Photo credit: WILPF

Essay 4:

Experimenting with neocolonialism: civilian administration of the peace agreement

The previous essays dealt extensively with the military aspects of the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA), showing how the DPA negotiators lacked vision and interest to fully demilitarise the society in order to create conditions for sustainable peace. We also focused on the mechanism deployed to preserve the gains of war: the ethno-nationalist authoritarian system. Our previous essays also revealed how the DPA created space for experimenting with neocolonialism. In this essay we continue with deconstructing neocolonialism and how it functioned within the parameters of the implementation of the DPA.

Excerpt from the Dayton Peace Agreement. Photo credit: WILPF

To understand how the neocolonial experiment was shaped, and its full ramifications for Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), we take a look at the parts of the DPA that deal with the so-called “civilian aspects of the peace settlement”.  These are the parts of the DPA that deal with “a wide range of activities including continuation of the humanitarian aid effort for as long as necessary; rehabilitation of infrastructure and economic reconstruction; the establishment of political and constitutional institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina; promotion of respect for human rights and the return of displaced persons and refugees; and the holding of free and fair elections” (see Annex 10).

These civilian aspects, in similar ways as the military aspects of the agreement, lacked a vision and interest to transform the structures of domination of ethno-national identities and social hierarchies created by war and patriarchy. In fact, the civilian aspects of the DPA were designed to support the only transformation the negotiators foresaw for BiH: a shift from socialist to capitalist political economy and an establishment of an international protectorate. To support this transformation, the DPA negotiators clearly foresaw a role for the international community (IC). 

Some of the activities of the IC have been helpful for preserving peace, especially the interventions made immediately after the war and directed at addressing the consequences of the war. However, we have to ask, why has the international community, which arrived in BiH to supposedly support the immediate implementation of the peace agreement, remained a permanent actor in the BiH’s economic and political structures? And for whose benefit? Spoiler alert: not for the benefit of the people living in BiH but for the benefit of the elites represented at the DPA negotiationsthat is, international and ethno-nationalist elites. In this essay we will use the civilian aspects of the DPA to unpack international neoliberal approaches and experiments of the IC with neocolonialism and imperialism.

Under the framework of peacebuilding, the DPA inserted the IC into every aspect of our society and our lives, awarding it very broad protectorate powers. The IC consists of a variety of international multilateral organisations, international non-governmental organisations, embassies, international financial institutions, special representative bodies, and similar. However, understanding exactly what, or who, makes up the IC is not that straight forward.

Under the framework of peacebuilding, the Dayton Peace Agreement inserted an amorphous international community, with all their acronyms, into every aspect of the society and people’s lives. Photo credit: WILPF

The DPA left open a space for different interpretations of the meaning of the IC. In certain parts, the DPA made specific references to specific organisations, assigning them specific tasks for specific periods of time. In other parts, the DPA is not so specific, laying ground for an amorphous IC that could draw its mandate from everywhere and everything, for as long as deemed necessary. In BiH public discourse the IC is frequently referred to as mighty power-holders. This power in some segments of political, economic, and social spaces is real, but many times it is arbitrarily claimed or assigned. 

Many aspects of the amorphous nature of the IC and the way it has extended and retained its authority over political, economic, social, and cultural processes in the country resembles colonialism. BiH has had a long history of oppression by various colonial powers, but this time neocolonialism has played out somewhat differently. This time the coloniser came under the cloak of a peacekeeper and not of a conqueror. The coloniser has not been an empire but always a combination of several countries, acting either in coordination or in discordance. This new form of colonialism has been allowing not just certain political elites and corporations to benefit, but also for global geopolitical rivalry to take place within the country’s internal political, economic, social, and cultural structures.

It is important to highlight that our critique of the IC in this essay is feminist, anti-colonial, and anti-capitalist. It opposes the ethno-nationalists’ views expressed in relation to the IC, which are clearly chauvinist and are in the service of preservation of conflict and fortification of their positions.

There is a need to engage in a critical discussion on the presence of the IC in BiH and its neocolonial character but this discussion must be free from the influence of the ethno-nationalist discourse. It is important to highlight that our critique of the IC in this essay is feminist, anti-colonial, and anti-capitalist. It opposes the ethno-nationalists’ views expressed in relation to the IC, which are clearly chauvinist and are in the service of preservation of conflict and fortification of their positions. 

4.1.1 Between ethno-nationalist autocrats and international custodians

Over these last 25+ years the IC has been very resourceful and innovative when it came to expanding its mandates. In a well-rehearsed performance with ethno-nationalist elites (and never without them) that had its premiere during the DPA negotiations, different organisations have broadened their mandates beyond recognition. This is particularly true for those international organisations that were named in the DPA. However, parts of the IC have, over time, claimed mandates that could not be traced back to the agreement. The extension and broadening of these mandates has meant a perpetual influx of new projects and subsequently new project funding. The lack of transparency in the evolution of the IC’s presence in BiH has also been complemented with further strengthening of the ethno-nationalist elites in power. Ethno-nationalist elites have used the lack of transparency around the IC’s mandate(s) to create tensions, and these tensions in return have been providing excuses for both the ethno-nationalist elites and the IC to remain in power eternally.  

The longevity of the IC’s presence in BiH is also enabled by what the  historian Maria Todorova calls Balkanism. Part of the Balkanism phenomenon is seeing the violence and divisions as natural and deeply ingrained in the psyche of the Balkan population. Balkanism is regularly used as an excuse by international elites to keep their share of power, presenting themselves as “facilitators” between the “tribes” that are “violent, wild and in constant conflict with each other”. Claims are frequently made that only international actors can save us from ourselves; these claims have always, and only, understood the context of BiH in the framework of ethnic antagonism.

The IC and the ethno-nationalist elites continue to enable each other, acting in coordination and insisting on preserving political and economic structures created by war violence.

The neocolonialism established in the DPA is a layered and multifaceted endeavour. The IC and the ethno-nationalist elites continue to enable each other, acting in coordination and insisting on preserving political and economic structures created by war violence. Sometimes they act together, sometimes side-by-side, and sometimes in seeming collision with each other. Their joint enterprise reminds us of the dynamics between parents and their children. It is reminiscent of situations when children repeatedly test their parents’ authority and power, greedily demanding more sweets and toys and the parents always end up awarding the children “the toy” they want. The constant quarrels that children start, without any particular reason, are proof that the children are far away from their adulthood, which is an excuse for the parents to keep parenting. This is a role that is not without its benefits. The parents do not look for new solutions but are stuck on extending their right to exercise authority. When you have three spoiled children, and several parents (who sometimes get along and sometimes bicker among themselves), the combinations are plentiful. 

