The Dayton Agreement is centred around a warped, ethnicised view that
accords a special role in the state to the three constitutional peoples – the
Bosniaks, the Croats and the Serbs. The overall population, the citizens, the
citoyens were effectively stripped of their powers; the individual person degraded
– existing merely as an instrument of ethnic power cartels.
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by Marion Kraske
usher in a new era for the citizens, remove the ethnocartels from power
The shot that killed Marko Radić outside his apartment building in mid-November 2020 in
Mostar was fired with that in mind. After twelve years in prison, the Bosnian Croat was released, having been convicted of offences against humanity for killings and rape in the ‘Vojno’ concentration camp near Mostar. The crimes took place during the Bosnian war (1992-95), when the Herzegovinian Croats waged a war against everything non-Croatian.
After Radić’s shooting, in mid-November, attendees paying homage sat in rows at the convicted felon’s funeral service: women in front, behind them politicians from the nationalist Croat CDU BH. The very party that had just promised a “City with European standards” in the Mostar elections. The very party that, led by Dragan Čović, had over the past years developed into the most efficient obstructor of reforms in Bosnia.
A few weeks earlier, another funeral took place in another place, this one in the Serb-dominated part of the country, the Republic of Srpska (RS), where the convicted war criminal Momčilo Krajišnik was buried having died from coronavirus. Milorad Dodik, the Serb representative in the BH Presidency who made celebrating Serb war criminals his hobby, arranged for an official minute’s silence to be held, explaining that after all, Krajišnik was the founder of the Republic of Srpska.
25 years after the Dayton Peace Agreement, Croats and Serbs quite openly celebrated those who had once, during the Bosnian war, sent others to their deaths, who killed and raped. The Peace Accord, signed on 21 November 1995 in Ohio, USA, publicly orchestrated with the international political elite, did make it possible for the armed conflict to end, while the ideologies that were behind it are still very much at work. Not least thanks to high-ranking officeholders. In order to understand why the war was waged in Bosnia, one must return to the year 1991: when the presidents of two Yugoslavian federal units, Franjo
Tuđman from Croatia and Slobodan Milošević from Serbia, met in Karađorđevo and reached an agreement to partition Bosnia. The establishment of the Republic of Srpska signalled the beginning of a Serb policy of annihilation of all that was non-Serb, which culminated in the 1995 genocide in Srebrenica. More than 8000 Muslim youth and men were killed, in a protection zone where protection was precisely what the UN troops had failed to provide. The overwhelming violence was carried out under the Serb general
Ratko Mladić’s command.
Similar inhumane activities were also afoot in Herzegovina: there, the Croats declared the para-state of Herzeg-Bosnia and began to “cleanse” Herzegovina; the Bosniaks and the Serbs did not fit into the image of an ethnically clean territorial unit. The six ringleaders of this violent undertaking were sentenced by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to a total of 111 years in prison.
Meanwhile, rulings handed down by the International Court have had barely any healing effect on developments. On the contrary, both sides have defiantly held in high esteem their supposed heroes and their brutal crimes. In the western, Croat-dominated part of Mostar, the flags of the Herzeg-Bosnia para-state flutter now as they did before. In late November, Dragan Čović duped the UN Security Council during a hearing, placing as his backdrop the para-state flag in whose name crimes against humanity had been committed, among other things.
Croatia and Serbia endangered the peace agreement It is interesting that barely any attention is paid in Brussels to the fact that it was the youngest EU member, Croatia, that did not abandon its support for the bellicose agendas of the Nineties in neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and the newly-elected Croatian President, Zoran Milanović, keep meddling in Bosna and Herzegovina’s internal affairs. Instead of processing criminals, Zagreb has aimed to stir up tensions in
the neighbouring country.
Meanwhile in Belgrade, Aleksandar Vučić has supported his Serbian “bridgehead” in Banja Luka. It is a malign alliance between neighbours with suspect agendas, used by the Croat and Serb extremists in Bosnia – chiefly Dragan Čović and Milorad Dodik – for their domestic policy of obstruction.
The dream of establishing ethnically clean areas and zones of control in Bosnia, a Greater Serbia and a Greater Croatia – both sides still pursue these ‘90s wartime goals; Croatia embellishes its agenda with “federalisation”, or rather, the “third entity”, while Dodik openly champions the unification of the Republic of Srpska and Serbia.
