools. Another asked for tips on expanding the role of women in politics here. A graduate student expressed hope for more college exchanges between the United States and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Interest in the Secretary's visit was, unfortunately, much higher than the number of seats at the National Theater. Hoping to "democratize" the Town Hall event, we at Embassy Sarajevo asked our Facebook Friends to submit questions for the Secretary. A young woman from Banja Luka, Tanja Mihajlovic, wanted to know about the future of U.S. development plans here. Secretary Clinton responded, "We are willing and standing by ready to help,” but that the necessary work of constitutional and economic reforms must come from within.
"Now there needs to be what we would call a second wind, where people do not get discouraged, where they do not give up, where they do not accept the status quo, where they do not retreat into their own communities and have nothing to do with the other," Secretary Clinton added, answering Ms. Mihajlovic's question.
Although Secretary Clinton's message was well-captured by the title of the event, "Forging a Future Together," the venue itself was powerful. More than any other building in this city, the National Theater has been a place of hope. Since its opening performance in 1921, the squat stone building on the banks of the Miljacka River has hosted well over 1,000 plays, ballets, operas and concerts. Most significantly, the theater remained a beacon of culture and life during the dark years of Sarajevo's three-year siege during the early 1990s.
Many of the young people in the audience had no direct memories of the war, but Secretary Clinton invoked the conflict in her call to action. "I urge you to remember the hard times that your families in this country have already endured and the toughness and the talents that carried you through," she said. "If you channel those strengths now into the difficult but rewarding work of shaping the future you will inherit, you will be the beneficiaries. The more engaged you are, the more you demand of your leaders, the more you can contribute to political, economic, and social progress that leads to prosperity and opportunity for you."
Amila Kurtovic, a student who attended the State Department's Ben Franklin Summer Institute in 2008, said she was surprised by the Secretary Clinton's candor during the Town Hall event. "I thought she was very open,” Kurtovic said. “She really thought about our questions. She actually listened to what we said.”
After the hour-long event, Kurtovic, who urged the Secretary to expand student exchange programs, said she left the theater with ideas churning in her head. She's already making plans to become more engaged in politics and civil society here. “The Secretary wasn't giving us false promises. She said that we need to make our own changes, but this was inspirational for me,” Kurtovic said. “The Secretary came to Sarajevo and she chose to talk with students, not just government representatives.”
You can follow the Secretary's travel here.