The presence of the IC also provides fuel for the never-ending discussion about the “proper” implementation of the DPA. Ethno-nationalist have been continuously bickering about what decisions or institutions are in accordance with the DPA, regardless if that topic was part of the DPA or not. This keeps the BiH society constantly stuck within the framework of a peace agreement, never moving beyond the war narrative! These quarrels lead to a discussion about who is “privileged” and who is “chastised” by the IC. Given that there are three sets of ethno-nationalist elites, one of those is always claiming that their actions are in line with the IC’s wishes and can thus expect to be rewarded. In that case, at least one set of the ethno-nationalist elites is going to claim that the IC is either biased or acts outside of their mandate. All of the above leads to a discussion about what the departure of the IC would mean for BiH, the incorrect underlying assumption being that the IC is guarantor of existence of the state or of peace.  In fact, all of the dynamics that take place in relation to the IC’s presence in the country point to the IC only being a guarantor of capitalism and a combined ethno-nationalist elites’ and IC’s eternal rule in the country. 

As for the so-called ordinary Bosnian and Herzegovinians, well, we are stuck indefinitely with ethno-nationalist autocrats and international custodians. We have been doomed to live in a country run by spoiled and greedy children and their self-absorbed parents. They all keep telling us that they are working for our benefit, while their personal bank accounts grow and their careers advance. In the meantime, all of their “good work” has resulted in the depletion of the common good and public resources, pushing the BiH society further and further into inequality, oppression, and exploitation. 

4.1.2 Emissaries of neocolonial peace

Even though the DPA created space for just about any interested international entity to claim its piece of the IC’s cake, in certain parts, the DPA identified specific international organisations as implementers of specific tasks. The agreement specifically mentions the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and gives it three tasks: to help guide the negotiations to bring about regional stability (Annex 1-B); to supervise the preparations and conduct of free and fair elections (Annex 3); and to monitor, observe and report on human rights (Annex 6). Within the framework of its human rights mandate, the Chairman-in-Office of OSCE was also to appoint the first Human Rights Ombudsman. The OSCE Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina seems to have been really flexible in understanding the awarded mandate and has, over time, broadened it to include things such as border management, combating human trafficking, conflict prevention and resolution, education, counter terrorism, gender equality, and so forth. 

Other international organisations and multilateral bodies were also given specific tasks by the DPA. In addition to OSCE, the DPA also invited the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and its High Commissioner, to monitor the human rights situation in BiH (Annex 6). The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was to assist in development of a repatriation plan for the many BiH refugees scattered across the world, in consultations with asylum countries and the parties to the agreement. The repatriation plan was to assist an “early, peaceful, orderly and phased out return of the refugees” (Annex 7). Annex 7 also mentions the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) along with all “other relevant international, domestic and nongovernmental organizations”. They are given tasks in tracing persons, provision of humanitarian assistance (e.g. medical assistance, food distribution, temporary and permanent housing) but also monitoring of basic human rights and humanitarian conditions. In a similar manner as the OSCE, the involvement of the UN expanded far beyond the aforementioned agencies without any thought through strategies. The UN agencies kept coming to the country, expanding their projects and mandates, focusing more on how to stay as long as possible rather than thinking through what would support sustainable peace.

In addition, the DPA contains an annex specifically dealing with civilian implementation, i.e. Annex 10. It establishes an ad hoc international institution to facilitate and coordinate efforts around civilian implementation of the peace agreement, namely the Office of the High Representative (OHR), which is led by a High Representative (High Rep). The first High Rep was Carl Bildt, a Swedish diplomat. Before the appointment he was the European Union‘s (EU) Special Envoy to the Former Yugoslavia, a position he only held from June 1995 up until signing of the DPA.

Men, men and then some more men. Photo credit: Website of the Office of High Representative

Although the OHR is an international body, all of its eight High Reps have come from European countries; they have always been male; and their mandates have been relatively short, spanning from 1.5 to 3.5 years, apart from the most recent previous High Rep, who came to BiH in 2009 and held the position for over 12 years! The High Reps have come from Spain, Austria, United Kingdom, Germany, and Slovakia. The current High Rep, again a German, was appointed in May 2021 and took up office in August 2021. As it is appropriate when a new protector arrives, a red carpet was rolled out upon his arrival so that the entire diplomatic corps along with BiH people from the political and public life can come and pay him their allegiance (as in previous dynamics the absent were parts of the ethno-nationalist elites that are currently chastised).

This lack of transparency provided yet another platform for ethno-nationalist elites to spin this very clear colonial approach to their benefit.

The appointment of the latest High Rep showed how irrelevant the BiH people are for the IC. The nomination of the new High Rep was something that we learned through the media. To us as outside observers of the IC’s actions, it appears that the out-of-the-blue nomination of a German politician came as a result of Germany’s need to wrap-up its diplomatic appointments. We can imagine how this particular individual was left without a diplomatic post assignment, and given that retirement was not an option for him, a post had to be made up. It seemed as if suddenly they remembered that there is this position in BiH that one guy has been sitting on for more than 12 years! He seemed bored after that many years in BiH and maybe ready for retirement?! So why not initiate his replacement?! On a more serious note, this so-called election process was once again not transparent. This lack of transparency provided yet another platform for ethno-nationalist elites to spin this very clear colonial approach to their benefit. 

It is worth reflecting that this new High Rep seems to be coming with an additional mandate to protect the interests of the  European Union (EU), specifically in relation to recent EU’s obsessive racist politics of migration management. We draw this from his statement in which he talks about his goals as the High Rep. He stated that his greatest success would be if he could be the last High Rep, “handing over” a democratic BiH with secure borders (!) and orientated towards the EU. It is not clear to us to whom he is to “hand over” BiH since we have already learnt that they never think of citizens of BiH in such situations. So he is either talking about handing over the country entirely to the ethno-nationalist elites and their feudal rule, or to the IC to rule without the office of the High Rep. While we still have time to think about who the country is going to be handed over to, it is clear that the current High Rep represents the interests of the EU. More so as in this statement he clearly spells out “secure borders” as an OHR priority, which has more to do with the EU’s racist border policies than with peace in BiH.

The mandate that the DPA in its Annex 10 gives to the OHR is broad: to monitor the implementation of the peace settlement; to maintain contact with the parties to the agreement in order to ensure their compliance with all civilian aspects of the peace settlement, and to ensure their cooperation with each other and the other actors participating in the implementation; to coordinate the activities of the civilian organisations and agencies; to facilitate, as seen necessary, the resolution of any difficulties that may arise during the implementation; to participate in donor conferences and meetings; and to report periodically to the United Nations (UN), EU, United States (US), Russian Federation, and literally everyone else interested.

While the deployment of the troops as peacekeepers was expectedly an exclusively male endeavour, the civilian administration was also a highly male venture.

Worth noting is that the international obligations in the mid 1990’s were still without the women, peace and security framework. While the deployment of the troops as peacekeepers was expectedly an exclusively male endeavour, the civilian administration was also a highly male venture. Immediately after the war (and for a considerable extended time) all the tasks regarding the implementation of the DPA were given to men: the High Rep, the head of OSCE, and the head of the UN mission. To some extent this has changed in recent years, but women in high level positions are only those that comply with the neoliberal, patriarchal standards of diplomacy, international relations, and colonialism. 

