Tenth Anniversary of Dayton


Ante Čuvalo – Chicago

Hrvatska revijaYear V/2005, No 4, pp. 49-53.

In Place of an Introduction

My eldest brother Vlatko lives in Proboj near Ljubuški, Bosnia and Herzegovina, where I was born. His children and grandchildren are an offshoot of a tree-of-old that set its roots centuries ago. As a Croatian and a Catholic, my brother “enjoyed” all the “blessings” (including imprisonment) that were part and parcel of Yugoslavia, communism, the recent war in Bosnia-Herzegovina , and the Dayton Accords. His is a typical Croatian family that lived and survived by working, praying, looking after its own, and respecting others, including those who were different from them. His wish is to continue to live in that manner but in freedom and justice, and with a sense of security that rings true.

As it was for the majority of Croatians in Bosnia-Herzegovina who lived under the previous regimes, it was clear to him who was master over him. Not only was he without rights, but as a Croat he was “marked” as an enemy of the state even prior to his birth. True, under Dayton’s Bosnia-Herzegovina he is not spied on or bugged; he is free to sing any patriotic song he wishes and can say what he will; he moves about freely; he associates with whom he pleases and votes for whom he wishes. Seemingly, all appears to be in order. Although ten years have passed since the sound of guns has ceased in that land, my brother does not feel that he is living a “normal” life nor does he experience Bosnia and Herzegovina as a “normal” state. He is “free,” he lives in a “democracy,” yet he is very much aware that all that takes place in that land which is fateful and vital does so in his name (in the name of the people)—but really without him, without the concrete person, without the citizen. What is more, as a Croat he is suspected of being a disloyal citizen of his internationally recognized country.

Even those who supposedly represent him as a Croat and those who wish to represent him as no more than an “undefined” citizen, as well as those who arrived from the “civilized” part of the world and who assumed the fate of Bosnia-Herzegovina in their hands, have set up such a system of governance that my brother, and all who are like him, have no connection to their various “processes,” economic programs, or political, social, cultural and educational constructs and experiments. They create a country along with its political, economic, and cultural constructs for him, his children and grandchildren, but without his participation and at his expense. It is not only the politicians who do not care what my brother and the ordinary mortals think: all those “missionaries” of various persuasions as well as those well-paid “experts” for the “Bosnian question” care little as well. They look to their own interests, push their own ideologies, or test their latest socio-political theories on this land and its peoples that remain foreign to them. They build from the top down; they build “their” Bosnia-Herzegovina. The consequences of all of this are quite evident for all to see. Those who survived and remained at home eke out a living while the young long to escape wherever. People are saturated with the feeling of uncertainty, hopelessness, and even fear because they cannot even begin to fathom what shape their country will take in the future or what place someone like my brother, his children and grandchildren, and the Croat people in general, will have in their native land.

The causes for such a state of being are multi-layered and complex. However, one of the key causes is the Dayton Accords. Instead of having established the basis for a stable and normal course of life for all the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Accords made a firm and just constitutional structure for the country impossible. If this course of action continues, both the people and the country will float aimlessly toward yet another catastrophe—one that will once again open the door to yet another “process” of “solving Bosnian question.”

Dayton as Millstone

The Dayton Accords, that is, its signatories, stopped the war in progress; however, they made possible the continuation of that war in a different manner. The portion of the Accords that dealt with military questions was clearly defined. The international military force (IFOR, and its successor forces) was guaranteed the necessary military might and legal power to carry out the agreed-to mission. They succeeded in that task. To the joy and amazement of many, the sound of weaponry was silenced—all because it was clear to everyone what the military demands were and because IFOR acted decisively.

On the other hand, the portion of the Accords that dealt with constitutional questions and civil life was and continues to be a stone around the neck of Bosnia-Herzegovina. A country with three officially recognized constituent peoples was divided into two proportional entities. Out of those entities, an almost “pure” ethnic Serbian Republic (RS) was created, while the other was Federation of Bosniacs/Muslims and Croats with ten cantons. The area of Brcko became a self-contained republic of sorts, while Mostar was placed under the direct administration of Europe. Meanwhile, Bosnia and Herzegovina—a country of 14 constitutions, 14 governments, and 180 ministers—became (and remains) a huge, unresolved question. Clearly, it is not spelled-out as to whether the Dayton Accords were the start of a better future or the beginning of the end for Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is in such a contradiction that the Bosnian “straight jacket” (as a former international official to Bosnia-Herzegovina called it) was fashioned.

