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Balkan Report: November 19, 1997

19 November 1997, Volume 1, Number 17

Second Anniversary of the Dayton Agreement. November 21 marks two years since the presidents of Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina concluded the Bosnian peace agreement at a U.S. Air Force base in Dayton, Ohio.

On the balance, the military provisions of the treaty are the ones that have proven the most successful. The cease-fire has generally held. IFOR (now SFOR) peacekeepers have kept the former warring armies apart and their arms under supervision. It is true that thousands of land mines remain scattered across Bosnia and will likely pose a problem for generations to come. But that they have not been cleared simply reflects the magnitude of the problem rather than any deliberate flaunting of Dayton.

The same cannot be said, however, of the civilian provisions of the treaty. It is true that local elections finally took place this September and that some multi-ethnic town councils have actually met. But the Muslim-Croat federation continues to be plagued by internal mistrust, and virtually all joint institutions involving the Serbs as well as the Muslims and Croats do not function.

The most important deliberate violation of the agreement, however, lies in the dogged determination of all three sides in preventing refugees from returning to their homes. Even the simple movement of civilians across the former front lines remains precarious at best. Much hard work -- and tough decisions by the international community -- remain ahead if the multi-ethnic, unified Bosnian state envisioned in Dayton will have a chance of becoming a reality.

Is Living Together Possible? And perhaps the greatest subject of debate regarding Bosnia today is whether the three ethnic groups can live together again, or, in other words, whether that multi-ethnic Bosnia of the Dayton agreement is indeed possible (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 1997).

As this coming weekend's Bosnian Serb parliamentary elections draw nearer, RFE/RL reported on 17 November how politicians loyal to Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic and their hard-line enemies in the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) compete for votes. The SDS sticks to the line that the war was not the result of the policy of one party or another but rather of the fact that the three peoples of Bosnia cannot live together. The voters, so this line of thinking continues, know that the SDS brought them peace and freedom and will return that party to office.

Plavsic and other opponents proceed from the standpoint that one must accept the Dayton agreement and the basic principles of international law. These politicians argue that Dayton guarantees the Serbs one-third of all positions in joint Bosnian institutions, and that this representation ensures that Serbian interests will be protected.

But what do the voters think? An RFE/RL correspondent asked citizens in Pale what they expect from the elections. Almost all respondents said that they expect nothing, and that they are apathetic about Bosnian Serb politics. One woman concluded that none of the politicians offer a real vision for the future.