21 Years after Dayton Accords Ends Hostilities…
Bosnia’s Millennials See Singapore Ahead
By Emir Kremic
November 2016 marked the 21st anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accords that ended “ethnic cleansing" and the savage slaughter of 200,000 innocent men, women and children during the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia.
While this welcome milestone creates a certain emotional ambiguity and personal ambivalence in a Bosnian millennial such as myself, whose childhood was usurped by the war, I still cannot help but wonder why, after twenty years, the external decisions in Dayton, Ohio, remain the endogenous legal DNA of my country.
The constitution of every other country is homegrown. Except in Bosnia.
Ours came to us courtesy of “Annex 4" of an agreement reached in Dayton, Ohio, by the presidents of Yugoslavia, Croatia and Bosnia in Dayton, Ohio, after much arm-twisting by the United States at its air force base there.
As the agreement has never been ratified by the Bosnian parliament, one may be forgiven for musing whether such an anomalous edict is sustainable in the long-term. The Dayton document already is showing its age after being buffeted by a succession of political and economic crises over the last two decades.
The parochial dialectic between its three “peoples," the Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats, still threatens my country with partition. Each passing day sees Serbs insistence for a secession referendum growing shriller. Meanwhile the Croats’ demand their own enclave. And ubiquitous corruption assaults each of the three entities. The result is an incendiary cocktail with dissidents auguring vivisection of a country at the heart of a Europe whose own unity is buckling under the weight of asylum-seekers streaming in from the East.
This may sound paradoxical, but fundamental change in Bosnia is the linchpin to avoiding radical change in my country and Europe. Twenty-first century Bosnia validates Guiseppi di Lampedusa’s prognosis of the 19th century Risorgimento: “If we want things to stay the same, things will have to change."
And who better to effect this change than Bosnia’s millennials?
They are the only population sector with feet firmly planted in the two camps whose experience is indispensable to the forging of Bosnia’s future: the war generation and the cyber generation.
It is time to look beyond DPA, and indeed the war itself. Why should Bosnians perpetually define themselves by that tragedy and its concomitants? Victimhood is a luxury we cannot afford
Like every other country, Bosnia evolves. We will be helped along on this journey if we internalize lessons from the experience of another challenged generation: Singapore.
When it achieved independence in 1965, the city-state was no more than a remote speck off the Malay Peninsula, not registering on anyone’s radar. The archipelago hosting it encompassed an area no larger than half the size of Sarajevo Canton in Bosnia.
Diminutive Singapore had few natural resources but a multitude to feed, nearly two million in 1965. Groaning under these burdens and still reeling from Japanese occupation, British repossession and Malaysian domination, respectively, newly independent Singapore faced not only a crash-course in self-rule but also the prospect of civil war among its three constituent populations, the Chinese, Malays and Indians.
A Las Vegas bookmaker in the sixties would have given only long odds on the chances of this political baby surviving infancy. But survive it did; indeed, it thrived.
Singapore today is a model of stability and social cohesion. It regularly ranks among the world’s top ten richest countries in terms of per capita income. All this was achieved in only fifty years by, among others, that generation which, like Bosnia’s millennials, spent its childhood watching seismic political shifts, not cartoons.
In contrast to Singapore’s demographics, for instance, Bosnia’s three “peoples" are not racially, ethnically, linguistically or culturally divided. Only religion trisects Bosnia. Therefore, there is more that binds us together than separates us. Moreover, Bosnia has a wealth of natural resources: land, water, timber, minerals, ores, even oil – not to mention spectacular scenic beauty which is the envy of tourist boards the world over. Also, we bestride the cross-roads between Europe and Asia – the Silk Road redux.
Bosnia’s millennials are well equipped to leverage these assets. Educated, polyglot, tech-savvy and enterprising, my generation can serve as an Archimedes lever, multiplying the dividends from Bosnia’s natural bounty.
Having survived the war, the millennials will not succumb to a counsel of despair.
Personal experience is a bellwether. While we were home-nursing my late father during his losing battle against cancer, my younger brother completed his master’s thesis and I my PhD.
Shortly thereafter, I co-founded a start-up, parlaying my doctoral research on facial recognition technology into a cyber-security system marketable worldwide. This was done from within a country whose infrastructure, industry and schools had been cannonaded into the Stone Age by the time the DPA was drafted.
The DPA is only the liminal chapter in Bosnia’s post-war history. Successive chapters will be written by future generations of Bosnians themselves. How quickly and how smoothly that transition occurs ultimately will be the litmus test of its success and, indeed, its legacy.
Emir Kremic, Ph.D.
Professor, American University in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Director of Federal Bureau of Statistics.