Accessibility links

Breaking News

South Slavic: January 13, 2000

13 January 2000, Volume 2, Number 2

Time To Revise The Dayton Agreement? Part I

The following is the first part of a translation of a recent edition of Omer Karabeg's "Radio Most" (Bridge), which brought together Zeljko Mirjanic and Miro Lazovic. Part II will appear on 20 January.

In today's Most, we are going to discuss whether the time has come for a revision of the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords, which ended the war in Bosnia and set the legal framework currently in use there. Our guests are Zeljko Mirjanic, professor of the Faculty of Law from Banja Luka and secretary-general of the Socialist Party of the Republika Srpska, as well as Miro Lazovic, president of the Sarajevo canton committee of the Social Democratic Party, who participated in all key negotiations about Bosnia-Herzegovina during 1992-1995.

Mr. Mirjanic, does the latest New York Declaration by the three members of the joint presidency, who confirmed the importance of the joint institutions in Bosnia-Herzegovina, represent an attempted revision of the Dayton Peace Accords or is it an annex to them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 1999)?

Mirjanic: There are different views stated on the topic in public, but I think that one should start with the very nature of the New York document. It is a declaration, and a declaration is a program that binds only the one who made it. It is a political and not a legal obligation. In order to have the Dayton Peace Accords revised, a procedure defined by the Constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina would have to be set in motion. The New York declaration is a political statement and therefore has no legal basis to serve to modify the Dayton agreement.

But the question remains whether the New York Declaration has a special political purpose. I do not think so. I think that the Declaration is aimed at implementing the Dayton Peace Accords.... To confirm my view, let me quote [the international community's High Representative] Mr. Wolfgang Petritsch, who said that the New York Declaration did not add anything new, but that it represents a step towards the implementation of the Dayton Peace Accords.

Mr. Lazovic, how do you understand the New York Declaration?

Lazovic: I do not believe that a verbal commitment by the members of the Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina expressed through the New York Declaration will be implemented, particularly if it depends on the political will of the ruling [nationalist] parties. Those parties have never voluntarily done anything that would help integration and reconciliation, which would bring people together and be in the best interest of the unitary state of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The [nationalists'] political interest lies elsewhere. The present ruling parties survive thanks to the [political and ethnic] divisions, and this is why I do not think that they would voluntarily implement their commitments in the New York Declaration. Today, Bosnia-Herzegovina is divided into three ethnically-based territories with three separate armies, three police forces, and three administrations. That formula keeps the ruling parties alive and I am not sure that they would be glad to change it.

Why would they change it, anyway? The more they obstruct the Dayton agreement, the longer they remain in power. This has been confirmed by the Croatian Democratic Community¹s (HDZ) publicly expressed denial of the [equal political status] of all three peoples on the whole territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina [and emphasis instead on each people being predominant in its own respective statelet]. And did not the prime minister of the Republika Srpska, [Milorad Dodik,] say, as soon as the New York Declaration was adopted, that there will be no joint border police, joint army, or joint passport? Did not the [Muslim] Party of Democratic Action (SDA) make it clear that they make moves toward integration only under pressure from the international community?

All those things make me doubt that they would voluntarily implement the New York Declaration. It does not matter whether you call it a new commitment, a revision, or an annex to the Dayton Peace Accords; the point is to have it completely implemented. But that can happen only with the pressure of the international community on the local protagonists. All steps made to integrate the three parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina so far--such as establishing joint state symbols and car license plates--have been imposed by the Office of the High Representative.

Mr. Mirjanic, do you think that a joint border police, joint army, and joint passports contradict the Dayton Peace Accords?

Mirjanic: Let me first quickly comment on Mr. Lazovic's view. I can understand that Mr. Lazovic speaks as an opposition official and therefore he criticizes the government. The opposition normally does so before the elections, but I think that his opinion can be right only for the [mainly Muslim and Croat] Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. As far as the Republika Srpska and its representatives in the institutions of Bosnia-Herzegovina are concerned, he is not right. I think they sincerely want the Dayton Peace Accords to be implemented. Therefore, if one wants to criticize, a distinction must be made.

