Photo credit: Sanja Vrzić; original photo WikiMedia commons.

Essay 1:

Dayton Peace Agreement - the peace agreement that was not

On 14 December 2020, Bosnia and Herzegovina marked 25 years since the signing of the General Framework Agreement for Peace, formally signed in Paris but agreed earlier that year in Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, in the United States. The Agreement has most often been referred to as the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA). From then on, for us who live in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), the word Dayton has received a new meaning. Instead of referring to a geographical location, the word Dayton is used to reference a piece of paper that has determined the political, the economic, and the social system of the country. 

The fact that the peace agreement, together with its 11 annexes, was negotiated in a military base has carried with it specific connotations and consequences for our everyday lives, militarising our peace, both in subtle and violent ways. Wars are seen, understood, and known as a male and a military endeavour. So, of course, it was highly “logical” and “natural” that the actors (self-)invited to negotiate peace were all men, with the support of their militaries. Of course it was also “logical” and “natural” that the negotiations took place in a military base, and that the negotiators very appropriately dined, entertained themselves, and talked in an airforce museum, under B52 bombers and a replica of an atomic bomb. And of course, they saw their opinions about the war and their vision of peace as the only relevant perspectives!

Beyond the militaristic stage of the negotiations and outside of the Dayton theatre, the consequences of war stretched far beyond the militarised male playgrounds.

Sarajevo under siege, July 1993. Photo credit: Northfoto, Shutterstock

However, the war ravaged the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians.  Beyond the militaristic stage of the negotiations and outside of the Dayton theatre, the consequences of war stretched far beyond the militarised male playgrounds. The bombs were not just targeting soldiers but civilians as well; the snipers were not seeking out men but were shooting at women, too; and the shells and grenades were not targeting only military objects but hospitals, children on the playgrounds, and elderly people in the line for food or water.  We lived it, and those who were not in BiH may remember the live broadcasting of the war and will recall that the TV footage streaming into living rooms across the globe clearly showed this variety of experiences.

From World War II to the war in the 1990s, BiH was one of the six republics of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY). Causes of the dissolution of the SFRY and the wars that followed in some of its successor states in the 1990s, including the war in BiH, were complex and remain inadequately analysed and discussed. The armed violence started in Slovenia and Croatia in 1991; continued with a full-blown war in BiH from 1992; escalated war violence in Kosovo 1998/1999; and concluded with the armed violence in Macedonia in 2001. Important to note is that only the BiH and Macedonian (Ohrid peace agreement) conflicts ended with peace agreements. The armed violence and conflicts were not chronologically linear and independent of each other. There were multiple overlaps in terms of actors, claims, and the processes of transition. The process of dissolution of SFRY goes beyond the purpose of these essays since we focus on the DPA and its consequences for BiH.

During the war in BiH simplistic narratives of primordial hatred inherent to the (ethno)nationalist projects framed the positions of the ethno-nationalist domestic military and political elite, as well as of the international political, economic and military establishment. Their position throughout the peace process was that the war in BiH was exclusively ethnic in nature, and should be dealt with as such. However, the causes of war were complex and included, among others, socio-economic, historical, and geopolitical dynamics in the region and globally. 

Anti-war protests were taking place throughout BiH continuously for almost a year before the outbreak of the war.

The start of the war in BiH cannot be easily described, nor was it a linear series of events. People in BiH were not a voiceless mass, silently accepting the deterioration of the society and plunging into violence. The start of military violence on the territory of the Socialist Republic of BiH was happening against the backdrop of the dissolution of the SFRY and the already raging war in Croatia. Anti-war protests were taking place throughout BiH continuously for almost a year before the outbreak of the war. The last major anti-war protest taking place in Sarajevo turned into complete chaos with at least two women participants shot dead. These killings marked the final victory of violence and guns that engulfed our lives for the following four years. 

