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

Rewriting Bosnia's 'Holy Book'

A proposal by the Bosniak co-prime minister of Bosnia to reform the Dayton agreement is attacked by local Serb leaders fearing it will spell the end of Republika Srpska.
By Janez Kovac

Serb leaders in Bosnia are calling for the dismissal of Co-Premier Haris Silajdzic after he urged the international community to overhaul the Dayton Peace Agreement.


They are demanding that Bosnia's top western mediator, Wolfgang Petritsch, sack the prominent and controversial Bosniak (Muslim) leader for his severe criticism of the peace treaty, - known in Bosnia as the "Holy Book" - at a major international conference in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, over a week ago.


Silajdzic told the conference, attended by the prime ministers of countries bordering Yugoslavia as well as European Union and NATO representatives, that certain provisions of the accord were so flawed "as to call into question the entire project."


The Bosnian co-premier said that changes to the agreement should focus on speeding up the return of refugees, equal rights as well as an end to ethnic discrimination in the electoral system.


Silajdzic also called for the withdrawal of the "entity" status enjoyed by Republika Srpska - which practically grants the Bosnian Serb region sovereign powers - and the integration of its defence force into unified a Bosnian army.


The proposal has, predictably, enraged hard-line Bosnian Serb leaders who have accused Silajdzic of political opportunism.


They say he is only now speaking out against the treaty because his party, the Party for Bosnia Herzegovina, has left the ruling pro-Dayton coalition, led by the nationalist Party for Democratic Action (SDA).


Over the past few years, there have been numerous calls for reforms of the Dayton Peace Accords.


Its introduction in 1995 was seen by many, including Silajdzic, as the best possible formula for helping to end the Bosnian war. But the treaty was widely regarded as a flawed, not least because it divided the country along ethnic lines and allowed the ruling Bosnian Serb, Croat and Bosniak nationalist parties to remain in power after the war.


Nationalist leaders have reinforced the ethnic divisions, despite or perhaps because of increasing communication and movement of citizens across ethnic boundaries.


As a result, for example, almost one million Bosnians are either internally displaced or unable to return from abroad, even though the repatriation of refugees is a cornerstone of the Dayton accord.


Nationalist officials are also obstructing other key components of the treaty, such as improvements in the judicial system, democratisation and respect for human rights.


"Under pressure from the international community, the majority of political parties and leaders pay lip service to the Dayton accord," Silajdzic told the international gathering. "In practice, they are revising it, violating its provisions and impeding its implementation."


Since a political consensus across Bosnia's ethnic groups - a pre-requisite for reform of Dayton - is absent, Silajdzic argued that only the international community can change the treaty


The Bosnian Croat leadership has yet to respond to Silajdzic's proposal, which has won the support of Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, the leader of the Bosniak SDA, as well as a number of independent analysts.


International reaction to the Silajdzic proposal has been muted. Many western diplomats believe that the Dayton accord should be changed, although they suspect the international community would have neither the patience nor the funding for such a move.


Some Bosnian politicians fear that with western attention shifting towards Kosovo, Chechnya and Croatia, Bosnia could be left out on a limb.


"Bosnia-Herzegovina as it is now is too strong to die, but too weak to function as a self-supporting state," warned Silajdzic.


Janez Kovac is a regular contributor to IWPR from Sarajevo.


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