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Dayton Peace Accords Remembered, 15 Years Later

  • RFE/RL

Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic (left) is greeted by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke after arriving at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, on October 31, 1995.

Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic (left) is greeted by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke after arriving at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, on October 31, 1995.

On November 21, 1995, on a gray and secluded U.S. Air Force base in Ohio, three Balkan leaders would approve a historic deal putting an end to 3 1/2 years of war in Bosnia.

The deal, known formally as the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, was the product of three weeks of intensive diplomatic efforts by U.S., European, and Russian officials.

As Slobodan Milosevic, Franjo Tudman, and Alija Izetbegovic -- the presidents of Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina -- put their initials on the deal, hopes were high the Dayton Agreement would end a vicious interethnic war that had left 100,000 dead and spawned the worst atrocities on European soil since World War II.

Officials also saw Dayton as laying the groundwork for Bosnia's longer-term future as a multiethnic but united state.

But Bruce Hitchner, a U.S. university professor and the founder of the Dayton Peace Accords Project, an NGO tasked with promoting the effectiveness of the Dayton agreement, says that early promise has been lost over the years that followed.

"None of the parties in essence have ever really implemented the Dayton agreement," Hitchner says. "One of the great problems we've had is that over the past 15 years, people have taken various interpretations of the Dayton agreement. And the problem that that brings us to is that, in many ways on the 15th anniversary, we're at what we would call a sub-Dayton stage of the process."

Ineffectual Institutions

Among other things, Dayton provided for the continuation of Bosnia's dual entities, the Muslim-Croat Federation and the Republika Srpska (Serb Republic), and ensured the international community would remain on the ground to protect the peace and help nurture a stable, postwar government.

Fifteen years later, Bosnia may have kept the peace, but it is far from stable.

Holbrooke (right) and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman talk inside their limousine after Tudjman's arrival in Dayton.
The country's central institutions, including a cumbersome tripartite presidency, are largely ineffectual. International caretakers, whom many had hoped would no longer be needed 15 years after Dayton, remain in force -- with no certainty when or if local officials will ever be able to assume full control over their country.

On November 18, the UN Security Council extended for another year the European Union stabilization force entrusted with ensuring compliance by all sides with the Dayton agreement.

Days earlier, High Representative Valentin Inzko -- the highest-ranking foreign official in Bosnia -- warned the country is lagging behind its neighbors in terms of reforms needed for EU and NATO integration. Inzko called on Bosnian officials to drop their ethnic and regional divisions and create a functioning central government to bring reforms back on track.

But such unity is unlikely at a time of repeated threats from the ethnic Serbian government in Banja Luka to break from Bosnia. Hitchner says such a move defies the stated intention of the Dayton accords.

"The constitution is clear: The entities are substate institutions. They are not in a sense two equal states that make up Bosnia," Hitchner says. "I believe that any attempt to create essentially two autonomous entities makes a fiction of the notion that there is a Bosnia."

Hitchner says there is "no future outside Bosnia" for the Republika Srpska. But Kosovo's successful bid for independence from Serbia has fueled arguments in the Balkans that ethnic groups are entitled to seek political autonomy.

Protecting The Legacy

In Belgrade, continued resentment over Kosovo has also resulted in tacit acceptance, if not outright encouragement, of the Republika Srpska's pro-autonomy rhetoric.

Brussels and Washington have both sought to protect the legacy of the Dayton accords. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Sarajevo last month; the EU this month agreed to lift visa requirements for Bosnian citizens as an enticement for reforms.

So far, it hasn't been enough.

Paula Pickering, a former Balkans analyst for the U.S. State Department and a participant in recent discussions on Bosnia's democratic transition, says it falls to the world community and Bosnia's own citizens to impress upon the country's leadership how urgent the need for reforms has become if the legacy of Dayton and Bosnia's own political future is to be ensured.

"We concluded that the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina has deteriorated politically," Pickering says, "and that members of the international community, and foremost the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina, need to pay attention and become more active and engaged in meeting these political challenges and compelling their political leadership to engage in reform that's necessary to create a functional government."

Dragan Stavljanin and Mirjana Rakela of RFE/RL's Balkan Service contributed to this report

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