The guns stopped 25 years ago, but is the war over and can territorial unity survive in Bosnia and Herzegovina? Demir Mahmutćehajić discusses the problems of the Dayton Peace Agreement, in particular the problems it has created around representation, what it means to Bosnia and the impact this has on current and future stability.
“The General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, also known as the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA), Dayton Accords, Paris Protocol or Dayton-Paris Agreement, is the peace agreement reached at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, United States, in November 1995, and formally signed in Paris on 14 December 1995. These accords put an end to the three and a half year-long Bosnian War, one of the armed conflicts in the former Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia. The current Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina is the Annex 4 of the DPA.”
This is how the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe), introduces the Dayton Peace Agreement on its web page. You can also download its English version, but there is a mystery surrounding the whereabouts of the original, signed, copies of the Dayton Peace Agreement. There were five of them. One for the delegation of the Republic of Croatia, one for the delegation of Yugoslavia (Serbia), one for the Serb side in Bosnia and Herzegovina, one for the Croatian side in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and one for the delegation of the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The copy carries the original signatures of Croatian President Franjo Tuđman, Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina Alija Izetbegović, and Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milošević.
The Serbian copy is assumed to have disappeared in 2000, during the overthrow of Milošević’s regime. The only copy whose whereabouts are known with certainty is that one that belongs to the Republic of Croatia. Apparently, it is safely kept in a vault. The original copy that belonged to the delegation of Bosnia and Herzegovina was supposed to be in the archive of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but there is no certainty that it is there. There are suggestions that it has never even reached any of the state institutions.
The original of the Dayton Peace Agreement, which had been missing for years, was found during a police raid in Pale near Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina on 31 October, 2017. It was offered for sale on the black market, and the seller asked for 100,000 convertible marks (50,000 euros). Immediately afterwards Milorad Dodik, at that time president of the entity Republika Srpska, publicly announced that, “Here, we have found our copy of the Dayton Peace Agreement, now others are left, let them deliver their copies.” By ‘them’, he meant, the Bosniac and the Croatian sides in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Just over a month later the police of the entity Republika Srpska announced that, after detailed forensic analysis, they had established that the document in question was not the original copy of the Dayton Peace Agreement. To make matters more complicated there is no official, certified, translation into “our” languages. The Serbian side in Bosnia and Herzegovina has translated it into the Serbian language, and a professor of the constitutional law, Kasim Trnka, claims that it differs from the translations into Croatian and Bosnian.
Who gets to represent?
This is especially important because of the following article of the Dayton Peace Agreement:
“Bosniacs, Croats, and Serbs, as constituent peoples (along with Others), and citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina hereby determine that the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina is as follows:..”
Serbs, Croats and Bosniacs are the three dominant ethnic, and religious, Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The term ‘Others’ is used for all those citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina who do not declare themselves to be either Croats, Serbs or Bosniacs. So, the Others are Romas, Jews, those who consider themselves to be Bosnian, Italian, Ukrainian, Yugoslavian, or those who do not declare their nationality at all.
The term “constituent” is translated, interpreted, and implemented differently according to which side you “represent” in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Serbian side, and also the Croatian side, interpret and translate this term, “constituent”, as constitutional. With this they are claiming that the Dayton Peace Agreement, in its original meaning, acknowledged, and ruled, that Bosnia and Herzegovina is the creation of its three peoples (Bosniacs, Serbs and Croats), and that, therefore, representation is possible only on nationalistic bases. The Others have been discriminated against from the start. There are rulings by the international courts regarding this, but those rulings are not being implemented. The Sejdić and Finci case at the European Court of Human Rights is the best known, but it is just one of many.
The case of Sejdić and Finci v Bosnia and Herzegovina (2009) arose from two separate claims being brought to the European Court of Human Rights, where both parties claimed that the Bosnian constitution discriminated against them on the bases of race, religion and association with a national minority, with reference to a failure to comply with Protocol 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Sejdic, is a Roma Bosnian who was unable to stand as a candidate for the presidency. Finci is a Jewish Bosnian who was prevented from being a candidate for the House of Peoples of the parliamentary assembly. Both argued that their inability to stand for high office positions were a direct result of Articles IV and V of the Bosnian constitution (Bosnian Constitution 1995) which reserves these positions for the constituent peoples. The constituent peoples comprise Bosnian Serbs, Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats, the majority peoples when the Dayton Agreement was drafted in 1995. The court found this to be discriminatory against the 14 other national minorities in Bosnia.