The former High Representative Christian Schwarz-Schilling, a German, has harshly criticised the way Croatia and Serbia have treated Bosnia as their colony, warning sternly that they have thus imperilled the peace agreement. Indeed, over the past years, as the protagonists have grown ever more radicalised, the inner disintegration of Bosnia has been in full swing. Both the Croats and the Serbs have exploited the weaknesses of the Constitution adopted as part of the Dayton Agreement, in order to permanently enfeeble Bosnian institutions by means of the rhetoric of hate and policies of obstruction, thus
undermining the functionality of the common state.
In this way, the Dayton Agreement will be abused in order to cement the existing ethnic centres; in this context the erstwhile state founder Alija Izetbegović’s Bosniak party, the Democratic Action Party, is in on the act. The state-building process has thus for years remained waylaid. For all the invocations of Bosnia’s European future, it holds little interest for the three ethnic clans, who predominantly use the political system for their personal enrichment and exploitation of resources. The capture of state institutions by nationalist parties is almost complete, corruption is endemic – the country has thus far been trailing far behind the rest of the region on the path to EU integration in the region.
Design approaches towards a solution to the pressing economic and environmental problems are sought in vain – according to a World Bank study, Bosnia and Herzegovina would as things stand need one hundred years to catch up with the rest of Europe in terms of living standards.
a historic peace agreement with collateral damage
Nevertheless, the historic conclusion of the Dayton Accords should be appropriately recognised today, as it did achieve its primary goal, which was to end the horrible crimes against the population after three years of war. As late as it might have been, and after its own failures, especially in the context of the Srebrenica genocide, the international community had finally grasped that it needed to act.
This was a genuine achievement, to bring the warring sides around a single table after long November negotiations to shake hands and finally sign the peace treaty.
However, the peace thus achieved came at a high price: recognising the ethnic cleansing in the Republic of Srpska, which became a separate entity, and the codifying of injustice and inequality on the basis of questionable principles. A three-headed ethnocracy was created, while individual and civil rights were abolished. This is the collateral damage that Bosnia has been struggling with to this day.
The Dayton Agreement is centred around a warped, ethnicised view that accords a special role in the state to the three constitutional peoples – the Bosniaks, the Croats and the Serbs. The overall population, the citizens, the citoyens were effectively stripped of their powers; the individual person degraded – existing merely as an instrument of ethnic power cartels. The European Court of Human Rights has already ascertained in a number
of cases that the systematic discrimination created by the Dayton Constitution is incompatible with the European and international legal norms. In the Sejdić/Finci case, a Roma person and a Jewish person complained that they were not allowed to run as candidates for the Presidency. Azra Zornić did not want to identify in ethnic categories, and could not run simply as a BH citizen.
Furthermore, Iljaz Pilav (a Bosniak), Samir Šlaku (an Albanian) and Svetozar Pudarić (a Serb), all three members of ethnic minorities in the regions in which they live, cannot therefore run for a seat in the Presidency. All these cases confirm that the Dayton Constitution established a wild maze of discrimination and blackmail. The injustice towards individuals who are either not members of one of the dominant ethnies, or do not wish to identify as members of the constitutional peoples, has been gnawing at the system from within. As a consequence, political debates in the Bosnian day-to-day political life
are rarely debates about facts, but are almost always replaced by ethnicised pseudo-disputes. Jobs in the public sector are awarded almost exclusively along the lines of ethnic affiliations rather than competence – thus it turns out that in the highest positions, one can find persons whose sole qualifications are their memberships of one of the nationalist parties or family ties to a leading person in one of the decisive clans. The lack of true expertise among these hangers-on has led to systematic nepotism and bad governance. The situation in the judiciary is especially worrying, where there are also hardly any independent sitting judges, and the politically compliant prevail; the OSCE has noted that there is a “crisis of ethics” in this sensitive sphere.
All in all, the authors of a book on the fundamental principles of the BH Constitution have concluded that the Dayton Agreement, whose Annex 4 constitutes the basis of the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, “has the character more of a project than of clear leadership”.
It is precisely this missing leadership that nationalist forces have used for decades in order to more firmly secure the established ethnocracies, to retain their grasp on power and preclude any reforms.
regression in the development of democracy
Nationalist officials openly oppose individual rights. In Brussels, the CDU’s Zagreb-based sister party purposefully spread the narrative of the supposed political discrimination of Croats in Bosnia; what goes unmentioned though is that the reality looks quite different, that it is in fact the so-called Others (the Jews, the Roma, the citizens) whom the ethnic blocks discriminate against.
