When US diplomat Richard Holbrooke and former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt gathered Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks), Serbs and Croats together in 1995 at an American air force base near Dayton, Ohio, harassing them into a deal that would end years of terror, genocide and ethnic cleansing that became the modus operandi of what initially appeared to be Serbian resistance to a breakup of communist Yugoslavia but emerged as an utterly brutal attempt to widen borders of Greater Serbia on the territory of former Yugoslavia, the world breathed a sigh of relief. Dayton peace agreement for Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) was signed in November 1995. Consequently, Carl Bildt was installed as the first High Representative for BiH and remained in that role during the initial crucial 18 months of implementation of the Dayton agreement.
Holbrooke and Bildt essentially endorsed the partition of the country into Serb Republic and the Bosniak-Croat Federation, giving ample leverage to Serb republic forged on genocide to affirm itself as some legitimate entity that has a “God-given” right to independence. On the Federation side, the Bosniaks grabbed a card blanche made available through this Dayton deal to pursue oppressing the Croats. Lacking political and institutional incentives for inter-ethnic cooperation, lacking leadership via the internationally imposed Office of High Representative the system imposed in BiH rewarded, largely unchecked, ethnic-based nationalist platforms and intra-ethnic infighting, making cross-group cooperation almost impossible. (Milorad Dodik, the president of the Serbian Republic entity of has turned to nationalist rhetoric to gain and consolidate power since 2006 while in Bosniak controlled government of the Federation the Croats are increasingly suppressed into a tortured, striped-of-most-decision-making-rights ethnic minority even though they are a constitutional ethnic group just as Bosniaks are).
Hence, divided into two entities, the Bosniak-Croat Federation and predominantly Serb, Serbian Republic, post-war BiH has been marred by political games – that retard democratic progress of ethnic equality – trickling through either actions or inaction of the Office of High Representative, systemic corruption and remains vastly underdeveloped. A mess of overlapping and competing administrations, ethnic rivalries that undoubtedly owe much of their their impetus to unresolved or under-resolved war crimes issues (Bosniak side seems to have magically evaded full responsibility for its part in the violence and bloodshed) had created out of BiH a mecca for ethnically based politicians at all levels to exploit many possibilities for corruption and personal enrichment. All the while unemployment grew to catastrophic proportions (hovering around 45%) due to utter inadequacy in economic development, corrupt and atrociously managed privatisations, and thieving, yielding a large sector of population that lives in distressing levels of poverty and hopelessness. Most of the while the European Union kept injecting subsidies, keeping this dying, suffocating Dayton agreement model afloat.
The 19th anniversary of Srebrenica genocide has just passed and was marked by the heartbreaking burial of 175 souls whose newly identified bones were scattered across a number of mass graves found on the territory known as the Serbian Republic. The Serbs still deny the genocide, the Serbs still seem to count on international politicking to bury the past and create a peace, in the creation of which they would not need to lift a finger, not even the one that represents remorse.
Having in mind the Dayton agreement imposed solution for BiH that did not require a full reconciliation of war crimes through pressure to achieve justice for all victims regardless of their ethnic background – that played and plays the dangerous game of equating the aggressor with the victim in an effort to achieve lasting reconciliation – in the eyes of those grieving at Potocari Memorial Centre (Serbian Republic) on 11 July I could sense the meaning of Antony’s words in Act 3, Scene 1 from William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” when he addresses Caesar’s departed spirit and says:
“If your spirit is looking down upon us now, it must hurt you more than even your death to see your Antony making peace—shaking the bloody hands of your enemies—in front of your corpse. If I had as many eyes as you have wounds, and they wept as fast as your wounds stream blood—even that would be more becoming than joining your enemies in friendship…”
On 10 July the International Crisis Group released its extensive Europe Report No. 232 in which, among other matters, in its recommendations regarding the failing Dayton agreement model of BiH it sates:
“…The European Union (EU) and the wider international community should support Bosnia without high-handed interventions. The UN should close the Office of the High Representative and dissolve the Peace Implementation Council. The EU should welcome a Bosnian membership application as a first step towards eventual accession…”
On the occasion of the 19th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre the Foreign Secretary William Hague and German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier made the following statement:
“The commemorations remind us of the terrible consequences when poisonous rhetoric is followed by acts of killing and ethnic cleansing, and when these go unchallenged. We reject entirely the efforts of those who seek to alter history, to deny Bosnia and Herzegovina’s rich and diverse ethnic make-up, or that work to undermine the territorial integrity of this country. The redrawing of borders in the Balkans is over.
Germany and the UK stand firmly with those in Bosnia who want to a build a peaceful, united and prosperous future”.
The international community repeats what was said in 1995 for BiH and it contributed heavily in making it into what it is today: a country exhausted from foreign power play and a country ready to be divided into three entities in accordance with its three ethnic constitutional peoples (Croats, Bosniaks and Serbs). What the international power brokers either don’t understand or won’t acknowledge is that ethnic communities in BiH are not the same as ethnic communities in US, UK, Germany, France etc. Loyalty to the ethnic communities and their identities are intrinsically very strong and it is upon that strength that joint existence within the state should be built.
And given that BiH is on its knees, desperately avoiding its total break-up and disintegration, ethnic federalism makes most sense and promises a path to a happier and more productive life. Croats, with their own entity within BiH would gain the deserved sense of equality with the other two (Serbs and Bosniaks) and ethnically based recriminations, ethnic based competitions of all sorts that affect daily lives would be reduced under a model of equal federal representation in the decision making for BiH. Certainly, the international community, or the most influential members of its network who are to blame for the conflicts and problems that have evolved from the Dayton agreement model for BiH, have without explanations or reasons so far been against the creation of a third (Croat) entity. They have treated Croats in BiH as and unplanned child in a family that, for whatever sinister reasons, visualises itself without it. It is no wonder that BiH Croats want their own entity, and why shouldn’t they have it when in effect the other two ethnic groups have it. After all, after 19 years of failed Dayton recipe, this would provide a significant assurance that BiH would indeed exist as a “rich and diverse ethnic make-up” the UK foreign secretary and German foreign minister want because the “richness” here (and everywhere else in the world) is defined and underpinned by equality in the sense that matters to the people most. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)