Morbid, but somehow appropriate

Today is the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Dayton Agreement, which ended the Bosnian War after 3 and a half years. As if on cue, Bosnian experts have just discovered a mass grave from that conflict:

Forensic experts say they found a mass grave in northeast Bosnia most likely containing victims’ remains from the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

Eldar Jahic, an investigator of Bosnia’s prosecution office, said Monday that the grave was found thanks to satellite images of an area near the village of Kozluk.

Jahic says it seems to be a grave where victims of the massacre were buried in July 1995 and then some of them relocated to another site in September in order to hide the crime. So far, incomplete remains from around a dozen different bodies were found.

8000 Bosniaks were slaughtered by Bosnian Serbs at Srebrenica, which took place in July 1995, and, clearly, their bodies are still being recovered over two decades later. That has a certain poetic poignancy, because in many ways Bosnians of all ethno-religious stripes are still living with the aftereffects of that war and of the imperfect deal that ended it:

The General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, reached in Dayton on 21 November 1995 (and formally signed in Paris a few weeks later), was not just supposed to stop the killing. It was meant to heal the wounds of ethnic division. Yet, two decades on, the country remains as rigidly divided as ever, between a Serb half, the Republika Srpska, and a Federation of Bosniaks and Croats.

Officially, they are all citizens of the same nation, but Serb leaders seek to undermine its legitimacy at every turn, constantly pushing for partition. The Croats, too, are ambivalent at best.

It is hardly surprising that such a fundamental disagreement about the nature of the state has a paralysing effect on governance. For the past decade, the country has drifted. Bosnia currently has one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world, according to World Bank statistics. The anger and despair fuels yet more nationalism, in part because the system is rigged that way. It is a self-sustaining machine for producing misery.

Dayton was never supposed to work like this. Absent some kind of national reconciliation process and economic growth, the situation that Dayton put into place can’t possibly hold indefinitely. The two parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina have little to do with one another, and there’s a real risk that things are going to deteriorate. Bosnian Serbs have been agitating for greater autonomy or even independence, and instability caused by the flood of Syrian refugees into Europe only risks further destabilizing an already precariously stable situation. Within the Federation of Bosniaks and Croats, rising tensions between the, well, Bosniaks and Croats just compounds the country’s problems. And anyone who happens to live in Bosnia-Herzegovina but is not Bosniak, Serb, or Croat is especially screwed–it’s not a good place to be Jewish, for example, or Roma.

There’s a movement among some EU member states to revisit Dayton and try to fix the problems it created, but how do you do that? How can the rest of Europe get Bosnians to go along with tearing down an agreement that, for all its faults, remains pretty popular? And how can you undo 20 years of inertia, in a situation that is completely fraught with tension, without potentially making things even worse?

The signing of the Dayton Agreement in December 1995 (Wikimedia | US Air Force)

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