The Butmir Summit: Seeking to Move out of the Impasse

One of the numerous attempts seeking to solve the stalemate of Bosnia and Herzegovina was the summit held on 9 October 2009, at the Butmir military base, near Sarajevo. The initiators of this meeting were: the European commissioner for Enlargement Olli Rehn, the Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Carl Bildt, who holds the EU rotating presidency and the Deputy Secretary of State at the U.S. Department of State, James Steinberg. As many expected, no arrangements were made but this has been perceived as the first step which could, hopefully, bring a brighter future for the people living in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Butmir summit indeed has raised high expectations in the country. Unfortunately, looking at the stalemate in Bosnia and Herzegovina these expectations are unlikely to be met.  Since the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) has been under the guardianship of the Office of the High Representative (OHR). As the OHR, and the international community in general, failed in establishing security and prosperity, the alternative of replacing the OHR with an EU Special Representative Office is being contemplated.

In reviewing the current situation while BiH applies for EU membership, one may rush to surmise that those fourteen years must have helped Bosnia and Herzegovina to progress to the point where the OHR would be no longer needed. Indeed, this should have been the case. A closer look at the Bosnian mess however, leads us to the conclusion that the country is not yet ready for the OHR replacement. It is my prediction that replacing the OHR with the EU Special Representative Office will bring more instability and national separation. With the OHR in operation, Republika Srspka’s prime minister Milorad Dodik’s hands are tied: as no action is taken, stalemate prevails.

“A dog that barks does not bite” - is one of the best ways to describe Milorad Dodik’s rhetorics. The time has come for Bosnia and Herzegovina to finally put Dodik’s threats to the test. He threatens to organize a referendum which could lead to the separation of Republika Srpska from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Milorad Dodik has already requested the right to do so, but this right is contrary to what Brussels requested from the leaders - that is to make an agreement that will make a dysfunctional country more functional. If the referendum does take place, and Republika Srpska does separate, Bosnia and Herzegovina can forget ever getting in the EU according to Brussels.

Milorad Dodik’s ambition is not related to EU accession - this is known to the public for a long time – it is about assuming full control of the RS’s territory. He is not for a better life for the citizens. His threats are mainly concentrated around organizing a referendum. He is trying to intimidate Bosnian Muslim and Croat leaders. The small but all-important detail the BiH population at large does not know is that a referendum can not be organized by the entity, but by the whole country. This is why his threats about separation from BiH are just barks. Nevertheless, the fear of a new war has grown so much that even a coy bark sounds terrifying.

However, the OHR replacement is not one of the key issues that need to be solved. The Austrian High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Valentin Inzko, who has assumed office on March 26th 2009, stated that changes in the Dayton Peace Agreement are not a condition for closing the OHR, but that would be the best way if Bosnia and Herzegovina was a “normal country”. Other key issues are the allocation of state property and changes in the Dayton Peace Agreement. At this point state property is under an injunction by the OHR Representative Valentin Inzko. What needs to be decided is whether it belongs to the Confederation or to the entities. On the other hand, the changes in the Dayton Peace Agreement are mainly proposals about the dissolution of the entities and the formation of several regions in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the cancellation of entity voting. Changes, especially in the domain of entity voting, are needed since more then 200 laws were rejected by the Bosnian Serbs on the state level. They are rejecting laws which could make Bosnia and Herzegovina stronger so it can enter EU. Bosnian Serbs are pursuing policies that will make Republika Srpska stronger giving it the characteristics of a fully-fledged state. Entity voting besides the OHR replacement presents another stalemate for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Ignorance, Clientalism & Corruption

A root problem in the country is ignorance and corruption. Research has shown that only three percent of Bosnians hold a university degree while most of the population lives in the rural parts of the country. Agriculture and stockbreeding are the only source of food and income of the majority rural households. The peasants conceive of the elections as barter trade: the offer of free cattle before the elections buys votes. Thus manipulation of the rural masses prevails in the country. Lack of education and sheer ignorance are contributing to this backward political phenomenon. Voting seems to be perceived by the overwhelming majority of voters as simply a matter of trade: the candidates are taking advantage of poor peasants who represent clients to them. Thus the politicians adopt corrupt practices that do not really help the country move out of backwardness.

