Dayton – 15 Years Later

At the European Forum Alpbach, experts track encouraging developments and daunting challenges in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Former Croatian PM Ivo Sanader addresses the audience | Photo: Astria

“The region is on a positive move,” proclaimed former Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, in his opening speech at the “Dayton-15 years after” panel at the European Forum Alpbach in late August.

In issues from economic development and institutional reform to the degree of self-sustainability of the government, international experts traced a pattern of encouraging developments but also of daunting challenges in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) on the anniversary of the Dayton Accords that in 1995 had ended the three-and-a-half year war in the Balkans.

The panel, which included leaders from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Kosovo, soon turned into what was, for many, a startling discussion of a region that had disappeared in recent years from the international media radar. Led by Sanader, the group also included Valentin Inzko, UN High Representative and EU Special Representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina; Ahmet Shala, Minister of Finance and Economy of the Republic of Kosovo; and Goran Radman, Dean of the VERN’ University of Applied Sciences in Zagreb. Unfortunately, no Bosnian national politicians participated as they were home campaigning for the Oct. 3 general elections.

Encouraged by a wave of New Independent States (NIS) that formed in the aftermath of the collapse of communism between 1989 and 1992, the Bosnian government initiated a referendum in 1992 on independence from the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia. Boycotting the vote, the Serbs of the eastern regions created their own separate “proto-state,” the Republika Srpska (RS). With the formal recognition of Bosnian independence by the European Commission in April, open warfare began.

Serbian forces launched an “anti-secessionist war against Croats and Muslims and embarked on a campaign of securing territory for Serbs by ‘ethnically cleansing’ the areas,” said David Feldman, judge on the constitutional court of Bosnia-Herzegovina, in a lecture in May 2009 at Cambridge University, entitled “Human Rights in Bosnia: Dayton, the Constitution and the International Community.”

Brokered by Richard Holbrooke at the pinnacle of his career as an U.S. Assistant Secretary of State under Madeleine Albright, peace talks between the warring fractions achieved a resolution by late fall, thus ending the war. The General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina was signed in Paris on Dec. 14, 1995, and became known as the “Dayton Accords,” referring to the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio where the initial terms were reached.

The Dayton Accords created two multi-ethnic, substantially self-governing entities; the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) of ten cantons with Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) and Croat majorities and the RS made up primarily of Bosnian Serbs living on 49% of the country’s territory. Calls for an independent RS raised deep concern and were rejected both on the panel and in the audience.

“Drawing lines along ethnic borders is very dangerous,” said Kosovar Finance Minister Shala. “Nobody who has one milligram of EU spirit in himself should support this.”

Michael Haltzel, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University agreed, explaining from the audience that the ethnic majority in the RS was made possible only by ethnic cleansing, which neutralizes the legitimacy of secessionist effort. High Representative Inzko took the same view in an interview with the Austrian daily Der Standard on Sept. 25.

The status of the Brcko District, strategically located between two regions of the RS, was left unresolved in the Dayton Accords and was placed under the Arbitration Tribunal that, in 1996, made Brcko an “autonomous administrative area within BiH” under the protection of the international community.

Besides the division of the country along ethnic lines, the Dayton Accords included a new constitution for Bosnia-Herzegovina, declaring “Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs, as constituent peoples (along with others), and citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina….”

The principle of collective equality enshrined in the Third Partial Decision of the Constitutional Court in July 2000 helps explain the complex power sharing involved. The tripartite presidency, for example, is elected on the basis of ethnicity and Entity affiliation, and the House of the Peoples, combining the Parliamentary Assembly with the House of Representatives, is composed of 15 delegates: five Bosniaks, five Croats and five Serbs.

“The general structure as planned at Dayton was thus a relatively weak central authority and relatively strong Entities, in order to protect the interests of each of the three warring parties,” Feldman argued.

One of the most hotly contested features of the Dayton Agreement was the enormous power given to the Office of the High Representative (OHR) as the “final arbiter” in relation to the Accords. In the agreement, the OHR was “to coordinate, monitor, facilitate and report on aspects of the civilian implementation” of the agreement. In practice this resulted in, among other things, the annulment of appointments and dismissal of public servants without due process – including cases now under review from the tenures of nearly every High Representative from Spanish Carlos Westendorp to Austrian Wolfgang Petritsch, and the German Christian Schwartz-Schilling, with Britain’s Lord Ashdown drawing the most pointed criticism.

Valentin Inzko, an Austrian diplomat and one of the speakers on the Alpbach panel, has held the post of the High Representative since March 2009 when he took over from the Slovak Miroslav Lajcak. Terming his work as the OHR a “mission impossible,” Inzko drew attention to the complexity of his task.

Nonetheless, he commended the positive new developments in the Western Balkans” with the “EU attempting to respond quickly and constructively.”

“This open approach needs to be maintained,” Inzko said, as he began to outline the accomplishments of the past 15 years. “Initially, there were three state-level ministries – Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade, Civil Affairs. Now, we have nine,” he explained with a considerably proud tone in his voice. Judicial, customs and intelligence reforms, membership in NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) program as well as a liberalized visa program give rise to further optimism.

As the panel discussion progressed, it became clear, however, that despite the remarkable progress made in some areas – and Inzko did not tire of pointing these out – challenges remain on Bosnia-Herzegovina’s “pilgrimage to the EU.”