Women protesting in front of the Parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo,1992. Many peace rallies took place during the spring of 1992. Women from all walks of life were active participants in all of them. The flowers on the ground spell out the word mir (peace). Photo credit: Milomir Kovačević Strašni

The war in BiH, which lasted from 1992 to 1995, was highly brutal. The spectrum of committed crimes ranged from forced displacement, mass rapes of women, torture, imprisonment, slavery and forced labour, violation of social and economic rights, sieges of urban areas, indiscriminate shelling and bombing, murder, enforced disappearances, ethnic cleansing, to genocide. More than half of the population became internally displaced or refugees. Many were killed or injured and there was massive destruction of the country’s infrastructure. Everything from homes and factories to social infrastructure and resources was destroyed. People’s lives were devastated and the social cohesion and fabric were torn apart. While people’s lives and the long-term impact the war had on society cannot be monetised, we know that the total bill for reconstruction of infrastructure was estimated to be between 20 and 40 billion USD.

Remnants of what once was an apartment building in Mostar. The destruction of the infrastructure was massive. But the reconstruction of infrastructure proved to be much easier than reconstruction of people’s lives. Photo credit: Adam Jones, Wikimedia commons

Gendered conceptions of how war is supposed to be waged was deployed by those engaging in violence. Men were massively mobilised into regular armed forces, paramilitaries, and local defence groups, given guns and no options. Exceptions were civilian men from the targeted population, who were not recruited but were imprisoned under the pretense of being “potential enemy soldiers”. On the other hand women were automatically seen as civilians, but they were also mobilised into gender-specific roles within civilian aspects of life. Women’s social reproductive roles were both reinforced and expanded. Women were mobilized into compulsory work obligations, maintaining production in factories but also given tasks related to various aspects of public civilian life, and in support of the military. In addition, some women voluntarily joined armed forces, and some even committed war crimes – but this did not distort the overall gendered picture of the war.

The war violence itself was extremely gendered. For example in the genocide in Srebrenica men were killed and women expelled. In camp detention settings gender-based patterns were clearly visible. In addition to being more exposed to rape, forced pregnancies, and sexual slavery, women were subjected to forced domestic labour. The detention pattern itself was gendered. Apart from the camp detention settings, women were also detained and forced into marriage and partnerships in private household settings. In similar manner, the harms caused by violence were also gendered. Displacement, which disproportionately affected women in multiple ways, such as loss of social networks, poverty, loss of education, opportunities etc.; women’s reproductive health was significantly affected by multiple factors, ranging from rape to lack of hygenic products and access to gynaecologists; there were serious social and economic consequences on women whose husbands disappeared and who became sole breadwinners of households; and so forth.

Furthermore, the framing of the war through ethnic narratives had consequences on women’s bodies, intensifying the pressure on women’s biological reproductive functions, demanding more bodies to “preserve the nation(s)”. Women’s bodies were targeted as bodies of the “enemies” and sexual violence against women was seen as a legitimate method of warfare aimed at destroying their capacity for biological reproduction. However, war being a misogynist endeavour, women were targeted by violence not just within the official “enemy” narrative, but also simply because they were women, as the deployed process of feminisation devalued their lives. This violence took place even within their homes and areas under the control of supposedly “friendly” armies. 

After four years of war, violence, and destruction, peace negotiations resulted in the DPA in November 1995. The finalisation of negotiations, culminating in the peace agreement, did not fall from the sky into the isolated military base in Dayton, Ohio, but was historically and geopolitically conditioned. Europe was a scene for major political, economic, and social changes during the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s. The shift in hegemonic powers, symbolically illustrated by the fall of the Berlin Wall and concretised in the dissolution of the “Eastern Bloc” and decline in influence of the Non-Alignment Movement, led to the rise of the so-called Western hegemonic power. The thesis of “the end of history” entered the mainstream narrative, arguing that the Western liberal democracy had emerged as the highest and final form of human governance. 