On the other hand, the urban population seems to be lethargic. In the last fourteen years not much progress has been made in institution and capacity building. The townspeople are characterized by a complacent attitude towards the country’s structural deficiencies.

The clientalist nature of the “voting process” explained above relates to the population of the Federation entity. In the other entity of Republika Srpska, the leader Milorad Dodik enjoys strong support among the electorate. In sharp contrast, the Federation is torn between four leaders, representatives of parliamentary parties. The leaders of these parties are Sulejman Tihic for the Democratic Action Party (SDA), Haris Silajdzic for the Party for BiH (Stranka za BiH), Dragan Covic for the Croatian Democratic Party (HDZ) and Bozo Ljubic for the Croatian Democratic Party 1990 (HDZ 1990).

The Peculiarity of the Brcko District

Besides the Federation and the Republika Srpska, the third crucial strategic area is The Brcko District. The Dayton Peace Agreement stated that the political future of the Brcko District is yet to be decided. This is because The Brcko District is importantly a port. The river Sava that flows through The Brcko District flows in to the river Danube (Republic of Serbia) which further flows in to the Black Sea (Bulgaria). The Brcko District geographical position is on the north-east side of the country and therefore has an exit to the EU. This geographical position of The Brcko District makes it a crucial strategic area. Besides this, The Brcko District geographical position separates Republika Srpska in two parts and stands in the way of making it an integrated whole. Therefore, if the status of Brcko District changes - superseding the Dayton Peace Agreement - and falls in the sovereignty of the Republika Srpska this will be the key contributing factor in the breaking up of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Black-listed in Schengen

Another year passed with Bosnia and Herzegovina still featuring on the Schengen black list. My prognosis is that it is highly unlikely that next year Bosnia and Herzegovina citizens will be able to travel visa-free to EU – unlike FYROM citizens to take another Western Balkans example. No doubt taking into account the huge obstacles in institution and capacity building in the country, the EU continues the visa restrictive regime for yet another year. Not surprisingly, Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Serbs rush to issue Croatian and Serbian passports. As these two ‘mother’ countries are closer to EU accession, these passport holders will be able to travel freely. Only Bosnian Muslims will not be able to travel freely within the EU.

Carl Bildt’s Instrumental Role

What is also interesting is that one of the initiators of the Butmir summit, Carl Bildt, is the one who strongly lobbied for Serbia’s accession to the EU and the transition of the OHR into the EU Special Representative Office. We should also remind ourselves that Carl Bildt visited Biljana Plavsic, former president of Republika Srpska who was on trial for committing war crimes including genocide in the 1992-95 war, in Den Haag stepping in as a witness in her defence. Biljana Plavsic pleaded guilty for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina; she was sentenced for 11 years in prison. She is currently serving her time in Sweden. Looking at the situation above tells us that Carl Bildt is obviously representing interests of the Bosnian Serbs.

On the other hand, James Steinberg and Olli Rehn stated that the interests of the US and EU are the integration of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a singular state in to the EU. Their opinion is that as long as entities and entity voting exists, stalemate will continue.

Stalemate Continues

As the Bosnian political future remained inconclusive at the end of the Butmir meeting a new summit, Phase II, will be held on October 20th. Hopefully the leaders of the seven political parties together with the EU and US officials will be able to reach some kind of agreement which will benefit all three constituent people. There is some speculation that this Phase II summit will lead to a Mini Dayton Peace Agreement or that the original DPA will remain largely the same with some corrections.

The political instability in Bosnia and Herzegovina is reflected in numerous mass protests throughout the country. The veterans of the 1992-95 war are demanding their rights in the form of Pension and Disability Insurance; their complaints are not heeded. This “God syndrome” and arrogance among the politicians has caused a lot of media attention and pressure in finally deciding the status of these veterans.

