The Dayton Nazis
by Ivan Lovrenovic
‘The architect of Dayton, the person who knows best its rotten soul, tries desperately to persuade us that it offers us no future, while the president of the Dayton state swears by it as if it were Holy Writ’
Richard Holbrooke’s recent visit to Sarajevo, like that of Bernard Kouchner, created a situation whose immanent satirical potential faithfully mirrors the grotesque nature of the political impasse into which Bosnia-Herzegovina was pressed with the Dayton agreement.
Behaving as if driven by a desire for public self-immolation, Richard Holbrooke kept repeating at every step - when speaking with the press, addressing parliament or meeting politicians - that Dayton is bad; that it is not the Bible, but also not a straightjacket; and that mistakes were made here and there, especially in retaining three ethnic armies and ‘giving too much power to representatives of the three constituent peoples’. As was the case with his former boss Clinton, who stressed over and over again on his visit to Potočari that aggression and genocide had indeed taken place here, Holbrooke too appeared to be moved by the need to display public repentance for the errors of Dayton. This was strongly expressed in his aggressive depiction of the Serb Democratic Party (SDS): he kept repeating to anyone ready to listen to him: ‘it is a Nazi party’; ‘they are Nazis’; and ‘they must go’. He accompanied this by retelling extensively and in great detail a story that has become one of the legends of Dayton, but has never before been given such concrete form. He claimed that he had always favoured banning the SDS and that Izetbegović had been given 48 hours to make up his mind, but his eventual reply had been that‘Karadžić had to go’, but he would himself ‘sort out any problems with the SDS’. Holbrooke rounded off his testimony by saying that, when he subsequently asked Izetbegović to explain this decision, the latter told him that he had not thought that they [the Americans] really meant it! Both things typical of Izetbegović: his tragically mistaken belief that ‘moderate’ national parties are ‘Bosnia’s destiny’, and the artless manner in which he afterwards explained away his own grave error of judgement. Apart from Izetbegović, Holbrooke also blamed all the high representatives for letting the SDS continue: ‘I told Bildt and Westendorp, Petritsch and Ashdown that the SDS should be banned. And that if they didn’t do so, they’d be responsible and would be making a mistake.’
So much for Dayton’s main architect. Former French minister Kouchner added the warning: ‘Europe has no sympathy for ethnic divisions.’
However, what use is all this, given that Borislav Paravac, the state president (albeit only one out of three) who officially received them in the building of the Bosnia-Herzegovina presidency, stated with the superior calm and certainty of a sage that ‘the Dayton agreement was the right solution, and far-sighted....’. Here, then, is the true picture of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The architect of the Dayton state, the person who knows best its rotten soul, tries desperately to persuade us that it offers us no future, while the president of the Dayton state - a prominent member of the same party that Holbrooke denounces as Nazi - swears by it as if it were Holy Writ. Holbrooke urges us on: ‘Dayton can and must be changed, but only by agreement...’ - but that agreement has to be reached by our Paravac’s, those very same people whom Holbrooke has in mind when he says that Dayton made a mistake in giving too much power to ‘representatives of the constituent peoples’. But the Paravac’s are now statesmen and presidents, while Holbrooke and Kouchner are former ambassadors, former ministers, visiting, as they stressed, in a private capacity - and therein lies the end of all hope, one might say, for breaking out of this hellish circle.
What Holbrooke was saying in Sarajevo is just what the beleaguered political and intellectual alternative which miraculously still survives in Sarajevo and Bosnia-Herzegovina has been vainly repeating all these years. And with what results? The only thing you get if you offer the most articulate critical arguments about the absurdity and futility of the Dayton arrangements to any official of the international bodies - if you desperately try to explain all the nefarious effects of the prolonged status quo that those arrangements generate and cement - is the icy, cynical and consciously false reply: ‘This is your country and no one but you can alter how it works.’ The present author, speaking to two successive high representatives, was forced to reply with a correction (which in both cases, of course, was taken as a display of appalling bad manners): ‘This should be your country too, at least from the moment when you accepted your post and until the last day of your mandate.’
Neither Holbrooke nor his travelling companion Kouchner, as became clear, was able to break free from the pervasive hypocrisy prevalent in international community circles here. They too kept saying that changing Dayton is up to us. There is much evidence to show, however, that this is unfortunately not so. The Dayton agreement was an act plainly imposed from outside and by a stronger force. None of the ‘parties’ forced to accept it did so sincerely, except for Holbrooke’s ‘Nazi’ one - and that should be banned! It too, moreover, did so only after having been forced to give up its Greater Serbian and pan-ethnic aims, and to re-format itself for something less; for otherwise it would not have been able to retain its political and ideological mind-cast and its state-within-the-state. That the international governors, on the other hand, do indeed have the power to change as they see fit everything and anything that they care to change in this country, is fully attested by such things as Ashdown’s long record of arbitrary dismissals; the proscription of a number of special policemen, whose individual cases the courts were told they would not be allowed to hear in civic proceedings!; and the dismissals currently in train of the management bodies of several public enterprises.
The Dayton agreement, as everyone including its architect knows perfectly well, is a millstone around the neck not only of Bosnia-Herzegovina, but also of the whole so-called region. There is a famous sentence with which Cato the Elder used to end all his speeches to the Roman senate: Ceterum censeo, Carthaginem esse delendam [Furthermore I think that Carthage should be destroyed]. Dayton should become the ceterum censeo of every ‘anti-Nazi’ (in the Holbrooke sense) among us.
Translated from Dani (Sarajevo), 10 October 2003