The DPA mentions other international organisations, but in the capacity of appointers of foreign nationals to various BiH institutions. The Council of Europe was to appoint the President and some of the members of the Human Rights Chamber; the European Court for Human Rights to appoint three members of the Constitutional Court as well as members in other human rights related commissions; the International Monetary Fund to appoint the governor of the Central Bank; the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to appoint the Chairman and some members of the Commission on the Public Corporations; and finally, the UNESCO to appoint the Chairman and some members of the Commission to Preserve National Monuments. In all of these domestic institutions, the arranged composition was done according to the same principle: the head or the chief of the commission/institution was always a foreign national (the exception being Constitutional Court of BiH), while the positions reserved for nationals were reflective of the ethno-nationalist administrative divisions (read more about administrative divisions in essay 3). Where possible, the foreign national was given the deciding vote, reflecting the colonial distrust towards the competencies of the locals supported by the balkanism discourse. 

As regards the gender composition of the international appointees in BiH institutions, the classical patriarchal power relations were at play. The segments considered to be less important were assigned to women, while men were given more powerful positions. For example, the governor of the Central Bank and the head of the Commission for Public Corporations were male. The positions filled by women were related to cultural issues and human rights. Women were appointed to the Commission for Preservation of National Monuments, and the head of the Human Right Chamber was female. 

Today, the only remaining international appointments are those of the judges to the Constitutional Court of BiH made by the European Court for Human Rights.

In between agreeing (in Dayton, 21 November 1995) and signing (in Paris, 14 December 1995) the DPA, a Peace Implementation Conference was held in London on 8 and 9 December 1995. The road taken towards the peace agreement for BiH was that of the centuries long (imperialist!) practices of peace conferences, rather than through the mechanisms provided by the UN Charter. This time around the topic of the conference was not about divisions of the conquered territories between imperial powers, but the logic the IC deployed was that of securing soft powers through donor-recipient relations.

The conference established the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) that took upon itself to review progress and define the goals of the peace implementation process. The PIC has been made of 55 countries and agencies and a fluctuating number of observers. The PIC members have been countries and agencies that actively engaged in supporting the peace process in BiH, whether financially, with troops or directly running operations in BiH.

In addition to establishing the PIC, the London conference also established the Steering Board of the PIC to provide the High Rep with political guidance. The PIC Steering Board has 11 members. The PIC Steering Board consists of: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, the Presidency of the EU, the European Commission, and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, which is represented by Turkey. While it is not entirely clear to us why all these specific countries have been involved in “steering the peace” in BiH, the geopolitical nature of influence through cultural and ethno-national determinants is clear for Russia, Turkey, the US, and the EU (and sometimes the UK and Germany as individual countries).

One of many PIC Steering Board meetings held in the OHR office in Sarajevo. Photo credit: Website of the Office of High Representative

For us in BiH, especially those living in Sarajevo, those meetings are marked with traffic congestion created by a cordon of diplomats’ cars and their security. Other than that, we rarely remember that they even met.

Within these 25 years of peace implementation, the PIC met five more times at the ministerial level: in Florence, June 1996; London, December 1996; Bonn, December 1997; Madrid, December 1998; and Brussels, May 2000. The Steering Board has been meeting biweekly at the level of the Ambassadors to BiH, and twice a year at the level of political directors. Most of the time the so-called political directors are usually personified in high level political figures of their countries or institutions. For us in BiH, especially those living in Sarajevo, those meetings are marked with traffic congestion created by a cordon of diplomats’ cars and their security. Other than that, we rarely remember that they even met. 

The PIC Steering Board has been exercising its powers through applying political and economic pressure on the ethno-nationalist elites who have proven to be dependent on both financial and political support they receive from some of the countries or organisations represented in the PIC. The most influential countries in the PIC Steering Board have also been amongst the biggest donors and creditors of the BiH state. As such those countries have exercised subtle but firm economic influence in the country, and over at least one of the ethno-nationalist elites. 

The PIC is not a homogenous body and PIC Steering Board meetings are often affected by geopolitical turbulence. Consequently, BiH has become a theatre in which the competition for military superiority between the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and Russia has played out regularly, and in recent times increasingly. 

4.2.1 The Bonn powers – a punishment for the unruly children

Ancona, Italy. Richard Holbrooke the chief negotiator of the DPA and the first High Representative, Carl Bildt. Photo credit: A1C Charlie Parshley/The U.S. National Archives

The implementation of the DPA started with lots of confusion as regards the powers and mandates of the international organisations. Apart from those that were already in the country, many, many more arrived. When it came to awarding powers and tasks, as written above, the DPA was explicit only in relation to few of them. Other than that it was mostly vague, allowing for competition over influence and power of the direction of the peacebuilding in the country. The first High Rep, Carl Bildt, complained to PIC that the IC had no political strategy for implementation of the civilian aspects of the peace agreement. He further argued that too many actors and too many centers of power within the international structure, growing around the DPA implementation, were making his job impossible. The mix of vagueness, ambiguities, and power struggles within the IC was enriched with the always (dis)obedient, (un)satisfied, and quarrelling ethno-nationalist elites who considered that they should only be privileged and never chastised.

The solution to Carl Bildt’s complaints were the so-called Bonn powers, named after the conference in Bonn in 1997. At the conference, the PIC confirmed its support to “the High Representative’s intention to use his final authority in theatre regarding interpretation of the Agreement on the Civilian Implementation of the Peace Settlement in order to facilitate the resolution of difficulties by making binding decisions, as he judges necessary”. The binding decisions were limited to the following issues: timing, location, and chairmanship of meetings of the common institutions; and situations when the parties were unable to reach agreement, at which point the High Rep could introduce interim measures that were to remain in force until the Presidency or the Council of Ministers adopted a decision consistent with the DPA. The so-called Bonn powers also allowed the High Rep to introduce other measures that might include actions against persons holding public office or officials who were by the High Rep found to be in violation of legal commitments made under the DPA. As when dealing with unruly children who skip a school class, the High Rep has also been allowed to use Bonn-powers to punish those who were absent from meetings “without good cause”. 

Up until 2012 the OHR used the Bonn powers 899 times. A lot of these decisions related to removal of public officials. According to the High Rep, those officials were in violation of legal commitments made under the DPA or the terms for its implementation. One of the recurring causes for removal was obstruction of the refugee return process. The removals affected officials at various levels, including mayors, ministers, members of the Presidency, heads of intelligence agencies and so forth. At the beginning, the removal of the officials meant that the removed person was prohibited from performing any public duty and/or holding any leading position in a political party. Later, the High Rep gradually limited the usage of his own powers to the removal of persons from public office, but not from activities such as leading a party or managing a public institution. 

After 2012 a long break in using the Bonn powers was taken and it is only recently, in July 2021, that they were used again – maybe to round up the number to 900?! A few days before his departure, the previous High Rep, finally after more than 12 years of his rule (!), decided to intervene in widely present glorification of war criminals and genocide denial in the political discourse and public narrative in BiH. He suddenly reemerged from his winter sleep and decided to use the Bonn powers. He introduced amendments to the BiH Criminal Code, through which the glorification of war criminals convicted by final and binding judgments and the denial of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes became sanctionable. 