But just as the pressure was about to deliver results, the media got distracted to something else: the murder in Siroki Brijeg just before the football game Sarajevo – Siroki Brijeg which was not classified as “high risk”. Just as the fans of Sarajevo football club entered the town of Siroki Brijeg, chaos broke out: armed fans of the Siroki Brijeg football club started shooting and throwing rocks and bottles aimed at Sarajevo fans. As expected, the Sarajevo fans threw their rocks back to them. This sad event shows that even fourteen years later, hatred on the basis of ethnicity still exists in the core of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Having the above deplorable incident in mind, how can one think of harmony and prosperity, a future based on mutual tolerance? Yes, we all know that Bosnia and Herzegovina needs to move forward but how can that be possible if the country is not ready to take that step?

Some observers surmise that what happened in Siroki Brijeg could just have been engineered to obfuscate more troubling problems like the status of the 1992-95 war veterans. The timing seems suspicious: just as things started to get more heated, the Siroki Brijeg trouble happened and the country’s attention moved to that direction.

In the end, the only thing we can say is that if October 20th does not bring at least a thread of progress in deciding the political future of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the country’s instability is set to deteriorate. Such an escalation does not allow room for dismissing the possibility of renewed violence.



Hits: 3125



Graduate student
written by Dino, October 20, 2009 

Great article! Although the situation in Bosnia is quite complex, this brief piece gives a fairly good overview of the current situation. However, more needs to be said in order to account for other factors that are not included in the article. So, more analyses of the Bosnian situation are welcome.



IT expert
written by Ismet, October 20, 2009 

Really great article, it shows the real situation in Bosnia at this moment. I hope this Butmir summit will end up OK, and will bring some progress for Bosnia.



Graduate student
written by Amina, October 20, 2009 

Selma I really liked your article, you summed it all up really nice. I think you wrote it in a very objective way. As far as the Butmir summit is concerned I don't think it will solve current situation that we're in...


written by Bakir, October 20, 2009 

Nice article. Congrats!


written by ogi, October 20, 2009 

Selma, this truly is a great article that sums up the Butmir summit as well as current efforts being made by the international community to change the situation in Bosnia. However, in my opinion it is going to take a lot more effort from all sides to revert the this stalemate. I want to stay optimistic and say that the Butmir summit as well as other efforts being made by the International Community are steps in the right direction; That will hopefully bring about radical changes within Bosnian politic system.


written by Lee, October 21, 2009 

Bosnians need to remember that the UN, nor the EU, is a very good solution to thier dilemas. Bosnia is a small country with a small population. If the international community really wanted a Strong Bosnia, then they would have invested in soverign national defense and a stable political system. The "internationally designed" Bosnian government is "designed to fail." That is why the same problems keep occurring after so many years. If Bosnians want stability, then it must come from the grassroots efforts of the people to claim thier God-given rights of life, liberty, and property.


written by Amy, October 21, 2009 

Awesome job Selma! The article was informative and concise. I do hope that this effort at Butmir is a step in the right direction. I believe if all Bosnians can get behind this and not lose hope, there is a bright future in store for this country. It is a beautiful place filled with strong and passionate people who have been through so much but care greatly about the betterment of their country. Meeting people like you has showed me that.


written by Arina, October 22, 2009 

I liked your instant approach at the situation in BiH. As you predicted in this article, we saw nothing happened on the meeting in Butmir on the 20 October and again there was no agreement. What we have seen already it is repeating again.
The leaders of the five political parties can’t make an agreement because none of the parties is pleasant with the offer by the EU and US officials. They can’t even agree on the minimum offered to them.
The good thing though is that they began to meet each other and negotiate. The bad thing is that for things to change people need to change too in order to build harmony, said one of the political party lieder Zeljko Komsic.
BiH needs help by the EU experts which will continue meetings with politicians.
In your analysis you should have explained more closely the motives of Republika Srpska and why Milorad Dodik represents its interests.
In some other analysis you should pay more attention on this matter.
It is sure that the Butmir process will demand continuation of negotiations in political parties and between them.



