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  • CONFERENCE
6. November 15
Dayton Conference - Speech Delivered by Paddy Ashdown

20 Years after Dayton Peace Agreement Implementation
American University in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Sarajevo. BiH
0915 Thursday 5 November 2015

The drama of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Dayton began as a tragedy and continues in the same way.

It began as a tragedy of horror. It has become a tragedy of lost opportunities and, if we, the international community and Bosnian politicians do not change course quickly, it will become a tragedy of blighted futures, and perhaps of something worse.

The Balkans are the home of irony and the Dayton agreement is no exception.

Those who loved Dayton because it ended the war, chiefly Bosniaks, now hate it because it locks the country into stasis and prevents them building the unified, integrated state they fought the war for.

Those who hated Dayton, chiefly Serbs, because it forced them to abandon their dream of a separate state, now love it because it locks the country into stasis and enables some to preserve and prosecute their dream of a separate state.

Many Croats, meanwhile disliked Dayton and dislike it still, because it meant the end of Hercog Bosnia.

When I left here in 2006, I was confident that Bosnia would not only make it to Europe, wholly integrated and functional, but it would be, especially in a world beset by geo-strategic problems between the West and Islam, one of Europe’s most valued little jewels and a much needed affirmation that Christians and Muslims can live as partners in a common state.

Today, looking back, that judgement looks, to say the least, irrationally optimistic, even for a Liberal. But at the time, it wasn’t. It was what most people inside Bosnia and outside, genuinely felt, and with good reason.

Bosnia was not a failure then, it was a success.

Dayton was regarded as an outstanding international agreement. Invested, as it was, with the resources, power and will to make it work, it had created a space where stability could be established, a functional state could be built, and a nation could be brought together again. Many now look at Syria and think Dayton might be a model for how this terrible humanitarian crisis might be solved too.

We should not forget that in those first ten post-Dayton years, Bosnia was the global poster boy of post conflict peace building and integration.

Freedom of movement was established, a million refugees reclaimed their homes, for the first time ever after a war of this nature, the state Government was reinforced and entrenched, the economy was stabilised, and a reformed state judiciary had been established, along with a Bosnian legal codex, three armies had been brought together under state control, a single intelligence service had been created to the highest European standards, a unified Customs service was working effectively, free and fair and violence-free elections, run without international assistance was the norm, and perhaps most important of all in a time scale never achieved in any other country, a single country-wide indirect taxation system had been set up, giving stability, fairness and certainty to the states finances.

No post-conflict country in history has made such progress in such a short period.

Perhaps my greatest single regret is that, before I left in 2006 we did not put in firm place a key missing brick in that structure of statehood in Bosnia: a proper non-political police force, operating under the control of the State Ministry, as in every other European country.

In case you should conclude, from this brief list of Bosnia’s post Dayton achievements, that all this was done by the international community, let me disabuse you. It was not. None of the great reforms undertaken in my time and in the time of my predecessors as High Representative, were imposed. All of them were, in due course passed through Bosnia’s democratic institutions as a direct result of real political leadership and courage of Bosnia’s leading politicians; who, by the way, in the process took risks with their popularity, which few European leaders would have dared to take. And many have sadly paid the price for that with their political careers.

Of course there were those who sought to obstruct the process, and there were those who sought to turn it to their own personal, or ethnic, or corrupt advantage. But the point is that thanks to the courage of, principally Bosnian politicians, supported in partnership by the international community, they didn’t win. Bosnia and its people won.

By 2006, a platform had been built for Bosnia and Herzegovina to complete it journey towards Euro-Atlantic integration and prosperity for its people.

But instead of progress, Bosnia went into reverse gear. And now we have to record that the second ten years since Dayton have not been about progress, but about obstructionism and wasted opportunities.

There are those in some Western capitals, and even I fear in Brussels, who love to criticise the “fecklessness” of Bosnia’s politicians. Of course there are some who are feckless, as there are in all countries, my own included. But my experience is that when it comes to courage and will, its deficiency is as often to be found in the corridors of Brussels and the capitals of Europe, as it is in Sarajevo, Mostar and Banja Luka.

And so you see, ten years ago, optimism about Bosnia’s future, was not as irrational as it seems today.