Neoliberal capitalism and free markets emerged as an undisputed economic and political system. The influence of neoliberalism spread globally, entering discourses about democratisation, peacebuilding, rule of law, and human rights. Privatisation, competition, and individualism were promoted by the mainstream political and economic actors as the “next stage” in global development and emancipation. Whatever class politics existed they were entirely abandoned and reduced to “identity politics” and individualism leaving structures of oppression unaddressed. The grassroots movements for social justice worldwide pushed against abandonment of egalitarian notions of emancipation and distribution. Nevertheless, the national and international elites in power ignored those calls and carried on with this shift within the mainstream global discourse.

1.2.1 The power players

The DPA is a glaring example of an internationally brokered peace agreement in such a context. The “international” position on the war in BiH and what the peace should look like was not homogenous. The positions the different actors took reflected various geopolitical and other interests and positions. At the time, the “players” included the European Union (EU), which was in its restructuring period; individual member states of the EU, which drew their individual power positions from their permanent membership in the United Nations Security Council, namely the United Kingdom and France; Germany, a member of the EU, but with its reinforced power position within the EU after unification; the USA; and Russia. The USA sought dominance in international relations and infringed on what was considered to be the EU’s geopolitical sphere, while Russia’s motivation came from trying to hold onto old days of its cold-war power. Important to note is that, at that time, the fifth permanent member state to the United Nations Security Council, China, seemed to be indifferent to being part of this international power circle. 

This geopolitical dynamic culminated in these countries joining forces in the so-called Balkan Contact Group that emerged as a “crisis management” mechanism for BiH. The Group was established in 1994 and served as a coordination forum for the United States, the Russian Federation, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany. However, if we are to believe the leading US diplomat at the time, Richard Holbrooke, despite the existence of the Contact Group it was the USA that took leadership in facilitating the process leading up to the DPA. Following Holbrooke’s writing, and the geopolitical context, we can draw the conclusion that, by establishing its military, economic, and political power within the dynamics of the global international relations at the time, the USA succeeded in imposing itself as the most relevant player in the peace negotiations. Consequently, taking the place of the leader in brokering the peace agreement, the USA had the most influence in framing the peace in BiH. The USA, under the Clinton administration, took the lead, not least by pushing for the shift in international diplomacy that increasingly became open towards using military force, primarily by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) military powers.

1.2.2 The involvement of the United Nations

A member of the UN peacekeeping mission on a devastated street in Mostar. Photo credit: Legio09/ Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Considering the mandate of the United Nations (UN), one could expect that it was heavily involved in the peace negotiations. However, this was not the case. Not the least because the UN was struggling to redefine its role in the post-cold war period and to perform its fundamental obligation of preserving peace in the world. From the very beginning of the war, the involvement of the UN in BiH was heavily determined by the post-cold war geopolitical dynamics. At the outset of the war the UN Secretary-General at the time, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, did not consider it appropriate to have the UN actively involved. According to Susan Woodward, political scientist focusing her work on the Balkans, Eastern Europe, post-Soviet affairs and post-conflict reconstruction, Boutros Boutros-Ghali asserted as a matter of principle “that conflict management in the post-cold war period should be foremost a responsibility of regional organisations”.  Thus, the UN involvement was constantly undetermined, shifting from disinterest, to being accidentally caught in the crossfire and directly affected, to being involved in monitoring and protection and subsequently even facilitating war crimes.

The UN involvement was constantly undetermined, shifting from disinterest, to being accidentally caught in the crossfire and directly affected, to being involved in monitoring and protection and subsequently even facilitating war crimes.

The UN presence and engagement started with the opening of headquarters in Sarajevo for the UN troops deployed to Croatia (where the war started in 1991). The headquarters were opened following the February 1992 report from the Secretary-General to the UN Security Council and adoption of the resolution 743 forming the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR). Consequently, when the war officially started in BiH, some UNPROFOR troops were already in BiH. However, in order for the UN mission to be officially deployed to BiH, the mandate was adapted to the specific circumstances in the country.  In BiH, UNPROFOR was tasked to protect the Sarajevo airport (UNSRC 758); to provide humanitarian aid and protection to humanitarian agencies (UNSCR 776); and to protect the six designated safe areas (UNSCR 819 and 824). The UN protection mandate was highly controversial in its ineffectiveness, vagueness, and cowardice as it failed in its fundamental goal to protect the civilians. The UN war-mandate in BiH culminated scandalously and disgracefully with the genocide in Srebrenica in 1995, when the UN failed to protect civilians in what was officially proclaimed a “safe area” under UN protection, handing over civilians to the Army of Republika Srpska forces who committed genocide.