Furthermore, all the burning questions such as the return of refugee and those forced from their homes, the missing, war criminals, the organization and holding of elections, possible changes to the Constitution, human rights, minority rights, the judiciary, the school system, banking institutions, economic renewal, the formation of a new police force, the safe-guarding of the nation’s borders, etc. was given over to various international organizations. These organizations neither were given clearly defined authority or power. Even less, they do not have the will to resolve such questions openly, clearly, or justly. The International High Commissioner, along with a massive and highly paid bureaucracy, was appointed to coordinate the execution of the Dayton Accords—that is, to rule over Bosnia-Herzegovina as a Sovereign who holds all authority in his hands while not being held responsible to answer to anyone for his (mis)deeds.

Colonialism in the Name of Freedom

Not all that long ago, the British, French, and other western European brands of colonialism were justified as being a part of a civilizing mission. The leading liberal intellectuals of the time were busily engaged not only in promoting the ideas of freedom within their own lands but also in supporting the spread of a liberal brand of colonialism. Thus, for example, we have the well-known de Tocqueville advocating personal freedoms while at the same time justifying the French occupation of Algeria.

However, times change and so does colonialism. Today’s brand of colonialism is far more polite and subtle. Today, it is not “well-bred” to simply occupy and assume rule over someone else’s land. Aside from that, it is too expensive to do so and can be dangerous. Today, an indirect form of colonialism is imposed. True, it tends to be a bit more complicated than in the past, but it is packaged more nicely; it is, therefore, more easily “sold” to the world at large, and tends to be more remunerative than in the past. Furthermore, today’s colonialism is multi-centered and infuses itself through international markets, through multi-national corporations, bilateral and multi-lateral economic agreements, as well as through global organizations and institutions. Its tentacles also spread through various funds, investments, banks, media domination, educational and cultural institutions, and through various self-serving organizations for human, minority and even animal rights groups, as well as through international courts.

Post-communist “transitional” countries and those of the Third world are most favorable and fertile sites for this brand of neo-liberal colonialism—one that does not hesitate to make use of highly non-liberal methods so as to realize a society that is not democratic but rather one that is—to be politically correct—“a civil and open society.” The two, however, are not the same. In a democratic society the people have (or are supposed to have) the fate of their nation in their own hands, while in an “open” neo-colonial society the sovereignty of the people “eludes” the voice of the people while someone else slowly implements “politically correct” policies. Even peoples in countries that are traditionally considered to be powerful nations are beginning to come to grips with the fact of globalism and multi-centered colonialism that tends to undermine their civic power, their jobs, their economic stability, and imposes upon them an intellectual and ideological obedience along with an absolutistic global relativism of all values.

The old and new forms of colonialism are interwoven in war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina, that is a sovereign country, a member of the UN, but it is without any real sovereignty. The country is really ruled by Brussels through the self-elected Peace Implementation Council (PIC) and the High Commissioner. They, and all others who involve themselves in the fate of Bosnia-Herzegovina clearly serve their own interests and have their own plans for its future. Regular elections are held in the land. The people are free to vote for those who have received the imprimatur of the High Commissioner. The politicians elected thus become the middle layer between the people and the international rulers in the country. Their formal legitimacy is derived from the people who elected them, but this is a farce: their role depends entirely on the political will of the High Commissioner and those who appointed him—not on the people who elected them.

Besides the absolutistic power of the High Commissioner, the fate of Bosnia-Herzegovina is put in the hand of an entire witches’-brew of every possible sort of “well-wishers,” and “benefactors,” along with an army of “experts” whose only desire is to “civilize” Bosnia-Herzegovina and to make of her something that she is not—not to mention those who “fish” in murky waters. Contradictions of the Dayton Accords serve well everyone except those who would want Bosnia-Herzegovina to move in the direction of political, social, and economic stability—in other words, to become a country where one can live “normally” and freely.