I do not think we need blanket criticism. As far as the joint army, police force, and passport are concerned, first I must say that the New York Declaration does not mention the joint army. The declaration says that military cooperation between the entities should be improved, and it mentions that joint or shared units should be created to be part of UN peace missions. I think that this formulation simply respects the fact that the military aspect of the Dayton Peace Accords is the best-implemented one. It has actually been implemented completely.

As far as the passports are concerned, I know, as a lawyer, that there are no such things as joint or separate passports. Every country has its passports and those are the passports of that particular state. Therefore, we are talking about the passport of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the only problem is whether the name of the entity in which a holder of the passport lives should or should not be written on the front page. I think that this problem should be addressed in a very flexible way. In other words, if a citizen wants the name of his entity to be written on his passport, he should have it, and if he does not want it, then he should not have it.

I think that a possible dispute might be overcome that way, but it has nothing to do with the international role of Bosnia-Herzegovina nor with the fact that Bosnia-Herzegovina is an internationally recognized state. It is more a question of internal relations than of international cooperation. As far as border police are concerned, I do not think that the creation of such a force would contradict the Dayton Peace Accords. Why would it?

Do you think that a joint army contradicts the Dayton Peace Accords?

Mirjanic: Well, yes, since the Dayton agreement stipulates that an army of one entity cannot cross into the other entity's territory. If a joint army is to be set up, therefore, then the issue of constitutional changes must be raised. That can be done and there is nothing wrong with it, but the procedure foreseen by the constitution must be respected.

What do you think about it, Mr. Lazovic?

Lazovic: First, let me say that I cannot accept Mr. Mirjanic's opinion that my attitude concerning the political parties in Bosnia-Herzegovina is designed for the election campaign [in which the Social Democrats oppose the nationalists]. I simply said what I think and I am aware that Mr. Mirjanic will not agree with me, since he belongs to a party in power in the Republika Srpska.

The main difference between Mr. Mirjanic and me is, as far as the Dayton agreement is concerned, in the way we approach the issue. I see the Dayton agreement as a process, not as the Bible or something sacrosanct. For me it is a compromise solution that needs to be brought to fruition. This is why I think that the joint border police, army, and police force are issues that must be openly discussed and that we should move toward the process of integration. Europe imposed this process on us, and Bosnia-Herzegovina cannot avoid it.

Both Mr. Mirjanic and I attended a recent meeting in Dayton organized to celebrate the fourth anniversary of the peace agreement, where we discussed the joint army of Bosnia-Herzegovina. This meeting concluded that, if the Dayton Peace Agreement is aimed at creating a united and sovereign Bosnia-Herzegovina, then a joint and multiethnic army of Bosnia-Herzegovina must be created as well, instead of the three ethnically-based armies we now have.... And then we come to the question of what Bosnia-Herzegovina should look like in the future. Should it remain the way it is now, or should it be different?

This is the issue I would like you to discuss--what should Bosnia-Herzegovina look like? Mr. Lazovic, your party has recently suggested that Bosnia-Herzegovina should be organized as a federation of the [regional] cantons. Does it mean that you want the role of the two entities to be reduced, since all the power has been concentrated there?

Lazovic: My party has not worked out any concept of a cantonized Bosnia-Herzegovina different from the present framework. I said in Dayton, not very diplomatically, that Bosnia-Herzegovina could not survive if it remained divided into two entities. This cannot be a permanent solution. I also said that our ultimate goal should be cantonization of the entire territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

My idea might have been out of harmony with the praises of the Dayton agreement sung by the representatives of the Federation and the Republika Srpska. I admit that my idea might not be realistic just now.... [But] I truly believe that only a cantonized--not a unitary but cantonized or decentralized Bosnia-Herzegovina--might become democratic and stable, as well as politically and economically viable.

Why do I say this? Because experience teaches us that any kind of ethnically based division, or any demarcation obtained by force, creates extremism and nationalism and opens the door for new conflicts. This is why I do not believe in a peaceful, stable, democratic, and prosperous Bosnia-Herzegovina consisting [primarily] of the two entities. That division opposes the [multiethnic] tradition of Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is an artificial division and it will remain a source of constant intolerance and conflicts.