And thus the ethnocrats rule with almost no trace of a corrective – a fact for which the international community, chiefly the EU, is certainly not the last to carry a large share of the blame.
In 2006, the UN’s High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina was effectively deprived of his powers, as a suspect approach labelled ownership was prioritised under EU patronage. While up until that point, important successes had been achieved on the way to a normalisation in internal relations and the denationalisation of politics (common army / numberplates / anthem), from then on, development has evidently gone in reverse; from time to time, reforms have even been reversed.
With support from Moscow and Belgrade, the Republic of Srpska and Milorad Dodik as its representative in the Presidency have openly pushed for the end of Bosnia’s statehood and secession from the federation. The SDA regularly responds to such provocations by resorting to warmongering rhetoric. The Croats strive to cement the Bosnian-Herzegovinian CDU’s domination over other Croats (those who are not members of the extremist CDU), as was the case with the elected member of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian state presidency, Željko Komšić, whose legitimacy has been disputed at every turn.
Both the chief troublemakers in the Bosnian process of democratisation, Dragan Čović and Milorad Dodik, have used such misguiding discussions and manipulations to lead the international community a merry dance through the Dayton-made labyrinth of national excesses. That the current head of the EU Delegation to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Johann Sattler, has publicly praised the leader of the Bosnian CDU as a champion of the EU integration path against this backdrop is not only inappropriate, but unproductive.
In terms of political democracy, Bosnia is today in any case, and in many aspects, worse off than it was ten years ago, in the deliberately fomented dysfunctionality in which the nationalist elites have comfortably ensconced themselves. But among the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, these developments have engendered a widespread feeling of hopelessness, with tens of thousands packing their bags and leaving the country.
the European Union must take responsibility
With the aforementioned nationalist actors and their policies of obstruction, the integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a country is increasingly at stake. The incumbent High Representative Valentin Inzko also warned of the current dangers in his regular report to the UN Security Council in November 2020. The international community stands before the ruins of its engagement in Bosnia – hardly any headway has been achieved on reforms over the past decades. Recently, the so-called Mostar Agreement was adopted with the
dubious support of the EU and the USA. After twelve years of the SDA’s and CDU’s politics of obstruction, this agreement did finally pave the way for local elections, while still de facto legitimising the corrosive ethnic principle.
On 21 November, the anniversary of the Dayton Agreement, EU foreign affairs representative Josep Borrell travelled to Sarajevo and declared: the future of Bosnia is in the EU. In fact, today, Bosnia is far closer to Karađorđevo than the gates of Brussels, attacks by Serbs and Croats both from inside and out, the power of the corrupt ethnic cartels, the cemented structures of state capture – instead of strengthening the country’s powers of resilience, the continued monitoring of the exceptionally important state-building process and focussing on the rule of law, the international community allowed precisely those powers to rule, that have no interest in the functioning of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is a grave error, fraught with consequences.
If the EU takes its leading diplomat’s statement seriously, it will have to regain visibility as the decisive actor. Then, the time will come for Brussels to truly take responsibility and strengthen the principles that play a substantial role in the development of democratic cooperation.
In this context, the EU delegation to Bosnia and Herzegovina needs to finally distance itself from suspicious deals made with nationalists behind closed doors (as was the case in Mostar). “We are not a project, we are a state”, raged Amna Popovac, a Mostar activist and politician, referring to the controversial agreements concluded there to the exclusion of citizens and opposition parties. The Mostar example shows that the international community has for years ignored and marginalised precisely those actors who are real Europeans and who work to democratise Bosnia. To stop leaking credibility in the region,
the EU needs to start investing in participatory approaches in a purposeful and sustainable way. One thing is certain: without strategic involvement by democracy-minded agents in political decision-making processes, there will be no democracy in Bosnia.
In order to promote sustainable democratic steps, the EU must immediately proactively end the discrimination matrices of Dayton that have endured for far too long, and demand that European standards are implemented. The systematic discrimination of individuals must be ended. The verdicts in the Sejdić/Finci case, as well as all the others heard by the European Court of Human Rights, must finally be implemented – no excuses and no more delays.