Circling or Dividing of the Bosnian-Herzegovinan Triangle

In as much as the international power brokers did not intend to assure a true peace in a multi-national Bosnia-Herzegovina, nor to put in place a constitutional basis for its three constituent peoples to commonly build a better future for themselves, they in fact left an opening for the war to continue without gunfire. The battle for various political outcomes in Bosnia-Herzegovina—as well as in its neighborhood—continues. We will only mention the most important “visions” that serve as the basis of the battle over Bosnia and Herzegovina of tomorrow.

We will begin with the Serbs since their national dream is most clear. Even though the leaders of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian Serbs at the time (1995) bitterly opposed the Dayton Accords—because they sought much more—today, all Serb political, social, and religious forces within the RS, (Republika Srpska), in Serbia proper, and in the Serbian diaspora firmly stand behind the Dayton Accords—that is, behind an “ethnically pure” RS. According to their interpretation of the Accords, Dayton opened the door to the process of eventual secession of the RS from the remaining parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the eventual unification with Serbia proper. Therefore, the Republika Srpska is not their final goal: it serves as the key to Serbia’s further “incursion to the West,” and to the realization (sooner or later) of its dream of a Greater Serbia wherein it will ultimately find and incorporate the “temporarily lost” Serbian parts of the Republic of Croatia. The possibility of a “tri-entitized,” a cantonized or regionalized Bosnia-Herzegovina would bring into question the intended historical role of the RS. For this reason Dayton’s Bosnia-Herzegovina and the RS within it (for now, at least)—even though it presently finds itself in an unenviable position in every regard—is the only choice. The Serbian logic continues to unfold: all must be endured so as to realize the centuries-old dream of a Greater Serbia which is the ideal of its “heavenly people.” Hence the Serbs are (for the present) the most zealous guardians of Dayton’s Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The dreams for Bosnia-Herzegovina’s future as envisioned by the political, cultural, and religious elite among the Bosniacs are, at first glance, fanciful and multi-faceted. It is not, however, difficult to reduce them to two basic tendencies. One group would wish to create a unitary Bosnia—(the majority find Herzegovina to be a major hindrance to their nation-building project)—one wherein the Bosniacs/Muslems, because they are the population’s majority, would play the role of guardians of the state. Bosnia (and Herzegovina) would become a mini-Yugoslavia. Bosnianism would replace Yugoslavism, the Bosniacs would assume the role of yesterday’s Serbs, and a Muslem/Bosniac Sarajevo would replace Serbian Belgrade. This national program, among other things, is clearly stated by the designation of the language as “Bosnian” as opposed to let us say Bosniac or even Bosnian-Herzegovinian language.

The alternative to the first model is the acceptance of the country’s division into two entities as imposed by Dayton. Eventually, however, the Bosniac-Croat Federation would be transformed into a Bosniac/Muslim Republic: the thought is that eventually the Croats as the minority partner within the Federation would die off by various means or else would simply become an ethnic minority. In this manner the mini-Greater Bosniac dream would come to be realized while at the same time the Bosniac/Moslem element in the RS would increase, their thought being that time is on their side. After all, even according to God’s universal plan Islam is to prevail. It would seem that the ruling Bosniac elite around the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) that signed the Dayton Accords considered the mini Greater-Bosniac dream more realistic for the moment and thus played (and continue to play) to the Serbian card more so than to a partnership with the Croats in a united effort to defeat the realization of a Greater Serbia. While the adherents of this view consider such action as a wise course of political realism, there are other forces among the Bosniacs that condemn the leadership of the SDA as being Serbophiles who have brought Bosnia-Herzegovina to the edge of destruction.

