After spending a week in Belgrade after returning from Kosovo we left once again, this time for Bosnia & Herzegovina.
The situation in Bosnia is very complicated. I will start first by describing the political situation. The current government system and way the country is divided was established in November 1995 with the signing of the Dayton Agreements, which have come to be called by some as the Dayton Disagreements. During our trip we came to understand why some choose to refer to the peace agreements as such.
The treaty was put together with help from the United States, specifically Richard Hoolbrooke, who served as the U.S. peace negotiator and Warren Christopher, secretary of state at the time. The negotiations took place in Dayton, Ohio while the war in Bosnia was still ongoing.
What is is interesting to note, and something many of our speakers last week pointed out, was that the president of Croatia and Serbia were also involved in drafting the agreement. While the president of Bosnia was of course also present, it seems strange that two other countries were invited to decide the fate of Bosnia.
The treaty that was created in 1995 maintained Bosnia as one state, but divided it into two parts, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska while Sarajevo remained the capital. A third section of the country was also created called the Brčko District. This tiny self-governing administrative unit was created to separate Republika Srpska so it could not break away from Bosnia and either join Serbia or form its own country.
The Dayton Agreement divided the country along ethnic lines, enforcing ethnic divisions. What I mean by this is that Republika Srpska is predominantly Serb. When I say Serb I do not necessarily mean someone from Serbia. It could be someone who was born in Bosnia but is Orthodox and so identifies as being Serb. Likewise a Croat in Bosnia may also have been born in Bosnia but is Catholic so identifies as being Croat just as a Bosniak would identify as being Muslim.
Identify in the Balkans is very complicated and it not viewed in the same way as it is in the states. Citizen identity is not very strong. Indeed, those living in Bosnia cannot define themselves as Bosnian, but rather one of the three constituent people(Serb, Croat, Bosniak or other).
Our trip to Bosnia helped us understand the complexities of the situation in Bosnia.
Our visit to Bosnia began in the Republika Srpska
We spent two days in the capital of Republika Srpska, Banja Luka. It was a pretty small town, but we had the chance to meet various organizations while we were there and learned a lot about the situation in the region.
On Tuesday morning we visited the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe(OSCE) Mission to Bosnia an Herzegovina office.
The OSCE office in Bosnia mainly works on monitoring rule of law and human rights in Bosnia. They described to us what they see as of the biggest problems in the country right now such as a poor economy, high levels of unemployment, and the education system.
With the Dayton Agreement came the establishment of the school system that is still in place today “two schools under one roof.” This refers to the fact that while Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs might attend the same school their classes or divided based on ethnicity and they are taught different curricula, the biggest difference being history.
While the war in the 1990s in Bosnia was fought between Bosniaks and Serbs, many scholars disagree that the route cause of the war was ethnicity. In order to understand the situation in the Western Balkans in the 90s we must remember what happened a few years earlier when the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia fell apart. The elites at the time used the rhetoric of nationalism to rise to and cling to power, hence causing ethnic division to be created.
Today the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina is divided into 10 cantons, most of which are not ethnically mixed.
These divisions have not served the country well as younger generations are growing up only interacting with those who are part of their ethnic group.
While visiting Republika Srpska, we heard stories of how some Serbs are afraid to travel to the Federation because they think it is not safe for them and vice versa.
The time we spend in Banja Luka laid the ground work for gaining a critical understanding of Bosnia. The remainder of our time was spent in Sarajevo. An incredibly beautiful city which is often overlooked due to its history.
My adventures in Sarajevo will be shared in my next blog so stay tuned!