There is more than meets the eye to the wave of ostensibly “non-ethnic” anti-corruption demonstrations in several majority-Muslim cities of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which started on February 6 and largely fizzled out a week later. The Nulandesque agenda became obvious within days, as protest leaders and various NGO activists, journalists and politicians all over “the international community” started blaming the 1995 Dayton Accords that ended the war for the lamentable social, political and economic situation in the Muslim-Croat Federation, one of the two federal entities established at Dayton. All of them asserted, in remarkable unison, that the existence of the other entity – the Bosnian Serb Republic (Republika Srpska) — was the primary cause of endemic corruption, nepotism, and institutional dysfunctionality in the Muslim-Croat half of the former Yugoslav republic.
- “It’s spring at last in Bosnia-Herzegovina!” a Bosnian Muslim commentator told Al Jazeera immediately after the protests started. “Whatever little semblance of legitimacy the constitutional order. . . may have enjoyed at the beginning of this week went up in flames. . . The entire structure of the Dayton system… has all but collapsed in a single night.”
- Former Croatian President Stjepan Mesic declared on February 8 that the protests indicate the necessity of revising the constitutional order established in Dayton and abolishing its “unnatural entities.”
- On February 9 Christian Schwarz-Schilling, a former“international high representative” (de facto proconsul) in Bosnia-Herzegovina, suggested thatreforms “would necessitate involvement from the international community:“It’s just like with Ukraine. There, the international community woke up only after a critical situation arose. The same thing will happen in Bosnia.”
- On February 10, Deputy Prime Minister of Luxembourg Jean Asselborn stated somewhat dramatically that“Bosnia is the biggest problem that European Union has in the Balkan region. We must defend the principle that Bosnia is one nation [sic!] and never to be partitioned into three or four entities.”
- “The accord agreed at a U.S. air base in Dayton, Ohio, brought peace – and planted the seeds of a future crisis,” a Reuters report stated matter-of-factly on February 11. “The protesters realise that the country’s dire economic situation is not merely the result of corrupt officials, but rather of the constitutional order itself,” it quoted a Bosniak analyst as saying.
- On February 12 Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davotuglu – a determined advocate of Bosnia’s centralization which would ensure the “Bosniak” plurality’s domination over the non-Muslim (Serb and Croat) majority – came to Sarajevo to urge “political reform.” “The Dayton peace agreement was of utmost importance for it helped end the war,” he asserted, but it is obvious that it now hampers the functioning of the country.” (This was rich, coming from a top official of the AKP government which forcefully repressed protests with violence and bloodshed last year, a corrupt government which hunts down intellectuals and independent journalists. Davutoglu should have been asked what his prime minister Erdogan meant by telling his Bosniak hosts on an earlier visit that “Sarajevo is ours and Anatolia yours.”)
- On the same day, Lord Paddy Ashdown, another former“high representative”(2002-2006) told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour (a pro-“Bosniak” activist par excellence)that the EU needs to do more to help “Bosnians” build a functional state that can serve its citizens. He condemned Dayton Accord as “the wrong basis to build a sustainable state.” The good news, Ashdown asserted in blatant contrast to reality, is that the protests are “non-ethnic.”
- “Part of the problem is the legacy of the Dayton peace deal that ended Bosnia’s war in 1995,” The Economist editorialist opined on February 13.
- On February 14, a headline in The New York Times claimed that “roots of Bosnian protests lie in peace accords of 1995.”
- Last Sunday the European Union’s Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle declared on the eve of his trip to Sarajevo that the EU is“fully committed to work to facilitate a consensus on getting out of the current stalemate — and help BiH finally move over the bridge from Dayton to the EU, which would then allow constitutional and other challenges to be tackled.”
- “Time for another Dayton,” The Guardian declared on the same day. The protesters “want to see an end to Dayton and all its works,” the editorialist assessedwith inadvertent accuracy, and proceeded to the conclusion that an end to Bosnia’s “ethnically divided” government structures is needed: “the solution is to create a more integrated Bosnia.”
- Last but not least, the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo issued a statement saying “the use of violence distracts attention from the fundamental message we see the vast majority of protesters trying to make — that reform is necessary now.” This was in marked contrast to the attitude of the Department of State to the organized violence of far greater ferocity seen in the streets of Kiev since January 17.
While suffering from the same social and economic woes that supposedly motivated the Muslim demonstrators, Bosnian and Herzegovinian Serbs and Croats refused to join the protests. They vehemently reject unitarization, and realize that any unrest in the Republika Srpska and in the Croat cantons of the Federation would play right into the hands of the Bosniak politicians and their foreign supporters who seek “a more integrated Bosnia.” For all their past disagreements, Orthodox and Catholic Christians – the majority of B-H population – find a common ground in rejecting the poisoned chalice offered from Sarajevo, Brussels, Washington, London, and other centers of the “international community.”