When I talk about the cantonization project, I think that Bosnia-Herzegovina must be organized in such a way that we eliminate fears that Croats and Serbs might be outvoted by the more numerous Muslims. We must also counter the threats of separatism in some parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina now influenced by Belgrade and Zagreb.

This is why some key institutions of Bosnia-Herzegovina should be created with each ethnic group having an equal voice, and why some vital--and only vital--decisions of national interest should be reached by consensus. Such a country should, of course, maintain cultural, economic, and every other kind of cooperation with its neighbors. I think that this is the case for any normal state and am certain that Bosnia-Herzegovina will be like that one day, too.

Mr. Mirjanic, what do you think about this idea of the cantonization of Bosnia-Herzegovina?

Mirjanic: I cannot agree that a process of disintegration is under way in Bosnia-Herzegovina just because it is divided into two entities. On the contrary, a process of integration of Bosnia-Herzegovina is under way through the implementation of the Dayton agreement, and I think that the process is successful. Its pace is less quick than we expected and wanted, but it is nevertheless successful. As far as the cantonization idea proposed by Mr. Lazovic in Dayton is concerned, I must say that we, from the Republika Srpska, have expressed our disagreement with that concept. Since the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina is already cantonized, the idea is actually aimed at cantonization of the Republika Srpska, which is unacceptable for all the political parties of that entity.

I think that the right question here is to ask how the existing federation of the cantons established by the Washington agreement [between Croats and Muslims in 1994] functions. The Washington agreement preceded the Dayton Peace Accords and was the first step toward the establishment of the post-Dayton Bosnia-Herzegovina. I think that people living in the Federation should say whether they are satisfied with the functioning of the Federation, starting with the Croats and the [Muslims]. If they are satisfied with the functioning of the Federation, then there is a reason to say that it is a good solution, but if they are not satisfied, then we should not consider it.

Lazovic: It is clear to me that by raising this question, Mr. Mirjanic hints at the well-known state of affairs in the Federation, which does not function the way it should. But isn't that due to the fact that Bosnia-Herzegovina is divided into two entities? Integration of Bosnia-Herzegovina can be achieved only with a decentralized system based on the cantons on its entire territory. Those [Croats] who want to create a third entity often point to the poor functioning of the Federation. What they want to say is: since the Federation does not function, a third entity should be created and thus complete the division of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Mirjanic: You misunderstood me. I am convinced that the Federation could function much better than it does now. But the politicians who have been in power since before the war represent the main obstacle. I do not intend to judge anyone. I simply think that new times demand new people. I do not think that the problem is in the system but in those people.

Lazovic: Not only the Federation, but the Republika Srpska as well needs new people. I think that the dominant political outlook there should be changed. Many there think that the Dayton agreement has established the two entities as a final measure. Many people in the Republika Srpska--not all of them but still the vast majority--see Bosnia-Herzegovina as a geographic designation with two separate states. I, however, think that the Dayton agreement specifies that Bosnia-Herzegovina is a [single] democratic and multi-ethnic state, and that our goal should be to bring that about.

I think that the key question is how the Dayton agreement conceived Bosnia-Herzegovina. According to you, Mr. Mirjanic, is it a kind of a loose grouping of the two entities, or a united, sovereign state?

Mirjanic: Let me first say that the "Sloga" coalition, to which my party belongs, considers Bosnia-Herzegovina a state. We think that Bosnia-Herzegovina is our state and that it belongs to all the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is not a mere geographic or territorial designation but an internationally recognized state. We think that the way it is organized ensures prosperity and development for all its citizens.

As far as your question is concerned...Bosnia is a complex state with elements of federation, confederation, and union--but there are also some elements of a unitary state. It is a system with many elements, which does not mean that it is doomed not to function, since there is no such a thing as a simple system. It is up to us to define this system through the implementation of the Dayton agreement.

It is very difficult for me to answer your question. I could put it this way: is Bosnia-Herzegovina a loose federation of a federation and a unitary state? This, you have to admit, would be quite a strange creation. This is why I would rather not bother discussing that question. I think that respect for human rights and liberties if far more important issue than the state system.