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What happened to the peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina

June 2, 2014

The following blog is written by Nela Porobic the coordinator for WILPF’s project, Syrian and Bosnian Women Organising for Change. The blog provides a perceptive synopsis of the current situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

The war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) at the beginning of 90’s is still fresh in our minds – at least for us Bosnian people.  It is fresh because the wounds of our victims have not healed yet, because too many family members lay buried in numerous graveyards across the country, and too many family members remain still unaccounted for.

It is also fresh because the political, economical and social mechanisms and processes put in place by the Dayton Peace Agreement that stopped the war in 1995 did not turn to be sustainable solutions, nor something that brought real peace into our lives – just mere absence of war!

Divided in order to be preserved

Before the war BiH was part of Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY). SFRY consisted out of six republics – Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The war in BiH was part of the dissolution of SFRY at the beginning of 90’s.

The war that raged in BiH between 1992 – 1995 was predominantly defined as an ethnic war by domestic political elite as well as the international community and media.

This simplistic understanding of the causes of war, prescribed to “ancient hatreds” between the different ethnic groups laid the ground for the solution sought at the military base Dayton in Ohio where the peace agreement was brokered.

The peace agreement was an outcome of “tour de force” of international diplomacy, and changing military balance on the ground. Another important reason for why the agreement was made possible is that at the end of 1995 almost all goals of the warring parties had been achieved – the separation of population and division of territory was almost complete.

The Dayton peace agreement created a de-centralised Bosnia and Herzegovina, dividing the country between two entities, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH) and the Republika Srpska (RS), with a weak central government and an additional district, District Brcko, that belongs to neither of the entities.

How do we measure peace?

Whether the Dayton peace agreement is successful or not is contested. While many local politicians and representatives of international community would say yes, a deeper analysis of where BiH is today would require a somewhat more nuanced answer.

The Peace agreement had two main goals – ending the war and rebuilding the Bosnian society. The first one, securing a military cease-fire, has been implemented most successfully. The cease-fire has held firm and the number of armed forces has been reduced significantly. But if you ask whether it restored peace to Bosnian society – I would be very reluctant to say yes. Do we really measure peace in terms of absence of militarised violence? Is the absence of militias, weapons, shooting and killing a sufficient measurement of peace?

Where is Bosnia and Herzegovina today?

I do not mean to sound too pessimistic but sometimes I wonder where this country is going. Between the complicated systems designed to maintain ethnic balance and separation, veto rights, administrative division of the country that serves no other purpose than to further divide, political parties that more resemble a well organised mafia than anything close to political and ideological leadership, I really wonder if this country is beyond repair!

One can look at almost any segment of the BiH society and point to badly created mechanisms. In the educational system so called “two schools under one roof” were created separating Bosniak and Croat children apart, effectively recreating what the rest of the world thought to be long gone with the Apartheid regime in South Africa; Our Constitution is a product of the peace agreement negotiated between the international community and male elites representing the warring parties, effectively excluding the voices of BiH women and civil society and creating a dysfunctional and awkward structure of the state; Access to economical, social and cultural rights is severely hampered.

This is due to poor economical situation in the country, making it difficult to “afford” to implement those ESCrts guaranteed by our laws. But the access is also hampered because laws themselves are discriminatory, particularly in regards to the most war affected groups in our society – civilian victims of war including survivors of wartime sexual violence, internally displaced persons and returnees, workers left without jobs in the aftermath of privatisations enforced by the new neoliberal order introduced in BiH, many of them women, demobilised soldiers and so on; Our justice system has let down the victims of the war. It is hard to believe but in the past couple of weeks men who have been found guilty and imprisoned for genocide, acts of rape and torture, and executions, are now back on the streets and are not anticipating having to complete their sentences any time soon.

The law and those that are responsible for its interpretation have let down the victims and undermined the concept of accountability.

This is just the surface of the mountain of problems BiH is facing – one would need a book to describe them all. But it is still sufficient to see that the peace agreement, in the absence of influence from those who worked the hardest during the war and in the aftermath of war to build peace, namely CSO in general and women in particular, did not succeed in creating a sustainable peace – the kind of peace that would make the word “peace” obsolete in the minds of Bosnian people.

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