Making a virtue of Dayton’s external dimensions  

By on January 14, 2017

On 9th January 2017, the Republika Srpska, one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s two entities, marked its 25th Republic Day, despite the country’s constitutional court banning the celebrations due to their discriminatory elements (the day is also an Orthodox religious holiday). In response, the entity organized a referendum challenge the court’s ruling. Both moves were seen a flagrant violations of the country’s legal institutions and order.

Serb members of the country’s unified armed forces took part in a large parade on the streets of the entity’s capital, Banja Luka, contrary to instructions from the state-level ministry of defence. Serbia’s president, Tomislav Nikolic, was in attendance, whilst Serbia’s prime minister, Aleksandar Vucic, sent his congratulations.

The Republika Srpska’s president, Milorad Dodik, used the occasion to demand further autonomy for the entity. Dodik has long threatened to hold a referendum on secession by the Republika Srpska. Bosnia’s Croats, meanwhile, have also pushed for additional autonomy of their own through the creation of a third-entity.

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s EU membership prospects remain uncertain. Even if the EU accepts its application for membership, the challenges of opening and closing chapters in a country beset by internal divisions (especially over issues of competencies and autonomy) remain immense. The EU’s own enthusiasm for absorbing such a complicated state may well dim as the prospect of membership grows, especially if it becomes clear that the accession process is not driving the sort of fundamental change desired. In terms of timeframe, even a prediction of ten years to complete the entire process seems wildly optimistic.

With even minor constitutional changes, such as those required by the ECHR’s ruling in the Sejdic-Finci case, now completely off the table, the country’s institutional stagnation can be challenged by turning to the external dimensions that brought peace to the country.

Croatia and Serbia are both signatories and guarantors of the Dayton Peace Agreement. The former is now an EU member state, whilst the latter has opened six chapters of its accession negotiations with the EU. Good neighbourly relations are a key requirement of this process, receiving both tangible and rhetorical support. Both countries already maintain special relations with their respective kin, especially in the spheres of energy and economy.

The 1998 Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland demonstrates the benefits of formalizing kinship ties for the benefit of all communities. The North-South Ministerial Council – which satisfied the demands of Republicans for closer ties with Ireland – pursues common policies and approaches in six areas (agriculture, education, environment, health, tourism and transport), with implementation supported by six North-South Bodies functioning on an all-Island basis (i.e. Waterways Ireland and InterTradeIreland).

The EU’s acquis communautaire provides a clear framework for structuring cooperation and institutionalizing the existing special relations between Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia. Such an arrangement would facilitate the sharing of Croatia’s accession experiences, whilst satisfying the demands of two of Bosnia’s constituent nations (its Serbs and Croats) for closer ties with their respective mother states. Though body would not have executive powers, it would provide a platform for improving policy-making in important domains such as waterways, energy, transport and communications.

Harnessing the supra-state dimensions of Dayton can have a constructive and moderating effect on the country’s domestic politics, whilst providing an important complement to the country’s inevitably laborious accession process. Making a virtue out of the Dayton Triangle can act as a powerful catalyst for renewing ruptured regional ties, facilitating the development of common approaches to key issues and the realisation of mutual benefits. Challenges abound. Both Serbia and Croatia have failed to play the constructive role demanded of them by Dayton, especially the former. But the framework of EU accession can help make a virtue out of former ties of antagonism.

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