The Morning Call
Bosnia marks 25 years since peace accords
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — As their ethnic leaders gathered around a table outside Dayton, Ohio, to initial a U.S.brokered peace deal a quartercentury ago, Edisa Sehic and Janko Samoukovic still were enemies in a war in Bosnia that killed over 100,000 people.
But the two, one an ethnic Bosniak woman and the other an ethnic Serb man, have often come together in recent years to visit schools and town halls where they talk about the futility of war from their firsthand experiences.
In many ways, Bosnia today is a country at peace, a testament to the success of the Dayton Accords, which ended more than 31⁄ years of bloodshed
2 when they were endorsed 25 years ago on Saturday.
But more than a generation after the shooting and shelling stopped, full peace still feels elusive in Bosnia, where the April 1992-December 1995 war gave rise to an ethnic cleansing campaign and Europe’s first genocide since World War II.
The country’s three ethnic groups — Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats — live in fear of renewed conflict as their nationalist leaders continue to stoke ethnic animosities for political gain.
Some Bosnians hope the election of Joe Biden as the next U.S. president will bolster change by renewing Western interest in the country, one of Europe’s poorest.
Biden visited Bosnia in 2009 as vice president, becoming the last key U.S. leader to do so.
When the Dayton peace agreement was reached in 1995, Sehic was a soldier with the
Bosnian government army and Samoukovic was fighting with Bosnian Serb troops seeking to dismember the country and unite the territory they claimed for their own with neighboring Serbia.
The war was sparked by the breakup of Yugoslavia, which led Bosnia to declare its independence despite opposition from ethnic Serbs, who made up about one-third of its ethnically and religiously mixed population.
Armed and backed by neighboring Serbia, Bosnian Serbs conquered 60% of Bosnia’s territory in less than two months, committing atrocities against their Bosniak and Croat compatriots.
Before the war was over, some 100,000 people had been killed and upward of 2 million, or over a half of the country’s population, driven from their homes.
“When the (peace) agreement was reached, I was happy that there will be no more blood and death around us, hopeful that together we can start building a better future,” Sehic said. “But as time went by, I realized that the shooting had stopped, but little else had changed.”
While it brought an end to the fighting, the Dayton Accords formalized the ethnic divisions, establishing a complicated and fragmented state structure with two semi-autonomous entities, Serb-run Republika Srpska and a federation shared by Bosniaks and Croats, linked by weak joint institutions.
The deal “was essentially an armistice struck between a collection of warlords who are still present in the country, but had refashioned themselves as political leaders,” said Jasmin Mujanovic, a U.S.-based political scientist of Bosnian origin.