Sanela Diana Jenkins

Don’t Forget Bosnia

The war in Afghanistan, and the debate over how to best fight it, is understandably at the center of attention in the White House these days.

As the world’s leading power, the United States carries the burden of responsibility to oppose genuine threats to world peace. As an advisor to Haris Silajdzic, the Chairman and Muslim representative in the three-member presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, I would like to remind our American friends that the burden of leadership extends not only to decisions about war, but also to decisions about peace.

If I may be so bold, I have four words for President Obama, and for the American people: Please, don’t forget Bosnia.

Like Afghanistan, Bosnia was once the site of a war that gathered the world’s attention. In the early 1990s, Bosnia teetered on the brink of extinction, under Serbian assault. The European Union was passive and dithered. While ethnic cleansing took place in Srebrenica, the most terrible ethnic massacre on European soil since World War II, Europe did nothing. Only after the United States took action to intervene was it possible to negotiate a peace in the Dayton Accord.

Today, Bosnia is again under threat. The agreement that promised us peace is in serious jeopardy, as a breakdown in cooperation accelerates. If that continues, the authority of the Bosnian state will be so badly undercut and weakened that it will essentially dissolve. That would leave our people in separatist conclaves. It will extinguish any hope for democratic development. It will feed nationalist rivalry. It could lead us back to war.

We Bosnians are trying hard to reverse this trend. But European negotiators in Sarajevo are undercutting key parts of the Dayton agreement. That agreement was intended to create a transitional period between war and normal statehood. The country was divided into two ethnic-based entities, the Serb Republic and the Muslim-Croat Federation, and the clear intent of Dayton was to increase and improve linking the two through common institutions of government. The long-term goal was to build a society of cooperation and tolerance.

We have two overriding objections to the European position. One, they want to separate our state property into the two entities. That would move us in exactly the wrong direction. I must observe that this step was precisely the ‘solution’ sought by Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic during the Dayton negotiations, and it was rejected because it was obvious that doing so would weaken the state and strengthen the separate entities.

Two, the European proposal endorses the preservation of “entity voting,” a provision in the Dayton agreement allowing a Serb minority of twenty-two percent to veto almost anything in the parliament. This veto, already invoked by the Serbs countless times, has made it extremely difficult for Bosnia to pass essential legislation. It has arrested progress, and has left us deadlocked on many issues. We must move past it.

We now look to the United States for help. Like many others around the world, we admire President Obama’s commitment to finding new solutions to old problems. Vice President Joe Biden championed the removal of Milosevic and has expressed clear support for democratic reform in our country. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, when she was First Lady, was also a vocal supporter of intervention by the Clinton Administration to stop the slaughter in Bosnia.

And yet, so far, the American position is to support European proposals. This is disappointing, to say the least. We need a comprehensive approach to normalizing the Bosnian state and stabilizing the region, not an acquiescing to Serb demands.

Why are the Europeans acting in a misconceived way? They have fallen for a politically lazy, and dangerously naïve view: that appeasing the Serb entity will make Bosnian Serbs less likely to try to leave Bosnia and become part of a Greater Serbia. But any student of history can tell you what appeasement really does. It emboldens. It does not pacify. And in this context, that is very dangerous.

The Dayton Accord was a shining example of American leadership, when insightful and intelligent diplomacy forced bitter combatants to accept compromises for the common good of us all, and allow a peaceful environment for our children to live without war and senseless violence.

No peace agreement is meaningful without the discipline of follow-thru.
I urge the Obama administration to be true to American ideals, even in a corner of the world that no longer holds the spotlight. Bring power to bear, where it can do the most good. Don’t allow things to deteriorate, to the brink of violence. Please. Don’t forget Bosnia.