The Ghost of Dayton Bosnia-Herzegovina, 20 Years Later

About 20 years ago, the Bosnian War (1992-1995) came to an end with the conclusion of the Dayton Agreement. The year 2015 marked the 20th anniversary of this agreement. Therefore, it is the perfect time to examine post-Dayton Bosnia-Herzegovina. This article will focus on the main issues in current day Bosnia and will try to answer the question: to which extent can the Dayton Agreement be regarded as successful? (Featured Image © Laura van den Bosch)

Short Overview of Dayton

The primary goal of the Dayton Agreement, as specified in article I, was to establish peace on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but the Agreement also contained a new constitutional basis for Bosnia and Herzegovina.1 The biggest innovation of the Dayton Agreement was the creation of two entities within the state: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (sometimes called the Bosniak-Croat Federation) and the Republika Srpska (RS, or Serbian Republic).2 The former covers 51% of the Bosnian territory, the latter 49%, and both of them generally concur with the ethnic composition of the country.3 Bosniaks make up 48.4% of the population, Serbs 32.7%, and Croats 14.6%.45

Map Bosnia-Herzegovina Entities, © Panonian

Map Bosnia-Herzegovina Entities, © Panonian

Political Structure

Bosnia-Herzegovina has a very complicated, decentralized political structure in which the idea of division and representation according to ethnicity is a recurrent theme. The country has a tripartite Presidency (one Bosniak, one Croat, and one Serb). The Presidency should make decisions based on consensus, but veto elements inherent to this office have made work at this level difficult.6 The Parliament consists of a House of Representatives (42 delegates) and a House of Peoples (15 members). The number of mandates for the former is divided between the two entities (two-thirds for the Federation, and one-third for the RS). The House of Peoples hosts five Bosniaks, five Croats and five Serbs.7 The Council of Ministers forms the government of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The state government is currently in charge of security, defense, customs, immigration, fiscal and monetary policy, and the facilitation of inter-entity coordination.8 Here as well, the assignment of mandates is based on the principle of proportionality: each ethnicity receives an equal number of offices.9

The real power of Bosnia-Herzegovina does not rest with the central government, but at the level of the entities. The entities have relative constitutional autonomy, and therefore, extensive rights.10 Both entities have a parliament with jurisdiction over healthcare, education, agriculture, culture, internal affairs, and more. Both entities also have a prime minister and no less than sixteen ministries. Furthermore the Bosniak-Croat Federation is divided into ten cantons, each with an administrative government and a high degree of autonomy on different issues, such as education and culture.11

Political Issues

Bosnia encounters a number of problems. First of all, there is the political struggle between the entities. Although both entities and the three constituent peoples generally agree that the current setup of Bosnia is imperfect, they have different views on possible solutions.12 Croats in the Federation generally hope to break away from this entity, while a majority of the Bosniaks would like to abolish the system of entities and move towards a more centralized state.13 The RS in turn poses a simple, but worrisome challenge: it wants Bosnia to disintegrate, and wants to see most power returned to the level of the entities.14 In recent years, Milorad Dodik, President of the RS, has been challenging the political structure of Bosnia-Herzegovina. One of his more controversial proposals in recent months was to organize a referendum in the RS, with the aim of questioning the authority of Bonsia-Herzegovina’s state court and the country’s international overseer, the Office of the High Representative. This proposal, however, was recently postponed.15

One should bear in mind that these inter-entity issues are primarily about politics, rather than about ethnicity or identity.16 The political stage is made up from political communities that correspond to their political projects (a strong Bosnia, a strong Croat unit or a strong RS). In this regard, multi-ethnic parties exist, but they are in most cases loyal to one of the political projects. There are, for instance, Bosniaks active in the RS administration or Serbs in the Federation’s.17 Adherence to a political project thus prevails over adherence to an ethnic group.

Milorad Dodik, © Foto Servis DS

Milorad Dodik, © Foto Servis DS

Another issue has to do with the constituent peoples, which correspond to Bosnia’s three main ethnicities (Bosniaks, Croats, Serbs). The essence of this constituency is that there are institutional guarantees for equal status of ethnic groups.18 This is, among others, reflected in the tripartite presidency. The problem is that although this is meant to avoid discrimination among the three ethnic groups, it is discriminatory vis-à-vis every Bosnian citizen that does not belong to one of these groups (such as Roma). These people are, for example, precluded from running for a particular government office.19 Roma thus cannot become President, simply because they do not identify themselves as Bosniak, Croat, or Serb.20

