Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

No Peace For The Protectorate's Protected

The flawed peace that emerged from the Dayton Agreement - which halted the war but did not resolve the conflict in Bosnia - bodes ill for the future of Kosovo.
By Senad Slatina

As the international community approaches the mammoth task of building a lasting peace in Kosovo, the lesson from Bosnia is: if you want to be successful quickly, do not try to do any serious political business with former warring parties - impose a protectorate instead.


Such is the unofficial advice given by those people who have been tasked with implementing the Dayton peace agreement which brought two, if not three warring parties together in a grand scheme to build up a new multi-ethnic state.


While it was the best settlement that could have been achieved at that time, the peace implementation has shown up a lot of shortcomings. On top of this lies the inescapable fact that the peace is suffering from the fact that no one side won the war. And by its failure to at least appoint one side as the moral winners and by remaining silent on this issue, the international community has allowed all sides to claim their own victory and behave as if their policies prevailed.


In dealing even-handedly with all the former enemies and pushing them, step by step towards working together, the international civilian team hopes to move them closer toward agreeing to a Bosnia as envisaged by Dayton. But almost four years after the war, substantial progress is still missing.


"Those who are in power now are more or less the same ones who led these peoples during the war", says Carlos Westendorp, the international community's High Representative in Bosnia. "The mentality of those leaders will not change the mentality of the people here. The people are still scared, and they still vote for their national representatives."


Both Serbs and Croats are trying to strengthen the autonomy of the two entities at the expense of the Bosnian state. At the same time, Croats from inside the Federation entity are trying to keep their strong ties to Croatia proper. Across the inter-entity line, the reverse is happening in the Republika Srpska under the leadership of Prime Minister Milorad Dodik,


The RS started to cut its ties with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) before the war in Kosovo and has already introduced customs tariffs in trade with the FRY, as well as replacing the Yugoslav dinar with Bosnia's own Convertible Mark (KM). The RS is also looking to establish strong relations with other trading partners in the region.


For their part, the Bosniaks are focused on strengthening Bosnia's state institutions and are accused by both Serbs and Croats of trying to create a unitary state that they would dominate. Thus the three sides in Bosnia today hold much the same positions as they did before and during the war. These positions are highly unlikely to change unless the international community takes a more active approach in encouraging them to do so.


While the three parties agreed that Bosnia would continue to be one internationally recognised state; Dayton gave only minimal authority to the state institutions necessary. While Bosnia boasts a tripartite presidency, council of ministers and a parliament with two houses, all are weak precisely because full agreement by the representatives of all three peoples is required by all three institutions.


Without continual pressure applied by the Office of the High Representative (OHR), the three bodies would probably not be functioning at all. OHR officials still make sure the three institutions have regular sessions, examine agendas, advise on items to include and even suggest the order in which they are to appear.


The inefficiency of the state institutions and the different interests of the three people can best be illustrated by two recent affairs: an especially lame session of the Bosnia and Herzegovina House of Representatives and an attempt by Presidency member Zivko Radisic to drop Bosnia's genocide case against the FRY before the International Court of Justice in The Hague.


Bosnia's House of Representatives held its sixth session on June 8th and of the 15 laws put forward by the OHR to be debated and then adopted, only two were passed. Among those rejected was the draft Law on Establishment of Joint Police Forces against Terrorism, Inter-Entity Crime and Drug Trafficking. Serb delegates, who opposed them because they related to the functioning of Bosnia on the state level, blocked most decisions.


"The level of debate and seriousness of the delegates is, frankly speaking, laughable," says OHR spokeswoman Alexandra Stiglmayer. "The Common Institutions are almost not functioning. It requires interventions and a lot of pressure from the international Community to even get a minimum of work done. (...) We are seriously wondering if any laws and decisions will be passed unless the High Representative imposes them."


The Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council, which met on June 15th in Brussels at the level of political directors, was also unusually critical. "The Steering Board is alarmed by the inadequate level of functioning of the Common Institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), in particular the BiH Parliament," read a statement put out by the OHR afterwards. "Unless the situation improves considerably soon, BiH's leaders risk losing the financial support of the International Community and their efforts to integrate Bosnia and Herzegovina in Europe."


The attempts by Presidency member Zivko Radisic to single-handedly stall Bosnia's genocide case against the FRY before the International Court of Justice is more telling. Without informing his two colleagues in the Presidency, Radisic on June 9th had an associate contact the Court to declare that Bosnia was "not going on with the proceedings in the case concerning (...) the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide" on the basis that it was "not in accordance with the provisions of the Dayton-Paris Agreement." Though unresolved, the case created outrage among Bosniaks, and Radisic's action is not even legal since he did not secure the necessary agreement from both of his colleagues on the Presidency.


International officials do not pretend that Bosnia would be able to function without them and that war would break out if both the civilian and the military implementation force were to pull out.


"We are miles away from a self-sustaining peace," says a Western official who does not wish to be named. However, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic aside, these Western officials are not ready to admit - or genuinely do not believe - that it is impossible to build peace using the same leaders who led Bosnia into and during the war.


"Perhaps the international community has now realized that the problem in previous years was that we tried to include a pyromaniac in a fire brigade by considering Milosevic a solution instead of recognizing him as part of the problem", Simon Haselock, Deputy High Representative for Media Affairs told the Bosnian weekly 'Ljiljan'.


Bosniak leaders who long for a unified, multi-ethnic Bosnia with strong state elements, look with envy at the events in Kosovo. Haris Silajdzic, current co-Chair of the Council of Ministers and Foreign and Prime Minister of the war-time Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has repeatedly openly asked for the use of force "like in Kosovo" to return refugees to their homes of origin, and advocated changing the Dayton peace agreement to create a functioning, multi-ethnic state.


"The Agreement was a result of circumstances that existed then, as well as of numerous political compromises both among domestic forces and among the international community. That does not mean that it is ideal under current circumstances (...) The situation in Serbia, that is Yugoslavia, presents a significant change. (...) I am asking everybody: Is it logical to use force to return Albanians to Kosovo, but not use the same force to return Serbs to Croatia, and Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats to their homes in BiH?"


At the moment, a change of the Dayton Peace Accords is not likely. When asked how it can ever work, international officials give one answer: it will take time. "The Agreement is a good one," says Stiglmayer. "Everything could have happened and would happen faster if we had a protectorate here. Without it, it will take a long time - 10 years, perhaps even more. The main problem is the political structures here, the fact that the country is run by nationalist parties which rule with absolute power, which are organized like the old Communist Party, which control every sphere of the society, and whose power is based on 'ethnic fear.'


"They can maintain their power only if they convince their constituencies that the other two people are bad and dangerous, that all questions, such as economic prosperity or the rule of law, are of secondary importance, and that only they can save their ethnic constituency from the evils that the other two peoples are cooking up. These parties are gradually losing power. We - the IC - are slowly dismantling their power structures, and the people themselves are focusing on other things. But it will take a long, long [before] Bosnia and Herzegovina gets responsible leaders."


In the meantime, Bosnia looks set to continue to meddle along, with the International Community keeping its Common Institutions running - unless the West one day loses interest - either because of a lack of commitment from local leaders, or because of more pressing demands elsewhere.


According to at least one Western diplomat in Sarajevo, "the worst would be if the International Community left troops here to preserve the peace, but stopped building a self-sustaining peace and democratizing the country. In that case, Bosnia would become a ghetto."


Another, more frightening scenario is put forward as a possibility by the noted Balkans expert and writer Laura Silber. "A change of borders could, after all, be the inevitable solution," she says. As has been well proved so far, the country's three peoples are not likely to agree about that without another war -and a war which this time produces a clear winner.


Senad Slatina is a journalist with Slobodna Bosna magazine in Sarajevo.


More IWPR's Global Voices