The leader of Bosnia’s Serb population Milorad Dodik is heading into crunch elections on Sunday (7 October) defending the Dayton Accord agreement and accusing others of ignoring it.
It is over 20 years since the agreement was reached in Dayton, Ohio to end a conflict that cost some 100,000 lives. The agreement, reached on November 21 1995 by the presidents of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia, was a complex compromise and created a unified federal state in Bosnian and Herzegovina.
Resistance to Dayton by some political parties remains one of the most serious obstacles to the development of Bosnia and Dodik is calling on the guarantors of the Dayton agreement – the EU, the US and Russia – to enforce its provisions.
Dodik’s comments and reference to the accord come on the eve of Sunday’s national presidential and parliamentary elections in Bosnia. He has been campaigning for greater autonomy while Bosnian Croat leader Dragan Covic has called for the creation of a separate Croat-run region.
The campaign has been awash with the sort of divisive ethnic rhetoric that helped trigger Bosnia’s bitter 1992-95 war, raising doubt whether the country will be able to pursue a path towards European Union and NATO membership after the vote this weekend.
Dodik, president of Republika Srpska, the Serbian half of Bosnia-Herzegovina, is campaigning to become one of the three members of the collective presidency prescribed by the Dayton agreement.
In recent weeks he has surprised observers by ditching talk of secession and instead calling on the guarantors of the Dayton agreement — the major western powers plus Russia — to enforce its provisions. He says Bosnia-Herzegovina is “doomed to become a failed state” if Dayton is ignored.
On Friday, a European Commission source told this website: “Continuing instability in Bosnia is the last thing anyone wants at the moment and adds to mounting questions about the future of the Western Balkan region.”
Distracted by Brexit and by internal divisions with regard to judicial changes in Hungary and Poland, the European Union is thought unlikely to want to fulfill promises made following the breakup of Yugoslavia to admit all its parts as EU members.
Dodik says he favours EU accession but views it as unlikely under current circumstances. He also believes he is being targeted by some in the western alliance because of his opposition to Bosnia-Herzegovina’s participation in Nato.
In January 2017, the US Treasury department sanctioned Dodik, accusing him of “actively obstructing the Dayton Accord.” He has since dismissed the move as a politically-motivated “stab in the back” by officials who, he points out, had been appointed by the out-going Obama White House. He says he expects the Trump administration to “rectify the mistake” and remove him from the sanctions list in the near future.
In emailed responses to a series of questions put to him, Dodik told this website: “The Dayton agreement called for what is known as consociationalism. This meant that the three adversarial factions of the War would share the country, with none of the three in command. This is not what has happened. Instead, international bureaucrats, through the Office of the High Representative, are in command, and they unfailingly support the Bosniak faction.”
He argues that Dayton called for a highly decentralised structure with most governing authority devolved to the two constituent parts – his Serb Republic on the one hand and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina on the other.
Each of the constituent entities has its own constitution and system of governance, he said.
The national Bosnia-Herzegovina government was always intended to be a light-weight component, he says, but instead has mushroomed from just 3,000 personnel in the year 2000 to more than 23,000 currently.
Dodik cites the words of Dayton’s chief architect, the late US diplomat Richard Holbrooke, in support of his views. Holbrooke and he disagreed on a number of issues, he says, but towards the end of his life, Holbrooke wrote: “Bosnia is a federal state. It should be organized as a federal state.
“A unitary government cannot exist, because the country would end up in conflict again. That is the reason why the Dayton Peace Agreement is probably the most successful peace agreement in the world in the recent past, because it acknowledged the reality.”
Dodik accuses the Office of the High Representative of acting as a proxy on behalf of the Bosniak community.
“The High Representative has no executive powers, yet he and his Office impose laws, displace democratically elected officials and interfere in the constitutionally-backed authorities,” he says. “He even interfered in the Constitutions of the constituent entities without any legal reason. Such interventionism has not contributed to stability, reconciliation and mutual trust.”
Appointed by a multinational steering group, the High Representative acts like an un-elected colonial governor, he says. Dodik believes that unless the role of the Office of the High Representative is radically scaled back, governing institutions in both the constituent parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina will remain underdeveloped.
“This leads to discord and instability, exactly what the Dayton formula was intended to prevent,” Dodik says. “I want peace. We all want peace. But the current situation could lead us back to war.”
Doug Henderson, the former UK Defence Minister, agrees with Dodik, saying “Implementing the Dayton agreement is a first step to co-existing in our increasingly linked world community. In the Balkans, stability will require a bonding with the European Union. Only then can economic progress and security be guaranteed.”