However, we have to express our doubts here that the High Rep was acting out of his whim and suddenly used the Bonn powers for commonsense. Most probably he had the backing of the wider IC. The timing of the intervention came in a specific period when both autocratic ethno-nationalist regimes and neocolonial international elites have started being questioned by the people of BiH through different protests and demands. In the moment where people have become acutely aware of the looming economic crisis caused by the years of ethno-nationalist and international corruption and heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic, the High Rep introduces amendments that legal analysts have already said will be difficult to implement (as we are already seeing in for example the enforcement of criminal provisions relating to the non-implementation of the decisions of the Constitutional Court of BiH and judgments of the European Court of Human Rights). Not only are the amendments vague, leaving much space for legal interpretations, but it is also unrealistic and naive to think that an already weakened judiciary can be an efficient tool for dealing with widespread hate rhetoric and fascist politics. At the same time, his use of the Bonn powers provided a perfect opportunity for the ethno-nationalist elites to blast out their fascist  ideologies, consolidate their echelons, and reaffirm their separatist claims. This intervention has reinvigorated the claims of both the ethno-nationalist elites and the IC that their presence is neededthe ethno-nationalists to protect the ethnic groups and the IC to protect the peace. Yet, this is the very same narrative that has been present for the last 25 years, during which neither peace nor the ethnic groups have been protected. 

The High Rep’s intervention also comes in the context of increased engagement of the IC with respect to the widespread corruption among the political elites. The intervention shifted the narrative from talking about corruption among the political elites to the need to safeguard the interest of the ethno-national groups. Secondly, the intervention came in the midst of the ongoing discussions on the amendments to the Election Law. It opened up a space for what Naomi Kleine refers to as “shock doctrine”the usage of violent or shocking events to push through policies that would otherwise be met with opposition. In BiH terms, the violent or shocking event is the so-called political crisis.  It is now used to amend the Election Law, favouring the solutions proposed by the ethno-nationalist elites that are in contravention to the judgments of the European Court for Human Rights (for more details see our essay 3). 

Finally, the sudden use of the Bonn powers comes immediately after the failed intensive Russian-Chinese campaign to close the OHR (which is coordinated with Serb ethno-nationalists). The intervention provided the proof that the OHR is still needed to preserve the peace. Unfortunately for us, the currently proposed closure of the OHR is driven by the Russian-Chinese ambitions to fill the space that would be left open by a retreating US-EU coalition in BiH (symbolised in the OHR) and not by an honest intent to make the country functional and ensure a sustainable peace. The people of BiH are again left with a choice between two evils. 

Despite the rhetoric of both the ethno-nationalist elites and the IC of an “ongoing political crisis,” the fact is that causing and perpetuating political and economic crises is the modus operandi of the ethno-nationalist elites and the IC. This “new crisis” is hardly new. The crisis mode has been our normal since the war. 

4.2.2 No political risks taken!

It is worth noting that the use of Bonn powers was extensive, in particular when it came to the economic and legal system.

However, the Bonn powers were not just used against unruly individual ethno-nationalist politicians. Using the ability to impose binding decisions in situations when the parties were unable to reach agreement, the High Rep also used his Bonn powers for imposition of laws. The imposed laws varied in their topics. They included amendments to the entity constitutions, decisions on the laws concerning “identity determination” (e.g. flag, symbols, citizenship, anthem, and similar), registration plates, state currency, taxation laws, criminal laws, establishment of judicial institutions and procedures for appointment of judges and prosecutors. It is worth noting that the use of Bonn powers was extensive, in particular when it came to the economic and legal system. For example, the laws on taxation, benefit payments, and privatisation, drafting of which should contain all the usual political and ideological dynamics of a multiparty system, were also imposed by the High Rep.

The imposed laws were not necessarily in direct connection with the implementation of the DPA, unless imposing capitalism was understood as the task arising out of the DPA! The London Peace Conference in its conclusions clearly spelled out that the peace should result in an “establishment of an open, free market economy”. Consequently, the laws, reflective of the predominant neoliberal ideology among its (international) drafters and their intention to transform the society into a market economy, were imposed as interim measures and later passed through the parliamentary procedure. As it turned out, it was mainly the ethno-nationalist elites who had the direct benefit from such transformation, along with big corporations, which sold their branded products, and international finance capitalism.  

A very interesting dynamic was created: laws frequently had to be imposed by the High Rep before they could be smoothly passed in the parliament. Ethno-nationalists in power, who in fact benefited from the laws that were unpopular among their constituencies, e.g. increases in Value Added Tax, could not publicly support such laws as they risked losing segments of power or their voters. In such a situation, the ethno-nationalists would manufacture “an opposition” to the proposed law and prevent agreements from being reached through normal parliamentary procedures. The High Rep’s hand then would be forced, whereby the process of using the Bonn powers and imposing laws would become a fact.

The Bonn powers undoubtedly created a very dynamic (political) playground for the ethno-nationalists, many of them emerging stronger than ever, after the Bonn powers had been used.

The ethno-nationalists could thus claim the imposed law was not their political solution, that they are powerless to do anything about it, and if it suited them, paint a picture of themselves as “defenders” of “their” ethno-national group’s interest. However, once the law was imposed, a sudden change of heart would take place. The ethno-nationalists would proclaim the law to be in the interests of the ethnic group they claim to represent. The ethno-nationalists would then use both expedient and standard procedures, depending on the topic but also on the level of urgency, to adopt the law. The Bonn powers undoubtedly created a very dynamic (political) playground for the ethno-nationalists, many of them emerging stronger than ever, after the Bonn powers had been used. 

The created dynamic was that of parents making their children perfidious: no matter whether the children were capable of doing their homework on their own, it was more beneficial for them to wait for the parents to do it instead. In this way, the ethno-nationalists elites took no political risks but caused significant damage to society, further depoliticising it. The way the laws were passed not only relieved the ethno-nationalists of the responsibility to their constituents but it also relieved the constituents from actively engaging in the decision-making process about their future and the society in which they want to live. The High Rep and the entire IC have been more than willing to play this game, as it also shrunk the space for development of a functional political opposition that could challenge the imposed capitalist ideology formulated around peacebuilding. 

4.2.3 The European Union – the new superhero in town

Some seven years into the establishment of the office of the High Rep, the person performing the duty, as if he was some Marvel superhero, got one more super power. In 2002, in addition to having the powers and mandate arising from the DPA and its implementation, he also became the European Union Special Representative in BiH (EUSR). The High Reps performed this double duty until 2011. 

In 2011 the two offices (High Rep and EUSR) were formally separated when the European Union (EU) took over the more prominent role of “navigating” the country on its way towards EU accession. Subsequently, the EUSR powers and authorities, following a decision of the Council of the European Union, were joined together with the Head of the European Union Delegation Office.

Once the separation of the offices took place, the position of the High Rep seems to have lost its superhero status. The Head of the EU Delegation, now double-hatted (EUSR and the Head of the EU Delegation), has taken a more prominent role with some of the superhero powers. The everchanging conditionalities for BiH’s accession to the EU, along with the funding that comes with it, have turned the EU into a political and economic power holder.  