Now, only a fool would fail to see the storm clouds gathering.

These last ten years, all the remarkable progress made in Bosnia, largely by Bosnians, has been allowed to unravel.

Those charged with corruption before independent state institutions have, in far too many cases, been able to avoid due process by having their cases considered and dismissed by more malleable lower level courts. The state judiciary has been badly weakened and, in consequence, Bosnia is in danger again of becoming a criminally captured state. The State level judiciary needs to be strengthened and supported, not weakened in order to serve the personal interests of those who wish to put themselves beyond the rule of law. The process of re-integration, so necessary for the peace of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has gone into reverse. Bosnia’s politicians now invest all their effort in entity politics, and not at the level of the state. Does no one see where this is leading? Does no one see that this is where it all began in 1992?

And now, to re-enforce this process, there is a direct challenge to the Dayton provisions themselves, with a proposition for an entity referendum aimed at unstitching the fabric of state law. Who seriously doubts that this is a stalking horse for a referendum on secession? Does anyone?

The claim that is made is this is a democratic right often exercised, as for instance in Scotland. But this is nonsense. The Scottish referendum was not unilateral, it was agreed by the UK parliament. What is proposed here is a unilateral referendum on a subject deadly to the cohesion and functionality of the state. Does nobody remember the mortal effect of unilateral referendums in 1992? Does no one, see that this was where it all began?

I now hear that the Republika Srpska has instructed its primary schools to officially change the name of the language subject taught from “Bosnian language” to the “language used by the Bosniak people.” Many Bosniak parents have taken their children out of school in protest. And so the tit-for-tat begins. Given that the words “Bosnian language” are, if I recall correctly, specifically mentioned and in terms in the Dayton agreement, why has no action been taken by the international community to reverse this incendiary and deliberately provocative move? Are we really ignorant as to where it is leading?

Does nobody see that if, in the face of these manifest challenges to the cohesion of the state and to the provisions of Dayton, the European Union and the international community still stand idly by pretending that nothing serious is happening and nothing serious needs to be done, then they will be crowning a decade of weak acquiescence to increasingly strenuous provocation, by an act of final submission which cannot do other than open the door to the break up of the state as a functional institution?

Does no one remember that giving in to threats and taking the easiest way out was exactly the policy the international community followed in 1992?

I now hear some talk of the possibility of the creation of what is euphemistically called a “third electoral entity” in Herzegovina, and of dividing Mostar into two municipalities. Does no one doubt that this is the first step to the creation of a de facto, if not de jure, third entity? Does no one remember where that leads to?

What puzzles me in all this, is the silence of the Bosniaks. It almost seems as if there is an unspoken agreement between those who represent all three ethnicities at the top of the politics of Bosnia and Herzegovina, to quietly allow the creation of three mutually hostile ethnic pockets, the better to control their own ethnicities, while, in some cases, lining their own pockets at the same time. Does no-one remember that this is where it all began in 1992?

Da komsija crkne crava is a famous Balkan saying, but it is no foundation for a stable European state.

Who now will stand up for the great cause for which the war was fought, for which Dayton was created and to which those ten years of successful integration were dedicated; the preservation of a multi-ethnic unified and integrated state in Bosnia. The international community seems to have lost the will and Bosnian politicians on all sides seem to have abandoned the vision. It is a deadly combination. A perfect storm is gathering.

The truth is, let us say it bluntly, that this country, whose peace depends on the process of re-integration, has now moved decisively back into the dynamic of disintegration.

Does no one in the corridors of Brussels, in the Chancelleries of Europe or amongst the highest reaches of Bosnian politics, see the dangers of this? Particularly in the present highly fraught international situation?

I hear on the wind that there is now substantial Middle Eastern, and especially Gulf, investment in property in Sarajevo. And as we know, there has been for some time a substantial attempt by Moscow to interfere in the politics of Republika Srpska.

Much of this would be perfectly normal, in a normal country. But it is dangerous in the extreme in a country whose unity is now so seriously threatened by fracture and division.

Does no one in Europe and Washington see the dangers of this?

