After the Dayton Peace Accords were signed in December 1995, the fighting stopped but peace was never fully achieved. The agreement was supposed to heal the wounds of the ethnic division, yet today, more than 20 years later, the country remains rigidly divided between the Republica Srpska and a Federation of Bosniaks and Croats.
Unsurprisingly, the disagreement regarding the nature of the state had an immense effect on governance and the country has drifted. High youth unemployment rates has led to dissatisfaction and disparity, which in turn fuels nationalist tendencies. Bosnian Serbs regularly call for actions to upset the unity, with the promise of financial support from Putin. It appears that the promise of ‘salvation’ in Dayton is more likely the key to unrest in the region than to peace and stability. If we think of the Dayton Peace Accords as a model, as something that can be applied to future conflicts, the reality remains that it only managed to end the fighting and did not manage to save the country.
The outcome of Dayton is one of the most complex in the world. The country is divided into two entities, has a three-party presidency and full parliaments at state level. The Federation is divided again into ten cantons, with each having its own government. Rigid divisions remain between the entity of Bosnian Serbs in the Republic Srpska, and Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats in the Federation of Bosnian and Herzegovina. Political elites use nationalism as a tool for mobilising people categorised into one of three ethnic groups. Threats from Serbian leaders for a referendum with new divisions of an already devastated country, and the Islamic state recruiting soldiers among the Bosnian youth from the other side are a constant reminder of the instability of the country.
In the last twenty years the international community has invested heavily in both diplomatic and financial resources in Bosnian and Herzegovina with the aim of creating a functioning and prosperous state and one that can eventually integrate into the European Community. But there remains a lot of work to do to get there.
Ultimately, the choice between ending the fighting and allowing war to continue in the hope of finding a more just outcome is an impossible choice. Regardless, a ceasefire is still a huge achievement in a war that was killing thousands of civilians and this regard, Dayton will always be better than nothing at all.