Subsequently the OHR was pushed to the background and “demoted” to a supporting role. The closure of OHR was discussed, as early as 2008 when the PIC adopted a set of criteria to be met before its closure. However, even though the High Rep has not been doing much since 2008 (just perpetually expressing that he is concerned), the criteria for the closure of the office do not seem to have been met yet. The OHR remains in the country, even though Russia has been pushing hard for its office to close. In an interview, the EUSR announced that the new German High Rep will come with “the whole arsenal of powers”. Maybe this time the “arsenal” will be equivalent to the powers of a whole Avengers team. 

The decrease in influence of OHR did not mean reduction of certain countries’ involvement. The UK, Germany, US, Turkey, and Russia exercise continuous influence over BiH’s cultural, political, and economic spheres, along with a bunch of other countries and corporations that have represented various interest-zones for the ethno-nationalist elites. Six months after the new High Rep took office we see the Avengers team of those countries deployed to BiH, but acting more and more detached from the High Rep.

The implementation of the DPA was conducted as if the war and subsequent peace agreement represented ground zero for BiH. The politics of forgetting (also discussed in our previous essay) were immediately deployed under the pretense of reforms and transitioning of the society from war to peace. However, what was also very much at play were the intentions to hide the political and economic transition from socialism to capitalism, in order to open a new market for the global capital. As noted by social anthropologist and ethnographer Stef Jansen, the DPA set conditions for a much broader political and economic agenda: the introduction of a capitalist economic model that was “embedded in a wider depoliticised discourse of ‘reforms,’” where “the need for ‘reforms’ was not up for discussion.” Using the excuse of educating the uneducated, the politics of historical revision and erasure of socialist history and systems were deployed. 

Using the excuse of implementation of the peace agreement, the IC used its powers to transform the previous system. Considering the socialist legacy of BiH’s economic and political system grounded in the idea of self-management, the transition to capitalism was necessary for the neocolonial endeavour to succeed. Already the DPA provided a framework for the consolidation of the transition to capitalism. In order for the neocolonial machinery to be able to exploit resources and people, much of the socialist political economy had to be removed. An example is the fact that the socialist concept of social ownership had to be entirely transformed in order to enable the process of privatisation of public property and natural resources (see essay 6). 

4.3.1 Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the most (in)competent reformer of them all

There were many, many interventions into our political, economic, and social systems. A lot of these were not interventions designed for the needs of the BiH post-war society. Rather the interventions were a mirror-reflections of the systems the international “experts” brought with them from their home countries. So for example, the reform of the public broadcasting system was led by the British media expert John Shearer, a former BBC employee. Replicating the neoliberalisation of the BBC he insisted on profitability of the public broadcasting system. However, the public broadcasting system could never compete with commercial TV stations as the financial support for it to fulfill its public role remained absent, and has constantly been on the verge of bankruptcy. At the same time, the reforms he led mirrored the territorial divisions from the DPA and created three public broadcasting organisations (state level, and two entity level broadcasting systems). Thus BiH ended up with three public broadcasting stations being used as propaganda machines of the ethno-nationalist elites. 

Furthermore, the reforms of the justice system that were introduced as part of the peacebuilding efforts changed our legal tradition. Some improvements of the justice system were necessary, in particular to enable effective dealing with the legacies of war and war atrocities. However, it was never made clear by the reformers why a perfectly functional legal tradition had to be replaced. Within the criminal law we went from an inquisitorial to an adversarial system when the High Rep, with the support from the American Bar Association, imposed new criminal codes and new criminal procedure codes. A similar approach was used for the civil procedures, shifting away from the Continental Legal system towards a Common Law, but ending up with some form of a hybrid legal system.

The point is, with the changes in our legal system, the knowledge and experiences of many judges and prosecutors educated within the inquisitorial and continental system, for no particular reason, were rendered useless. 

These reforms were not based on an argument that the previous system, which continues to be used around the world, was dysfunctional. The reforms were rather an outcome of the fact that the drafters of the new laws were Americans and the American legal tradition was closer to their hearts. Perhaps if a German or French legal team drafted the laws, or if the drafters, perish the thought, asked the BiH legal community what they considered to be the best option, we would have stayed within the inquisitorial legal system. The point is, with the changes in our legal system, the knowledge and experiences of many judges and prosecutors educated within the inquisitorial and continental system, for no particular reason, were rendered useless.

However, the reforms did not stop with interventions being based on systems imported from elsewhere. The reformers competed in making as many different interventions they could think of and experiment with. Some of these were totally new inventions of the IC. The OSCE, for example, took the lead on reforming parts of the educational system in an attempt to facilitate return. The curricula taught in schools in some parts of the country reflected ethno-nationalist narratives created by the war, which were hateful of the returnee groups. Together with other parts of the IC, the OSCE helped shape the so-called Interim Agreement on Accommodation of the Rights and Needs of Returnee Children (the Agreement), creating what has become known as “two schools under one roof”otherwise known as apartheid. The phrase “two schools under one roof” refers to a system in which children in a single school have been physically separated by ethnicity, and kept from interacting with each other. Children have been learning from different curriculums. Subjects such as language, history, religion, and geography have been given the status of the so-called national group of subjects, basically providing a platform for the ethno-nationalist elite to continue infusing the educational system with nationalism and exclusion and thus, creating new generations that would prove the thesis of Balkanism. In turn, the anticipated hatred among the tribes will provide the IC with the excuse to remain in BiH forever. The Agreement was signed in 2002 and is still applied. We were not able to find the text of the Agreement online. It seems the Agreement is no longer available for the public, but some traces of it remain.

A high school in Travnik. One of many designated as “two schools under one roof”. The yellow part of the building is where the children identifying as Bosniaks go. The blue part of the building is Catholics School Centre, where children identifying as Croats go. Invisible in the picture is the fence dividing the school yard. Photo credit: Krešimir Bikić/WikiMedia commons

As it has turned out, nothing about this interim Agreement was interim. The Agreement gave the ethno-nationalist elites everything they dreamt of, but would not dare to realise on their own: an exclusive access to children to brainwash. It was handed to them on a golden platter. Although this Agreement was not a sole invention of the OSCE, the OSCE had a prominent role in creating this apartheid system. Subsequently, the OSCE has been trying to whitewash its shameful role in the creation of this apartheid system, which they now call “discrimination”. An award was given to children from the municipality of Jajce who stood up against the division of their school. This means that OSCE gave an award for actions protesting against the very politics OSCE helped establish!

This is a context which makes for almost a classical colonial rule: a corrupted local elite enabled by international governance, both benefiting economically and politically from the exploitation of people and extraction of local resources.

The interventions into our systems did not necessarily always have to do with direct  economic benefits for the colonisers. Some of the interventions were more along the lines of power games through which the politics of forgetting and depoliticisation of the society would be deployed. Both of those methods, whether used jointly or separately, had the same goal: to prevent critical analysis and sovereign decision-making of the people living in BiH regarding the presence of the IC in the country. This is a context which makes for almost a classical colonial rule: a corrupted local elite enabled by international governance, both benefiting economically and politically from the exploitation of people and extraction of local resources. 