The DPA came at the end of numerous peace negotiations, starting with the Carrington Plan from 1991 (even before BiH was in a full fledged war), Cutileiro Plan from 1992 , and Vance-Owen Plan from 1993. Throughout the war, the various peace talks shifted from being solely led by the EU to becoming a joint endeavour of the UN and EU. All of those attempts failed. Consequently, the point was reached where no further attempts at facilitating negotiations were made by either the UN or EU. This opened the space for the USA to take the lead, resulting in the US brokered Washington Agreement in 1994, which became the building block of the DPA. 

None of the proposed plans moved outside of the understanding that the war in BiH was rooted in ancient ethnic hatred. Even before the start of the war and instrumentalisation of the violence to fortify ethno-religious identities and divisions, the international players insisted on viewing BiH through the prism of a contested nation-state. Even though the anti-nationalist and anti-war voices were very visible and present in the BiH public, there were no attempts by the international community to counter the ethno-nationalist elites’ framework and put on the table a solution that would reverse, or at least weaken, the (ethno)nationalist projects of violent division of the country. For the international actors, the solution was to divide the country along ethnic lines, while at the same time ensuring its external borders were kept intact

It seems that placing the negotiations in BiH, the most logical place of them all, was not even considered.

While the Bosnians and Herzegovinians were in their basements, trenches, under siege, shelling, and snipers, in concentration camps, in refugee camps, and displaced from their homes, some without water, food, electricity, and heating, the ethno-nationalist negotiators were traveling the world as adventurers, contributing to the development of the global tourist industry, all while pretending to negotiate the peace for the benefits of the people. Parallel to this, world leaders competed and quarrelled about where the next tourist destination, that is the peace negotiating meeting, should take place, so that the host country could gain political points and the glory of a peacemaker. It seems that placing the negotiations in BiH, the most logical place of them all, was not even considered. Instead of carrying names of BiH cities, all the agreements and documents pertaining to peace negotiations carry either the names of distant and unrelated places, or names of the people that hold no value for us.    

1.3.1The Washington Agreement – formalising power-sharing and territorial divisions

The president of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Alija Izetbegović and the president of Croatia, Franjo Tuđman signing the Washington Agreement. Washington, March 1994. Again, men signing documents which they agreed on among themselves without any consultations with those most affected. Photo credit: Central Intelligence Agency, Flickr

The 1994 Washington Agreement framed some of the ground for the discussions in the DPA. In line with the proclaimed “ethnic nature” of the war, understanding the war as a “quarrel” between three opposed ethnic sides, the international community decided to take aside two of the “naughty boys” (i.e. the self-proclaimed leadership of Bosnian Muslims – Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats), and have them kiss and make up. Only when those two stopped fighting did they try to have them make friends with the third and the most “naughty” of them all (i.e. the self-proclaimed leadership of Bosnian Serbs). The two warring parties, defined through their claimed ethnic belonging, namely Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats, agreed to power-sharing and to establishing of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH) with detailed elements of the future constitution of the FBiH. 

The principles of territorial division and power-sharing elements proved to be fully acceptable for the ethno-nationalist elites and their political, (ethno)nationalistic projects. This  “successful” recipe was used as a basis for the DPA. The FBiH was confirmed in the DPA as one of the two administrative units of the country. The principle of dividing the territory between the so-called ethnic groups was taken up by the Contact Group a couple of months later and developed into the principle of 51:49. The principle of 51:49 meant that 51% of the territory of BiH was assigned to the FBiH while the remaining 49% to the so-called Bosnian Serb majority area. This principle of territorial division was later used in the DPA. 