Though all the important Bosniac political, civil, and religious forces within Bosnia-Herzegovina might perhaps be amenable to some sort of non-ethnic regionalism, they all reject a tri-national Bosnia-Herzegovina in which its three peoples would be guaranteed the same and equal rights and responsibilities in a united country. All Bosniac political groupings swear to a “civil” and multi-ethnic Bosnia (or perhaps some Bosnia-Herzegovina); however, their idea of a “civil” and “multi-ethnic” Bosnia is little more than a shiny candy wrapper covering the ideology that espouses a Greater-Bosniacism, wherein Bosniacism, or perhaps Bosnianism, as the other face of that same ideology, would be accepted (sooner or later) as the national identity of all its citizens. In such manner, the traditional Bosnia-Herzegovina would transmogrify into a multi-ethnic state in which, of course, the Bosniacs would be the “basic people” as well as the guardians of the state. However, where there are “basic people” there are also “non-basic people” and where there are “guardians” of the country there must also be those who are to be “guarded” against!

It is a reality that the Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina have no fundamental vision for its future. Through the last fifteen years or so, there were various dreams as well as conscious or subconscious deceptions or perhaps self-delusions about a division of Bosnia-Herzegovina. They failed to grasp that the Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the war were simply one of the tactical cards played by the officialdom in Zagreb in defense of the Republic of Croatia. This is precisely why the Croat Republic of Herceg-Bosna was so easily written off. The Republic of Croatia made possible the Dayton Accords through its military action designated as “Oluja.” It signed the Accords not because of the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but rather because of the interests of the Republic of Croatia—or so it seemed at the time.

Judging by what one can hear or read concerning the various current visions for the Bosnia-Herzegovina of tomorrow, one can, nonetheless, find a common denominator among the Croats. They are in favor of changes in the Dayton Accords. They seek a Bosnia-Herzegovina that will assure Croats lasting civil and national rights and as well as full equality. They are less concerned as to what constitutional means might achieve their goal, although, there is much talk about a possible third entity or else cantonization od the country, similar to the Swiss constitutional model. Certainly, there are those—chiefly in Herzegovina—that would like to see the dissolution of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the incorporation of their villages within the Republic of Croatia. However, for the majority, a predominant and realistic concern for the preservation of their centuries-old hearth and home is at play rather than some sort of dream of a Greater Croatia at the expense of Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is as important to mention that no great interest exists within Republic of Croatia for the present conditions in Bosnia-Herzegovina, much less interest in usurpation of some of its parts.

One must point out that along with the Bosniac point of view, there are other groups within the land that advocate a “civil” Bosnia-Herzegovina. They too are in favor of changes to the Dayton Accords; however, they reject in advance all solutions that take into account any national factors. As for them, they do not acknowledge any collective rights but only individual rights. The fundamental principle, as far as they are concerned is the one that states: one person, one vote. They are in favor of a Bosnia (and Herzegovina) in which the notion of nation and state are identical. They say that their model is the multi-ethnic American model; however, in essence they have remained true to the old Yugoslav myth of “brotherhood and unity,”—a myth wherein they were at least some sort of elite class. They also wish to retain their status as the cream of Bosnian-Herzegovinian society in the name of the ethno-religious group that they happen to belong to.

There are two important forces within international circles who oppose a traditional Bosnia and Herzegovina. One group is in a hurry to “develop” a sense of Bosnian national identity among the people. Their reasoning is that by doing so they will cleanse individuals and groups from their roots and thereby make possible a class of “pure citizens.” Despite so many bloody proofs that this sort of forced societal construct does not solve—but rather worsens—relations between individuals and peoples, they, nonetheless, favor a Bosnia (and Herzegovina) that would become a melting pot of peoples. Bosniac nationalists of various persuasions and those proponents found among all three Bosnian-Herzegovinian peoples who favor a “civil” but unitaryBosnia are eager to side with such international forces. They see them as tactical allies. By doing so, they gain additional political and even material power.

There is a second, but somewhat smaller group to be found outside the country that is comprised of geopolitical “realists.” Some of them advocate the division of Bosnia-Herzegovina into three parts. Others among them advocate its division into two parts. In both instances, the RS (Republika Srpska) is seen as a reality and its eventual unification with Serbia proper is presumed. On the other hand, some see today’s Croat-Bosniac Federation as Bosniac republic of tomorrow, while still others would urge that the western portion of Herzegovina be assigned to Croatia. The Serbs see the “realists” as their best allies while some Croats in Herzegovina calculate that “something is better than nothing,” or else, they hope that at least their native place will be united to the Republic of Croatia so such “realism” is acceptable to them.