4.3.2 There is no such thing as ideologically neutral reforms or unconditional support

The reforms introduced within the framework of international peacebuilding endeavour were never ideologically neutral. The reforms of the police, judiciary, criminal law, civil law, army, education, media restructuring, human rights mechanisms, etc. were all infused with the ideas of neoliberal peace. Moreover, a whole range of other reforms, deeply embedded in the ideology of capitalism and functioning of a capitalist political economy, were also implemented: privatisation, taxation, banking system, business-related laws, and so forth. 

One of the biggest reform packages containing changes to several laws was appropriately named “Bulldozer reformsits name intentionally or unintentionally demonstrating the sovereign force behind them. The OHR claimed that this was not an internationally driven initiative and that the OHR, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and the European Commission are only part of it to make sure that reforms were in line with “international norms and standards” (i.e. capitalism!) and that the reforms were driven by the “local business people”. The aim of the reforms was to deregulate the market and build a “flexible modern economy” open for foreign investments and global capital. In case it was not clear why this was good for the BiH society, an appropriate brochure was printed called Privatization: what it is, how it works, and why should I care.

A screenshot of a page from the OHR brochure promising only successes and no failures. The brochure says nothing about the corruption and destruction the privatisation process brought with it. Instead of long-term jobs the people of BiH were thrown into long-term unemployment. Photo credit: WILPF, screenshot of page 4 of the brochure “Privatization: what it is, how it works, and why should I care”

With the reforms came both money and sovereign debt. The money that arrived came as either grants, loans, investments, or in-kind donations in the form of experts, equipment, technology, materials, and much, much more. Almost all of it was conditioned. Some was conditioned with implementation of other reforms pushing BiH further into neoliberalism; some was conditioned with spending the aid money on purchasing expertise, equipment, or technological solutions from the country providing the aid; some of it was conditioned with privatisation of BiH’s public companies and access to natural resources and markets for global capital and private exploitation. An inexhaustible source of conditionalities seemed to be at disposal for the IC. 

Benefiting from the politics of forgetting, as if their policies did not have a part in the dissolution of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) that ended up in wars, international financial institutions (IFIs) became an important ingredient in this peacebuilding soup. IFIs, in particular the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), have played a key role in influencing and shaping BiH’s political economy. More than anything else, the role of the IFIs was to restructure the economic system so that BiH could leave behind the dark ages of socialism and enter into the light of capitalism. A paper prepared by the World Bank, EBRD, and European Commission from 1996, ahead of a donor meeting, laid out a vision for BiH’s post-war recovery. It stressed the need to undertake “market-economy reforms to fundamentally modify its [Bosnia and Herzegovina’s] legal, regulatory, private sector and financial frameworks;” it further identified the international private sector as an important source of resources; and recognised sustainable [economic] policies as “critical to achieving high economic growth, and eventually, creditworthiness.” 

The grants and loans meant more money for the corrupt ethno-nationalist elites to appropriate. Not much thought was given to how the loans would be repaid ordinary people and their tax money, or natural resources were available. What was certain was that the loans would be repaid with interest to the international creditors.

Although many of the economic reforms were implemented as part of the peacebuilding, their effects were not measured in terms of their contribution to peacebuilding.

This neocolonial and neoliberal approach was of course not much different from the IFI’s general approach in post-war societies at the timepeace was to be facilitated by the private-sector and the market, and supposed prosperity those bring. Although many of the economic reforms were implemented as part of the peacebuilding, their effects were not measured in terms of their contribution to peacebuilding. The benchmarks of success were rather how well the reforms supported the key elements of neoliberalismstrong private property rights, free market, and free trade. This in turn, it was believed, would attract foreign investments and ensure a stable inflow of foreign currency, ultimately protecting the interests of the IFIsnamely repayment of debt. Protecting the interest of the people living in BiH was not on the agenda. 

In this macro-economic scheme, there was no room for looking at how people’s experiences of war shaped their economic realities in peace. There was no room for understanding what needs had to be addressed, as a matter of priority, in order for “ordinary” citizens to participate in and benefit from the announced “progress”. For Bosnian and Herzegovinians to be able to benefit from any economic recovery coming their way, investments in social infrastructure (public healthcare, education, child and elderly care, communications networks, etc.) and livelihoods had to be prioritised. Redistributive mechanisms had to be put in place to ensure that the progress would be equitably shared. Furthermore, a key predisposition for creating  conditions for sustainable peace was an immediate addressing of war related violations and harms. Regrettably, all of this has been secondary to the investments in the free market. 

This neoliberal understanding of what is “worth” investing in, and who participates in the economy (and how!), has been instrumental for the growing inequality gap between those with access to power and resources and the remaining 99% of the society that is left empty handed. In particular, the absence of reflections (and later adequate actions!) about the various ways women participate in the economy, as well as reflections on structural inequalities built into the political and economic system emerging as part of the peacebuilding approach in BiH, has had disastrous effects on gender equality. Women, as one of the most disregarded groups in the DPA (along with Roma people), and their social, economic, and political realities have continued to be invisible throughout the various reforms rolled out.

4.3.3. The spoils of the free market

For the well preserved ethno-nationalist elites in BiH the transition to capitalism and the introduction of the free market also meant free access to the country’s resources. In addition to natural resources, land, and public companies the spoil was the money that came in for reconstruction. After looting and pillaging during the war, the skills they acquired came in handy in peace. The ethno-nationalist elites, having sufficient and uninterrupted decision-making power and the access needed, happily threw themselves over these new fortunes and embezzled billions of US dollars. The IC, with its protectorate and monitoring powers, turned a blind eye to this embezzlement, as the products they intended to place were placed and the repayment of loans that they had given had been ensured.

The IC has been very flexible when it comes to ethno-nationalist elites’ bad behaviour. Bad behaviour has been tolerated as long as it was beneficial for both of them and has not gone against the IC’s central tenetthe introduction of capitalism, or more precisely, a neoliberal model of free market economy. The IC remained idle as long as international capital was not threatened. The most conspicuous example of this is how the International Monetary Fund has had no problems approving new credit lines, despite the recognition of state-capture, organised crime, and corruption at all levels of government. 

4.3.4 A colonial reset button for gender equality

Gender equality was never officially part of any major reforms. During the initial phase of the post-war recovery and reconstruction there were no particular reforms dealing with women’s rights or gender equality in general. The interventions were rather made through a combination of donor projects and neoliberal co-optation of feminist concepts. Whatever reformation of gender equality took place, it happened through cumulative effects of various non-governmental organisation (NGO)-run projects. However, the activities that were implemented through the NGOs, with the financial support from the IC, were usually designed and implemented without any reference to the previous achievements of women’s equality struggles in the BiH context. The existing feminist knowledge and institutional memory was ignored and the IC supported only ideologically-neutral women’s activism.

Donor-driven gender equality projects did very little to dismantle the patriarchal structures of oppression. Rather, they reified them and repackaged them. For example, claiming to be tackling violence against women, donors encouraged the formation of the women’s NGOs that were utilized for service provision. This went hand-in-hand with the ongoing neoliberal interventions into the relationship between the public and the private sector, where the service providing NGOs suddenly became the private actors to which the governments outsourced their obligations. 

