Your Excellencies, My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, it gives me the greatest possible pleasure to welcome all of you here this evening and to join you in marking the end of the Western Balkans Summit.
I must tell you my wife and I have such very special memories of our visit to the Western Balkans in 2016. It was important to us that we should go and see for ourselves just how much progress had been made on reconciliation, and to meet many people who, despite having endured so much, were determined to build a more prosperous and secure future. I cannot begin to describe to you the impact made on us both by that visit.
And, during the days we spent in the region, I was able to meet representatives of the families of some of those, from all sides, who are still missing from the conflicts of the 1990s. I need hardly say that I was profoundly moved by the unimaginable anguish they had suffered - and, above all, by the compassion they showed for each other’s suffering. Following the meeting, during which I heard such heart-breaking stories, I wanted to see if there was a way in which I could contribute, personally, to the vital process of reconciliation over the agonizing issue of thousands of missing loved ones. So, last year, it was a very special moment when I was able to welcome some of the families here, to Clarence House. As you can imagine, I could not be more delighted that some of them have also been able to join us here this evening…
Ladies and Gentlemen, their dignity and humanity is a lesson to us all, and a reminder that reconciliation is not simply a theoretical abstract concept. It is, of course, a matter of practical, difficult action; painful choices; and hard, but essential, compromise.
Just as we have learnt from our own experience in Northern Ireland - and, indeed, in relation to the whole island of Ireland - blame, distrust and hatred are natural, instinctive responses to decades, even centuries, of conflict and injustice - but they do not help us to change course. That requires the really difficult business of forgiveness, understanding and, if I may say so, tremendous courage and enlightened leadership.
I know this because very nearly forty years ago next year, my great uncle, Lord Mountbatten, was murdered in a terrible bomb attack. Ever since that fateful day I have been determined to pursue the long, hard road to lasting reconciliation.
We can, of course, never forget the wrongs of the past, which must always inform the choices we make about the future. But they cannot be allowed to limit our horizons or to constrain the opportunity to which future generations aspire.
I firmly believe that in the Western Balkans - just as on the island of Ireland - only meaningful reconciliation offers the assurance that our children and grandchildren will not endure the same agonies as the generations before them, but can instead enjoy prosperity and security.
Now I know just how much progress has been made in this regard over recent years but that much much more needs to be done. I am heartened, therefore, to hear that at this Summit leaders have agreed to inject further energy and momentum into these efforts, including towards the accelerated search for The Missing.
If I may say so, Ladies and Gentlemen, you are to be congratulated for everything you are doing to ensure that the Western Balkans has the bright future it deserves and I can only urge you to keep working towards that goal. All of us, it seems to me, have a crucial stake in such a future; and you can be assured that, in the months and years ahead, the United Kingdom will remain a firm friend of the people of the Western Balkans - as, for my part, will I.