Bosnians Unhappy With Permanence Of The Dayton’s ‘Temporary Solution’

It’s late November 1995 and the world is waiting for a peace deal to emerge from the American city of Dayton, where Balkan leaders and U.S. officials are toiling to end a horrific war and bring stability to Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Some 7,500 kilometers away, in the small Bosnian town of Travnik, two-month-old Nermin Mameledzija is about to experience life in a newfound peace.

And in a Washington airport, 13-year-old John Kruzel is waiting for a resolution from Dayton that will determine whether he flies to Ohio or returns to school.

Life in a country so deeply forged by Dayton means Nermin will spend four years in one of his country’s “two schools under one roof” — a segregated school that keeps the Bosniak students separate from the Croats and Serbs, the other two main ethnic groups in Bosnia.

The unique, race-based school system is one of the consequences of Dayton as a “temporary solution” in the ethnically divided country.

But nearly a quarter of a century later, there are still 56 of these bizarre schools in Bosnia.

Nermin — now a 24-year-old dental student — says the segregated schools that evolved out of the Dayton agreement helped create a polarized society that does not offer opportunities to young people who often leave Bosnia-Herzegovina in search of work.

“I am a state-sponsored student which means that the state pays for my education,” he explains. “It has invested so much in me just so that Austria or Germany can get a skilled worker without [investing anything].”

“There are so many things that young people would like to accomplish here [in Bosnia but it’s] impossible [for them] because of the system we’re living in,” Nermin continues. “And that system is based on the constitution and the constitution is based on the Dayton agreement. So, in a nutshell, the Dayton agreement and that entire era is affecting all of us, regardless of the generation.”

Back to John Kruzel, the teenager who ended up flying to Dayton so he could sit with his family and witness the historic deal’s signing ceremony, due to the fact his late father, Joseph, had worked tirelessly to finalize the agreement.

Joseph Kruzel, a deputy defense secretary for NATO, was one of three U.S. diplomats killed three months before Dayton was agreed to when their car tumbled down a mountain pass while trying to reach the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo.

Kruzel was a key aide to U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke, one of the architects of Dayton. John Kruzel says Holbrooke used the tragedy involving the diplomats to create a more favorable climate for the negotiations that resulted in the Dayton peace deal being made.

The signing of Dayton was proof to John Kruzel — who went on to become a journalist — that his father’s death wasn’t in vain.

‘A Starting Point’

After three weeks of intense negotiations in Dayton — which were preceded by U.S. attempts at shuttle diplomacy — war in Bosnia ended on November 21, 1995, when the peace deal was agreed to.

More than 100,000 people lost their lives in the 3 1/2 years of war, with more than 2 million people displaced or having fled the country.

The agreement was officially signed on December 14 in Paris by Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Slobodan Milosevic (left to right), Franjo Tudjman, and Alija Izetbegovic sign the peace agreement in Paris on December 14, 1995.
Dayton created a country with two entities — Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina — three constitutive peoples, one district, 10 cantons, and a rotating tripartite presidency to create a system of government that has been described as the most complicated on Earth.

Holbrooke called the deal an “imperfect peace,” as if he realized he was creating a dysfunctional state in exchange for securing peace.

“The Dayton peace agreement has flaws,” James Pardew, a key member of the Dayton negotiations team, tells RFE/RL. “It was a document made in compromise. It was never imagined for it to be absolute and the only solution for the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was a starting point.”

But 24 years after Dayton was signed, David Kanin, a professor at Johns Hopkins University and a former CIA analyst, says little has changed in Bosnia. “The key things of 1995 are still the same,” he tells RFE/RL. “We still have a great number of physically displaced people. We still have a divided country. And Bosnia doesn’t work. The part of the country that does work is the Serbian part.”

Kanin adds that the Dayton agreement was made in many ways to the advantage of the Bosnian Serbs and that one proof of that is the fact that amid all the calls for Bosnia’s constitution to be changed, Serbs continue to insist that the Dayton agreement remains unchanged.

“[They don’t want change] because they are the winners in Dayton,” he says. “And at that time, in 1995, [Bosniak leader] Izetbegovic knew that. He wasn’t happy with the agreement.”

Pardew adds that the labyrinthian political structure set up in Bosnia by Dayton is the biggest weakness of the deal and is most obviously reflected in the absence of a strong central government and the creation of two strong, ethnically based entities.

A Frozen War

There is now strong sentiment among many Bosnians for the Dayton agreement to be changed and for important rulings by the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) that aim to reform the system to finally be implemented.

Several rulings from the Strasbourg court make it clear that Annex 4 of the Dayton accords — which is the constitution for Bosnia-Herzegovina — discriminates against ethnic and religious minorities. It also issued verdicts condemning the Republika Srpska’s disregard of the power given to the Office of the High Representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina to dismiss public officials who violate the law or the Dayton agreement.

“Bosnia and Herzegovina has — conditionally or unconditionally — three groups that are ethnically determined, groups that have different ideas on the present and the future of the country,” says Nurko Pobric, a retired professor of constitutional law. He adds that the Bosnian Constitution does, in fact, allow for actions to be taken but that the political will to do so often does not exist.

