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What Price Dayton?

Vlastimir Mijovic

At those rare moments when Carl Bildt and Robert Frowick, or their masters in the world centres of power, have resorted to punitive measures against those failing to fulfil the obligations agreed to at Dayton, the usual targets have been the SDS and HDZ leaders. Each time this has happened, it has been made quite clear why the stick was being used. This holds true also for those few occasions when pressure has been exerted on the SDA leadership. On such occasions the SDA, which exercises a virtual monopoly on Bosniak political life, has as a rule reacted angrily, particularly in situations where the Bosniaks were being asked to swallow humbly some dubious interpretation of the wording of Dayton. The question would then be passionately fired off: 'What does the international community really want to achieve in Bosnia?'

This question has come to the top of the agenda again in connection with two important decisions recently made by the international representatives. When the Council of Ministers of B- H was deadlocked over the draft law on customs - with the Serb and Croat ministers ranged on one side, the Bosniaks on the other - Bildt's office cut the knot by agreeing with the former that customs revenue would flow into the coffers of the entities rather than the B-H state. This interpretation of the Dayton Accords left the Bosniaks feeling injured and deceived.

The second disputed ruling kicked up even more dust. This was the decision by Robert Frowick, the US diplomat who heads the OSCE mission to B-H, that in Mostar too ballot boxes should be got ready for September this year. No such instruction has been issued in relation to Brcko, so the decision not to hold local elections in that town remains in force. The Bosniak leadership reacted very swiftly. Dr Kasim Begic was ordered to resign his membership of the Provisional Electoral Commission, which operates under OSCE tutelage. This commission, a kind of HQ for running the elections, has thus been left without any Bosniak member. Dr Begic, it should be said, served on the commission as Bosnia-Herzegovina's representative; but his essential role was to defend Bosniak national and political interests.

In the customs embroglio, Bildt's office gave a wholly pragmatic interpretation of the Dayton constitution, which contains no explicit provision for the state to collects customs. This allowed Bildt's advisers to submit to the demands of the Serb and Croat ministers. In formal terms you cannot fault their decision, but this does not mean that it should not be submitted to closer inspection. First, because freedom to interpret the Dayton Accords has been used in this case to avoid the anyway slender basis upon which a united economic space for B-H could have been ringfenced. Secondly, because this decision shows that the international community favours intentions potentially leading to the B-H state's final collapse. The Dayton rules of the game are so drawn up - both for Bosnia and against it - that, in choosing what will be concretized out of them, the international community makes manifest its own political intentions. The 'customs affair' confirms the international arbitrators' growing propensity towards further loosening of a state structure that is anyway bound together by the slenderest of threads.

In the 'Begic affair', the international community delivered a blow below the belt to the peace process embodied in Frowick's political mission. From the very moment the results of the local elections in Mostar were announced in the summer of last year, HDZ leaders have been waging a campaign for new elections to be held in the town. The OSCE has quite rightly repeatedly rejected this demand. What had suddenly changed, for Frowick to decide differently at the beginning of April? However much the American and his PR men may assert that in scheduling new elections in Mostar they have not given a helping hand to the West Mostar politicians, the fact is that Frowick's decision has rewarded the HDZ. Political bitterness over this affair is enhanced by the international community's evident unwillingness to penalize West Mostar politicians for sabotaging every signed agreement aimed at resolving the crisis in the city. Even the Bajram atrocity in Liska Park [when West Mostar plain-clothes policemen opened fire without provocation on an unarmed procession of Bosniaks visiting graves, killing two and wounding several others: all recorded on camera] has not been punished, adding fresh oil to the flames so far as political relations in the city are concerned. The HDZ leaders have every reason to rejoice since, in a situation where they might normally have expected punishment, the international community chose instead to reward them and their obstructive policy. If you add to this the decision to exclude Brcko from the September local elections, it becomes clear that the Bosniak political leadership, after receiving such slaps on both cheeks, could not fail to react like a cat on hot bricks.

Professor Begic's exit from the OSCE electoral commission is the least sign of its angry reaction, and was doubtless just the first move of a series that is bound to follow, leading to a substantial worsening of relations between the international sponsors and the Bosniak political leadership. Begic's resignation may become the boulder that sets off a huge political avalanche - the prelude to an SDA political project of postponing the elections. The SDA may indeed this year attempt to rectify the mistake it is now aware it made last summer, when it agreed to elections for which the proper conditions had not been met. Hasan Muratovic, one of its leading members, stated in a recent interview with visible regret: 'We oughtn't to have held elections'! Muratovic went on to argue, somewhat unconvincingly, that if elections had not been held the pre-Dayton government, Presidency and Assembly would have remained partners of the international community, rather than the empty shells represented by the present-day Council of Ministers, the three-member Presidency, and a state Assembly that has not been constituted even six months after the elections which Muratovic now believes the Bosniak political leadership mistakenly allowed to be held.

What happened cannot easily be repaired now, but fresh mistakes can be avoided for the future. All truly democratic parties and political forces would support the idea of postponing the September local elections, if proper conditions for them are indeed not created. To date there is no indication whatsoever of such conditions being created, especially as regards the key element: the return of refugee voters to places where they are still registered on electoral rolls. Last summer the SDA betrayed those who were rightly against the holding of elections, and it should come as no surprise if the SDA were to do so again: if - suddenly quenching the fire that flared up after Frowick's decisions on Mostar and Brcko - it were to agree to pre-arranged, undemocratic elections, this time at the local level. That will depend on whether the SDA and the Bosniak political leadership adopts a new strategy towards the international community, or whether it simply follows the old sterile course.

Frowick's election decision and Bildt's customs arbitration only confirm the growing view that the Bosniaks and a united Bosnia-Herzegovina do not enjoy the international community's support. Its tendency to interpret the Dayton Peace Accords in a way that further undercuts B-H state unity is assuming really alarming proportions. One such dubious move is represented by the direct negotiations which, according to Muratovic, have taken place in Washington between the World Bank and Republika Srpska, regarding credit projects to the tune of 17 million dollars. The significance of this is immense, given that up to now the international community has adhered to the position that those who do not observe the Dayton Agreement will not receive a cent for reconstruction. If you add to this the fact that the HDZ too is being rewarded by Frowick's decision on the Mostar elections, it seems reasonable to conclude that the international community has changed course.

The last time there was a deterioration of relations between the Bosniak political leadership and the international peace sponsors, it was also provoked by different interpretations of the Dayton Peace Accords. The urgent need for an objective reading of this document was clear already then. Both Izetbegovic and Silajdzic, who played a decisive part in its creation, have a duty to acknowledge publicly the consequences objectively injurious to Bosnia that flow from it. The need for this is all the greater now that the international arbiters are increasingly choosing to interpret this notorious paper in a way that must be rejected by the champions of a united Bosnia. A fresh look at the Dayton Accords should be the first piece of homework for Izetbegovic's newly established political advisory council, made up of people who - in an operative, intellectual and programmatic sense - have all along been determining the Bosniak political and national destiny. The council's task, we are told, is to provide comprehensive analytical backing for political decisions that have to be taken in the next period. A sober re-examination of the Dayton Peace Accords, which as a document has come fundamentally to shape the future of both Bosnia and the Bosniaks, and a similarly sober assessment of the international peace guardians' intentions in this regard, should be taken as its most urgent and important task.

Translated from Svijet (Sarajevo), 17 April 1997.