bosnia report
New Series No: 47-48 September - November 2005
Dayton Bosnia-Herzegovina ten years on
by Daniel Cohn-Bendit, José Maria Mendiluce, Haris Silajdžic

We publish here an authoritative appeal for Bosnia’s ethnically based Dayton constitution to be replaced by one resting on citizenship - as befits a democratic Europe. In our view, it must be said, the Dayton Accords reflected not so much the need to end the war as such, but rather the desire of the Contact Group powers to preserve their agreed 51%-49% partition plan against the threat of a military collapse of the Mladić forces. However, since we argued from the outset that any ethnic division of Bosnia-Herzegovina would be injurious to its people’s vital interests, as well as to the region’s stability and democratic potential, we urge readers to study carefully the authors’ call for an end to ‘the insane policy of ethnic and religious separation’, in favour of the model democrats defend elsewhere in Europe.


We met again on the tenth anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre. Beyond the pain and the memory of those shameful crimes, we took part in the debates organized in Sarajevo to mark the terrible date of 11 July. We were also at Srebrenica to hear the mea culpas of the representatives of the international community: the president of the World Bank, the UN secretary-general’s representative (Annan once again missing the opportunity to redeem himself in Bosnian eyes), the British foreign minister Jack Straw (who forgot to say that he was speaking in the name of the Twenty-Five), Javier Solana (who expressed himself via articles in the British press).

They all apologized. But these mea culpas added nothing of substance to the ‘Never again’ repeated every time it does happen again. Around us, the families of the 8,400 individuals murdered, who with infinite patience endured those conventional speeches accepting blame. In front of us, the last 610 identified corpses to have been exhumed from mass graves.

Our reflections led us to certain conclusions that we shall try to outline here. The diversity of our origins (in ‘Dayton’ terminology, Haris is a Moslem, Dany a Jew and José Maria a Christian) and of our careers has not prevented us from converging on the essentials.

We have supported unreservedly the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Over time this tribunal has transformed a large proportion of the crimes committed into proven facts, determined their nature and scope (war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide...), and continues to determine their field of application. We likewise recognize the importance of the Dayton Accords, at a moment when the process of Yugoslavia’s destruction was filling Bosnia-Herzegovina with mass graves and shaming a cowardly international community in its active or passive complicity - revealed, albeit clumsily or in part, by the commemorative speeches. For it was necessary at that time to call a halt to systematic death as the only prospect, and to suffering as a fact of life.

For all these reasons and in the name of the ‘Never again’ that inspires us, we feel it is indispensable to evaluate, ten years on, the content of imposed accords (however welcome at the time) which were more like the text of a cease-fire than a constitutional agreement guaranteeing a viable future for a Bosnia-Herzegovina finally democratic and capable of meeting the standards required for being not just a candidate for the European Union, but also a worthy member of the Council of Europe.

The ethnic principle governing the country’s division into ‘entities’, which underlies the Dayton Accords, in fact constitutes the surest guarantee of domination by the nationalist parties. Ten years on, some people are surprised by how hard it is to bring forth organizations espousing the values of democracy and citizenship rather than ethnic and religious ideologies. But the joint premiers and the presidential functions that rotate (among Muslims, Orthodox and Catholics) merely reinforce the worst options for the future of a country that aspires, or at least should aspire, to join a Europe of citizens. The ethnic principle also perpetually sabotages parties representing an alternative to the logic that led to the war. Oddly enough, the same question ultimately confronted both ourselves and the interlocutors we encountered: ‘Why not a Bosnian-Jewish president?’ Bosnia-Herzegovina is the only country in Europe which forbids this, by virtue of accords subscribed to with the blessing, support and encouragement of the international community. An agnostic belonging to none of the three ethnic groups or religions recognized by Dayton would be similarly unable to assume that office.

Another terrible trap whose repercussions are evident in terms of corruption: the criterion applied in relation to the privatization process promoted by international bodies. This criterion is simply that of ethnic balance. No, this is not a joke! What is looked for is neither efficiency, nor skills, nor infrastructure, nor even honesty, but weighting between ethnic entities. And who represents these entities? The ethnically based parties.

So we can say today that Dayton may have been the best possible agreement to halt genocide (though perhaps not for its victims). But this agreement involves mechanisms which empower their current beneficiaries (because of percentages at the level of representation) to block any application of clauses allowing them to be modified.

Who in Bosnia’s ‘Serb republic’ would take the initiative of changing a text that allows the latter to exercise monopoly control over 49% of the country’s territory? Dayton incorporates mechanisms of permanent sabotage: the Bosnian Serbs can thus prevent any change to the letter of Dayton without feeling obliged to respect the Accords in either letter or spirit (the return of refugees from other ethnic groups, for instance). In the last resort, this perverse confusion between the texts and spirit of those texts makes the parliament and the state institutions totally useless.

While we never stop repeating that Islamist terrorism will not change our civic, democratic, secular model... we continue to defend for Bosnia a model based on concessions to genocide (as defined by the ICTY, an institution of the United Nations) and to the perpetrators of genocide. A fine example!

Dayton contains dozens of mechanisms ensuring that nothing can change, but also a number enabling things to evolve. It is precisely the latter which we must exploit, with unfailing support from the democracies. We - this means above all the citizens of that united, muddled Europe which does not really know where it is going, although some of us know very well where it must not go: above all, towards ethnic or religious options to the detriment of civic freedoms.

We can and must frame an overall vision for the future of the region, but without mixing everything up together. Bosnia is not Kosovo. Certain ‘sophisticated’ lines of argument of the ‘Bosnia in exchange for Kosovo’ or ‘Kosovo in exchange for Bosnia’ type make our flesh creep. It is to be hoped that there are many millions of us sharing this reaction. The international community, and the EU in particular, must not consolidate an ethnic and religious separation that is completely insane, and that renders extremely difficult the expression of modern, European and democratic forces. Today such forces are penalized by Accords that were welcome at a given moment, but that ten years on represent above all a guarantee that nothing will change.

It is time to call the entire basis of the Accords into question, in order to establish a Bosnia-Herzegovina in conformity with the model we claim to be defending in Europe. Unless we believe that its ‘tribes’ will never achieve the status of European citizens. If that is the case, so much the worse for us, we shall only be strengthening the sales-pitch of the fanatics.

If, however, we think that no genetic factor or divine determinism is involved, we must act to avoid the consolidation of ethnic determinisms and orient ourselves towards a democratic Bosnia-Herzegovina capable of demonstrating to the other territories of former Yugoslavia that they can and must attain European citizenship as of right, and become members of that Europe which we are involved in building with so much effort and so many ups and downs.

Translated from Le Monde, 11 October 2005. Daniel Cohn-Bendit is president of the Green group in the European parliament. José Maria Mendiluce has been coordinator for the UN humanitarian mission to the former Yugoslavia and a socialist MEP. Haris Silajdžić has been both prime minister and foreign minister of Bosnia-Herzegovina.


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