The Dayton Accords at 25

Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republika Srpska: Srebrenica covered in fresh snow. © Pierre Crom

Political Paralysis

This ethnically based scheme is not a total failure. It ended the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, attracted massive international reconstruction assistance and permitted some people to return to their homes and restart their lives. B&H today has a per capita gross domestic product close to double that of the former Yugoslavia before the 1990s wars. People of all ethnicities can travel safely in the entire country, even if living and working in areas where they are in the minority can still be difficult. Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim Bosnians worship freely, many of them in restored churches and mosques.

Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republika Srpska, Srebrenica: Vegetation growing in a wrecked firefighters truck on the outskirts of Srebrenica. © Pierre Crom

A Near-term Threat

Nothing needs to be done in haste. B&H has been peaceful, if poorly governed, for most of the past 25 years. It can continue in that state a while longer, if only because those in power benefit from its dysfunctionality. But there is a risk that an ethnicity-based land swap between Kosovo and Serbia could destabilize the country. That proposal would exchange majority-Serbian territory in northern Kosovo for majority-Albanian territory in southern Serbia, with dire consequences for the future of Serbs living elsewhere in Kosovo and Albanians living elsewhere in Serbia.

Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republika Srpska, Banja Luka: Bosnian Serb police forces line up prior to a military parade during the controversial January 9 statehood day. © Pierre Crom

A Critical Reform

As necessary as that division seemed at Dayton in 1995, it is a birth defect that prevents B&H from ever qualifying as a serious candidate for E.U. accession. Belgium is constitutionally similar, but it is a charter member of the European Union, and Brussels is the Union’s executive capital. The E.U. will not be taking in any new members whose governance is as dysfunctional as Belgium’s, and B&H’s is far worse. Only with the best intentions, which do not exist, would it be possible for Dayton’s Bosnia and Herzegovina to qualify for E.U. accession.

Bosnia and Herzegovina, Banja Luka: Schoolchildren attend an event funded by the U.S. and the E.U. to promote education. © Pierre Crom

International Support Needed

Bosnian mobilization will need international support to effectuate change. The United States and the European Union are the prime candidates for foreign partners. Bosnia and Herzegovina is smaller in population than more than half of U.S. states, whose counties and other local subsidiary governments are roughly analogous to B&H’s “municipalities.” B&H is also smaller than 20 of the European Union’s 27 members. There is no need for either entities or cantons to govern a country of this size, and the E.U.’s principle of subsidiarity (doing things at the lowest level of governance possible) favors empowering the municipalities. Strengthened municipal governance in both Macedonia and Kosovo since their 1999 and 2001 wars has been successful and has empowered numerical minorities.



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Subjectio examines influences exercised by the West and Russia in Southeast and Eastern Europe.