As with other reforms and interventions, the projects in gender equality were used to support the transition to capitalism. In fact, the projectized approach to gender equality was never about dismantling the patriarchy. Rather, the politics of forgetting were also applied in this area. What took place was a total (ideological) reset of the space within which the struggle for women’s rights took place. Forgotten was the fact that equality provisions in the SFRY formally guaranteed women significant rights, including equal pay, the right to vote, equal property rights in marriage, and universal education. Compared to the pre-socialist period, these rights constituted considerable advances for women’s liberation that were now completely disregarded. The donor-driven projects pretended that they were starting from scratch, and in the larger process of transforming the country’s political and economic system actually managed to import or deepen some of the gender inequalities. Instead of advancing gender equality we have been facing setbacks that create ideal space for continuous project interventions.

The implementation of the DPA started almost immediately after the agreement was reached. What was very visible was that in addition to uniforms with blue helmets and journalists with cameras who were present during the war, other internationals started arriving. This time in suits and with briefcases, project proposals, and ideas that their organisation or country is the most important player on the ground. Some arrived with money, some with ideas, some with ambitions, some with compassion and out of solidarity, some looking for adventure, many with orientalist understandings of the unreasonable Balkan men and subservient and victimised women that needed to be “helped” in establishing “a new, democratic society”.

Important men arriving at the Sarajevo airport, ready to roll up their sleeves and build peace. Photo credit: The U.S. National Archives

The suits that arrived came as peace missionaries with ambitions to participate in the experiment of an internationally led, liberal, peacebuilding mission. They arrived in abundance, many without clear vision or knowledge of either peacebuilding or the BiH context. Fair enough, some had mandates arising out of the DPA, but many arrived just because the civilian aspect of the DPA was so broad and undetermined that everyone interested could find the reason to come to BiH. What some of them ended up doing was entirely up to their imagination and creativity; the space left wide open by the deployed politics of forgetting. There was no oversight or quality control, and trial and error-phases were plentiful. No matter the failures, as long the project was finalised according to its project document, it was considered successful. 

4.4.1 A well-oiled international peace machinery

In addition to the international men with the big task of exercising political power and making decisions, many other internationals came either to support those men to exercise their power(s) or to do some other important, or not so important, jobs related to liberal peacebuilding. Not all of those internationals were men, of course. Many women came to support BiH women, first as providers of humanitarian aid and services, and later as mentors for building NGOs. They all scattered across BiH, bringing their ideas, understandings, and prejudices about peace, democracy, rule of law, equality, justice, and market economy. Of course, BiH was also an attractive destination for many, not just for those seeking the establishment and advancement of their careers in the international development and peacebuilding businesses, but also because of BiH’s geographic position and relative safety. All those diligent upcoming diplomats, humanitarian workers, and future experts could go for long weekend breaks to swim or sun bath at the Adriatic coast, hike or ski at nearby mountains, or roam the streets of Rome, Florence, or any European city for that matter.  

True, as with anything else, there have been exceptions to the rule. Among the internationals were people who were dedicated peacemakers who tirelessly tried to use their knowledge, experiences, and positions to bring about and influence the changes that could help to achieve peace. Some of them even tried to oppose the neocolonial approach of the international community, to question neoliberal dogmas, and to challenge political identitarian and economic capitalist solutions. However, most of them, if not all, were very quickly removed from the well-oiled machinery that the international peacebuilding community was becoming. Needless to say, what we are addressing in this essay are the trends and the approaches, not the individuals.

4.4.2 All expertise and no accountability

Illustrative. When the war stopped, instead of bombs projects, project managers, peacekeepers and peacebuilders started raining down on the country. Photo credit: Sanja Vrzić

A lot of these ambitious people (and also the less ones) ended up drafting our laws and imagining our institutions and systems. Those jobs, given the actual level of expertise and competency required, were highly paid. But the high pay did not necessarily correspond to the qualifications of the individuals. Many were, in fact, without any adequate professional experience. 

Nonetheless, they were considered experts. Even if they did not have any knowledge of the BiH context or the area in which they worked. For example, one could find an environmental lawyer leading a project on transitional justice, or a recent university graduate managing a complex demining project. They penetrated every segment of BiH society. They managed reconstruction of houses, elections, micro-credit programmes, assisted trauma victims, designed national symbols such as the flag, reformed the institutions, provided training in gender mainstreaming, worked on war crimes, researched the society, and told us all about it later. They were also non-violent communicators, musicians, and performers; they ran peace camps, provided humanitarian aid, and helped start local NGOs. 

These drafters, proposers, and managers enjoyed a special status in society, even if they caused damage (which many of them did). They were untouchable, and enjoyed high levels of immunity. Their mistakes, or the malfunctioning of the systems they put in place, were usually blamed on the locals and their lack of capacity to adapt to it. They remained above the BiH system and state. As Kimberly Coles explains “internationals do not partake or minimally partake in the services provided by public and private Bosnian institutions (such as identification services, banking, healthcare and hospitals, transportation), and they were not always subject to Bosnian state regulations (such as border controls, taxes, traffic laws). On the other hand, international organisations often provide replacement services to their international employees, either individually or in consortium.” Thus, a whole new class, systems, and industry emerged around the internationals.

Consequently the implementation of the peace agreement turned into a full-fledged peacebuilding industry with ambitious people working on their CVs.

The market for peace entrepreneurship was created and open. All those energetic internationals could not miss such an opportunity. And if they could not find their spot in an already existing organisation there was nothing to prevent them from establishing a new, usually international, NGO, and to find a mandate for themselves. Consequently the implementation of the peace agreement turned into a full-fledged peacebuilding industry with ambitious people working on their CVs. 

4.4.3 A joint venture

In support of this growing industry, people from BiH were given mostly technical and administrative roles. They became interpreters, financial and project assistants, secretaries, and eventually also project and mid-level managers. The advancement of their careers depended on them perfecting the project management lingua and keeping away from any criticism. They had to stay in line with the set politics, even if those politics were damaging for peace and ultimately for the people of BiH. Some of the BiH employees have remained in an international organisation for a very long time, albeit with much lower salaries and with different contracts than the internationals. Others have ventured into establishing their own NGOs. Replicating the logic of obedient BiH employees in international organisations, these newly established NGOs could count on international donors as long as they remained in line and refrained from criticising the neocolonial politics of IC.

Finally, the peace industry could not reach its full potential without being a joint enterprise of internationals and ethno-nationalist elites.

Finally, the peace industry could not reach its full potential without being a joint enterprise of internationals and ethno-nationalist elites. They jointly partake in finding excuses to keep stirring conflict so that the manufacturing of peacebuilding interventions is always in demand. And as long as there are resources that attract the neocolonial (IC) and neofeudal (ethno-nationalist) elites, both of them neoliberal and capitalist, there will be reasons for commodification of the conflict(s) and consequently peacebuilding interventions.

