Beyond Dayton: Reconstructing Bosnian Society

The ultimate challenge, to re-create Bosnia as a single state, requires substantial grass-roots assistance

BRINGING peace to Bosnia-Herzegovina may prove to be an easier proposition than reconciling three deeply divided communities. While the military components of the Dayton accord are being successfully implemented, the political, social, and human rights provisions are more troublesome. Without grass-roots assistance, the political agreement may capsize as Bosnia unravels.

Bosnia faces serious challenges. First, too little time has been allowed for organizing free and fair national and regional elections. The ballot has been scheduled for September under the supervision of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. With over 2 million refugees and displaced people, voter registration lists are outdated, incomplete, and liable to manipulation. Neither comprehensive monitoring of balloting and vote counting nor equal access to the news media by all political parties can be guaranteed.

Second, the democratization of an essentially authoritarian system in all three parts of Bosnia will prove a daunting task. The country has confronted two intertwined antidemocratic trends: the promotion of ethnic exclusivity and division, and the consolidation of a centralized political structure favoring the strongest nationalist parties among all three ethnic groups.

Dominating parties

The three ethnic parties - the Party of Democratic Action (Muslim), the Croatian Democratic Union, and the Serbian Democratic Party - dominate all state institutions and security services. Questions remain whether the Army, police, civil service, judicial system, and economic enterprises can be de-politicized and de-ethnified. The position of nonethnic democratic parties remains weak, although they have solid public support in larger Bosnian cities. Following elections, the nationalist parties likely will divide up the ministries and major government institutions.

Third, the administration will be hard pressed to maintain social peace. It will be burdened with rebuilding the economic infrastructure and providing a safety net for refugees and the unemployed. Despite initial pledges by the international community, Sarajevo is unlikely to receive sufficient financial assistance. Estimates indicate more than $5 billion will be needed over two years to restore Bosnia to its pre-war level of productivity.

Melding into one

Fourth, the development of a multiethnic state will prove especially challenging. Despite the 1993 Washington Agreement, which nominally established the Muslim-Croat Federation, little progress has been made in melding two essentially parallel political, security, and economic structures. Despite the presence of the European Union, United Nations, and now NATO, the reintegration of deliberately divided communities is riddled with resistance by local politicians and military commanders. Many people remain distrustful and fearful of domination by ethnic rivals.

The ultimate challenge will be to recreate Bosnia as a single state. The Dayton accord contains no real enforcement mechanisms for the country's political and social reconstruction. The coming year could see the emergence of a weak central government in Sarajevo and two stronger ''statelets'' that will veto legislation, paralyze important policy initiatives, and consolidate ethnic division and partition.

Substantial work by local democrats and the international community is necessary in all aspects of social reconciliation and community reconstruction. The Center for Strategic and International Studies has been active on the ground in Bosnia for more than a year, seeking to bring together religious leaders as well as lay people concerned with conflict resolution. We aim to develop dialogue among the ethnic groups and to promote public participation in the arduous task of social reconciliation.

CSIS, in cooperation with other invaluable Western initiatives, is planning to expand its work in Bosnia. It will involve local politicians, women's activists, refugee representatives, mass media figures, educators, and young people in a long-term program of community reconstruction. If Bosnia is to become a credible democratic and European-oriented state it must be built on the foundations of a pluralistic political system with an independent news media and local involvement in problem-solving and decisionmaking.

Without such constructive involvement, Bosnia faces further instability, which could escalate regional conflicts and cause problems for the Atlantic alliance.

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