Bosnian Presidency members Bakir Izetbegovic (SDA), (left to right) Dragan Covic (HDZ BiH), and Milorad Dodik (SNSD)
Kasim Trnka, a constitutional law expert who also served as part of the Bosnian negotiations team at Dayton, says the problem is that there is a “frozen war” in place and “war ideologies” are being used in a peaceful manner.

“For instance, it’s obvious from the last National Assembly session that the [Serb-led Alliance of Independent Social Democrats] SNSD prefers the break-up [of Bosnia into different countries], while the Croatian Democratic Union [HDZ BiH] is insisting on having legitimate representation at all levels of government, which in the subtext means the creation of a third entity [within Bosnia]. While still others are insisting on a return to the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina in its before-war state where [Bosniaks] would be a majority in one significant element and dominant in the state institutions,” Trnka tells RFE/RL.

Constitutional Discrimination

But a complex state structure, weak central government, and three ethnically based political factions that agree on almost nothing or on the country’s future are not the only problems ultimately created by the Dayton accords.

The ECHR ruled in December 2009 that Bosnians Dervo Sejdic and Jakob Finci were being discriminated against by the Bosnian Constitution because they cannot be presidential candidates due to their ethnicities. Sejdic is Romany and Finci is Jewish, and the constitution states that only Croats, Serbs, and Bosniaks are allowed to serve on the Bosnian Presidency.

A full decade after the Strasbourg verdict, nothing has changed and minorities not in the three major ethnic groups in Bosnia cannot run for president or hold a host of other posts within the country on various levels of government.

Dervo Sejdic (2nd left) and Jakob Finci (2nd right) receive an award from the International League of Humanists in Sarajevo in January 2013
“[The constitution] is discriminatory because it reserves a privileged position for the three national groups, the so-called constituent peoples, and it’s discriminating against those Bosnian citizens who do not declare themselves members of those [groups], Trnka explains.

Pobric thinks that if the 2009 ECHR ruling was implemented, the country’s constitution would change significantly. “But unfortunately, decisions of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina are also not being implemented,” he says.

Kanin says any talk about renegotiating Dayton is meaningless until someone explains a solid plan for reform. “I believe that no one knew what they were doing from the start,” he says. “They didn’t know in 1995. Holbrook knew he was negotiating peace. But he didn’t know what to do with Bosnia in the long run.”

Accepting Diversity

So Bosnia lives in a type of perpetual political stalemate with no clear progress toward integrating with European institutions, largely due to its discriminatory constitution. And the country’s people are voting with their feet.

The latest World Bank report showing nearly half of the country’s population has left for greener pastures.

Such a dire situation makes many think that changing Dayton’s terms should be atop the agenda of Bosnian leaders. But others think developing other parts of the country, such as the economy, are more important.

“A stronger economic situation is needed in the Balkans; stronger and simpler in terms of communication and transport,” Kanin says. “I think these things are much more important than constitutional changes, political changes, and diplomatic negotiations. Political security problems cannot be solved by themselves.”

For Pardew, the simple notion of accepting the differences among people and the diversity in the world would be the first step in making progress. “[Division] doesn’t work anymore — and those who advocate this ethnic hatred are condemned to the endless conflict,” he says. “I do not understand why leaders cannot see the future as an integrated democratic future and develop a nation with functioning institutions.”

Constitutional Change One Step At A Time

All three signatories to the Dayton accords as well as agreement architect Holbrooke have died and there have been no major initiatives to amend the constitution after any of the major court rulings. Many think the idea of an outside entity creating a “Dayton 2” is impossible.

“In that case, the first assumption would be a [real] crisis occurring, then the establishment of an international institution that would actually take over the sovereignty of the state,” Pobric says. “So, under international law, not to mention domestic law, this is not possible. There may be some sort of pressure from the international community or certain countries…on Bosnia, or on Bosnian political forces that don’t want change [that could bring] some changes within Bosnia — not radical but gradual changes [to the constitution].”

Trnka discounts the idea that state structures could reach a consensus to amend the constitution. But he agrees with Pobric that the constitution could be gradually modified. “Even though, to be fair, [real change for] Bosnia would require a whole new constitution, even by changing it in small steps the process would be opened and thus legal and political postulates for Euro-Atlantic integration would be fulfilled,” he says. “And that is what elites in power consider to be a threat to their own positions.”

‘I Want To Live In A Normal Country’

Bosnia’s optimal future, at least for Nermin Mameledzija, is a country where the “temporary Dayton solution” will be replaced by a new system that allows young people to live and work in their native country.

“We all live in the time of Dayton and it doesn’t matter which generation we belong to,” he concludes. “Generally, this system doesn’t work for anyone, except for those 5 percent who created this system and who live off of it.”

“I would like a country where hard work and effort are appreciated. A state that is honest and that, if you really want to achieve something, will offer you that opportunity. A state…in which I can live normally,” says Nermin, who adds, sadly, that he is slowly losing hope for a brighter future in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Written by Pete Baumgartner based on reporting by Una Cillic of RFE/RL’s Balkan Service
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