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Bosnia-Herzegovina: Lessons In State Building

  • Charles Recknagel

The Old Bridge in Mostar was rebuilt after the Dayton accords ending Bosnia's civil war (RFE/RL) For 10 years, the international community has been involved in a unique experiment in Bosnia: turning a war-torn and deeply divided country into a unified and self-sufficient democracy. But after a decade of effort, many of those involved in the project say that the results have not met expectations. What has the international community learned about state building in Bosnia?


Prague, 23 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- It's been 10 years since the Dayton Accords ended the fighting in Bosnia -- the worst fighting in Europe since World War II.


But over the past decade, international representatives trying to rebuild the former Yugoslav republic have found it an extremely difficult task.


Wolfgang Petritsch was the international community's high representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina from 1999 to 2002. Petritsch says part of the problem is the nature of the Dayton Accords themselves. They stopped the fighting by freezing and ultimately eliminating the 1995 cease-fire lines.


A Normal European State


But they have not proved adequate for rebuilding a normal European state.


"Well, there is a clear 'no' now, 10 years after Dayton, it is necessary to say," Petritsch told RFE/RL. "But this does not take away from the historic achievement of Dayton. It stopped the war. It brought the almost four years of carnage to an end. This is the historical achievement of the Dayton Accords. But it is not a blueprint for a viable, modern, multiethnic European state. That is what we need to realize.


Some analysts say the international community's biggest mistake was to structure Bosnia as two largely autonomous entities under a weak national government. The two entities are the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina -- which includes Croat and Muslims -- and the Republika Srpska, covering the predominantly Serb areas.


The Dayton strategy saw the division as necessary to stabilize Bosnia and minimize the chances that fighting would resume.


For the same reasons, the Dayton accords created a three-member Presidency -- representing Bosnia's Serb, Muslim, and Croat communities.


And Bosnia was put under the guidance of an international representative with authority to fire leaders who failed to cooperate with one another.


Unsolved Problems


But the Dayton accords also left many problems unsolved -- problems that make it unlikely that Bosnia could survive any immediate departure of international officials and peacekeepers.


Carne Ross, head of Independent Diplomat, a London-based consulting group, says the biggest problem is the separation of Bosnia into its two entities.


"The different ethnic entities have to an extent worked against the goal of a united Bosnia," Ross said. "And the work of the international community and the high representatives since Dayton has been very much to overcome those divisions and try to forge some kind of common Bosnian government."


Former high representative Petritsch agrees. He says ethnic entities are poor "building blocks" for a modern European state.


"Well, definitely the ethnic or national criteria cannot be the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina," Petritsch said. "It was part of the immediate post-conflict situation, where the ethnic component played such an important role. But this is not the building block for a modern European state."


Experts say there has been some notable progress in Bosnia to overcome ethnic divisions, particularly in efforts to build a common police force.


In Washington on 23 November, leaders of Bosnia three ethnic groups pledged to continue to negotiate on constitutional reforms aimed at consolidating power in a central government.


Not A Model


However, Ross says international peacemakers today generally regard Bosnia's separation into ethnic-based territories as so problematic that few would want to apply the same strategy to solving other conflicts.


"I don't think it's been something that people feel is a good model for other situations where there are ethnic divisions: Kosovo, for example," Ross said. "I think the international community and many Kosovars themselves have rejected the notion of territorial separation as a solution to Kosovo's ethnic problems."


Yet if many analysts feel Bosnia has gotten off to a slow start over the past decade, there is optimism that the country will see a happy ending to its story.


Julian Lindley-French is with the Geneva Center for Security Policy in Switzerland. He says the international community has made it clear there are real benefits for all Bosnians in their state-building process.


"They also have had the carrot of EU membership dangling over them," Lindley-French said. "If they behave themselves, they commit themselves to such a road map, as it were, that was laid out by Dayton, then there will be political, institutional and indeed economic fruits to be realized by their commitment."


He says that after 10 years in Bosnia, the international community has learned it is not enough just to help end fighting. To get a long-term peace, a failed state must also be fully reintegrated into the political and economic structures of its region -- a process that can take many years to accomplish.

Meet The Newsmakers


As part of its coverage of the 10th annversary of the Dayton Accord, RFE/RL spoke with Christian Schwarz-Schilling, who served as an international mediator in Bosnia-Herzegovina for nearly a decade and is now Germany's candidate to succeed Britain's Paddy Ashdown as the international community's and EU's high representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

(To listen the RFE/RL's interview with Mr. Schwarz-Schilling, click here for Real Audio or here for Windows Media.)


RFE/RL also spoke with Wolfgang Petritsch, the international community's high representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1999-2002.

(To hear RFE/RL's interview with Mr. Petritsch, click here for Real Audio or here for Windows Media.)
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