Today it’s a decade since we managed to get final agreement on a peace agreement that ended the brutal and more than three years long war in Bosnia.
We spent three weeks at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton in Ohio in the US trying to get all the details right. But in the early morning of November 21 it still looked as if it was all going to fail. Only last-minute concessions made the deal possible.
When looking back at the decade that has passed it’s obvious that Dayton was a success in ending the war and setting Bosnia on the path to a sustainable peace.
But as the country today is on the verge of a transition from international semi-protectorate to European integration, it is a more open question whether Bosnia has been a success.
The greatest challenge that Bosnia faces is the economic and social one. Official figures speak about an unemployment over 40 %, but this applies only to the app. third of the adukt population that is to be found in the labour force. In spite of the the revival of Sarajevo, poverty remains widespread.
The politicians of Bosnia have been far to tempted to blame all their problems on the international community, or to descend into different constitutional squabbles, and far too little ready to tackle the hard realities of profound economic reform.
It’s by giving its people a better prospect of the future that Bosnia can really make itself a success in the years to come. The road towards European integration will be a powerful help, but will not in itself solve the challenges that are there.
Today the European Union in Brussels will give ahead for the start of talks on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Bosnia. That’s significant, but doesn’t automatically solve anything. There is even a risk that it lulls the leaders of Bosnia into a sense of complacency.
In parallel, talks in Washington are likely to result in a limited agreement on limited constitutional changes. That’s also a good step, although one that in itself does not address the core challenge of the country at this time. And there is always the risk that continued squabbles over its implementation will deflect them from the key tasks.
We do see important progress in the region. Croatia is negotiating for membership in the European Union. Serbia is making progress in economic reforms. Macedonia has been recommended for candidate status for EU membership by the European Commission.
There is a risk of Bosnia falling behind.
A decade after Dayton, it is high time that the leaders of Bosnia concentrated on the real challenges of peace.