The Dayton Agreement and the future of Bosnian politics

Published 05.01.2019 00:00
Updated 05.01.2019 08:00

Recently Bosnia-Herzegovina marked the 23rd anniversary of the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA), reached on Nov. 21, 1995, in Dayton, Ohio in the U.S. The agreement was officially signed on Dec. 14, 1995, in the French capital Paris, ending the bloodiest war on European soil since World War II. However, since then, there has been no official celebration of its anniversary because none of the participating parties gained what they expected during the peace negotiations. The Bosnian Serbs didn't gain their independent state, neither did Bosnian Croats get the entity they wanted; Bosnians, even though they preserved their state with internationally recognized borders, had to accept the formation of one administrative unit, "Republika Srpska" (the Serb republic), within Bosnian territory.

During the years after the DPA was signed, failures and achievements regarding the post-war period in Bosnia-Herzegovina have been very much elaborated. Many authors have triumphantly concluded that the DPA achieved its primary aim by "ending the war" as Richard Holbrooke, the American diplomat during the peace negotiations, pointed out in his memoirs on the Dayton accords. On the surface, many of them seem right; however, the reality is opposite, as it can be said that the DPA ended an armed conflict, but the war continued through other means in the country. Therefore, for the current sociopolitical situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina, we could say that the DPA froze the conflict, which could break down at any time.

The warlike rhetoric has been present since the signing of the DPA but has revived, especially in recent years, not only in Bosnia-Herzegovina, but also in the entire Western Balkans region, additionally reconfirming the thesis of the frozen conflict mentioned above. Now and again, competitions over military capacities and strength have become a major topic in regional politics. The militarization of the Balkans, especially in Serbia and Croatia, has been accompanied by more frequent armed forces and tactical training, leading to the creation of an insecure atmosphere among citizens of the Balkan states. The international community saw similar patterns in the 1990s in dealing with the Balkans. The inability of the EU to reach common ground to resolve Balkan issues and the lack of U.S. interest to become more involved also fuel the crisis in the Balkan region, namely the post-Dayton Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.

State operatives

The problems in the new governments in the years between 2014 and 2018 occurred due to the previously adopted mechanism, according to which even cantons are given the rights to stop/block and veto certain decisions. Another reason for the problems is that it will most probably be impossible to establish the same post-electoral coalition at state, entity and cantonal levels.

The post-electoral coalition in the context of Bosnian Serbs and Croats will be mostly formed on the axis of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) and the conservative Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), while the only unknown variable for the state's grand coalition remains the question of the representation of the Bosniak electorate. The fragmentation of political parties in the Bosniak electorate in the last 20 years and the very low threshold of 3 percent needed for representation have resulted in more than 50 political subjects competing for the same votes. Based on these two parameters, the Bosniak electorate is likely to be represented through the voices of eight different political parties in the state Parliament or the House of Representatives.

Additional political instability in Bosnia-Herzegovina, with long-term effects, could be caused by the vacuum created after the constitutional court decision in relation to Article 10.12 of the Electoral law on the procedure of the election of the House of Peoples. This crisis could be reflected at the state level as well and in the functioning of not only the legislative but also of executive branches of government.

The discussion on 'ownership'

The international community now mostly argues for the transition of "ownership" of the political process in Bosnia-Herzegovina from the international community to local authorities, trying to deny its role in setting up the frame in which the state's majority population has the capacity, political representation and rights equivalent of one-sixth of it.

In conclusion, if the international community truly wants to change political processes in Bosnia-Herzegovina, it should not look for political representatives as the potential stakeholders; rather it should enable citizens to be the corrective authority of their elected officials through the measurement of the efficiency of the government. Therefore, the country needs both a new constitution and new electoral laws that will advocate not for segregation and discrimination but rather the equality and inclusion of all citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Furthermore, Bosnian citizens don't need a new "reform agenda," but they are desperate for reforms that will make their country more functional, stable and democratic.

*Lecturer in the Department of Social and Political Sciences in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the International University of Sarajevo

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