The Peace
That is Not

Photo credit: Sanja Vrzić

25 years of experimenting with peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina - A feminist critique of neoliberal approaches to peacebuilding

The end of 2020 for Bosnia and Herzegovina marked 25 years since the signing of the General Framework Agreement for Peace, colloquially known as the Dayton Peace Agreement. For Bosnia and Herzegovina this marked the start of a contradictory peacebuilding process. These contradictions both maintain peace and keep the country in a perpetual state of conflict. 25+ years since the end of the war is an appropriate time to reflect, examine, and analyse the successes and failures of the peacebuilding process, framed by the solutions set out in the peace agreement.

Peace neither starts nor ends with the act of the signing of a peace agreement. Building peace should be an inclusive and reflective process grounded in the lived experiences of those affected. However, in Bosnia and Herzegovina the peace process has had none of this. Bosnians and Herzegovinians have been suffering the consequences of an imposed and flawed peace agreement for more than 25 years, burdening their political, economic, and social relations. Without a shift in narrative and approaches to peacebuilding, the war will continue to shape their lives for many more years to come.

For this reason, WILPF presents this series of essays from two local feminists who tell a story of a country 25 years into its peacebuilding efforts—a story that goes beyond mainstream interpretations, narratives, and understandings of the peace agreement and its consequences for the country.

The following essays analyse the impact the Dayton Peace Agreement has had on people’s lives, written from the perspective of those whose bodies have been exposed to its workings. While the Dayton Peace Agreement can be looked at from several different perspectives, this series of nine essay will highlight five themes and their gendered nature: historic and geopolitical context of the politics of peace negotiations and peacebuilding; (de)militarisation of war and peace; ethno-nationalism and division of the territory and power; international civilian administration and its neocolonial character; and neoliberal influence on peacebuilding and dealing with the past.

Through these themes, the authors reflect on how the war and the peace have been interpreted, applied, projected, and reproduced within the Bosnian and Herzegovinian society and how a process of peacebuilding, firmly grounded in neoliberal ideology, has generated results contrary to the very essence of peace. Bringing in a feminist counter-narrative to a neocolonial, patriarchal, and militant framework these essays offer a perspective on how to start repairing the social fabric torn apart by the war and its consequences.

Meet the authors

Photo credit: Imrana Kapetanović

Gorana Mlinarević is an independent researcher focusing on the prosecution of wartime sexual violence and war and post-war issues affecting women. She often explores the intersections and tensions between identity politics and the economic and social realities of post-war societies. Focus of her work and activism is Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and local communities in BiH and the region of the Balkans.

Photo credit: Imrana Kapetanović

Nela Porobić is an activist and researcher from Bosnia and Herzegovina BiH. In the focus of her work is the mainstream, neoliberal political economy of post-conflict reconstruction and recovery. She researches, analyses, and consolidates BiH’s conflict and post-conflict experiences so that they can be shared through WILPF’s feminist networks and solidarity dialogues. Nela also leads WILPF’s work on developing feminist alternatives to capitalist political economy and coordinates WILPF’s activities in BiH.

Comments on the essays

Essay 2:

Cynthia Enloe

“This essay is an investigation into how not to tackle post-war demilitarization. Dayton’s result for Bosnia and Herzegovina has been to fertilize a seedbed for toxically masculinized re-militarization.”

Essay 3:

Christine Chinkin

“The third essay in this important collection of critical reflections on the Dayton Peace Agreement that provided sustainability but of power, not of peace.”

Essay 4:

Helena Kezie Nwoha

“The essay challenges the misguided belief that the international community has the moral justification to define reconstruction that is weaved with neo-colonialism and imperialism.”

Essay 5:

Nora Ahmetaj

“Without justice, there can be no lasting peace, and no one should sacrifice justice for peace. Furthermore, it is not a matter of choosing between peace and justice, but of determining the best way to exercise one in relation to the other, while taking into account specific circumstances and never sacrificing justice.”

Essay 6:

Rashida Manjoo

“An insider perspective is crucial in challenging the often-sanitized discourse on how ‘successful’ the transitional justice process has been in the Bosnian context.”

Essay 7:

Kirsten Campbell

“The essay should be mandatory reading for anyone working in the field of international justice, who need to learn the lessons from the Bosnian experience of ‘outsourcing justice internationally’ that it describes.”

Essay 8:

Maria O’Reilly

“In this essay the authors offer an eye-opening account of the perils associated with the neoliberal model of international peacebuilding, which has failed to adequately address legacies of war in BiH.”

Essay 9:

Madeleine Rees

“BiH is an abject lesson of the failure that exclusive peace brokering, or better put, trading, brings. This feminist analysis shows us the importance of learning that lesson, of what should be done, can be done, and must be done in bringing peace.”

Thank you note

We would like to thank Kirsten Campbell, Madeleine Rees and Ray Acheson for finding the time to read, comment and edit the essays. Each in your own way have helped us to reflect on and improve what we had written in the essays – many times in frustration and fury with the unfolding situation in the country.

We owe special thanks to Aida Spahić and Sandra Zlotrg who set aside their time and knowledge for translation and proofreading of the essays in Bosnian and thus make them available to interested readers from the region. The essays were originally written in English.

Thank you! In sisterhood, and peace Gorana and Nela

The Peace That is Not

The statue “Woman fighter” was created by famous Bosnian and Herzegovinian sculptor Alija Kučukalić who was killed during the siege of Sarajevo. The “Woman fighter”, with her hands raised high, symbolises the antifascist struggle and is dedicated to the brave women of People’s Liberation Struggle. It also symbolises the equality of women in all spheres of society.

The statute is part of memorial park Vrace, Sarajevo, which commemorates victims of fascism during the Second World War. The memorial park was open on 25 November 1981 and was entirely funded by the citizens of Sarajevo. The place chosen for its construction was the fortress from Austro-Hungarian era that was used by the Nazi regime as an execution place, where numerous citizens of Sarajevo were killed and buried. There are 4.113 names of women victims listed on the memorial plaque in Vraca; 208 of them are women who were killed as antifascist fighters.

During the siege of Sarajevo, the Army of Republika Srpska used the memorial park as a military position from which the shelling of the city and the people took place. After the war and the territorial division of the country the memorial park ended up on the “border” between the two entities, and as such was abandoned

The statue “Woman fighter” faced the same destiny as the memorial park itself. It was abandoned and destroyed.

There have been several attempts to revive the memorial park by the citizens of Sarajevo, but unfortunately those attempts have remained unsuccessful. One such intervention was made by feminist activists on 8th of March 2015, marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Sarajevo from fascists. A group of feminists, together with some artists, symbolically intervened replacing the missing hand with a wooden one. The sculptors behind the intervention were Maja Matašin and Adis Fejzić. This intervention is photographed by Sanja Vrzić.

By placing the “Woman fighter” in four different seasons in this header created for this essay series, the photographer Sanja Vrzić wanted to symbolise the continuity and persistence of feminist and antifascist struggle.

Photo credit: Sanja Vrzić

Essay 2

Commentary on the essay (De)militarisation That Was (Not)

by Cynthia Enloe

Research Professor in the Department of International Development, Community, and Environment, with affiliations with Women’s and Gender Studies and Political Science, Clark University

This detailed investigation by Bosnian feminist researchers, Nela Porobić and Gorana Mlinarević, into the Dayton Peace Accords’ negotiators’ assumptions, policies and actions gives us, I think, a template for how NOT to tackle post-war demilitarization. Dayton’s result for Bosnia and Herzegovina has been to fertilise a seedbed for toxically masculinised re-militarisation. 

Dayton’s international strategists will claim that their intensions were good, that they cannot be blamed for the re-emergence of what they so lazily persist in imagining as “ancient ethnic rivalries.” This is merely a smokescreen to avoid their own accountability.

This essay persuasively lays out the counter evidence:

First, the international strategists for ending the wars in the former Yugoslavia never developed an over-arching analysis of who and what was militarised between 1991–1995, and thereafter, including ignoring their own militarised mindsets (deploying NATO’s and then the EU’s masculinised troops would bring equitable peace?). Not even attempting a full analysis, they could devise no coherent program of de-militarisation. They relied, instead, on fragmented, piecemeal, contractor-serving projects, handing those out to organisations with zero experience with effective, gender-aware demilitarisation (e.g., The World Bank – really?).

Second, the Dayton actors and their post-Dayton appointees never took seriously the complex workings of masculinities – their own, NATO’s, the EU’s, the US government’s, the UN’s, and those masculinities operating within all communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Third – and feeding their other failings – the international and regional players ignorantly acted as though Bosnian women of all communities had nothing to teach them about militarisation, corruption, distrust, displacement, greed, violence, about relying on weapons manufacture for trade, about tokenist recruitment of women into police forces being modernised for male-dominated militarised policing, and, of course, about patriarchal political parties. Remaining wilfully ignorant, they chose not to work with local Bosnian feminists to devise political and economic systems that could effectively address the interdependence between these nine dysfunctions.

As I read and reread this revealing essay, I thought of how demilitarisation would fail and remilitarisation would be simply “modernised” in Ethiopia, Myanmar, Ukraine, Sudan, Kazakhstan, if we all do not learn the hard lessons of Dayton and what it has spawned.

Essay 3

Commentary on the essay Dividing Territories and Power, Dividing Minds

by Christine Chinkin

Professor of International Law, Founding Director of the Centre for Women, Peace and Security at the London School of Economics

Dayton was meant to bring peace – but peace for whom and what did peace mean? To the negotiators it was a map with boundary lines dividing Bosnia and Herzegovina – a sovereign state – into multiple divisions and without consultation, with or regard to, the daily lives of the country’s inhabitants, much less women. 

The third essay in this important collection of critical reflections on the Dayton Peace Agreement after 25 years considers how ‘Dividing Territories and Power’ also sustains dividing and divided minds rather than sustaining peace. The international negotiators led by Richard Holbrooke needed a speedy agreement to provide a foreign policy success for President Clinton and possibly showing US success where the UN and EU had failed. In the aftermath of the collapse of the USSR there was a need to forget the socialist era, so they actively wiped out any references to socialism from the systems and minds of the BiH people and through the facade of democracy and respect for human rights handed power to those who had waged war, caused mass displacements, and furthered ethnic cleansing. Delivering peace in terms of social and economic justice that would enhance the lives of civilians was not considered in an agreement that supported the demands of the ethno-nationalist hardliners who had engineered and furthered the violence. Dayton provided sustainability but of power, not of peace. 

Boundaries are exclusionary. They give a message that says ‘you are not welcome here’ and territorial boundaries reinforce the divisions in peoples’ minds that have created the ‘other’.  

Dividing territory on the basis of ethnicity legitimates the ethnic cleansing, violence including sexual violence, and mass displacement through which it was achieved. This militates against accountability and, by effectively rewarding the commission of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, denies a peaceful future.  

Dayton delivered a Constitution that made ethnic identity the basis of power. Discrimination in political life that is rendered constitutional spills over into all spheres of life, blocking political discussion and leaving society with no other outlets. Ironically in a society constructed on discrimination, all other grounds of discrimination are ignored, despite judgments from the European Court of Human Right; Dayton trumps all other sources of legitimate authority and law. 

The multiple layers of government (the essay identifies 14) and thus of exercise of power impose obstacles to communication, to access to services, to routine aspects of daily life. The boundaries were constructed by people who did not have to live with the consequences. The divided territory is reminiscent of the West Bank where again lines drawn on a map around settlements and roads reinforce the divisions in mindsets and thus of manipulated hatreds.  

And where are the women in this divided territory? The essay makes clear that these layers of power are dominated by men. Women were not present at the peace table and reserving women’s right to participate in these different layers of governance was not even considered by the male negotiators at Dayton. Only months earlier the Beijing Platform for Action had set out as actions to be taken by governments, international and regional organisations that they ‘promote equal participation of women and equal opportunities for women to participate in all forums and peace activities at all levels, particularly at the decision-making level.’ These words were unheeded at Dayton in the rush to create an ethnically divided, neo-liberal space that privileges individual identity, constructed through violence and upheld as a ‘form of belonging and culture’ to further the distancing from the pre-war life and ‘to persuade citizens that the oppressions they have been facing are not grounded in an ideology and structural inequalities but exclusively on identity.’ 

Essay 4

Commentary on the essay Neo-colonialism: Civilian Administration of the Peace Agreement

By Helena Kezie Nwoha

A feminist peace activist and a women human rights defender from Nigeria the Executive Director at The Women’s International Peace Centre

Essay for discussed Experimenting with Neo-colonialism: Civilian Administration of the Peace Agreement. The Chapter focus on deconstructing neo-colonialism and how it functioned within the parameters of the implementation of the civilian aspect of the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA) including; humanitarian aid, rehabilitation of infrastructure and economic reconstruction, establishment of political and constitutional institutions, promotion of respect for human rights, return of displaced persons and refugees, and holding of free and fair elections. 

The essay challenges the misguided belief that the international community has the moral justification to define post conflict reconstruction that is weaved with neo-colonialism and imperialism.  It argues, and truly so that those affected by conflict should determine and define what peace and post conflict reconstruction should look like to achieve lasting peace. 

However, the interpretation of these provisions by the international community points to 

a shift from socialist to capitalist political economy and an establishment of an international protectorate, consolidating the role of the international community using several tactics including: 

  • securing soft power through donor recipient relation used to exact soft power over the country and creating a group of corrupted local elite enabled by the international governance, both benefiting economically and politically from exploitation of people and extraction of local resources
  • the reforms introduced through international peacebuilding were ideologically not neutral, for example the reform of the police, judiciary, criminal law, civil law, army, education, media, human rights mechanisms among others were infused with ideas of neoliberal peace.
  • capitalist political economy manifested in the form of privatization, taxation, banking system, and business-related laws that continue to impact on the economic wellbeing and livelihood of the population.
  • lack of attention to gender equality and women’s empowerment in the entire reform process, and deliberately ignoring the existing feminist knowledge and institutional memory, but instead the IC supported ideologically neutral women activism through projects. Such projects of course do not challenge patriarchy but instead reified and repackaged patriarchal structures and power. 
  • leadership by men or women was determined by the level of their compliance with neoliberal, patriarchal standards of diplomacy, international relations and colonialism. Such leaders were appointed by the EU and international organizations and were mostly foreign nationals 
  • aid and grants provided easy access for stealing money by elites/technocrats in government, and in most cases such corruption is discussed but concrete action is not taken to punish the corrupt. 


I draw the following lessons from the essay: 

First, the use of vague language in Peace Agreements leaves it to broad interpretation and provides opportunity for PA guarantors/international custodians of the PA to use such provisions for their own benefit working in partnership with beneficiaries of the PA like the ethno-nationalist elites in BiH, who have used the ambiguity of the PA to create tensions that have also given the IC reason to continue to stay. 

Secondly, the activities and roles of different stakeholders must be clearly defined and a timeframe for delivery agreed upon to avoid giving room to varied interpretation and incorporation of activities that never existed in the Peace Agreement. It is also important to have the UN play a key role at all stages of peacebuilding instead of being invited to take up particular roles. 

Thirdly, economic reform in post conflict settings must be shaped by the people’s war experiences and their economic realities in peace time and focus on investment in social infrastructure and livelihoods to rebuild the social fabric of communities.

Lastly, the way peacebuilding was used as a form of colonialism in BiH is a lesson for other countries in conflict and post conflict particularly countries such as Ukraine, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo to be vigilant on the roles of the international community in advancing peace building and post conflict reconstruction in these countries. 

Essay 5

Commentary on the essay The Regional Geopolitics of Dealing with the Past

By Nora Ahmetaj


Without justice, there can be no lasting peace, and no one should sacrifice justice for peace. Furthermore, it is not a matter of choosing between peace and justice, but of determining the best way to exercise one in relation to the other, while taking into account specific circumstances and never sacrificing justice.

Reading this analysis written by Bosnian feminist researchers, Nela Porobić and Gorana Mlinarević, one could easily see how the Dayton Peace Accords was selling justice short, obscuring accountability as a key to long-term peace.

The authors discuss the power relations performance of Serbia and Croatia towards Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), as well as how the political and strategic ambitions of these two countries are embodied through constitutive Serbian and Croatian ethnic groups in BiH. Then, like no other country, BiH was destined by an agreement that was far from ideal but also failed to achieve long-term peace in the country. 

Two out of the three Dayton signatories not only refuse to accept responsibility for the past, authors claim, they also try to at all costs use their position in the geostrategic plane to avoid confronting their involvement in the war, thus neither Serbia nor Croatia acknowledges some degree of responsibility for, and obligation to address, the harms they caused during the war in BiH.

The number of missing people keeps being high in BiH, particularly by the lack of readiness of Serbia and Croatia to open the state archives and provide information, and the international community to provide satellite records. With 7,000 people still missing BiH stands first in the region. The right to justice on the other hand and war crimes trials have been heavily manipulated. Whereas Serbia continues to deny the genocide in Srebrenica and accepts no responsibility for enabling BiH Serbs to commit crimes in BiH, both Serbia and Croatia used their obligation to cooperate with the ICTY to provide documentation against their “enemies” and not in support of the process of dealing with the past. Thus, very often both states refused to extradite or exchange evidence, which created delays and made prosecutions for war crimes even more difficult.

The same can be said for the reparations pillar. Given that the Serb and Croat members of the Presidency were more inclined to listen to and protect their respective “fatherlands” than to assist the state of BiH in its attempt to secure reparations through the international mechanism, it was easy for the state of BiH to fall into disarray.

Last but not least, the international community has made numerous mistakes in their attempts and initiatives to promote reconciliation as an act rather than a process. The authors correctly criticize such approach, arguing that many actors, including civil society, have jumped in to work in this direction, but this has proven that for more than 25 years these attempts have been dim or barren, because reconciliation is a process in which the three parties must confront the facts of the past. Associations of victims and missing persons bear the majority of the burden in this area, and they have never viewed reconciliation as a project cycle with an end goal, but rather as a long and arduous process where all other pillars of transitional justice would have to be met.

Essay 6

Commentary on the essay Who Needs Redress Anyway!

By Rashida Manjoo

Professor Emeritus Department of Public Law, Wilfred and Jules Kramer Law School, University of Cape Town Former UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women

The publication by Ms Porobic and Ms Mlinarevic is a welcome addition to the literature in the field of transitional justice. It provides a critical analysis through a political, legal, social, and economic lens, and more importantly from an insider perspective. The latter point is crucial in challenging the often-sanitized discourse on how ‘successful’ the transitional justice process has been in the Bosnian context. It is an honour and a privilege to contribute some brief reflections on the essays that discuss the issue of reparations.  

Both essays 5 and 6 highlight the structural problems linked to reparations, including for example, the ‘absence of the responsibility clause for the neighbouring countries in the DPA, and consequent lack of obligations to redress the harms caused by them, [which] has put the entire burden of dealing with the past on the already weak institutions of BiH’. The DPA is also viewed as weak in that ‘it did not explicitly recognize the reality that all civilian victims of war are rights-holders, entitled to redress’. Subsequent court action by BiH to secure reparations through the International Court of Justice, was also marred by political and legal interference by the neighbouring countries Serbia and Croatia. The lack of substantive justice and accountability through the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, has also had negative consequences in respect of transformation broadly, including reparations. 

Essay 6 in particular highlights the interpretation and implementation challenges that arose due to numerous factors, including the identification of perpetrators and victims, and also the beneficiaries for reparations. The legal and political actions, to prevent implicating Serbia and Croatia as having both participated in the war and having committed war crimes in BiH, is evident in the analysis of how this was done in order to ‘whitewash’ the role of these countries. In addition, the provisions in the DPA contain limited provisions regarding redress, including the right to return and reclaim property. The lack of a social context approach is illustrated by the authors assertion that ‘By putting the focus on property restitution and reconstruction as a main promoter of return, the international community failed to understand the meaning of home and what it means to return home’. The essay captures the numerous challenges that arose due to the narrow normative approaches to reparations, and the consequent failures in the quest for transformative transitional justice measures. The latter point is well illustrated in the discussion on the ‘forever expanding peace industry’ and the privileging of certain collectives in BiH. 

According to the authors, the ideology and adoption of a cookie-cutter model of transitional justice by the international community in the BiH context has failed. My 2010 report to the UN Human Rights Council, on reparations as a transformative tool, highlights certain crucial normative aspects. I argue that the right to reparations is located within the framework of the law of remedies and includes two aspects, procedural and substantive. Procedurally, remedies are the processes by which claims of wrongdoing are heard and decided by competent bodies, whether judicial or administrative. Substantively, remedies consist of the outcome of the proceedings, including the measures of redress granted to victims. The right to remedy is said to encompass victims’ equal and effective access to justice and adequate, effective, and prompt reparation for harm suffered. The law of remedies can serve both individual and societal goals, and the underlying purposes can include corrective justice, deterrence, retribution, and restorative justice.  

A significant contribution to the normative framework on the obligation to provide reparations has emanated from the Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparations for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law which was adopted in 2005. The Basic Principles and Guidelines articulate that the modality of reparations can include restitution, compensation, measures of satisfaction, measures of rehabilitation, and guarantees of non-repetition. 

In their analysis, the authors of the essays aptly capture the point that the aforementioned aspects relating to reparations are not a reality in the context of BiH. 

Essay 7

Commentary on the essay Outsourcing Justice Internationally

By Kirsten Campbell

Professor of Sociology, Goldsmiths College, University of London

Despite the volumes of writing on justice for the crimes of war, we still seem to have little insight as to what that justice might be, or how to achieve it.  Even more rarely do we hear in this literature the perspectives of Bosnian feminists, despite the crucial role of feminists from the former Yugoslavia in building international justice.  This essay provides a crucial feminist analysis of the Bosnian experience of justice for the crimes of war.

In this essay, Nela Porobic and Gorana Mlinarevic analyse justice in the social and political context of post-war Bosnia.  Rather than offering the usual canards about justice versus peace or abstract legal discussions, the essay situates ‘justice’ in the concrete conditions of post-war Bosnia.  While emphasising the importance of criminal prosecutions for justice, the essay also emphasises that such prosecutions alone cannot effect social repair.  The essay should be mandatory reading for anyone working in the field of international justice, who need to learn the lessons from the Bosnian experience of ‘outsourcing justice internationally’ that it describes.

The essay begins its investigation by situating ‘justice’ in the context of the Dayton Peace Agreement – showing its neglect of the role of the ICTY in building post-war peace.  The essay insists on the importance of this international effort to ‘end impunity’, but also that ending impunity involves more than assigning criminal responsibility to individuals.  Rather, it includes an important responsibility to the affected societies, and an an important role in contributing to how that society deals with the past.

Porobic and Mlinarevic show how the ICTY failed to take on this responsibility and role, and the serious consequences for peace-building in Bosnian society that followed.  The ICTY, they argue, failed to prosecute system criminality, and so failed to deal with the social and political structures and ideologies that were crucial to the criminal waging of war.  As a consequence, it contributed to the continuation of gendered ethno-nationalist narratives of the war, rather than to the restoration of the social fabric of Bosnia.  These failures, they show, were exacerbated by the ICTY’s physical and metaphorical distancing of justice from Bosnia, and its outsourcing the issue of reparations.

The essay shows the importance of acknowledging the limits of criminal justice, which would have opened a space for developing other mechanisms for dealing with the past in Bosnian society.  Instead, the authors argue, the ICTY’s reduction of justice to punitive justice and of responsibility to individual criminal responsibility fitted within a ‘neoliberal matrix of identity belonging’, which widened the space for ethno-nationalist politics.  Their point is not to argue against prosecutions of the crimes of war.  Rather, it is to recognise that impact of outsourcing justice internationally continues to be felt in Bosnia today, and to ensure that the lessons of this Bosnian experience are learnt by others.

Essay 8

Commentary on the essay Dealing with the Past in Shadows of Neoliberalism

By Maria O’Reilly

Senior Lecturer in Politics & International Relations Leeds Beckett University (UK)

This essay by Gorana Mlinarević and Nela Porobić provides a detailed critique of private and individualised approaches to remembrance in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The authors offer an eye-opening account of the perils associated with the neoliberal model of international peacebuilding, which has failed to adequately address legacies of war in BiH. They highlight the consequences of the failure to provide a common framework for raising memorials and paying tribute to victims and survivors of wartime violence. A common framework is sorely needed, since it would help communities across BiH to acknowledge and remember those who suffered in war, using practices such as memorialisation and commemoration.

In this essay, Gorana Mlinarević and Nela Porobić identify glaring gaps and inconsistencies in the international community’s approach to peacebuilding. They demonstrate that, instead of engaging with the needs and wellbeing of people whose lives have been torn apart by war, the international community has focused narrowly on securing individual criminal accountability, promoting economic competition, and rebuilding political institutions that entrench ethno-nationalism and are far from representative of the people living in BiH. This model of peace has failed to recognise the importance of building a shared understanding of the past. It has also failed to support inclusive practices of remembrance. 

Rather than creating spaces for dialogue and understanding, this kind of peacebuilding has generated intense competition for recognition. Instead of promoting collective practices of remembrance, the neoliberal model has individualised responsibility and privatised the problem of coming to terms with a difficult past. Consequently, in their quest for healing and acknowledgment, individuals and groups across BiH are forced to undertake their own forms of memory work. The results of these private and individualised practices of remembrance are often highly problematic, as this essay shows. In many cases, memorialisation and commemoration efforts favour one group over others. Furthermore, the absence of public dialogue and consensus over how the war should be remembered is being exploited by ethno-nationalist elites, whose militaristic narratives are frequently used to recall stories of trauma and loss. It is deeply troubling that, rather than helping people to come to terms with the past and build a peaceful future, practices of remembrance often reinforce divisions between people and risk damaging an already fragile peace. 

A key lesson I take away from this essay is that to help communities recover and rebuild lives following violent conflict, legacies of violence, loss, and suffering cannot be ignored. Torture, sexual violence, enforced disappearance, killings, and other violent acts often leave deep and long-lasting scars on the bodies and psyches of survivors. Experiences of violence not only inflict great pain and distress, but also provoke feelings of anger, fear, grief, mistrust, and betrayal. These emotional responses are deeply felt not only in the lives of individual victims and survivors but also resonate across communities and wider society. It seems obvious that building peace requires working through trauma and the intense emotions that are generated by war. Yet, the architects of Dayton failed to recognise the importance of trauma healing for building a lasting peace. Perhaps – given that emotions and emotionality are stereotypically associated with women and femininity – we should not be surprised that a male-dominated and deeply masculinist peace process would neglect the affective dimension of peace. This essay points to the dangers of this narrow approach and highlights the importance of responding to suffering with compassion and empathy.

Another crucial lesson I draw from this essay is that processes of privatisation present important obstacles to those who are working to build an inclusive culture of remembrance. Neoliberal peacebuilding involves the privatisation of previously state-owned or socially-owned property. In the case of BiH, this has created a situation whereby (in the absence of an agreed framework for remembrance) it is private owners who have the power to selectively bestow, or alternatively withhold, recognition to victims and survivors of war. For example, the private owners of land and buildings have the power to block access to sites of suffering. Private owners can also prevent survivors from raising memorials on sites of suffering and may obstruct efforts to commemorate victims of war. 

An important consequence of privatised and individualised approaches to remembrance is that social inequalities and divisions are created and maintained. In BiH and other post-war settings, a highly masculinised version of collective memory of war is being constructed. The Liplje memorial is an important example of how women’s experiences of war (and in particular experiences of sexual violence) are easily erased from collective accounts of the conflict. Under the patriarchal logic of remembrance, he who owns the land on which people suffered can also control the narrative on how (and indeed if) victims are remembered. 

It is my hope that international policymakers sit up and take notice of the damage that is being inflicted by a flawed peacebuilding framework which frequently generates hostility rather than empathy for war victims. Memories of violence can sustain antagonistic behaviours and attitudes that fuel conflict and generate a poor quality of peace. Yet, memories can be used in a positive way, to build understanding, acknowledge harms, and address injustice. The neoliberal logic underlying peacebuilding interventions has so far failed to outline a shared approach to remembrance in BiH. Instead, ethno-nationalist power structures and militaristic mindsets continue to flourish in an environment where there is no common framework for memorialisation and commemoration. Change is needed so that people across BiH can send a clear message that victims and survivors of the war matter and that the violence they suffered should be remembered.

Essay 9

Commentary on the essay Dismantling the Structures of Violence. Building a Society of Peace

by Madeleien Rees

Secretary General, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

In feminism we first scrutinize, we discern the fault lines, disentangle the web of lies, deceit and self-deception built around them, and then tell the story of what needs to be done to repair and rebuild. So, it is with this series of essays. The final chapter says it all: the Power lies with the People—or so it should be if we follow the feminist critique.

An emblematic history of international political economy written on the body of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and its people. The international community did not start that war, at least not directly, but it made a serious contribution to its continuance by other means. In so doing it made a mockery of the so-called principles of Western democracy: adherence to law and human rights, representative democracy, transparency, accountability, and equality. Accident, ignorance, or design? In terms of impact, it does not really matter, in terms of cure, it absolutely does.

Nela and Gorana show us the nature of exclusion and its practice. The places of secret discussions, the opulence of surroundings veiling the reality of what is at stake for those excluded. The willful refusal of all actors to act on the decision of international courts. The backs of internationals and their interests being scratched by the ethnonationalists and vice versa, all having embarked on a path from Dayton which embedded, through a constitution and international support for its content:  neoliberalism at the expense of human rights and the environment, fragmentation of peoples rather than solidarity and common interest, the promotion of elitism rather than equality—and letting it all lie within the web of nationalist identities which can never end well. This is not peace.

More than 25 years have now passed since Dayton; it is enough. The structures that were set up, from governance to the cooption of civil society into them, have been exposed in this analysis.  Death of activism by projects, the removal of the authentic voice of people who want rights back, health care, education clean air—and yet still cannot articulate it with unity as the elites work tirelessly to convince them that the ‘other’ is working against them.

Gorana and Nela assert that it is time to ‘wade no more’ on that path, and they are right.  Abolition is needed. If something is fundamentally flawed, tinkering ad infinitum will not bring the transformation needed. Nothing imposed from above can take root and create peaceful belonging. In BiH everything has been imposed. A reset is called for here and must be listened to and acted upon. There are possibilities for peace, for redress, for transformation and the restoration of decency, but it has to be grown from the people on the basis of inclusion and equality. 

BiH is an abject lesson of the failure that exclusive peace brokering, or better put, trading, brings. This feminist analysis shows us the importance of learning that lesson, of what should be done, can be done, and must be done in bringing peace. It is timely and important. We need to read and learn and offer our thanks to Nela and Gorana for helping us all get there.