Capital Sarajevo
Time Zone CET (GMT+1)
Country Code 387
Mobile Codes 61,62,63
ccTLD .ba
Currency Bosnian Convertible Mark (1EUR = 1,96 BAM)
Land Area 51,129 sq km
Population 4 million
Language Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian
Major Religion Islam, Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity

Twenty Years On, Can the Dayton Agreement Be Considered a Success Story?

By Lana Pasic

The General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, or the Dayton Peace Agreement was signed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio on November 21, 1995 by Alija Izetbegovic, Franjo Tudjman and Slobodan Milosevic, and ratified in Paris on December 14, 1995.

Although the deal has been heavily criticized over the years for different reasons, the benefits of the Peace Agreement should not be understated. It managed to put an end to the four-year conflict, during which some 100,000 people were killed, according to the ICTY estimates, and two million – half of Bosnia’s population – were displaced.

Twenty years later, Dayton still features prominently in the minds and lives of Bosnian citizens, as it continues to shape the present political, institutional, economic and social developments in the country. It is generally accepted that the first decade of peace in the country brought progress, both in terms or economic recovery and improved relations between the former warring parties, while the last ten years is instead seen as the ‘lost decade,’ a period during which Bosnian citizens have been victims of political neglect, economic stagnation and growing social inequality and injustices.

What Has Dayton Achieved?

In the immediate post-conflict period, the agreement brought stability – ceasefire, withdrawal of the military, peacekeeping and disarmament. At the time, there was a general sense of progress; people were relieved that the war was over, and that life could somehow resume to normality. High levels of international financial assistance were fuelling reconstruction, recovery and development.

Great strides were made towards creating a functioning state: uniform identity documents and common passports were accepted, a common currency was introduced, a unified army and intelligence services were created, while state-level institutions were established with an aim of setting up a professional, multi-ethnic public sector. The rate of property return has been laudable, in spite of the fact that many of the returns were fictional, and people returned to the areas inhabited by their ethnic majority.

Reifying Divisions

However, in spite of many of the positive elements of the agreement, which cannot be disputed, assessing Dayton as an unqualified success, 20 years on, would be erroneous for several reasons. For the agreement continued ethnic identification, required a high degree of international involvement and created a messy administrative and bureaucratic system.

Annex IV of the Peace Agreement, which is the constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has split the country into two parts, based on the war-time separation lines, thus creating two ethnically distinct regions with the country. Although it can be argued that no other workable solution was possible at the time, the perpetuation of these divisions through separate education systems, and ethnic-based allocation of public office positions has over the years cemented divisions.

To be sure, in Europe similar arrangements exist among different ethnic and linguistic communities in Switzerland, South Tyrol in Italy and Belgium. However, in Bosnia, ethnic identity forms a basic pillar of the constitution, which impacts on the rights to political participation and representation of minority groups, and those who simply do not feel “constituent” enough. The ethnic character of all parts of the state – cantons, entities and public institutions – has undermined the potential for nation-building and reconciliation, which remain unaddressed and even seem to be forgotten.

The International Factor

Another issue arising from the agreement itself is the role it envisioned for the international community in Bosnia and Herzegovina. While the peacekeeping operations were much needed at the time following the conflict, the extent of involvement and leverage international players have in Bosnia has over the years undermined the credibility and accountability of the Bosnian institutions. The Office of the High Representative has at times acted in a despotic manner, or had simply played a role of observer, while Bosnian political representatives were waiting for the solution.

The role the High Representative assumed depended on the position of their countries on specific issues, or on the personality traits and leadership style of the person who held the position at the time. The presence and role of this “international observer” has over the years allowed elected representatives in Bosnia and Herzegovina to escape the political accountability inherent in democratic societies, which comes with holding a public office.

Bureaucratic Entanglements

In addition to the political and institutional context, most citizens believe that the consequences of the agreement have been most prominent in everyday struggle with what seems to be an entangled administrative and bureaucratic web.

The pension systems in two entities are divided and pensioners in different parts of Bosnia receive different remuneration for their past employment. Social and medical services are provided at different standards and levels of quality in cantons within the Federation, and a citizen cannot get medical assistance in a different canton, let alone in the other entity.

Further, there are 13 departments of education teaching different curriculums, and single standards are lacking for almost everything, which has over the years resulted in difficulties with agricultural exports and access to international funding. This has even stalled the country’s participation in the area of global sporting events.

Who Is To Blame?

Of course, not all the failures of the contemporary Bosnian state can be blamed on Dayton. The Peace Agreement succeeded in what it set to achieve- it ended a conflict and provided a starting point for negotiations and cooperation. It may have imposed certain institutional and administrative restrictions, and is far from perfect, but it has too often been used as a scapegoat for political failures.

The document itself is outdated, and twenty years later, it is necessary to discuss how it can be revised to fit the current realities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Balkans and the EU. The root causes of the failures to do so over the last 10 years can be found in the continuous politicization and ethnicization of all aspects of life, fear-mongering, a relative absence of independent media, corruption, personal gain and self-interest- none of which are a result of the agreement.

But progress cannot be imported from the outside. It can only be achieved when the citizens, civil society and the political representatives all make a decision that they want to create a better present and better future for all. Public pressure, political willingness to find a workable solution and compromise, as well as commitment to best responding to the needs of all citizens are crucial in this process.