We could list numerous ideas and solutions the IC and ethno-nationalists have been creating, forcing us to navigate around them in our everyday lives. However, we would need a thousand more pages to cover them all.

The ethno-nationalist elites were never against the transition to capitalism and the neoliberal politics of the free market, as they saw that they could retain and fortify their power positions within such a system.

Unfortunately for us who live in BiH, the imposed peacebuilding approach has created a hybrid neocolonial and neofeudal society. The colonial (the IC) powers have been extracting from us what they needed: cheap labour, natural resources, and profit. Parallel to this, the ethno-nationalist elites have continued their feudal rule in territories under their control, often seemingly obstructing and opposing the aforementioned reforms and restructuring. However, this opposition was never ideological. The ethno-nationalist elites were never against the transition to capitalism and the neoliberal politics of the free market, as they saw that they could retain and fortify their power positions within such a system. Rather the ethno-nationalist elites disagreed (if that even was the case) with the IC and among themselves how power positions were to be divided, or how the access to common good and natural and public resources were to be distributed. 

What is clear is that the combination of mandates awarded in the DPA and the mandates of international organisations, international NGOs, donors, and private consultancy companies, imagined and reimagined our society. Most of the time it has been peacebuilding without building the peace. The massive number of laws and reforms raining down on us also meant that the people of BiH, including many professionals, were not able to navigate around all of them. They found themselves silently accepting them and doing their best to catch up with this new, modern yet traditional society emerging in front of their eyes.

What changed, sometimes many times over, was the shape of the space, the format, within which they applied, exercised and abused their powers.

The reforms undertaken, however, never touched the structures of power created by the DPA. The sovereign reign of the ethno-nationalist elites was never threatened by the reforms, nor was the context created in which the meddling of the IC would become obsolete. What changed, sometimes many times over, was the shape of the space, the format, within which they applied, exercised and abused their powers. For example, the many reforms of the justice system have not produced any results. In fact, it has taken less than ten years for the ethno-nationalist political elite to infiltrate, populate, and corrupt this new system with their cronies who follow and support their ethno-kleptocratic politics. The system in which everyone and no one has the right to write and impose laws, and to initiate and implement reforms, has created ample space for corruption that has become the modus operandi of all elites, from ethno-nationalists, internationals, to corporations. What we have seen in these past 25 years is that the neocolonial attempts of the IC to civilise and europeanise “the barbarians” have resulted in strengthening of the narratives that contribute to excuses of the IC and ethno-nationalist elites to remain in power, and for new power actors to emerge. 

The case of BiH and the way the DPA was negotiated and implemented show the dangers and long term implications of sidelining the UN as a peace facilitator. This not only weakened peacebuilding but also the UN itself. After its failed peacekeeping operation in BiH during the war, the UN was excluded from direct involvement in negotiation of the DPA. Consequently, the DPA became a new social contract that was not anchored in the UN system, but was reached among specific countries that had some geopolitical interest in BiH. True, in order to function as an international document some elements were ostensibly recognised and confirmed by the UN through various resolutions and discussions at the level of the General Assembly and/or Security Council. However, from the perspective of us living here the involvement of the UN is merely for showan occasional theatre.

Forgotten is the idea of international solidarity that should be at the core of the UN mandate for building sustainable and just peace.

As for the UN in the country, it was marginalised in the DPA and it has remained marginalised to date. The UN mission was established immediately after the war, but as it was the case with peace keeping operations, it was made ineffective. As feminist activists, we remember the mission mostly by the arrogance of the head of the mission, Jaques Paul Klein, and his role in the UN cover-up of the sex-trafficking scandal in BiH. The UN mission’s mandate expired in December 2002. Today, the UN is present in the country through the United Nations Country Team, which, while having plenty of staff, is reduced to a mere recipient of donor funding, often in competition with BiH NGOs. The so-called successes of these projects are only made known if we read their PR materialthe field often tells a different story. Forgotten is the idea of international solidarity that should be at the core of the UN mandate for building sustainable and just peace. The sidelining of the UN in the DPA along with the neoliberalisation of the UN itself, transformed the idea of international solidarity into just another neoliberal exercise in geopolitics. 

The implementation of the DPA, and in particular the usage of Bonn powers, has been dependent on the continuous agreement between the states that have had particular geopolitical interests, as we have seen over the time through the meetings of the PIC. While there was a common interest of all involved, the High Rep had unlimited powers to intervene in political and economic processes in BiH, under the excuse of peace implementation. However, when the global geopolitical dynamics changed, the dynamics in BiH also changed, along with alliances and the balance of power struck between the different PIC countries. For example, over time, some parts of the IC have clustered around economic reforms, financial aid, credits, and the conditionalities attached to them. The European Union, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank, along with some individual countries (most prominently US, Germany, and UK) most often act in unison.

The peacebuilding established in such a way turned out to be just another power struggle between the global players instead of meeting the needs of people living in BiH trying to recover from the war.

Other parts of the IC, for example Russia or Turkey, have their own agendas and often act unilaterally. Increased tensions between Russia and NATO in the 2010s reflect also the dynamics within the PIC and the use of Bonn powers. Russia started more and more to use the division between three ehnic groups as part of its play towards NATO. This new game demanded new alliances with some of the ethno-nationalist elites, resulting in Russia actively obstructing PIC decisions. Until recently, an uninterested and neutral China has started economically to engage in the region, abandoning its neutral position towards the peacebuilding process in BiH. This has brought its struggle for economic hegemony with the US to BiH’s doorsteps. The peacebuilding established in such a way turned out to be just another power struggle between the global players instead of meeting the needs of people living in BiH trying to recover from the war. 

After 25 years of entrenched ethno-nationalist autocracy and international (colonial) guardianship, we have grown accustomed to seeing new geopolitical actors emerging every now and then, in particular as the global dynamics are fast-changing. The steady and continuous weakening of the state has enabled each ethno-nationalist elite to play its own game, and the IC to cash in (politically and economically) on the void left by an absent state: Chinese with their dirty energy, Russians with their military power-games against NATO, Turks with their neo-ottoman aspirations, the EU with its border security. And still there is plenty to do and cash in on even for the ethno-nationalist elites. 

The frightening thing is that 25 years after the start of the implementation of the DPA the majority of Bosnians and Herzegovinians, are convinced that they cannot live without any of the international custodians, ethno-nationalist autocrats, and foreign investors. It is difficult to imagine anything outside of neoliberalism, neocolonialism, and neofeudalism.  It is like our lives are no longer oursunless those lives are theirs. We are free to live our lives anyway we want to as long as we keep the borders militarised and closed so unwanted migrants do not reach the EU; we are free to build our infrastructure as long as it is within the EU Connectivity Agenda; we are free to reform our labour laws as long as we make them “flexible”; we are free to vote as long as we at the end vote for the “right” candidate who is member of ethno-nationalis elites and is willing to dine and wine with the IC; we are free to enjoy human rights as long as they are individual and are within the realm of political and civil rights; we are free to deal with the past as long as we don’t question the involvement of the international community; we are free to participate in the political dialogues as long as it is within the framework of the EU set agenda. 

Share the story