1.3.2 Geneva and New York – division as a matter of “basic principles”

Those participating in various negotiations travelled the world while people tried to stay alive. Photo credit: WILPF

Furthermore, as an interlude between the Washington and the Dayton agreements, in September 1995 meetings were held in Geneva and New York (judging from the selection of cities, it seems as the US tourist offerings were more appealing than the European ones). During those two meetings, the so-called Basic Principles were agreed upon, further confirming the territorial division of BiH. The Principles confirmed the already established FBiH and added another administrative unit, the Republika Srpska. 

What was obscured through these concessions was that the ethnic identity of the groups, and their “majority” status, were constructed through war violence and crimes.

The understanding of the war as “ethnic” resulted in the negotiators only being able to imagine ethno-territorial divisions as a way to accommodate ethno-nationalist elites’ claims. This approach was led by the logic of the nation-state concept and ignored that the ethno-nationalist territorial claims were based on the campaigns of forceful displacement,  ethnic cleansing, and genocide. The logic of the nation-state is meant to ensure territorial and political protection to a group defined through kinship and belonging to common cultural heritage. Defined this way, a group and its characteristics are awarded greater political value in a certain territory. Translated in the context of BiH, the nation was replaced with ethnic groups, and the state with administrative units. These administrative units were given state-like functions, with clear territorial boundaries. What was obscured through these concessions was that the ethnic identity of the groups, and their “majority” status, were constructed through war violence and crimes. 

1.4.1 Neighbourly involvement – acknowledgment of aggression?

In addition to international players and representatives of recognised warring parties in BiH, the military power behind the international political actors forced to the negotiating table representatives of two neighbouring countries: the Federal Republic (FR) of Yugoslavia (which consisted of Serbia and Montenegro as two republics that at the time remained federalised and appropriated the name Yugoslavia in order to keep its status within the UN) and the Republic of Croatia. The participation of FR Yugoslavia and Croatia in peace negotiations and signing of the DPA itself was a certain acknowledgment of their active participation in the war. Their signatures also represented some form of withdrawals of their illegal claims over parts of the BiH territory. This enabled the transition towards peace, by, for example, withdrawal of troops and demilitarisation of the region.

A notable oddity was that before the talks, the US diplomats insisted on the military and political leadership of the Bosnian Serbs to be represented by the then-President of the FR Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milošević. The reason behind this insistence was the fact that at the time the Bosnian Serb leadership had already been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, while Milošević was indicted later. 

This was arranged through a separate agreement known as the Patriarch agreement, as it was witnessed and co-signed by the patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox church. According to the agreement, Milošević was to represent the Bosnian Serbs at the negotiations in Geneva and later in Dayton. While it was important to take away the possibility of those who were indicted for war crimes to influence the negotiations, it was highly problematic that representatives of another country (FR Yugoslavia) were allowed to act in the name of anyone from the country that was the focus of the peace negotiations. This also represented another manoeuver by Slobodan Milošević, who throughout the war was doing everything he could to create the perception that he was not involved in the war in BiH. This agreement provided him with the possibility to be involved in the peace negotiations not just as the president of FR Yugoslavia, but also to speak in the name of the Bosnian Serbs, without directly implicating himself (or Serbia/FR Yugoslavia for that matter) in participation in the war in BiH.

1.4.2 Exclusive right to representation

The people were only seen as bodies and canon fodder, valued only for their ability to fight.

From the feminist perspective of women who do not ascribe to any of the “offered” identities, it seems to us that FR Yugoslavia was much more represented during the negotiations than anyone living in BiH. Living through extremely difficult and complex conditions created by the war, people were negotiating situations that were not exclusively determined by the identitarian framework. None of this was recognised during the negotiations. The majority of people of BiH, who did not have direct access to the political elite, were entirely excluded from any conversations held in preparation for the DPA negotiations. This exclusive process treated the society of BiH as apolitical. The people were only seen as bodies and canon fodder, valued only for their ability to fight. The non-militarised bodies were perceived as valuable only if their victimhood could be instrumentalised for ethnic narratives. People’s right to have any say about their future was entirely taken away from them. In fact, none of the negotiators came with the mandate from the people of BiH as to what they could or could not agree to. They were led by their own political understandings, visions and interests. 

