The ratification at Dayton in November 1995 of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s division into two territorial entities based on ‘ethnic’ identity put the seal on five years of Western accommodation to the war aims of Belgrade. Since then, the experience of postwar B-H has highlighted the Dayton partition as the main obstacle to any re-forging of a viable, ‘normal’ state, society and economy with democratic prospects, following the devastation and trauma of the war years.
For big powers few things are harder than to alter an established policy, yet there have been multiple circumstances urging such a course in the Bosnian case. First, the difficulty of finding an ‘exit strategy’ from a country where nothing works and nothing has been resolved is matched only by the difficulty of remaining there to guide a constitutionally dysfunctional country to a ‘European’ future. Secondly, the terms of the Hague tribunal’s November 2001 indictment of Slobodan Milosevic for crimes committed in Bosnia emphasized the essential nature of Republika Srpska as an entity created through genocide. Finally, the B-H Constitutional Court’s ‘equal status’ ruling of July 2000 (see Bosnia Report 17/18) provided a face-saving way of moving beyond Dayton towards normality.
It is ironic that it should have been Wolfgang Petritsch, an individual whose knowledge of Bosnia’s past and concern for its future have marked him out among international functionaries administering the country in recent years, who in such circumstances presided instead over a juridical consolidation of the Dayton partition (see pp. 46-7 below). Although the room for manoeuvre even of a High Representative is naturally constrained by the framework in which he is obliged to operate by the very powers he represents, recent years in B-H have nevertheless shown that individuals are not interchangeable: Richard Holbrooke (who even, albeit belatedly, acknowledged his mistake in allowing Republika Srpska to retain its mono-ethnic name) was not the same as David Owen; General Smith was not the same as Generals MacKenzie or Rose. So it is tragic that Petritsch should be bequeathing to his successor Paddy Ashdown not a landscape freed from the shackles of the ethnically based Dayton constitution, but the poisoned chalice of a constitutional settlement that has dismayed most Bosnian democrats and delighted Karadñic’s successors in RS.
It is important to appreciate, moreover, that Republika Srpska is not only a ball-and-chain impeding any advance of Bosnia-Herzegovina towards social reintegration, economic viability or political pluralism; nor only a moral stain on the democratic credentials of Western governments that continue to sustain in it a polity devised to destroy Bosnia and still run by the perpetrators of genocide. RS is increasingly also an active exporter of reactionary inspiration and influence to an unstable Serbia, whose political future hangs in the balance. Thus only if the Western presence in Bosnia serves to overcome rather than cement the country’s division can it bring about the regional stability it craves. Otherwise that presence will increasingly be seen as problem rather than solution.