Academic journal article Harvard International Review

Balkan Chill: The Intrinsic Weakness of the Dayton Accords

Academic journal article Harvard International Review

Balkan Chill: The Intrinsic Weakness of the Dayton Accords

Article excerpt


Former British Ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina

It is now three years since the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina--usually known as the Dayton Accords--was signed in Paris on December 14, 1995. We now may take stock.

First, the good news. Following Dayton an unprecedented international military and civilian pro-Bosnia effort was mobilized. In record time it has restored normal daily life in most parts of the country. Under close NATO-led supervision the rival ethnic armies have returned to barracks. Electricity, gas, water and other services have been repaired. Bosnians can travel reasonably easily between Bosnia and Herzegovina's two constituent entities, Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, thanks to new ethnically neutral car license plates and reforms in the entity police forces.

The World Bank has been promoting modern public financing and transparency. European customs teams have done an outstanding job in reducing smuggling and attendant corruption. The politics of the situation are likewise very different. Former enemies now calmly discuss the country's future in a way unthinkable in 1996. High Representative Carlos Westendorp has pushed media reform across the country, giving a voice to the moderate opposition.

I witnessed these changes during my time in Bosnia and Herzegovina from July 1996 to July 1998. When asked by visitors to asses the situation, I would respond that it remained bad but was a marked improvement over the catastrophic conditions a few months earlier. When the war ended, Sarajevo was seen as an appalling symbol of failure by the international community. Today, a first-time visitor to Sarajevo will find many buildings still devastated or damaged, but the city is alive and busy once again - not yet a success, but at least a symbol of rebirth and hope.

The bad news is that the Dayton accords stopped the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina without ending it. Politicians on all sides have continued to pursue war by other means, trying to consolidate war-time gains and secure more territory for their ethnic community. Despite intense international efforts to return Bosnians to their pre-war homes, maneuvers by pro-Karadzic extremists aimed at preserving the results of earlier ethnic cleansing have prevented displaced Bosniacs and Croats from returning to Republika Srpska. Few Serbs have returned to the Federation. On paper every Bosnian citizen enjoys full civil rights across the country. In practice three separate ethnic administrations each favor "their" community and discriminate against the others.

The Dayton process aimed to re-unite the country. Yet despite Dayton's successes, Bosnia and Herzegovina in many respects is still as divided as it was when the war ended. Why? First and foremost, Dayton built the peace process around the very political movements and leaders who conducted the war, thus entrenching a divisive ethnic approach to post-war Bosnian politics. Second, the Accords did not create a firm civilian implementation structure. Third, insufficient attention was given to the implications of non-cooperation by Bosnia and Herzegovina's neighbors in Belgrade and Zagreb.

It is not surprising that on the Bosnian side the Dayton negotiations were led in effect by the three political movements (Bosniac, Serb and Croat) which depended most heavily on ethnic mobilization: these movements defined the Bosnian problem for the international community and they alone could deliver the three rival armies. It also is not surprising that the resulting vision of democracy enshrined in the new Bosnia and Herzegovina constitution agreed at Dayton is unsatisfactory.

This constitution provides for elections to the Bosnia and Herzegovina three-person Presidency on an ethnic/territorial basis. Accordingly, the Presidency now consists of one Bosnian and one Croat, each directly elected from the territory of the Federation, and one Serb directly elected from the territory of Republika Srpska. …

Author Advanced search


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.