PhD in Human Behaviour
written by Ruben Boers, October 26, 2009 

Hi Selma, impressive contribution to the description of the situation in BiH and its future. You have a sharp eye for all contributing parties in the present status quo: the EU, Republika Srpska and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Although I understand that you describe the Siroki Brijeg-incident to ethnical hatred, I must point out that these sorts of incidents happen all over Europe between football fans and therefore probably have nothing to do with ethnical hatred. More important however is that it strikes me, in a positive way, that the opening of the Karadzic trial hardly gets any attention in the daily national newspapers. In Serbia only Danas has a short article on page 11. The Bosnian newspaper Dnevni Avaz only writes about the 21 busses that have left to The Hague for a protest. This might point to an interesting process: that the interest for nationalism is declining and remains with a shrinking group of an older generation and extremist youth. This group will not change in their ideas and thoughts.
From my own experience I see a new generation, not having (consciously) experienced the war and who are tired of the present situation in Bosnia and their own. In my opinion the real focus of the international community should be on this generation. The international community leaves the opportunity to improve a widespread education combined with good future prospects. Individual countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia understand this very well, but their forms of help are questionable. A visa free regime should be one of the first steps that should be undertaken, even if BiH doesn't meet the international standards. Isolating the country even more than it is now will downplay any positive movements from this new generation and stimulate extremism on all sides. The money that comes from international help (and disappears quite as fast through corruption) should be better spent on fundings that focus on collaboration between universities of BiH and qualified universities in the international community. Exchange of ideas through international seminars, foreign (paid) internships for bosnian students and improving the educational system in BiH as a whole, will be more fruitful than dealing with old-school politicians, trying to change them and invent costly new political frames. Changes can never be implemented by an outside world, the Dayton agreement shows that perfectly, it has to come from within, from this new generation that at the moment suffers from economical hardships and has hardly any hope for a bright future even if they have followed an academic studies. The potential for change is there, the generation who wants that change as well. Contributing to improve the conditions for that generation to work in, can be established, but the international community should then change her focus from the loudest groups to the more silent ones.



written by Miroslav, October 26, 2009 

sorry for my bed english but i dont agre with your artikle. you sey some good things but you miss others which is important. maybe write more becuase there many problems -- for example, young people and future sekurity in B&H


Professor for Visual Communication 

written by Michael Hardt, October 26, 2009 

I have read your courageous article. A condition to solve problems is to name them. You belong to a generation that has war memories from the childhood and wants to create sustainable peace. I think the peace will come when you manage to understand also the other side. I think only your generation can create this understanding.



written by Mrs. Hibbert, November 11, 2009 

I totally agree.


United States Marine Corps (ret) 

written by Bill, November 19, 2009 

In my comments I will attempt to reply by each paragraph and stay on topic with each comment. As many know Bosnia is a very complex problem and as with any other similar situations, the are many different threads which weave the final piece of fabric.

In the last sentence of the first paragraph the author states that the OHR and the International Community failed in establishing security and prosperity. I disagree. The Bosnian leadership and the people of Bosnia have failed to establish this. It is nearing 15 years since Dayton was signed, when will "Bosnia" begin taking responsiblity for it's own security, rebuilding and prosperity? When will the leadership, stop personal, nationalistic agendas that rip the country apart? When will they stop the blatant corruption and cut the red tape that plagues the country from attracting investors there that will provide employment and economic growth? When will the the local populace join as "one" people vote, protest, demonstrate and demand that the leaders be held accountable for their actions? Instead coffee bars are filled with locals complaining about no jobs, what football team won last night, what concert will be playing this week, and the oh well what can we do shrugging? I refer to it as the "oh pity me" attitude. When will the populace start getting involved and becoming informed and group together as one? It has been said that a largely unemployed populace are not a happy people, they therefore become disillusioned, ignorant and are easily led down a wrong path, many times this path leads to war as the populace readily jumps to the call of arms by anyone who brings a flicker of hope.
As to replacing the OHR with an EU representative. Yes, after 14 years Bosnia should have been on the path to economic growth, stability and closer to EU recognition. While the OHR has also been plagued by outside influence by UN member countries, I fear that an EU office will not have the sweeping powers necessary to maintain stability that the High Representative (HR) has now.