What – or when – is national?
Now, there are a lot of cases like that presented above for any dedicated, and interested, researcher. Most of the materials and references are available online. They highlight how complicated is the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. On 21 November this year we “celebrated” 25 years of the Dayton Peace Agreement. In the entity of Republika Srpska of Bosnia and Herzegovina, they celebrate 21 November as a National day, while in the entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, 25 November is celebrated as the National Day (I am deliberately simplifying all this).
What is important to know is that although the Dayton Peace Agreement ended the fighting in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it did not end the war. There may be peace, but it is rather a ceasefire, albeit one that is long and lasting. There are many factors that contribute to this statement. The Bosnian Serbs do not even like to be called Bosnian Serbs. The majority of them deny genocide in Srebrenica, and all of their political representatives see the current Bosnia and Herzegovina as something that is not here to stay. Many of them publicly call for the cessation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, independence of the Republika Srpska, and unification with Serbia. The Serbian government, and most of the public in Serbia, are very open and forward about this, and it is only a question of time as to when the right geo-political conditions allow them to translate this into direct actions.
There are many such actions even now. As recently as December 2020, the minister of defense of Serbia, Aleksandar Vulin, was in Banja Luka, the capital of the entity Republika Srpska, meeting with Milorad Dodik, member of the joint Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the leader of the Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is a very provocative gesture, because it shows disregard for the institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but what is even more alarming is the audacity of Vulin. During this visit he has publicly proclaimed that “…while the Republika Srpska may not have an army, the Serbian people have…” It was a direct, and unapologetic message, because the army in question is the Army of the state of Serbia. That army has been busy modernising its forces, buying new weapons, and flexing its muscles. For Bosniacs this is a very worrying development.
As regards to the Bosnian Croats’ situation, it too is alarming. Even though they can, in some respects, claim that they have not been treated equally by the Dayton Peace Agreement because they did not get their separate entity like the Serbs, their political aspirations are the same and they form a joint front with the secessionist Bosnian Serbs. Through their main political party, the Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina (HDZ), they have tied their flag to the mast of the Bosnian Serbs. The alliance of the HDZ and the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), the main Bosnian Serb party, is now in its second decade, and is very strong, unshakeable and persistent. The main aim of the Bosnian Croats’ political representatives is to empower the “constitutional” part of the Dayton Peace Agreement. This is why their alliance with the Bosnian Serbs’ main party is so strong. They clearly share the same aim. If the “constitutional” interpretation becomes accepted as the right meaning of the Dayton Peace Agreement then they have a full right to claim that only Croats can vote for Croats, only Serbs for Serbs, and only Bosniacs for Bosniacs. This would, finally, bury Bosnia and Herzegovina as a citizens’ state. It would legally become just a formal union of its constitutional peoples. If that turns out to become a norm then each constitutional peoples, as they are a part of the union, could leave that union.
One of the greatest achievements of the Bosnian people in the last hundred years was the recognition of Bosnia and Herzegovina as an equal republic with other republics in the Yugoslav federation. This recognition was formalised by the antifascist partisans in Mrkonjić Grad on 25 November, 1943. For this reason this is the day, also accepted by the Dayton Peace Agreement, that is marked as the Statehood Day of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is why secessionist Serbs do not celebrate this day, but instead they celebrate 21 November as the anniversary of the Dayton Peace Agreement. Denying the statehood of Bosnia and Herzegovina is a strategic aim, so that in future an attempt to destroy Bosnia and Herzegovina could have a legal argument or even provide a basis for secession. Currently, there is none, but the interested parties are doing everything to create it.
In their efforts to build a legal case for the dissolution of Bosnia and Herzegovina both secessionist Serbs and secessionist Croats have the support of their national mother states, Serbia and Croatia. Governments of both Serbia and Croatia, and their media, intellectuals, and other institutions constantly are working to undermine the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina. They are doing this in various ways. There are economical influences, special relations, cooperation, lobbying in the international political arena, etc.
