Ivor Roberts was the British ambassador to Yugoslavia, Ireland and Italy, and is the past president of Trinity College, Oxford.
The international community – or more accurately, the European Union and the United States – has been in a prolonged stalemate for the past 26 years, ever since the Dayton Agreement ended Bosnia’s bloody civil war. Dayton was supposed to be the super glue that created a new united nation from previously warring ethnic fragments. But every two years, we are reminded that glue does not hold together.
Once again, we are in a crisis like this right now, with membership talks on the Western Balkans stalled and Milorad Dodik, the political leader of the Bosnian Serbs, threatening, Withdrawal from the joint state institutions – Including the army – and a de facto separation from the Bosnian state. But this time, we might just look at the end of Dayton, and ignore the main reason.
Upon Dodik’s announcement, it wasn’t long before Christian Schmidt, the recently appointed High Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina – a position at the United Nations granted surprisingly powerful governing powers to oversee implementation of the Dayton Agreement – to blame squarely on Dodik’s feet.
In his report to the UN Security Council, Schmidt note that Bosnia faces its greatest “existential threat in the post-war period”, if the international community does not curb the separatist actions of the Bosnian Serbs. He also called for (and got) an extension of the European Union’s small military force in the region.
However, it is important not to overlook that Dodik’s threats also came as a direct response to a decision made by Schmidt’s outgoing predecessor, Valentin Inzko. Inzko . decided, in the final days of his 13-year term, to enforce a law that made it a crime punishable by up to five years in prison for denying that the Srebrenica massacre was genocide.
Let’s pause here for a moment to be perfectly clear: The July 1995 massacre was rightly confirmed by the International Court of Justice and the United Nations as genocide. Nothing can and should not reduce the severity of the crime.
But in the wake of his decision, Inzko said two important things. First, he said he knew the consequences of his decision—that is, how Dudek would react. Second, he said his decision to make genocide denial a crime simply brought Bosnia and Herzegovina into line with European standards.
On the first point, Inzko basically says that in his view, it was worthwhile to ignite the largest conflict in Bosnia since the war in order to pass this law – which, as someone who was a witness to the brutal war in Bosnia and a participant in the negotiations that led to the Dayton Accord, I find it difficult to agree with her.
Regarding the second point – that’s all well and good. It makes sense for the country to align with EU standards because it will soon become an EU member – except that it won’t.
This year’s Western Balkan Summit, held in the charming Slovenian estate of Brdo Pree Krango, effectively End hopes One of the Western Balkan countries that will join the European Union anytime soon. The European Union took up the pill with nice encouraging data and a generous €9 billion economic and investment plan. But the leaders of the region and their people realize the door is closing in their faces when they see the door.
Brdo effectively ended the hopes of an entire generation, the hopes that were initially raised at another summit in Thessaloniki in 2003 – that is, eighteen years ago – when Official Announcement He stated, “The future of the Balkans is within the European Union.” It is the boldness of the 2003 EU bid that has enabled regional politicians to provide their people with a point in the horizon to aim for.
More importantly, for a region that only recently saw ethnic groups divided with new borders, it promised to return to a time when those borders were of little importance, becoming marks of distinction rather than division. This insight enabled politicians to take advantage of certain behaviors from angry and volatile voters. Stolen from the EU membership rhetoric after eighteen years of anticipation, these politicians no longer have much to prepare.
For Bosnia and Herzegovina, prospects for EU membership promised to defuse the ethnic confrontation that has persisted since the signing of the Dayton Agreement. And on that level, Dayton was a huge success: it kept the peace, a feat that many thought would be impossible. Moreover, the country has also succeeded in reasserting a Bosnian identity that most people are proud of.
However, the realists always realized that Dayton was a good way to end a war but a bad way to build a nation. There are many reasons why it didn’t work, but one important reason is that the Dayton Agreement, unlike previous peace accords that proposed a multi-ethnic cantonal structure, actually enshrined the division of Bosnia into two ethnic blocs with a high degree of autonomy in a decentralized common state.
The top actors, most notably Lord Ashdown, have attempted to revise Dayton over the years by creating a stronger center, and over the years the Bosnian Serbs have resisted on the grounds that this is not what they signed up for. Thus, there was, and still is, a constant conflict between the central urges of the High Representative and the insistence of the Bosnian Serbs on decentralization.
In the eighteen years since Thessaloniki, Bosnia and Herzegovina has continued to endure friction between ethnic groups in the expectation that EU membership was in place. But the EU cannot be both ways. It cannot authoritarianly impose European standards through an unelected ruler, if these European standards lead nowhere.
In contrast, US President Joe Biden sees Bosnia and Kosovo as unfinished business and has already indicated that the United States is ready to participate in resolving these long-term crises. He has a hugely experienced team of Balkan experts at the State Department and has already sent one of them, the clever and kind Gabi Escobar, to Bosnia to put out the fire quickly. Remove the leadership role From the grip of Europeans lameness.
It is extraordinary that the United States has a responsibility to defuse a crisis within Europe itself. This incident has greatly damaged the prestige and power of the European Union, and the United States is not the only world power that will step into this void.
If the EU cares as much as it says it about peace and stability in Bosnia, it should stop protesting the symptoms of the problem and address the cause, providing Bosnia and other countries in the region with a clear road map that rewards hard choices. with membership.
Perhaps one day we will then find that the glue has set.