Reveries over Nationalism

Among the most vocal international groups that have great influence on the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina are the various (in most cases) self-proclaimed experts. They see nationalism as the source of all problems that beset the former Yugoslavia and the present situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina—most especially that of the Serbs and Croats—whom they intentionally equate. However, the day-dreams and constructs that these self-proclaimed experts wish to impose on Bosnia-Herzegovina do more to muddy the situation in the country than to clarify it. They are so insistent on their vision that one may with justification start doubting if their true intention is to help to resolve the existing socio-political problems of Bosnia and Herzegovina, or something else.

It is as though these advocates of an “open” a-national society forget that in this part of Europe (as in most of the world) the forging of a national consciousness has preceded the independent state. In fact, the newly-formulated nationalism of the Bosniacs is not the result of state independence of Bosnia-Herzegovina. That nationalism simply entered into a new and more exuberant phase of its development since the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Such advocates must not forget that even in America—a land they frequently cite as the model of a “civil state”—every so often changes its electoral boundaries based on ethnic and racial factors: American society, as well, does not live in some sort of faceless and pure “civil” vacuum.

It is interesting to note that these same forces are, in theory, opposed to any sort of nationalism. Yet, in practice, they promote this newly-forged Bosnian nationalism by calling upon a historical myth that suggests some sort of “Bosnian cosmopolitanism” that is supposedly innate and extends back to the times of Medieval Bosnia and the Ottoman Conquest as well as to the yesteryear time of “brotherhood and unity”—a unity and brotherhood that the nationalism of modern-day Croats and Serbs is said to have put into a state of disorder. They, of course, now wish to restore that lost order in a new set of clothes. Furthermore, these advocates pass over the nationalism of the Bosniacs in silence while setting forth Croat and Serb nationalism as being equal and one and the same. Their silence has both a political and propaganda purpose—one that does not lend itself to a clarification of constitutional and existential questions in Bosnia-Herzegovina. All those who are fair-minded can easily discern who and why the war in Croatia and in Bosnia-Herzegovina was initiated. They can also discern just as easily that the Greater-Serbia-expansionism and that the Bosnian/Bosniac-unitarism of today are far greater dangers for the continued existence of Bosnia-Herzegovina and not Croat nationalism. Those two are the key problems facing the solution of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian question. Croats simply have as their goal the assurance of lasting constitutional rights and equality within a tri-national Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In Place of a Conclusion

While a fateful battle rages over the Bosnian-Herzegovinian question, my brother Vlatko and his offspring, whose very lives and future are at stake, in the meantime, is simply a non-existent factor in that struggle. They simply must accept that which is forced upon them in the name of freedom by the major powers. It was thus in Bosnia and Herzegovina through the centuries—and it’s as though it must continue to be thus even today. Were anyone to bother to ask common folk like my brother, the Bosnian-Herzegovinian question is not as irresolvable as might seem. They desire peace, true freedom, and a country that will guarantee them a secure life by virtue of law, and in essence, to be that which they are by virtue of nationality, faith, language and culture. They fail to see why individual rights and the rights of peoples in Bosnia and Herzegovina need to be confronted rather than harmonized. They cannot understand why individuals must be “altered” into something that they are not and thereby force them (perhaps intentionally) to be “enemies” of the state rather than positive citizens. Precisely because of such a political stance, the former state disintegrated.

Let those who truly wish what is good for Bosnia-Herzegovina and its citizens cease to force various ideological reveries along with socio-political experimentations. Such reveries and experiments will, sooner or later, lead to new crises and bloodshed. The same approach that was used to end the war ten years ago, namely, a direct, practical, and determined approach to the military engagement, must be used to find a constitutional solution wherein all three constitutive peoples of Bosnia-Herzegovina along with all its citizens will be truly equal and free. In order for this to happen, Dayton’s Bosnia-Herzegovina must be brought to an end. In its place, a just and lasting constitutional solution must be guaranteed wherein each of its three peoples as well as each individual will be able to live and to create a better future for himself and for Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Translated by Dusko Condic – Chicago