Kosovo Consequences For Bosnia

Many Bosnians hope the post-war settlement will give new impetus to revise the Dayton accords along the lines of the solution for Kosovo.

Kosovo Consequences For Bosnia

Many Bosnians hope the post-war settlement will give new impetus to revise the Dayton accords along the lines of the solution for Kosovo.

Sunday, 11 July, 1999

As the dust settles in Kosovo, Bosnians inevitably wonder what it means for them and their country's three-and-a-half-year-old peace process. Does it signal a shift towards the permanent division of their country, or its eventual reintegration?

The Dayton Peace Accords, which ended the war in Bosnia, represented a compromise with Slobodan Milosevic and a powerful Serbia. Now, with Milosevic indicted for war crimes, Serbia devastated by 77 days of NATO bombing, and implementation of Dayton largely stalled, many Bosnians believe it is time to revisit the entire settlement The international community has imposed a solution on Kosovo. Should it impose a fresh new one on Bosnia? And if so, what kind?

The appointment of a new High Representative in Bosnia - the Austrian Wolfgang Petritsch to succeed the Spaniard Carlos Westendorp - and talk of an as yet undefined Stability Pact for South East Europe may herald radical changes both for the divided country and the region itself. Meanwhile the cost and complexity of reconstructing Kosovo may yet divert international resources away from Bosnia.

What is incontrovertible is that the settlement in Kosovo will be very different from the one in Bosnia. Whereas the 1995 Dayton Peace Accord, which ended the Bosnian war, was a compromise between the Balkans' three most powerful ethnic leaders - albeit reached under intense international pressure - the Kosovo settlement has been imposed on Serbia.

The Bosnian plan was ambiguous in its commitment to reversing ethnic cleansing, tackling war crimes and defending Bosnia's territorial integrity. It divided the country in half, between the Serbian Republika Srpska and the Bosniak-Croat Federation. It left it up to the parties to cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague. And it envisaged the return of refugees without clearing the political obstacles on their route home.

In contrast, Kosovo remains a single geographic unit, the refugees are already streaming home and Western countries have given The Hague Tribunal the resources to properly investigate war crimes there. Moreover, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and four of his inner circle have already been indicted for their role in the conflict.

As Kosovo Serbs flee reprisals from returning Albanians, advocates of Bosnia's partition, including most senior Bosnian Serbs and former international mediator Lord David Owen, read this as more evidence that attempts to rebuild multi-ethnicity are unrealistic.

Citing the failure of Dayton's systems to rebuild a functioning, multi-ethnic Bosnia, they argue that the simplest and most durable solution would be to recognise an independent Kosovo and compensate Serbia with part or all of Republika Srpska in Bosnia. This partition would have to be imposed on Sarajevo as it would be tantamount to recognising the results of ethnic cleansing.

After two disappointing years, the High Representative, the international community's senior diplomat in Bosnia, gained the power in December 1997 to dismiss obstructionist officials and impose solutions on intractable disputes. Westendorp used these powers to push through measures supposed to bring communities together, including a common vehicle licence plate, a new Bosnian flag and passport. However, the limits of what could be achieved simply by dismissal and decree were rapidly reached.

Moreover, by imposing legislation and dismissing elected officials, he has made a mockery of earlier international attempts to build Bosnian democracy. Refugees have not returned to communities dominated by other ethnic groups. Political and judicial institutions set up under the peace agreement do not function properly and would collapse without international support. The whole operation is costing $9 billion a year, including $7 billion to pay for the 30,000 strong NATO-led force.

The war in Kosovo has made the existing paralysis in Bosnia only more acute. Prompted in part by highly partisan reporting, Serbs in Republika Srpska backed their ethnic kin in Kosovo, and Bosniaks in the Federation sympathised with the Albanian cause.

But this latest war has not made Bosnia's partition inevitable. Proponents of reintegration believe that far from enhancing the cause for division, the way the Kosovo war has been resolved has actually helped their cause. Indeed, many senior Bosniaks feel that the Dayton Peace Agreement should now be restructured along similar lines to the likely final settlement in Kosovo.

An independent Republika Srpska would require the support of a powerful Serbia. But after three months of near saturation bombing Serbia is now militarily and economically impoverished. Economic links between Serbia and Republika Srpska have been virtually severed. Belgrade's attempts to instigate clashes between Serbs in Republika Srpska and NATO peacekeepers were easily suppressed; and the international community stood up to hard-line Serbs by dismissing Nikola Poplasen, Republika Srpska's president, for obstructionism.

The final decision over control of Brcko - reached by an international arbitrator in accordance with the peace agreement - is especially critical. Taken shortly before NATO began bombing Yugoslavia, it effectively obliges Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats to live together there and physically divides the western and eastern halves of Republika Srpska.

Serbia's poor prospects as long as Milosevic remains in power and the country is denied reconstruction aid have encouraged many Bosnian Serb refugees in Serbia to return, regardless of which side now controls their homes. Several hundred returned during the NATO bombing, especially to Sarajevo, in many cases to avoid being called up for Yugoslav army service.

Many of the institutions created under Dayton, including the Constitutional Court, Property and Human Rights Commissions and National Bank, were scheduled to last five or six years in their current half-international, half-Bosnian format and will soon need attention.

And the "Milosevic factor" may yet prove decisive. It remains highly unlikely that an agreement which so clearly cannot be implemented and which is based on the signature of an indicted war criminal will be redrawn to accommodate that person.

Christopher Bennett, former director of the International Crisis Group in the Balkans, is a senior editor with IWPR and author of Yugoslavia's Bloody Collapse (Hurst, 1995).

Support our journalists