Furthermore, by interpreting the war as “ethnic,” the existing, official, and recognised institutions of the Republic of BiH, which were made up of multi-ethnic political bodies, were effectively negated during the negotiations. Even if the “state” itself was “represented” during the negotiations, the only visible interests that were defended were those of ethnic groups. Even though multi-ethnic, the Republic of BiH became suddenly seen as a polity exclusively consisting of one ethnic group, i.e. Bosniaks.

1.4.3 Ignoring feminist peace work and demands

The exclusion of women was obviously not a result of women being silent, inactive, or for the lack of their demands for inclusion. It was the male elites in power that did not see women as relevant actors in dealing with the “male matters of war”.

Significantly, despite the fact that women significantly contributed to the wellbeing of communities and households under extremely difficult circumstances; that women made up half of the population; and that there was  continuous peace work done by feminists and women in the region; women were entirely excluded from the peace negotiating table. During the 1990s, feminists and women in general spent considerable time on provision of care, which was much needed, picking up the slack left by the absent state. They provided care to refugee women, to women survivors of wartime rapes, to women who became sole carers and breadwinners, etc. They also, along with international feminists, formulated demands and pushed for the prosecution of war crimes, especially prosecution of wartime rape that was disproportionately committed against women. The exclusion of women was obviously not a result of women being silent, inactive, or for the lack of their demands for inclusion. It was the male elites in power that did not see women as relevant actors in dealing with the “male matters of war”. 

Jerusalem, 1994. Feminists from the region and wider met regularly to discuss and strategies and plan their anti-war work. Here in a discussion after a Women in Black conference in Jerusalem, 1994. From the left: Cynthia Cockburn (UK), Lepa Mlađenović (Serbia), Biljana Kesić and Rada Borić (Croatia). Not visible in the picture: Marijana Senjak from BiH. Photo credit: Lepa Mlađenović, private archives

The Fourth World Conference on Women took place weeks before negotiations in Dayton. The Conference’s outcome, the Beijing Platform for Action, clearly contained calls for inclusion of women in peace negotiations and peacebuilding processes. This was ignored. Also ignored were the calls in the early 1990s to prioritise gender mainstreaming by the Council of Europe and other European institutions. Feminist legal and political scientists,  Christin Chinkin and Kate Paradine argue that this should have been enough to encourage “boldness and vision in the [DPA] negotiation” to create mechanisms that “would offer all citizens, including women, the space and security for the fulfilment of their personal self-determination.” Instead, the ethno-nationalist elites’ framework and militarisation took priority over everyday experiences of those affected by war and subsequent peace. 

1.4.4 Physical displacement and secrecy of the negotiations

Illustrative. The distance between the war devasted Bosnia and Herzegovina and the peace negotiations was long, both physically and symbolically. Photo credit: Google maps

The modus operandi of the negotiations was physical displacement and secrecy.  The displacement meant that the negotiations were distanced both from the people and the territory the discussion was about. Considering the negotiations took place in a military base in the USA, this particular tourist arrangement could be characterised as a “military holiday”. While the ordinary people in BiH lived something that only later became part of the global tourist offer through morbid war-tourism, the military holiday offered the power elites an opportunity to acquire skills in bartering and trading with lives and territories. The skills acquired came in handy later when they started dividing the spoils of war and during the postwar transition. These skills are the most useful skills in BiH even today.

Furthermore, the secrecy underlined that only the “power holders”, both international players and local warlords, were seen as stakeholders. According to Richard Holbrooke’s memoirs, the outcomes of the shuttle diplomacy were to be held strictly secretive because “[l]eaks could be fatal, since they would trigger public pressure in Sarajevo to ask for more.”  Of course, why would people of BiH have a say in what they want their country to look like and under what political, economic, and social conditions they would like to live! That sort of “public pressure” could go against the orientalist narratives of ancient hatred, and the international diplomats’ and local warlords’ vision of apolitical BiH citizenry that does not know what they need and want, and consequently is in need of colonial and ethno-nationalist “guidance” (see essays 3 and 4). 