Besides the political deadlock in itself, there are numerous other problems in post-Dayton Bosnia. For instance, Bosnia-Herzegovina scores badly when it comes to corruption. In Transparancy International’s figures, the country receives a score of 38/100 and is ranked number 67 out of 168.21 One of the most troublesome aspects of this corruption is the interconnectedness between politics and economy. Such a situation is referred to as patronage economy: the government possesses large shares in a high number of privatized firms, especially in important sectors such as energy, telecommunications, and banking.22

Furthermore, the government is said to exert influence in the appointment and recruitment of public sector officials.23 In this regards, there has been controversy in Bosnia in January 2016. Subject of this controversy was the appointment of Sebija Izetbegović as director of the University Clinical Center of Sarajevo. Sebija Izetbegović is the wife of Bakir Izetbegović, the Bosniak member of the national Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina. This has led to claims of political influence playing a role in the appointment.24

Bakir Izetbegović, © European People’s Party

Bakir Izetbegović, © European People’s Party

Politicians in general are perceived as highly corrupt in Bosnia and Herzegovina.25 Several high-ranked politicians are actually being accused of crimes. One of the most recent incidents is the arrest of Fahrudin Radončić, former Minister of Security, leader of one of the main parties in Bosnia (SBBBiH), and media-tycoon. He was arrested on the 25th of January, being accused of having obstructed the work of the judiciary.26

Social and Economic Issues

Bosnia-Herzegovina suffers from a number of social and economic problems as well. Unemployment remains very high: 27.5% in general and a staggering 63% among youth (15-24 years).27 The average monthly wage is 830 Bosnian Convertible Mark, which is about 420 Euro.28 This is important, especially with regards to the average wages of politicians in Bosnia. Salaries of lawmakers are six times the country’s average, which makes Bosnian politicians among the richest in Europe.29

The importance of these social and economic grievances, as well as the political corruption, is very well illustrated by the unrest in Bosnia in early 2014. Protests started in the northern town of Tuzla, because of the closure and sale of several factories which had employed most of its local citizens.30 The protests, sometimes dubbed as a “Bosnian Spring” soon expanded to other towns and took a violent turn.31 Poverty and unemployment are regarded as the main impetus for the protests and riots, but discontent with the political elite was also one of the triggers of the protests.32

Although nationalism is generally not regarded as one of the causes of the unrest, the protests were mainly situated in the Bosniak part of the Federation.33 There have been protests in the RS and Croat areas as well, but not to the extent of the ones in the Bosniak part. This is rather remarkable, because all areas face similar economic and social problems. What the exact reason for this is, remains unclear. One possible explanation could be the fact that the country’s complex structural and institutional make-up limits the impact that the protests in one part of the country can have on the other.34

Dayton Guilty?

It should be clear that post-Dayton Bosnia suffers from numerous flaws and can hardly be called successful. This begs one very important question: does the Dayton Agreement lie at the basis of these problems and the lack of success? As the Dayton Agreement is the constitution of modern day Bosnia, this is a constitutional matter.

There are those that argue that disagreement over basic constitutional issues infects everything else, and slows and impedes progress on everyday issues, such as economic and social matters.35 In this regard, the Dayton Agreement can be seen as the main cause of Bosnia’s troubles today.

Others argue that the current crisis of Bosnia-Herzegovina is only partly constitutional.36 In this view, the crisis is more of an institutional issue.37 The above mentioned problems illustrate this: only the deadlock between the entities, and the issue of the discriminatory nature of the constituent peoples are related to the constitution. Technically speaking, even the deadlock between the entities can be regarded as an issue of politics, rather than a constitutional issue. Other problems, such as unemployment and corruption can hardly be regarded as constitutional in nature. In this regard, the Dayton constitution is not the main cause of Bosnia’s current problems.

Dayton’s Future in Bosnia

Having examined Bosnia-Herzegovina today, change indeed seems necessary. Depending on which of the above mentioned views one adheres to, the scenario’s for the future of Bosnia vary. If one opts for constitutional change, one should bear in mind the possible consequences. Despite the many problems Bosnia faces today, the Dayton Agreement has been successful in its primary goal: to stop violence. For twenty years, no major violent conflict has broken out on the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Given this fact, should the constitution be changed if it has been successful in its primary purpose? After all, one never knows what the consequences of an alteration of the Dayton constitution might produce.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of International Perspective. Please be advised that all works found on International Perspective are protected under copyright, more information in the Terms of Use.

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By | 2017-02-03T21:25:24+00:00 April 1st, 2016|Categories: Insight|Tags: , , |0 Comments

About the Author:

Ward Rabaey
Ward Rabaey is a graduate of International Relations & Diplomacy, and Eastern Languages & Cultures. His main interests are Russia, Eurasia and the Balkans.

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