25 years after peace deal, Bosnia endures division and stagnation

BRCKO, Bosnia (Reuters) – Mirsad Zahirovic is a university-educated journalist and activist who moonlights as a waiter because he is not a member of one of the ruling political parties, which is almost the only way to get a job in his native Bosnia.

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The 28-year-old belongs to “the children of Dayton”, a generation named after the peace agreement signed 25 years ago at a U.S. air force base in Dayton, Ohio. The accord ended three-and-a-half years of ethnic warfare in Bosnia that killed 100,000 people and forced 2 million from their homes.

Zahirovic, who has made a documentary film about the Dayton generation, doesn’t see much benefit from those 25 years of peace.

“The only good thing from Dayton is that it stopped the war,” he said.

Bosnia is marking the 25th anniversary of Dayton on Saturday without much fanfare, politically polarised as ethnic rivals squabble over whether to leave the settlement as it is or revise the constitution, which is part of the accords.

The U.S.-brokered peace deal ended hostilities between Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) by splitting the country into two ethnically divided entities, linked via a weak central government.


Several years later, the northern town of Brcko was declared a neutral district outside the jurisdiction of the two regions, and was hailed as Bosnia’s biggest success as refugees from all ethnic groups returned and the economy blossomed.

But after an initial burst of economic growth following Dayton, Bosnia has stagnated as investors began to avoid a country held back by red tape and corruption. Bosnia has for years been at the bottom of the Transparency International corruption index, its score steadily dropping since 2012.

There has also been a massive exodus of young people – Bosnia had the biggest brain drain in the world along with Haiti and Venezuela in the 2018 Global Competitiveness Report released by the World Economic Forum.

“The people here want hope,” said U.S. Ambassador Eric Nelson. “There is a (European Union) road map to the future and a strong support for Bosnia-Herzegovina accomplishing that goal.”

“But actions need to take place here, and that’s going to require leaders to stop thinking only of narrow political interests, … and start thinking about long-term progress of this country,” Nelson said.

The stagnation is visible in Brcko, where few are optimistic about the future.

“The situation is difficult, nothing has changed since the war ended, political parties still produce the same propaganda, there is no progress,” said Jasmin Jukan, a Bosniak, having his regular afternoon beer with a Serb neighbour.

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