The Dayton Peace Agreement itself is two pages long, with eleven short articles. Attached to it are also eleven different annexes. The agreement was signed by representatives of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republic of Croatia, and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The signing was witnessed by the European Union’s Special Negotiator, and representatives of the French Republic, the Federal Republic of Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. 

The signatories recognised mutual sovereignty and obligated themselves to respect the sovereign equality of one another. The DPA established that disputes between Parties are to be settled by peaceful means, and that states cannot take any actions against territorial integrity or political independence of BiH. By doing this, the peace agreement recognised the regional element of the war that was led on the territory of BiH. It also demonstrated that the neighbouring countries were directly involved in the war. 

We have to take a pause here and try to share our confusion around the signatories of the agreement as compared to the content of it. The DPA deals with peace between “internal” warring parties, and provides “solutions” for an “internal” conflict and for the internal political and economic set-up of the country. So why then are two foreign countries even signatories without the DPA directly recognising their responsibility for the war and their obligations to reparations (see essay 5)? It seems as these three signatories were needed to create a direct link between statehood and ethnicity, where Yugoslavia “represented” the Bosnian Serbs, and Croatia the Bosnian Croats. The Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was thus reduced to representing the Bosniaks. The way this “peace table” was set up completely co-opts the Republic of BiH into a neoliberal identitarian framework. So in the end we were left with unresolved issues of who (or what political entity-state) “protects” or “represents” whom (which ethnic group or all of the citizens of BiH) even in today’s BiH.  

In the annexes, the transition of BiH from war to peace was outlined through: demilitarisation (Annex 1-A); regional stability (Annex 1-B); division of the country along entity lines (Annex 2); organisation of elections six months upon the agreement entering into force (Annex 3); defining of the country’s Constitution (Annex 4); agreements on arbitration (Annex 5), human rights (Annex 6), refugees and displaced persons (Annex 7), preservation of national monuments (Annex 8), public corporations (Annex 9), civilian implementation (Annex 10); and finally, an agreement on the international police task force (Annex 11). 

What we can see from the text of the DPA and its annexes is that it approaches the shift from war to peace from two different perspectives: military and civilian. The document is a combination of directly addressing the state of war, in a strict military sense, and imposition of a new political and economic order of BiH. Contrary to the very essence of what peace agreements should be about, it avoids comprehensively dealing with harms arising out of war. It also avoids acknowledging the existing social, political, and economic systems of BiH and people’s experiences of, and relationship with, those systems. 

The DPA was negotiated and brought to the people by an exclusive group of international and national male elites, and was presented as an unquestionable, almost sacred, document. No doubt, considering the massive destruction, violence, and death, culminating in genocide, the intervention to end the military violence was welcomed both internationally and locally.  The people in BiH were exhausted by violenceemotionally, physically, and economically. Prospects of the war ending came as a great relief. It took some years of recovery and rebuilding of our lives before the people of BiH were able to see the full consequences of the agreement, and to understand that the peace and the well-being of the people in BiH was the last thing in the focus of the negotiators.  

Signing ceremony of the Dayton Peace Agreement. Sitting from the left: Slobodan Milošević (Serbia), Franjo Tuđman (Croatia) and Alija Izetbegović (BiH). Standing from the left Felipe Gonzalez (Spain), Bill Clinton (USA), Jacques Chirac (France), Helmut Kohl (Germany), John Major (UK) and Viktor Tsjernomyrdin (Russia). Photo credit: NATO, WikiMedia commons.

Given that the DPA negotiations were taking place behind closed doors, in a military base, far from public insight (unlike the war, which was fully televised), what was going on during those 20 days and the rationale behind proposed and accepted solutions, was never officially presented. 

