The Bosnian war ended either on November 21st 1995, when a peace accord was reached in an American air force base in Dayton, Ohio, or on December 14th, when the accord was signed in Paris. The actual date matters little: there have been no official events marking the 20th anniversary. That is largely because, when it comes to remembering the war, Bosnia’s Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks (Muslims) have three utterly different versions of what happened.
The Dayton deal allowed the Bosnian state to survive, but divided. One part is the predominantly Serbian Republika Srpska (RS). The second is the Federation, a predominantly Bosniak and Croat union divided into ten cantons. Then there is Brcko, an autonomous town that muddles along by itself. On paper, Bosnia is no more complicated than Belgium. In practice it is even more dysfunctional, because being divided has kept the scars of war fresh.
The divisions reproduce themselves in how the anniversary of Dayton is celebrated. If November 21st does not fall on a weekend, as it did this year, only residents of RS get the day off. Bosniaks (but not Croats) celebrate not the 21st but the 25th, the date modern Bosnia was founded by anti-fascist partisans in 1943. That holiday is ignored in RS; it celebrates January 9th, the date it was founded in 1992—precisely in order to divide Bosnia and create a Greater Serbia.
On November 26th Bosnia’s Constitutional Court annulled that holiday on the grounds that it was also a Serbian Orthodox religious one, and thus discriminated against Catholic Croats and Bosniaks. Milorad Dodik, the pugnacious Bosnian Serb leader, dismissed the court as a Muslim one, and invited it to “stick this decision you know where.”
Not only do Bosnians disagree over celebrating the war’s end, they cannot agree on when it started. For Serbs it was the murder of a Serb at a wedding in Sarajevo in March 1992. For Bosniaks and Croats it was the murders of two women, one Bosniak and one Croat, five weeks later. Each side mourns only its own victims. Sarajevo, which is now mostly Bosniak, is peppered with memorials to those who died at the hands of “Serbian criminals” during its siege. Serbian civilians murdered by Bosnian forces during the siege and tossed down a nearby ravine still have no official memorial. Authorities in Prijedor in RS refuse to allow a memorial to the mostly Bosniak children killed there during the war.
Separate education systems replicate the divisions for new generations. Eric Gordy, a sociologist, says all three sides are “selling the story of themselves as the biggest victims”. Yet despite voting mainly for ethnically based parties, Bosnians are far less nationalist than is often thought. Bojan Solaja of the Centre for International Relations in Banja Luka, the capital of RS, says Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats agree the war was a mistake, and tend to get on well in private: “It is not a matter of people but of politics.”
For 20 years gloom-mongers have predicted that Bosnians would go back to fighting. It has not happened. Dayton, for all its flaws, succeeded in ending the war even if it failed to bring Bosnians together into a single nation. Their dysfunctional state looks set to limp on for many anniversaries of Dayton to come.
Source: The Economist