Here are the remarks I prepared for the conference
at SAIS today and tomorrow on Twenty Years after Dayton: Prospects
for Progress in Reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina:
1. I want first to thank my colleagues at the
Center for Transatlantic Relations here at SAIS—Sasha Toperich and
Dan Hamilton—for entrusting me with a privileged place on the
program and the most difficult question to answer.
2. This I suspect is my “reward” for twenty years
of thinking I really did know the way forward but then proving
beyond any doubt that I was unable to find it.
3. Before and at Dayton, I thought the way forward
involved ensuring that the Federation, which Dick Holbrooke had
entrusted to my care in October 1994, could govern effectively.
4. At the fifth anniversary in 2000, I thought it
lay in applying the European Convention on Human Rights, which had
been incorporated into the Dayton constitution.
5. By the time of the 10th anniversary in 2005, I
was sure it lay in revising that constitution, an effort pursued by
Don Hays, Paul Williams and Bruce Hitchner under my aegis at the US
Institute of Peace.
6. They helped the Bosnians produce what became
known as the “April package” of constitutional amendments that
failed in parliament by two votes in 2006.
7. I don’t remember what I was thinking in 2010 at
the 15th anniversary, when I was busy moving from USIP to SAIS.
8. None of my previous impulses have succeeded, so
this time around I’m going to offer you three different directions
for a way forward in Bosnia. I do hope one of them pans out, but
hope is not a policy. I’ll try also, at the end, to enunciate a
policy, after considering three additional propositions that are not
9. The first way forward is that old standby:
constitutional change. A constitution distributes power. In Bosnia
it distributes power in ways that enable ethnic nationalists to
control the country and exploit their position for personal rather
than societal gain.
10. We imposed the Dayton accords, but we imposed
what the ethnic nationalist warring parties told us they could live
11. It is therefore unsurprising that one way or
another, ethnic nationalists have dominated Bosnia almost
continuously, making it ungovernable, since 1995.
12. Kresimir Zubak, then President of the
Federation, gave me my first lesson in ethnic nationalism during the
war. Serwer, he said, one man one vote will never work in Bosnia.
13. Though by far not the most extreme of ethnic
nationalists, Zubak was still determined to prevent Croats from
being “outvoted,” something he regarded as anti-democratic.
14. There is nothing I might wish for more than
recognition and protection of equal individual rights in Bosnia
today so that people could be outvoted without feeling bereft of
their identity, but even the application of equal individual rights
to the Sejdic Finci case has been a bridge too far for Zubak’s
15. I have to conclude that constitutional change
is not looking promising, even though it is the most direct and
compelling route forward. The failure in 2006 and the more dismal
failure at Butmir in 2010 have poisoned the well.
16. The second way forward is what the Europeans
are calling reform. There is a nice thick document written by
non-Bosnians that you can read to see what that means: reducing the
public sector, improving the investment climate and making the labor
market more flexible would be my summary.
17. The Bosnian political leadership has pledged
the political will to get on with it. Combined with conditionality
from the EU, the World Bank and IMF, I hope it works, though I
hasten to add that it is likely to make things worse for many
Bosnians before it makes them better.
18. Moreover, politicians have been relentlessly
clever in blunting European pressure for reform and converting it
into new opportunities for expropriation of state assets and
opportunities for individual and party enrichment, as carefully
documented in a paper written by Srdjan Blagovcanin and Boris Divjak
published earlier this year by CTR.
19. I therefore regrettably doubt the European
reform program as much as I doubt the prospects for constitutional
20. The third possible way forward is for the
Bosnian people to demand change, along the lines of what has
happened recently in Romania.
21. That is what appeared to be happening in the
aftermath of the 2014 floods, but the plenums produced little in the
way of serious political pressure for change and generated
significant nostalgia for a more state-administered economy. I
wouldn’t count that as the way forward.
22. If my three ways forward won’t work, that
doesn’t mean someone else’s ideas won’t.
23. Some Croats want a third entity, claiming that
would re-establish equality and enable them to participate more
fully in the Bosnian state.
24. I don’t buy that. At Dayton the Croats got a
very good deal: one-third of the state and one-half of the
25. That was when they were in the driver’s seat,
providing the military force that enabled the Federation offensive
to succeed in the summer of 1995 and controlling the flow of weapons
and everything else from the Adriatic into central Bosnia.
26. Croats are now a smaller percentage of the
population than they were before the war, they have lost their
wartime stranglehold and military prowess counts for little within
27. The third entity idea is hard to kill, but it
is going nowhere.