Although ‘on paper,’ BiH seems to be increasingly capable of taking on more responsibilities, the current High Representative saw a political deadlock in an apparent unwillingness on the part of local leaders to satisfy certain requirements needed before the OHR can be closed.

The warring parties at the signing of the Dayton Accords, 1995 | Photo: WikiCommons

“Often, the political will is not there, and then rien ne va plus,” he said, using the words that close off all bets in roulette. Only when these shortcomings are fixed will the country “be able to move forward.”

For Goran Radman, dean of the VERN’ University of Applied Sciences in Zagreb, however, it is not only the political stalemate that prevents the country from prospering but also its economic situation.

“From the business perspective, BiH is not yet a fully functioning state,” Radman said. Although maintaining its financial stability, “it has not been able to create sustainable wealth, as it relies too much on foreign trade rather than on added-value production.” Among other things, a visa-liberalization program is key for the younger generation to eliminate barriers to integration with the rest of Europe. He also lamented that a lot of potential goes unused, something Inzko wholeheartedly agreed with.

“If there are business men among you, please invest in Bosnia-Herzegovina,” he said, singling out the promising sectors of energy and tourism. A marketing plea seemed out of place at Alpbach, and some in the audience laughed.

When the former Croatian Prime Minister took the floor, a flurry of cameras flashed and six television teams greeted him, filming what turned out to be the most explosive of all the sessions. Croatian camera teams and reporters had been waiting all day for Sanader, who was said to have “escaped” to Alpbach to avoid prosecution for his possible involvement in the Hypo-Alpe Adria banking scandal at home.

But if they expect news on the scandal, they were disappointed. Side-stepping all questions relating to this, he did however appear quite eager to engage with the audience, answering questions fluently in both German and English.

“The world needs to recognize the importance of Bosnia-Herzegovina,” he said, citing its central location and the ethnic ties to its neighbors who are future EU members. “The full sovereign equality of all three Constitutional Peoples has to be translated into a historically irreversible process, and any deviation from this notion will open Pandora’s box in the Balkans,” he warned the audience, calling for a broader framework document based on the principles of the Dayton Accords.

“Unfortunately, Kosovo was not part of [this agreement],” said the Kosovar Finance Minister Ahmet Shala. Shala took the microphone to long and enthusiastic applause from the group of Kosovar students who had clearly come primarily to hear him. “It is not easy for us Kosovars to watch what has been going on in BiH since 1994. We hoped that the [Dayton Accords] would solve the problems.”

Shala generally appeared quite critical of the international community and its role in nation building, as he considered the foreign presence in his own country an “obstacle to development.” He asserted that he did not speak as a minister before warning against the “shortsightedness” of the international community.

“The UN is not the right administrator for any country in the world. It is not designed to help build structures of a state,” he said. “People are responsible for their own decisions. Let them learn.” Again, applause swelled from the many who appeared to be his fellow citizens, while Inzko and Salander slowly shook their heads.

From here, the opposing opinions on the panel were not only mirrored but even amplified by the highly attentive audience. When one Kosovar student referred to Serbs as “terrorists”, the audience got a sense of how strained the relationships between Kosovars and Serbs still are. And as the focus shifted from the speakers to what was becoming an increasingly heated discussion in the audience, the panelists seemed rather lost, uncomfortable with the feverish duel of words taking place on the floor.

Eventually, a rather desperate Shala took to quoting the Bible in an attempt to ease the tensions among the students:

“The Bible tells you to love your enemies just like you love your neighbor. We love you, Serbians,” he proclaimed. What followed this declaration of love was a spontaneous invitation directed at the Serbian students in the audience. “Please come and be my guest in Kosovo,” he said.

“I can help you with flight connections,” Christian Wehrschütz, panel moderator and ORF correspondent in Belgrade, urged the invitees to take up the minister’s offer.

But the question of the closing of the OHR remained.

“Bureaucrats [will] find a thousand reasons why they should stay,” argued Shala. Inzko’s reply seemed both predictable and sincere. “Once everything functions institutionally, we will be happy to leave,” he said.

For the High Representative, only local political will and assumption of responsibility paired with a strong commitment on the part of the international community will allow the country to “escape from its current deadlock.” Helping the country equip itself while also taking advantage of what Inzko referred to as a “new conciliatory environment” will become the main objective in the future.

Sanader agreed. “We need to find a newly emancipated political will to make the most of the current situation,” he said. “The future of BiH lies within the UN and NATO.”

Radman stressed that development in the region will depend on political as well as economic reforms, and the extent to which they will allow the country to unlock its potential. Since there is no specific model that can be applied to the region, “Europe will have to think outside the box,” he concluded.

Fifteen years after Dayton, the “pragmatic nature of [the] settlement” that Feldman defined as “a two-and-a-half state, three-and-a-half peoples solution” has given the region much needed stability. Reforms have strengthened the rule of law in the country, as “lawyers have replaced militias as the hired guns of choice.”

Nevertheless, the challenges remain, whose resolutions – all experts agreed – will have immense repercussions on the rest of Eastern Europe.

“Without a lasting solution for Bosnia-Herzegovina, there will be no solution for the region as a whole,” said Radman.

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