Twenty Five Years After Dayton -
Colin Munro CMG was UK Permanent Representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (2003-07), Deputy High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina (2001) and Ambassador to Croatia (1997-2000). He was Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy to the GDR in East Berlin from 1987-90. He is now based in Vienna, consulting on European political and security issues, and on Brexit, as Chairman of UK Citizens in Austria.
This is Part 2 of a two-part AP Insight on the General Framework for Peace (GFAP) in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), also known as the Dayton Agreement or the Dayton Accords. If you missed Part 1 it can be found at Crisis Management 10 - 2021 (ambassadorllp.com).
In Part 1 Colin Munro concluded that the GFAP stopped the war but did not provide the foundations of a liberal democratic state and he explained why.
Herzegovina and the Eastern Republika Srpska (RS)
The GFAP converted the post of EU Administrator in Mostar into the Deputy High Representative (DHR). There was also a DHR in Banja Luka, capital of RS. After three years as UK Ambassador to Croatia I started work in Mostar in January 2001 as DHR. I chaired, as Primus Inter Pares, meetings of the Principals leading the international organizations in my area of responsibility. These were: SFOR Multinational Division South East, UNHCR, OSCE, EU, IOM, UN led International Police Task Force - ITPF, and ICRC. My notoriety as a friend of the new post Tudjman pro Dayton Croatian leadership had preceded me.
The Bosnian Croats, especially in Mostar, were viscerally opposed to Dayton. They wanted an entity of their own or the Anschluss with Croatia that Tudjman had promised them. They frustrated at every turn implementation of the GFAP, including my top task, reunification of the city of Mostar. Returning people to the houses from which they had been ejected during the war was fraught with difficulty. Everything was separate: the budget, the schools, the sport, the rubbish collection, electricity supply, the fire brigade, the health service, the courts, building permits, policing. Beneath a veneer of power sharing, real power was exercised by the boss of the biggest enterprise, the Aluminium factory, run by a former Croat mayor (Brajkovic), who had struck a deal with the Bosnjak mayor (Orucevic) over the supply of hydroelectric power which was under Bosnjak control in the nearby mountains. The Bosnjaks were disadvantaged and impoverished. Croat west Mostar had not been destroyed during the war. The Croats could draw on the resources of neighbouring Croatia. In Croat and Serb areas symbols of the BiH state were nowhere to be seen.
On 3 March 2001 the “Croat National Congress”, meeting in Mostar, proclaimed temporary “self -government” of all areas of BiH inhabited by Croats. To finance self- government the Croats had chosen the Hercegovacka Banka (HB) which was established in 1997 by Franciscans with help from crooks who had been involved in fraudulent privatization and plundering of banks in Croatia. To protect legitimate customers and prevent “illegal financing of parallel structures,” the HR placed the bank under provisional administration on 5 April.
Security measures to protect an inspection on the following day were ineffective. My deputy, leading an inspection team, was subjected to mock execution. Hostages were taken. There was a riot. I was ejected from my office. To get our hostages released we had to return documents, hard drives etc., that had just been seized. (I gave evidence against, and secured the conviction of, one of the rioters two years later and for the rest of my tour I enjoyed close protection by the Royal Military Police!)
A subsequent operation by British forces was successful in seizing HB’s records. Analysis confirmed our suspicions. The HB was two banks, one of which was run by the local mafia. It was finally liquidated in 2012. The leading Croat self-ruler (Jelavic), whom the HR had dismissed in 2001, admitted that the self-government project had failed.
The Bishop of Mostar believed in the right of the “Catholic Croat Nation” to self-rule. He refused to meet me, seeing me not as the DHR but as a representative of the UK – “a power that had, throughout history, oppressed the Croat nation”. Bishop Peric was opposed to reconstruction of mosques that had been destroyed during the war. Turks had built mosques where previously churches had stood. In his eyes this was a war crime. It was only with enormous effort, including deployment of the IPTF, that reconstruction of the central mosque in Stolac, designated a national heritage site in Yugoslavia, could begin. Croats had destroyed all seven mosques in Stolac during the war. In Trebinje (Eastern RS), drunken Serbs rioted shortly after the HB riot to prevent reconstruction of a mosque that they had destroyed during the war.
Dayton asserts the right of children to an education but it is otherwise silent on the subject. Silence has been exploited by aggressive nationalists to prevent Croat, Bosnjak, and Serb children mingling. Segregated education ensures that the rising generation has no sense of citizenship of a civic state. “National” subjects which must be taught separately include history and geography. The most bitter political arguments during my time in Mostar were not over banks or mosques but schools. An isolated and notable success has been the establishment of a United World College sixth form in the old Mostar gymnasium (grammar school) built during Austrian rule at the end of the 19th century.
My predecessor, a Norwegian judge, had devoted much of his time to establishing a viable judicial system in BiH. This was fraught with difficulty because it was, for example, for a Croat inconceivable that a Bosnjak would deliver an impartial judgement and vice versa. The ethnic communities had lost all trust in each other. Meanwhile, Bosnjaks were badly paid and subjected to intimidation, mafia style. My Croat legal adviser would only speak to me about current cases in the open air. Property ownership was contested on ethnic lines. The precedence of international obligations such as the ECHR over domestic law is still not accepted.
Lord Ashdown (HR from 2002-06) insisted that the GFAP was a “superb agreement to end a war, but a very bad agreement to make a state.” Wolfgang Petritsch, HR during my time in Mostar, secured BiH’s admission to the Council of Europe, but came to the same conclusion at a conference in Vienna on the 20th anniversary of Dayton, as did the present HR in 2019.
In 2006 two BiH citizens brought a case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. They argued that, as citizens of Roma and Jewish origin, their rights according to the ECHR, to stand for the highest office – the Presidency- were infringed by the provision in the Dayton constitution reserving the three Presidency posts for Bosnjaks, Croats, and Serbs. The court found in their favour in 2009, but the constitution has still not been amended. Moreover, the European (Venice) Commission for Democracy through law had found already in 2005 that BiH would not be able to join the EU with its present constitution.
Various initiatives to sidestep constitutional problems have kept BiH on the EU’s agenda. However, Milorad Dodik, Chairman of the BiH Presidency since 20 November 2020, and boss of RS since Dayton, insists that EU membership must not diminish RS’s constitutional order. He is close to Russia and Serbia, under US sanctions for obstructing implementation of the GFAP, and faces numerous accusations of corruption. He has advocated dissolution of the state. The population declined from 4.4 million in 1991 to 2.7 million in 2017. It is one of the five poorest countries in Europe, and at place 101 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. Remittances account for 8% of GDP. This represents a poor return for what has been by any standard a massive international effort at state building and reconstruction.
I stand by the conclusion that I reached in 2008 when I reviewed GFAP implementation for the OSCE. So long as outdated divisive notions of exclusive ethnic nationalism, buttressed by segregated education prevail, BiH, although unlikely to descend again into conflict, will remain in the poor house of Europe and at the back of the queue for EU membership.
Who is to blame for this wretched state of affairs? I would assign blame, neither to the EU nor the US, but to former communists, including Milosevic, Tudjman and their acolytes. They had the opportunity, before the war and after Dayton, to transform Tito’s slogan of brotherhood and unity, peacefully into genuine democracy in a multinational state. But they chose to reinvent themselves as aggressive divisive ethnic nationalists. The people of this unfortunate country are still paying the price.
Part 1 was published on 4 February and can be found here: Crisis Management 10 - 2021 (ambassadorllp.com)
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