28. Milorad Dodik also has a proposition:
detaching his Republika Srpska from the judicial system of Bosnia
and Herzegovina, with the clear intention of preventing any
prosecution of himself or his sidekicks and laying the basis for
eventual secession, or if that is not possible a kind of complete
autonomy like that of Taiwan.
29. He clearly would like Republika Srpska to
negotiate and implement the requirements of EU membership separately
from the Federation.
30. Should we take this proposition seriously?
31. Yes, is my answer, despite RS’s vigorous
efforts to convince me that everything will be copacetic the day
after a referendum.
32. Secession, or even just holding the
referendum, has to be taken seriously not because it is a serious
33. I doubt even Serbia would recognize the RS if
Dodik were to declare it, because of the implications for its EU
aspirations. Prime Minister Vucic has been reasonably clear that the
Bosnian Serbs need to look to Sarajevo, not Banja Luka or Belgrade,
for their state.
34. The question proposed in the referendum can
only be described as ludicrous. It is clearly intended to gain
negotiating leverage with the EU, which seems tempted by the gambit.
35. That would be a serious a mistake, but even if
the Europeans ignore it Dodik’s referendum still has to be taken
seriously because it could destabilize the Balkans, radicalize
Muslims in Bosnia and raise serious questions about European, NATO
and American credibility.
36. There has to be a vigorous response if Dodik
proceeds with the referendum, one that will demonstrate clearly that
the international community is committed to Bosnia’s sovereignty and
37. Anything less risks making the 20th
anniversary of Dayton remembered for a serious failure rather than a
38. A third proposition, which many Bosniaks and
some of my American colleagues favor, is a revival of the High
Representative’s powers so that he can compel the Croats and Serbs
to accept a stronger central government.
39. Wolfgang Petritsch and Paddy Ashdown were
reasonably successful at that enterprise at the height of the “Bonn
40. But that too would not be a way forward. Even
authoritarian rule depends on the consent of the governed. Dodik has
withdrawn the consent of the Serb nationalists.
41. If you’ve been counting, I’ve now listed three
good but unpromising ways forward and three bad but impractical ways
backward. What should we do, beyond making sure the referendum
triggers a vigorous response?
42. Let’s recall what has produced good results in
the past. The Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina is today one of the
most integrated institutions in the society.
43. The integrated army was born not much more
than 10 years ago from the unification of the three warring parties,
when the Americans and Europeans held tough and mounted a credible
threat to dissolve the entity-based armed forces.
44. That is the kind of clarity and forcefulness
needed to face down the referendum, ensure that the Bosnian
judiciary is strengthened rather than weakened and end talk of a
45. Beyond that, I think we need to focus on
building the kind of state Bosnia and Herzegovina needs in order to
become a European Union member, a goal everyone agrees on.
46. There is no mystery about what EU membership
means. The formula was already enunciated in the April package: the
central state in Sarajevo needs to have the authority required to
negotiate as well as implement the acquis communitaire.
47. The entities might be consulted on EU
membership issues, but they should be excluded from the EU
negotiations. They should have primary responsibility for governing
only in areas not germane to meeting the requirements for EU
48. If I had my way, even many of those entity
competences would be devolved to the municipalities.
49. A state that can meet EU membership
requirements will be a stronger state than exists today, which means
it will also require the checks on its behavior that come from an
independent judiciary and a strong civil society as well as
parliamentary oversight, vigorous entities and well-functioning
50. Bosnia’s citizens and civil society need to
demand more accountability and transparency, whether they do it the
Romanian way or less dramatically.
51. Bosnia’s entities and municipalities, like
America’s states, need to insist on their own prerogatives, which
should be ample.
52. The Brcko district is a good example: it is a
common, more or less integrated, enterprise that in its best moments
has functioned well and produced a modicum of prosperity for all its
53. The way forward for Bosnia should be
comparable: a set of common, integrated institutions that function
effectively in limited areas and establish an EU-compatible legal
and regulatory framework in which private enterprise and
public/private partnerships deliver services and prosperity to its
54. Let me conclude: I am not the most vigorous
defender of the Dayton accords, which in my view then and now
compromised more than necessary with territorial ethnic nationalism.
55. But Dayton at its best preserved Bosnia’s
sovereignty and territorial integrity. It also provided the basis
for a state that could make Bosnia a truly European country. That is
something that still merits doing.