The EU did nothing but stand by and wring it's hands when the Bosnian war started and throughout. They were pleading for the US to become involved, to which a newly elected Clinton Administration trying to get it's arms around things answered on many occassions "this is a European problem." The US had also just come out of the first Gulf War and the US populace was not ready to support another conflict so quickly. Throughout the years, on about three occassions I recall being ordered to "get ready" and then standing down while the Clinton administration tangled with the issue. In the latter years, the US knew very well what was happening in Bosnia (genocide), and stood by and did nothing until the US media brought to light what was reallly happening there. At that point the administration knew the US populace would back sending US troops after seeing the horrible atrocities on their living room televisions. The truth was, the US knew the Bosnian Muslims were bringing in Mujahideen fighters, and equipment from out of the country and the red flare went up! The US and western Europe could not afford in their eyes to have what they felt could eventually become a radical islamic state in Europe. Anyone who thinks the US went in on humane grounds is sadly mistaken. The fact is Bosnia holds NO "strategic or economic" interest for the US. After 9/11 and two major ongoing conflicts, plus a few unknown strategic striking points at terrorism, the US most likely would not become involved in another Bosnian conflict. My point? If the EU were to replace OHR, I forsee them not having those sweeping powers; becoming tired quickly of the stagnation that continues to plague the country; shutting the EU office down and wringing their hands again if the country goes to war again. This time the US will most likely be very reluctant to do anything but protest verbally. This is an insinuation, but let's not forget that the US has invested heavily in Serbia and most likely Croatia which are strategically important militarily and predominantly christian as is the US.


written by Bill, November 19, 2009 

On the topic of Milorad Dodik. Yes, he is barking with no bite. However, as the author points out later, the populace in the Republika Srpska clearly stands behind him. This somewhat goes back to my statement of the unemployed masses, who don't educate themselves. He whips up that nationalistic fervor that plagues the kafanas where the unemployed sit and drink coffee and other adult beverages until late hours. Before I go on, "the fear of a new war," let's not forget about Herzegovina and how the Croatian fervor is there. In my opinion, the threat of war is a mainly two pronged strategy from Croatia and Serbia who both are being backed by outside countries who have their agendas in mind. Back to Dodik, I used to laugh inside every time I heard him refered to as a "papak," a kind of redneck type for my US readers. He may speak and act like one, but do not fool yourselves. Dodik moved quickly to do two things to benifit the the Serb entity economically, get telecommunications on track and get moving on the C-5 corridor. Both of these are key to investors and economic developement. Business thinking; can I communicate effectively worlwide and can I move my product quickly? In Srebrinica, the RS was leasing low cost space and assisting with grants along with international agencies to encourage investment there. I speak on this from personal experience, it is much easier to conduct business in the RS than it is in the Federation. The Federation is plagued by red tape. It took myself and some friends months to even register a business in the Federation whereas it would have only taken days in the RS. I have heard the same story over and over from others. This type of moving forward does in fact lend itself to advancing the Serb entity to appearing like a full fledged state.

Entiities being dissolved, regions and entity voting. My opinion, whatever international laws need be applied, Dayton must be ammended, the Inner-ethnic boundry line stricken. Bosnia divided into regions, with the populace of said regions voting for thier own local and national representation. Big step here, and it is that Bosnia have ONE NATIONALLY ELECTED LEADER who guides and steers the nation into prosperity and security. In addition the OHR should remain with it's broad powers until Bosnia is well on it's way to being peaceful, showing economic prosperity and moving closer to EU membership. And finally one little added "spank." The mention of any entity or religion except Bosnian during political activities the HR removes that person, party or entity from any further elections. This will sound familiar to Bosnians...TITO! This is what held the Former Republic of Yugoslavia together, nationalism not be allowed, except this time the Security and Intelligence apperats won't be beating on the door at 3am and jailing people. You're just simply banned from politics for a given amount of time.