We, people living the DPA so-called solutions, have been left with anecdotal and personal, very often questionable in their objectivity and truthfulness, reflections of those who were present during the negotiations as a source to learn about the discussions and the motivations of the different actors while in that military base. Those reflections are available to us in the forms of memoirs or as part of defence arguments in war crimes proceedings, or sometimes in some segments of interviews to the media. 

At the time there was no internet, and no social media either. So there was no real-time coverage through personal statuses and photos of encounters, accidentally or purposefully published on Facebook or Twitter by those participating, to at least analyse them as an archive material. 

What remains for us who live the outcome of those negotiations is a game of guessing. To understand and know exactly who was present in that military base, who was part of the various delegations, and who, in the end, signed the agreement and its annexes, requires investigative skills and subjective interpretations. Over the years, this lack of contextual clarity around the negotiations has left room for numerous interpretations and manipulations from the political elites. The game to establish power positions or claim legitimacy through referring to the DPA has been a constant and continuous feature in the public discourse of the political elites for the last 25 years. 

What we can deduce is that many different men participated in the negotiations. Each and every man involved in proposing, drafting, making demands, and agreeing to solutions in the DPA assumed a role of negotiator, irrespective of the country he came from or the office he held. The publicly available information shows that there was no difference between negotiators and mediators during the negotiations. Thus, any diversification between them that sometimes appears in personal recollections or public statements is an attempt to obscure the role of all participants as active agents. They all proposed solutions and ultimately, through their various roles in the implementation, became parties to the peace agreement. So, even though international actors present themselves as “only” mediators and witnesses to the document, while ethno-nationalist elites are presented as the parties to the agreement, the DPA and its consequences, are in fact their joint enterprise in which none should be seen as having limited responsibility. 

When it comes to the people living in BiH and their experiences, they were forgotten in the military base of Dayton, and consequently they were not considered relevant. Rather, it was insisted that men and their military power know best and are the most entitled to create a vision of BiH’s political, economic, and social future. That is how we ended up with the monstrous and complicated DPA, which divided the country and established visible and invisible borders; entrenched the rule of ethno-nationalist and ethno-religious profiters; locked us in a neoliberal economic system; and forced upon us a dysfunctional constitution. 

25 years after the war the ethno-nationalist elites continue to use the conflict narrative all while living in a parallel universe. They are untouched by the political, economic, and social hardships produced by their nationalistic politics and the peace agreement they negotiated. The international elite on the other handwell for them, it has all been just one big and (en)riching experience, ready to be applied elsewhere.

The fact is that 25 years after the war we are still stuck implementing and living every letter of an agreement that seems indefinitely incapable of transitioning the country from war to peace.

The fact is that 25 years after the war we are still stuck implementing and living every letter of an agreement that seems indefinitely incapable of transitioning the country from war to peace. Moreover, as a society, we seem incapable of “escaping” the framing of our future as one born out of the ashes of the war. Every now and then, talks about the dysfunctionality of BiH give rise to the ideas of the need for “Dayton II” or “a final dissolution” of the country, or even about war. Instead of discussing how we can close the doors to our wartime past once and for all, the ethno-nationalist elites and their international “partners” seem determined to make the war the starting point of everything: no one seems to see that when talking about Dayton II they are actually implying that the last 25 years were years of conflict, if not of war (why else would we need another peace agreement?!).   

In our following essays we will try to present some of our reflections on what the DPA and its implementation really brought to our society and our lives.

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Signing of the DPA, women ghosts

The signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement, in Paris 14 December 1995. 

Seated (left to right): The President of Serbia Slobodan Milošević, President of Croatia Franjo Tuđman, President of Bosnia and Herzegovina Alija Izetbegović; standing (left to right): Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, US President Bill Clinton, French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, UK Prime Minister John Major and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.

There were no women present during the peace negotiations. The lived experiences and traumas of BiH women were completely disregarded in the Dayton Peace Agreement. The ‘women ghosts’ in the picture represent all of those left outside of the negotiations and the peace agreement.  

Photo credit: Sanja Vrzić; original photo WikiMedia commons.