In spite of its numerous shortcomings, and in spite of many attempts to revise or reverse it, the Dayton agreement has provided a platform for peace for Bosniaks (Muslims), Serbs, and Croats alike. But this is not the first time that we are witnessing an orchestrated call for the abolition of the Republika Srpska and for Bosnia’s centralization. As Professor Stephen Mayer noted in 2009, the ink was hardly dry on the 1995 Dayton Accords when calls began to surface that a second “Dayton Conference” was needed to complete the transition of Bosnia from a dysfunctional war-torn ward of the “international community” to a vibrant, stable, multi-ethnic, free enterprise democracy:
The calls over the years for a “second Dayton” reflect the determination and self-defined responsibility of the “international community” (in reality, the U.S. and several European countries) to perpetuate the process of control and management of the social, political and economic process in Bosnia. This determination by a handful of powerful countries, which are euphemistically known as the “international community,” is founded on a traditional paradigm of how political community must be constructed. It is a paradigm built on firm conviction that only this handful of major powers—but, primarily the U.S.—hasthe knowledge, wisdom, power and wherewithal to determine how political communities must be established if they are to be successful and deemed legitimate. It is a paradigm that considers the interest of the great powers to be both very broadly understood and to be superior to the interests of the smaller powers they dominate.
The last sustained attempt was made five years ago, in the spring of 2009, by political forces in Washington intent on reneging on the delicate balance achieved at Dayton. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared she was committed to wrapping up what she called “the unfinished business in the Balkans.” A series of op-eds and public pronouncements by “experts” on Balkans affairs, papers by U.S. government-sponsored NGOs, and statements by Administration officials, invariably advocating Bosnia’s unitarization, were followed in May 2009 by a nonbinding resolution by the House of Representatives calling for President Obama to appoint an American special envoy for the Balkans. The underlying message from all quarters was the same: the U.S. needs to revise Dayton in the direction of greater centralization of Bosnia at the expense of the autonomy of the two entities – which in reality would adversely affect only one of them, the Bosnian Serb Republic.
The pressure escalated in the second half of 2009. When it was first announced that the Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg would be coming to Bosnia in October with a secret proposal for constitutional reform, the news was hyped in the Western media and in Sarajevo as the imminent remaking of Dayton. Even the location chosen for the talks — a NATO military base at Butmir near Sarajevo – echoed the events of November 1995, when the Bosnian war was ended at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base outside Dayton. On October 20-21 2009 the representatives of seven political parties in Bosnia from all three sides were presented with a set of centralizing reforms that were suggested, and failed miserably. The Serbs rejected these proposals because they would have stripped them of the remaining elements of self-rule that were first guaranteed by the Dayton agreement. The Bosniaks, on the other hand, complained that the proposed package did not go far enough in giving them control of Bosnia.
The failure of this attempt, one of many, to reduce the Republika Srpska to an empty shell devoid of self-rule was inevitable: it ran counter to the wishes of 1.5 million Serbs in B-H who were ready to fight a war in 1992-95 to prevent that same outcome. The putative “Butmir Process,” of which the State Department continued talking for months thereafter, was devoid of legality or legitimacy. In reality there was no “process” at all. It was simply another variant of the same made-in-Washington program to weaken and then dissolve the Republika Srpska in order to create a Muslim-dominated unitary state.
A reasonable observer might expect that the failure to abolish Dayton in 2009 would have finally convinced the “international community” that no arrangements can be good for Bosnia-Herzegovina as a whole unless it is good for all of its three constituent peoples. Yet the only way to make an impact on foreign meddlers who refuse to allow reality to blur their ideologically induced “vision” is to present them with another visible and tangible failure – the one that would be clearly registered as such both in Washington and in Brussels. The absence of protests in Banja Luka and Mostar speaks for itself.
The push for Bosnia’s “constitutional reform” will undoubtedly continue in the years to come, which is unfortunate. That push is a major obstacle to the lasting stabilization and to the necessary social, political and economic reform of the area known as Western Balkans in general, and of Bosnia-Herzegovina in particular. It is but a codeword for establishing what in effect what would be a Muslim-dominated unitary state – in a majority-Christian country! – and amounting to the end of the Bosnian-Serb Republic in fact if not in name. In addition to being certain to re-ignite old animosities that caused the war of 1992-1995, this scenario is incongruous with the trend towards devolution, self-rule, and decentralization in some of the world’s most stable democracies – from Quebec to the Basque Country to Scotland. Nobody in his right mind would suggest that the solution to Spain’s dire economic and social woes is the abolition of the Catalon autonomy, or the forceful stifling of its demands for independence.
Whatever the defects of Dayton, the essential fact is that for almost 19 years Bosnians and Herzegovinians of all denominations have not been killing each other. Nothing should be done that risks a new confrontation among Bosnia’s communities and possibly reigniting the horrors of the 1990s. With all that America has on its plate today, at home and abroad, it is ill advised to engineer an optional crisis. What is really impeding Bosnia’s progress is not “Dayton.” It is heavy-handed international bureaucracy and excessive foreign meddling in local affairs. Such meddling is detrimental to the internal agreement of its three constituent nations on the means of resolving their rampant social, economic and political problems. Going a step beyond and imposing centralization would be a gross violation of democracy, law, logic, and self-interest.
When it comes to the U.S. policy, it is vexing that the appetite for rekindling the Bosnian crisis after over 18 years of peace comes at a particularly dangerous period in world affairs: the return of asymmetrical multipolarity. Following a brief period of post-1991 full-spectrum dominance, the government of the United States is facing active resistance from several major powers – primarily China and Russia. The reactive powers’ refusal to accept the validity of Washington’s ideological assumptions or the legitimacy of its resulting geopolitical claims will not go away.
At the same time, far from reconsidering the hegemonsitic assumptions and claims of their predecessors, the key foreign policy players in the Obama Administration – such as Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Victoria Nuland (the one of the “F… the EU!” fame) are groomed on Albright’s hubris (“If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future.”). The old premises of an imperial presidency – which in world affairs translates into the quest for dominance and justification for interventionism – remain sadly unchallenged.