I have a rule of thumb in post-conflict countries, particularly those where war ended not in a clear victory for one side, but in a peace in which the conflict is frozen, as in post-Dayton Bosnia. In these situations it is always the case that those who ran the war end up running the peace. And it is always the case that they seek to use the peace to continue to pursue the aims for which they fought the war, as in post-Dayton Bosnia. In these countries a sustainable peace cannot be achieved until the political nomenclatura who ran the war leave the political stage to the next generation. So it was in Northern Ireland, in post conflict Lebanon, and in many other countries struggling back to peace from conflict. And so it is in Bosnia, where there is a thick impenetrable crust covering the top of Bosnian politics, through which new ideas and new attitudes are unable to break through. Bosnia cannot build a sustainable peace or a proper European future while this remains the case.

For me, the most depressing thing in Bosnia today is not just that Bosnian politics is stuck in a stagnant pool still dominated by those who were the big fish during the war, but that there is no sign of anything different beginning to emerge from below the surface. Where is the new generation determined to take over? Where are those who should be fighting to create the Bosnia of tomorrow, rather than seeking to preserve the tensions of the Bosnia of two decades ago?

So, will this all end in a return to conflict?

I do not believe that likely, though I cannot now discount the possibility.

But unless something different starts happening and soon, then the future for Bosnia and Herzegovina and for all its citizens will be terribly blighted. Even if Europe were to accept BiH into candidate status, who will invest in a state with such a prevalent climate of corruption? Who will want to engage with a country with such dysfunctional Government? Who will look to Bosnia for stability, when it is such a divided nation? Where will the jobs come from? Where, except abroad, will the young find a future? How will Bosnia make its way in the world?

Bosnia cannot have Euro-Atlantic integration in Brussels, if it is in the process of disintegrating in Sarajevo, Mostar and Banja Luka.

In the two decades that I have been involved with Bosnia and Herzegovina, from war time visitor to High Representative, I have developed a deep affection and admiration for this country and its gifted people.

I hope that affection entitles me to speak bluntly and frankly. This country and all of its citizens, whatever their ethnicity, now stand at a most dangerous cross-roads.

Here are some messages to leave you with.

Message to the international community: wake up and smell the danger. Always seeking the line of least resistance is not a policy, it is a capitulation

Message to Washington: Dayton is your work. You cannot allow it to be unravelled or undermined. If you will not take the lead in defending and, if necessary, enforcing Dayton, who will?

Message to Brussels: You have slept too long. If you will not now act more energetically to protect your investment here, you could end up losing it all.

Message to the capitals of Europe: I know you are distracted. But if you will not pay attention soon to Bosnia, then do not be surprised if what happen next in Bosnia forces you to, in unpleasant ways, and probably in the not too distant future.

Message to Bosnia’s politicians: If you cannot find the courage to put behind you the aims of the war and pursue the principle not of ethnic enclaves, but of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a single, integrated multi-ethnic space, based on a functional, if heavily decentralised state, then stand aside and make way for others who will.

And finally a message to the younger generation of BiH: This is your country. The only future you can have is here. If BiH fails, then your lives and those of your children will fail too. Its time to get involved. The only people who can make a difference now are you.

I know what will be said about this speech. Some in Bosnia will call me an enemy of this ethnicity or that. But I am not. I am, I hope a candid friend of all Bosnians, whatever their ethnicity.

Some, chiefly in international capitals will say that I am being alarmist. But if you are not alarmed about what is now happening in BiH, then you have not been paying attention. Someone has to sound the alarm and if that offends, so be it.

Others still will say that I am too pessimistic. But I suspect that I am no more pessimistic than are most of Bosnia ordinary citizens at the state of their country and its future.

Nevertheless, let me end on a more positive note.

I still believe passionately in this country. It is still a country of heart breaking beauty, peopled by one of the most courageous, stalwart and able people in Europe.

Not all is lost.

Those dreams of ten years ago can be recovered.

There are signs of a stirring among the people, even if the first example of this, before the last election, in the end came to nothing.

There are new parties, full of young people who want to change things beginning to appear.

There are BiH politicians who yearn for something different.

BiH’s direction can be changed.

My hope is that Bosnians of all creeds and ethnicities will look no more to the international community to do it for you. Because they won’t.

It is now all up to you. You can do it. But you need to do it soon.