Speech of Željana Zovko at the International Conference “The Legacy of Peace – 25 Years of the Dayton-Paris Peace Agreement”
15 December 2020
On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Dayton-Paris Peace Agreement, the Croatian Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs and the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts organised an international conference “The legacy of peace – 25 Years of the Dayton-Paris Peace Agreement”. Member of the European Parliament and Vice Chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Željana Zovko was invited as speaker in the panel on the Euro-Atlantic Commitment to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
You can read her speech below:
“Dear conference attendees, ladies and gentlemen:
Today’s 25th anniversary conference on Dayton is one of several over the past four weeks. We have seen many headlines. Some focused on praise. Some on concerns. Then there were surprises and perhaps shocks.
For instance, at a Saturday event, the US ambassador in Sarajevo suggested that Dayton is a process that is evolving, rather than a static international treaty. Some interpreted this as an effective end of Dayton, and perhaps the beginning of a new phase. Maybe a European phase in terms of a constitution setup.
I was both happy and concerned reading the remark. Happy, because the call for a new phase is something we in the European Parliament have been proposing for several years in our resolutions. Usually by a huge 500 to 200 majority. The underlying idea has been that a new European path is needed for the country. A path based on European models for integrating national and regional specificities into wider states.
We also emphasized that the future BiH should also align along the middle path – between the two extremes dictating the political life in the country for some time: that of separation on one side, and centralization on the other. So we proposed federalization as a bridging solution.
It is good that most speakers on today’s panels are saying this as well.
As already mentioned, Europe has several federal states, like Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland. And several other states where national or linguistic communities have territorial, electoral and budget autonomy.
If this is the perspective the US envoy had in mind, than I will stay happy and hopeful.
However, interpretations of the same statement went in other direction as well. In the direction to effectively say that we have reached the limits of Dayton, and we need something new. Many have connected this — something new — to the proposal made recently by the SDA party, with support of other Bosniak parties, and later reaffirmed by the Wilson Center study.
If this is the future than I am concerned.
In Dayton, we have a peace agreement that all three constituent communities accepted 25 years ago. It has held the country together so far. At least the principles have. Not necessarily its implementation, including many back door agreement changes.
What is proposed by the SDA and the Wilson Center is a wholesale stepping back from those principles, including the principle of three constituent communities. Perhaps the only principle that can potentially hold the country together as one in the future.
This interpretation of the Ambassador’s remarks reminds me of another such event back in 1992, ie, 28 years ago.
I was a university student back then. I imagine the US ambassador may have been as well — or not far removed for a university degree in any case.
At that time, the peace plan for BiH on the table was the Cutilliero Plan. All sides accepted it, including the Bosniak side. But Warren Zimmerman, the US ambassador to the former Yugoslavia at the time, advised the Bosniaks to withdraw for a higher objective. The higher objective at the time was called the multi-ethnic ideal. It had the same intent as SDA and Wilson Center today — formation of a civic state without national communities. We know what happened after that. Indeed, Warren Zimmerman regretted the advice for the rest of his life [that ended in 2004].
So, I offer this well know moment in policy history as an important lesson that we should keep in mind as we move away from Dayton.
From this perspective, I have been encouraging a lessons learned exercise on BiH issues in the European Parliament for some time. In December we had the first such discussion in the AFET. We will have more next year.
To aid this exercise, I have proposed three works. One of them is being circulated to conference participants today – especially for one of its essays.
That essay, written 15-20 years ago, by a former BiH ambassador in Brussels, argues that BIH needs a civic solution, to integrate the group of Others into the political structures. It concludes that BiH can become a civic state via its three constituent communities. If we really want a viable civic state we can also have it in that way – by respecting the most fundamental principle of BiH’s raison d’etre.
To conclude, I believe Dr. Brandon O’Leary said the same thing in the second panel. The best way forward for BIH is a three federal unit solution, where the units are structured on a civic model.