Under ignorance, clientalism and corruption, I have addressed a lot of that already. Brcko District wouldn't exist under a One Bosnia. Would that "region" profit more than others? Of course it would, but some choose to live in the mountains, some choose to farm and others be businessmen. Anyone has the right to move to Brcko and reap the benifits if they have the knowledge and stamina to profit from it. The state doesn't decide where you live, what your occupation is, and what your affairs are (less taxs of course). So, get off your butt and make it happen if that is what a person desires. This brings me to another subject I am not totally well versed on. The Dayton Accords as I understand it stated that Bosnia was to have some type of "free access" to the Port of Ploce in Croatia. My memory is a little faint, but as of 2000 this was not being enforced, nor was anything being done about it. This was to allow Bosnia to not be totally landlocked economically. Forgive me if I'm incorrect, but I'm not about to go back and read Dayton to see.



USMC (ret)
written by Bill, November 19, 2009 

The Black list, in the last year western diplomats have fretted and expressed openly that Bosnia is more tense than it has been since just after Dayton. Europe, rightly so worries about another influx of refugees from a country whose people bare a burden on their social system. Especially when the world is economically in dire straits. Furthermore, why extend a "privelage" to a country that is not contributing or showing signs of contributing in the near future to the EU? When it gets down to it, it's all about money. Croatia and Serbia have issued passports to some, they're looking out for their best interest if another "situation" occurs.

On Bildt's role, I cannot speak to this on the micro level. As I said before there are outside interest, whether it be personal or nationalistic. On Gsp Plavsic. I abhore any person that takes part in, directs or is privy to and does nothing when it comes to inhumane acts. This is a very touchy subject for me as I wore a military uniform for almost 22 years and it bares on me heavily when I see a person who is supposed to be held to a higher standard and know who the "enemy" is commit such atrocities. It is nothing more than a total disgrace as a soldier and more so to any nation that allows it. We in the US are having to come to grips with that now. That said, I will give Biljana Plavsic one credit. Instead of running for years, she took it and turned herself in. Was she guaranteed a deal? Only she and whomever she may have cut a deal know. Many said that Hollbrook promised and cut Karazdic a deal. Personally I don't beleive that and will not go into why. Only Mr H and Mr K will ever really know what was said.

Do not be fooled what the US says it's role is publicly. This is going to raise some eyebrows all around. The US is very well aware of radicalism and direct links to terrorism that are there in Bosnia. I know first hand some of these links go to very high levels. The US is most likely trying to keep that small percentage of radicals in the Federation from festering and to keep the outside radical influence in check. I won't belabor the point except to say I'll refer back to the beginning of this comment as to why the US really became involved in this last war. Radicalism and terrorism is a totally different problem and subject. One I'd like to see someone from Bosnia address without being naive and biased.

Stalemate continues. I spent a better half of my military career and my life in and out of the Balkans. As I write these words now it saddens me as it has on many occassions that my friends there of all different ethnic backgrounds are still plagued by a country that doesn't move forward after so many centuries and especially the last few years. I fear the worst for them and pray that they will not have to experience another war.

The last few paragraphs bring into focus a core problem that I waited until the end to touch on. It is one that touches almost every person in the country. I personally do not know of anyone that didn't lose someone during this last war. The loss of someone close is one of the most horrific things, more so if it was an immediate family member and if it was during war. This has plagued the Balkans for centuries. I wonder if when the Bogamils traveled through to Ragusa they ever saw that coming? They were mere traders trying to make money and provide for their families. As expansionism, fanaticism grew through the years the area has always been plagued with hate and war. Call me naive because I'm from a young country, but when will it STOP! When will people say, "it hurts, but I won't hold against every other ethnicity what happened, because I don't want my children and grandchildren to go through what I did?" When will people quit being selfish and think about the future generations? A country where those future generations can roam freely through the vast beauty of the Bosnian mountains and rivers enjoying some of the countries greatest assets without having to worry about seing a sign or tape that warns of mines? The hate must stop. And when the populace stops hating, the politicians have no one to manipulate but a few. Then and only then do you become Bosnians, not Bosnian Croat, Bosnian Muslims, Bosnian Serbs, just Bosnians, the people I have grown to know, love, who have shared their food, homes and good times with me. As you say in the language STO GODINA, let's have at least 100 years of peace.

I apologize for this being so long (and in three parts), but it is something near to my heart. I want to thank the author for having the courage to write this and attempting to bring it to the attention of a much broader