On 8 July, 2015, just three days before the commemoration of 11 July and funeral prayers for the victims of the 1995 genocide in Srebrenica, Russia vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution that would have described the Srebrenica massacre as “genocide”. Four other members of the council abstained while the remainder voted in favour. The motion had angered Serbia, which rejects the term. The resolution said that “acceptance of the tragic events at Srebrenica as genocide is a prerequisite for reconciliation”. But Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said adopting it “would be counter-productive, [and] would lead to greater tension in the region”. The vote had been put back a day to allow the US and the UK – which drafted the resolution – to try to persuade Russia not to veto it. The Serbian President, Tomislav Nikolic, called it a “great day” for his country, according to the AFP news agency. Serbia does not have a seat on the Security Council, and had asked ally Russia to block the resolution, warning it would be divisive.
This is just one example of how Serbia uses all that it has at its disposal to defend, strengthen, encourage, and support secessionist Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Other examples are direct investments in the entity of the Republika Srpska by Serbia proper including, the building of schools, roads, factories, and helping reduce the budget deficit.
The Republic of Croatia is continuously doing almost the same through secessionist Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The only difference is that because it is an EU member it cannot do it so openly. Unfortunately, shortsighted pro Bosnia politicians, and political parties, have given Croatian secessionists many opportunities to claim that they are organisationally minoritised by the Bosniacs. The most explicit case, that they cite, is the election to the joint Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina consists of three members (one Bosniac, one Serb, one Croat). The Serb member of the Presidency is elected from the entity of Republika Srpska (49% of the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina). Croatian and Bosniac members are elected from the entity of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (51% of the territory of the Bosnia and Herzegovina). The entity of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina is populated with roughly 70% Bosniacs and 30% Croats. Therefore, mathematically, it is possible that Bosniacs elect both Bosniac and Croat members of the Presidency, leaving Croats without their, as they call it, legitimate representative in the Presidency. In practice it has happened on three occasions when Željko Komšić, declared Croat, but former soldier of the Bosnian Army and holder of the highest military medal, the Golden Lily, was elected to the Presidency. Bosnian Croats claimed that he was not elected by them, because a majority of Bosniacs voted for Mr. Komšić. Therefore, they present the case that Mr. Komšić did not represent Bosnian Croats but that he was a second Bosniac member of the Presidency. Even though he was elected legally, because of their belief that constituent means constitutional they refuse his legitimacy. Through their main political party, HDZ, and together with the main Serbian party, SNSD, they demanded a change of election law so that only Croats could vote for a Croat member of the Presidency.
This election, on three occasions, of Mr. Komšić is a proof for secessionist Croats that they are not equal to Bosniacs in the entity of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Their position is strongly supported by the government of the Republic of Croatia.
The Republic of Croatia is continuously, and constantly, encouraging the narrative that Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina are minoritised and discriminated against. Even though there could be many issues to discuss internally, and maybe some concerns are even justified, the direct involvement of Croatia in internal matters of a sovereign state, undermines any, and all, possibilities of finding proper solutions. By weakening the institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina it only creates further instability. Just recently the Croatian President, Zoran Milanović, welcomed in Zagreb, capital of the Republic of Croatia, Milorad Dodik, Serb member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Dragan Čović, president of the main Bosnian Croat party, HDZ, and former candidate for the secessionist Croats for the Presidency of the Bosnia and Herzegovina. Dragan Čović had lost to Željko Komšić. This visit was contrary to established international diplomatic norms, particularly because they were discussing changing the Constitution (Dayton Peace Agreement) on the basis that a Croat member of the Presidency of the Bosnia and Herzegovina can be elected by non-Croats in Bosnia.
The institutions of the Republic of Croatia refuse to have any cooperation with Željko Komšić and use every opportunity everywhere to emphasise that their co-nationals are oppressed in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
We are facing a very uncertain and dangerous future. There are a number of factors why peace is still holding. I have tried to present to you, in my humble opinion, one of those factors. The enemies of Bosnia and Herzegovina have learned from the last aggression on our country that before the next attempt they must have an internationally legal case for secession from, and by it dissolution of, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Demir Mahmutćehajić is from Stolac in Bosnia. After some years in the UK where he helped found the Islamic Human Rights Commission in 1997, and later became the president of the London Islamic Community of Bosnians, he returned to Bosnia. Since 2005 he has been constantly engaged in the civil rights movement in the Bosnia and Herzegovina, at one time leading the DOSTA! (Enough!) movement. He has written and spoken about genocide in Bosnia, its causes and consequences over the last 25 years. Many of these speeches, reports and articles can be found on the IHRC website.