Likewise, the apartheid system of “Two schools under one roof” must be ended – a system that separates Bosniak children from Croatian children, above all in Herzegovina, on the basis of an inhuman ethnic principle, in order to bring up a new generation of nationalists.
thinking from the end: defending democratic values
In order for BH to reach the European level, the international community might be well advised to think from the end: the stated goal is Bosnia and Herzegovina’s membership in the EU – something that accordingly requires focussed work. In order for new emphases to prevail in the face of resistance from political actors, the EU would be well advised against this backdrop to create a task force with the new US administration and define the relevant milestones, together with a strict timeframe for a sustainable reform process. A clear exit strategy is necessary in order to break the vicious circle of undemocratic and anticivilisational practice, glorification of war and dissemination of inhumane narratives. In this context it would seem that a law to criminalise denying war crimes and glorifying offenders and criminal acts as well as their symbols, similar to the Holocaust Denial Act in
Germany or the Prohibition Act in Austria, would be of the greatest importance.
Not least, it is necessary to define a regime of sanctions, including concrete measures – such as freezing foreign accounts, travel restrictions and similar – in order to put those spreading hate speech with their attacks on the state and the Constitution firmly in their place.
The ethnic principle has functioned thus far as an instrument of total exertion of power, for instance by blackmailing citizens when voting. The November 2020 local elections have however shown that there are enough citizens who no longer trust the old criminal ethnic cartels. Citizens want European standards and no suspicious compromises with the powerful ethnic clans for the sake of an ostensible “stability” in the region, whose engendering of crime-infiltrated stabilocracies has merely further imperilled the already fragile peace framework.
Germany – invisible as a corrective
In this context, the question especially arises for German foreign policy, how to constructively and sustainably work as a constructive force in the entire region of the West Balkans. In autumn 2020, foreign affairs minister Heiko Maas asked the Bundestag not to leave war criminals unpunished; the Federal Government has worked on creating a regime to sanction human rights abuses in the EU.
However, in that case, it is also necessary to have words with political decisionmakers in Zagreb – in 2017, the Croatian Parliament ended its session with a minute’s silence for one of the main perpetrators of the Herzeg-Bosnia parastate. This was no isolated incident; the CDU, the ruling party in Croatia, has time and again supported revanchist approaches in order to justify its own belligerent history.
Serbia too has made clear that it will not give up its disruptive meddling in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s democratic development and its state sovereignty. These are the consequences of Berlin’s lack of a coherent strategy for the Balkans; instead having relied for ages on its good contacts with the good “draught horse”, Aleksandar Vučić.
Not least, in view of the growing damage engendered by Russia all over the Balkans region, with a policy centred around support for nationalists and autocrats, Berlin and Brussels should defend the values they often invoke, especially the principle of ethnic diversity.
Whether with a new High Representative, clearly introduced into the discussion by Germany, or the current High Representative Valentin Inzko, who recently heralded a tougher stance, a “change of paradigm” towards the nationalists and destroyers, in order to finally put through reforms after the failed ownership approach, is currently of secondary importance. In any case, it is important to decisively stifle the Greater-Croatian and Greater-Serbian ambitions in order to give long-lasting support to the process of state building and denationalisation in Bosnia.
In its diversity, Bosnia and Herzegovina is no less than a reflection of Europe.
In order to defend its diversity, it is essential to transform the Dayton stage into a true stage of EU integration. The policies of Slobodan Milošević, Franjo Tuđman, Radovan Karadžić, Ratko Mladić and the protagonists of Herzeg-Bosnia, and above all their fiery spiritual successors, need to be stopped once and for all, if no new violent conflicts are to be kindled in the region.
It is time, 25 years after the war ended, to end the cold war that has continued inside and against Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is also high time to finally involve women and their ideas about a peaceful future.1 Studies world-wide have shown that women have achieved more sustainable results in peace processes – this formative element has hitherto been entirely absent in Bosnia.
A politics that betrays precisely those forces that are the true allies of a peaceful Europe must come to an end. An era of citizens must be ushered in; an era of those civil actors who defend human rights and fundamental freedoms in Bosnia in the face of all resistance and threats. It is ultimately they who need uncompromising support from the entire international community, from Berlin, through Brussels, to Washington.2 Because they are the guarantors of a direly needed restart, that could still turn Bosnia and Herzegovina into a success story.
Sarajevo, December 2020
Steier, Christian/Ademovic, Nedim: Die Verfassung Bosnien und
Herzegowinas, Kommentar, izdavač: Konrad-Adenauer Stiftung, 2010.
2 Recently the newly elected US President Joe Biden and his advisers for the Western Balkans region
formulated new ideas for a comprehensive process of democratisation in Bosnia and Herzegovina: https://