[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 21 November 2005, 17:11 GMT
Analysis: Bosnia's post-war rebirth
By Gabriel Partos
BBC South-East Europe analyst

Ten years ago, on 21 November 1995, the leaders of Bosnia-Hercegovina, Croatia and Serbia concluded a peace deal at a US air force base at Dayton, Ohio, to end what was widely seen as Europe's bloodiest war since World War II.

Before and after images of the Bosnian war

At the time Bosnia lay in ruins. Half its pre-war population of 4.3 million was displaced.

Most of its key infrastructure was destroyed. And its GDP was just 15% of what it had been before the fighting broke out.

Today Bosnia looks in many ways rather like its Balkan neighbours. Much of the war damage has been repaired.

People move about without restrictions or fear. Free and fair elections are being held, though these are still dominated by ethnically-based parties.

A country once virtually partitioned, now operates as a single state, albeit with considerable autonomy for its two entities - the Serb Republic and the Federation which brings together primarily the Muslim and Croat communities.

The return of so many refugees has indeed surprised observers, who at the time of Dayton believed the treaty lacked the mechanisms to ensure its promise of the right to return.

Going home

A big improvement in the security situation since the end of the 1990s has made it possible for over half a million refugees to return to their homes in areas where their ethnic group forms a minority.

In addition to these so-called "minority returns", roughly the same number of refugees have gone back to Bosnia - though not necessarily to their pre-war homes, but to areas where they feel safer.

Refugees have been returning in huge numbers after fleeing the conflict
Refugees have returned as the security situation improves
The result: about half of Bosnia's 2.2 million wartime refugees are now considered to have returned. It is a success story - but only a partial one at that: 10 years after the end of the war it is not expected that many more will now follow suit.

Refugee returns on this scale would have been inconceivable without the consolidation of security.

The returnees' sense of security has been boosted by S-For's capture of more than 20 war crimes suspects indicted by the Hague Tribunal.

But to this day, the two most prominent indictees, the Bosnian Serbs' wartime leader, Radovan Karadzic, and his military commander, Gen Ratko Mladic, remain on the run. Bosnia's non-Serbs see this as a continuing affront to their sense of justice.

The transformation in the climate of security has been reflected in the diminishing size of the peacekeeping operation, which began with a massive Nato-led troop deployment of 60,000 soldiers.

Nato's command was transferred at the end of 2004 to the European Union's Eufor which has just under 7,000 troops stationed in Bosnia.

Carl Bildt was the international community's first High Representative to Bosnia. He arrived in Bosnia shortly after Dayton to oversee peace implantation and believes the peacekeepers' presence is now largely symbolic.

"We can take away all of the troops, if we want to: I don't see any possibility of anyone in Bosnia going back to war at any time that you and I have reason to be concerned about," he said.

Political integration

When Dayton was agreed, to many it seemed to signal the effective partitioning of a weak state - along ethnic lines.

Accession will not be an easy or quick process. It's likely to take another 10 years before Bosnia can become an EU member
Real power lay with the authorities in the two entities. Each of the two entities had its own fully-fledged government, army and police force.

The central government was little more than an empty shell. And even its few powers - confined to foreign affairs and trade, monetary policy and customs as well as refugee issues - were openly flouted.

Over the years the balance has gradually shifted towards transferring authority back to the central government, whose ministries have increased from three to nine.

Bosnia once again has many of the practical and symbolic features of an integrated state: a stable currency, the convertible Marka; common car number plates and passports; a border police force; and a war crimes court.

Police reforms recently agreed envisage a more co-ordinated approach, with some police districts cutting across the inter-entity boundary line. And next year the two separate armies are to be merged.

Economic woes

Yet problems remain - not least in the sluggish economy which since the immediate post-war years of massive reconstruction aid has seen very little foreign investment and less than impressive growth.

Many economists blame the complex system of overlapping institutions and rival authorities for the lacklustre economic performance.

Bosnia's only wealth is in administrators: it has no fewer than 14 governments - at central, entity and cantonal levels - with more than 150 ministers.

"The main problem is the absence of a single economic space", says Azra Hadziahmetovic, a former minister of foreign trade.

"We have 60% of pre-war GDP, and if we continue in the next few years with these trends, we will reach the pre-war level of GDP not earlier than 2015."

The need to improve Bosnia's economic performance is just one of the reasons why further constitutional reforms are needed.

EU bid

There is also Bosnia's ambition to join the EU and Nato - and both institutions require a more integrated and better-functioning Bosnian state.

Under EU and US pressure, leaders of Bosnia's main political parties are edging towards agreement on substantial constitutional amendments.

These would envisage stronger powers for the central government and parliament, a streamlined administration and less reliance on ethnic criteria in filling elected posts.

As Bosnia begins to stand on its own two feet, the intrusive presence of the high representative is to be replaced over the next year by the much more hands-off facilitating work of an EU special envoy.

Some fear that abolishing the high representative's powers - such as imposing legislation and dismissing elected officials - will lead to paralysis.

Paddy Ashdown, the British politician and current high representative, thinks the risk is worth taking.

"We have to take the risk - small risk, in my view - to allow the Bosnians full, democratic, sovereign statehood. And you can only do that if you allow people the possibility to make mistakes."

Meanwhile, the EU has made it clear that it cannot conclude a Stabilisation and Association Agreement, or SAA - the first formal step towards Bosnia's eventual EU membership - unless Bosnia has a fully-sovereign government, rather than the kind of semi-protectorate that the high representative embodies.

As a Dayton anniversary birthday present, the EU's foreign ministers have now authorised talks with Bosnia on an SAA.

The start of negotiations is a key moment for Sarajevo because it symbolises that Bosnia is now viewed as no different from the rest of the region.

Launching these talks matters not only to Bosnia. "It's important for the EU," says Olli Rehn, the EU's Enlargement Commissioner, "because the stabilisation and association process is, in fact, the glue that keeps the western Balkans together and on a stable, peaceful, European track."

Ten years after the Dayton peace accords Bosnia is embarking on the road to eventual EU membership.

Accession will not be an easy or quick process. It is likely to take another 10 years before Bosnia can become an EU member.

But reforms in Bosnia are gathering pace. And it has passed the half-way mark on the path from savage conflict to a place in Europe.

Ex-foes make peace at Omarska
21 Nov 05 |  Europe
EU puts Bosnia on path to entry
21 Nov 05 |  Europe
Analysis: Serb surrender surge
29 Apr 05 |  Europe
Country profile: Bosnia-Hercegovina
23 Oct 05 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Bosnia-Hercegovina
23 Oct 05 |  Country profiles

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific