Bosnia - the international community and Izetbegović’s project of dediscoursification

Bosnia – the international community and Izetbegović’s project of dediscoursification

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s politics in the post-Dayton period is to a large extent a politics of continuation of war by other means, and for such a continuation international actors are indeed chiefly responsible.

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By Dražen Pehar

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How did key actors of international community take part in Izetbegović’s project of dediscoursification in the course of apparent implementation of the Dayton peace plan? Most importantly, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s (BiH) Constitutional Court has on 1 July 2000 responded positively to Izetbegović’s appeal. One should have in this regard two crucial things in mind: BiH Constitutional Court has not accepted all the parts of Izetbegović’s appeal, but it has accepted the key one, to change the definition of entities into multiethnic units and to divorce the concept of ‘constituent peoples’ from the two-entity Dayton structure, which immediately implied the demand that some key provisions of the entity constitutions be annulled.[16] Secondly, a majority of Constitutional Court benches have indeed supported Izetbegović’s appeal, but it was a narrow one: the Constitutional Court vote was along the lines of ethnic separation; the two Bosniak judges were for it, the four Croat and Serb were against it, while the balance was tilted in favor of Izetbegović’s appeal thanks to the vote of three international judges who sided with Bosniak ones in this matter. Here, at a small arena, we see continuation of war by other means, we see ethnic polarization, and we see a victory that was imposed by a foreign quasi-mediator/arbitrator.

What explains such an attitude of international jurists who have in this case simply acted as an extended hand of some influential international actors, the USA and UK primarily? It is not difficult to propose an answer to such a question; the international actors, including USA primarily, did not take the Dayton compromise seriously either. They took it simply as a pretext to continue the war in BiH by other means. In addition to the acting of Bosnian post-Dayton dictator, i.e. High Representative, whose very acting generates dediscoursification,[17] the key factors in this regard are to be found in the views of some key international actors who have either openly and directly supported Izetbegović or endorsed a view of the Dayton peace agreement that indirectly supported Izetbegović’s symbolical undermining of the fundamental structure of the Dayton agreement.

For instance, when, in parallel to the July 2000 ruling by BiH Constitutional Court, the chief architect of Dayton openly stated that the recognition of RS, under such a name, was a mistake, one can immediately sense that the affair meant or involved a kind of collusion, or connection. Here I will remind the reader of the facts that elucidate such collusion in unambiguous terms. In order to place such facts within a single conceptual frame, first I refer to a brief paragraph from an article by James Adams that was recently published at TransConflict and also a forum of American NGO Building Peace:

“According to diplomats I interviewed in Bosnia the current highly dysfunctional and discriminatory ethno-political constitution and governmental structure, as instituted by the Dayton Accords to stop the war, was assumed at the time to be transitional by the original international negotiators. However, it was not officially designated as such due to a compromise with Serbian hardliners who preferred the Dayton-sanctioned post-war territorial status quo and segregated political arrangements. Therefore, no plan or timeline was set in place to officially facilitate a transitional process to a viable non-ethnic based constitution and governance structure. The Dayton ethno-political constitution defaulted to expedited fear-based ethno-political elections that only served to entrench hardline obstructionists in power and institutionalize structural violence.”[18]

What does this paragraph in Adams actually tell us? First of all, it embodies a perspective on Dayton that is fully in accord with the Bosniak-Muslim political elite, including Alija Izetbegović. Such a perspective cannot be discerned in the words of the Russian Federation representatives, or of many other representatives of EU nations, and especially it cannot be discerned in the words of RS representatives. Secondly, the paragraph single-handedly projects the key problem in one party to the BiH – in other words, it defines the RS itself as a problem, not as a constitutional category or as a part of the structure that defined a compromise and thus brought the armed conflict in BiH to a close.  Thirdly, the paragraph in fact nearly explicitly claims that the key mediators or international actors (have in mind that, within this context, we deal primarily with the US representatives and diplomats) did not take seriously the Dayton Constitution for BiH. They took it as something that is about to be soon dissolved. Additionally, this means that the Constitution currently in force is nearly explicitly designated as a means of deception of ‘Serb hard-liners.’ The Constitution was envisaged as something that should have motivated such hard-liners to a form of cooperation, but it was meant to play only a transitional role. Adams fails to explain how such a motivation could endure through the period of a radical alteration of the constitutional frame, and personally I am inclined to treat this part of the story simply as an expression of surreal American optimism. Fourthly, and finally, we need to notice that such a characterization of the Dayton agreement imposes on one a very uncomfortable intellectual dilemma: designation of a peace frame as transient and temporary implies some perspective on a frame that should replace the current one; however, such a perspective ought to be sufficiently realistic in the sense that it should be sufficiently supported and deemed legitimate by the key local actors of BiH politics; the dilemma is in the fact that the latter criterion contradicts the very designation of a peace frame as transitional and temporary. Additionally, if one designates a peace frame as transient just like that, and if one enjoys the status of a super-power and also of one of the chief sponsors of the frame, then it is very likely that all local parties to the frame will understand this as a signal that they need not adhere to the provisions of the peace, or that they could view the peace frame as but a short-lived mirage. Here is where one enters the field of dediscoursifying again, i.e. where one becomes a dediscoursifying agent.

Within the global conceptual frame thus explained, a large number of statements by some key planners and implementers of the US policy in Bosnia can be understood with no effort at all. Similarly to Izetbegović, James O’Brien, chief US legal advisor at the time of drafting of the Dayton constitution, frames the Dayton constitution in terms of ‘a war of provisions:’ he names one group of provisions as ‘backward looking’, hence regressive, and another group as ‘forward looking,’ hence progressive and preferable provisions.[19] That is why implementation of Dayton peace can be framed simply as a process of putting of some provisions out of force, or of diminishing their legal strength and impact, which unfortunately also implies undermining a compromise. In addition O’Brien openly conceded that, within the process of Dayton implementation, vagueness and ambiguity of some provisions was amply exploited by international actors.[20] Former chief US mediator for the BiH Federation, Daniel Serwer, in a private communication, conveyed to me that he tended to characterize the Dayton Constitution in the same fashion as Izetbegović, as an assembly of contradictory stipulations. Furthermore, at least three high representatives, Ashdown, Petritsch, and Inzko, gave some key statements that can be elucidated only within the aforementioned conceptual frame: Ashdown stated that his job as a high representative was to “gradually dismantle the Dayton structures” in order to create “efficient state-institutions.”[21] In other words, one high representative openly tells us that, in the style of American foreign policy and Izetbegović’s attitude to the Dayton Constitution, he in fact undermined the Dayton agreement and treated it as a pretext to create something that the parties to the agreement have not jointly sanctioned in late 1995. That is why Ashdown, after setting in place the armed force of BiH, moved the process of undermining of Dayton accords in the direction of establishment of ‘BiH police force’ (which is  not foreseen by the Dayton constitution), but was, fortunately, countered and stopped at least temporarily. Austrian Ambassador Petritsch was one who, through his amendments (signed suitably as he was departing from BiH), transformed the BiH  Constitutional Court July 2000 decision into institutional reality of BiH entities (of course, one needs to have in mind that his amendments provide only one of several possible interpretations of the July 2000 decision), and thus set the institutional conditions for the process of un-constituting of BiH Croats; also, we need not forget Petritsch’s frequent characterization of Dayton Constitution as a ‘straitjacket for BiH peoples and citizens.’[22] More recently, in April 2011 another Austrian high representative, Inzko issued a famous statement to the effect that BiH needs to be preserved in order to avoid “posthumous award-giving to Milošević and Karadžić.” Again, we see a high representative who attributed the key problems of BiH to the Serb party, to the Serb ‘aggressors and rapists of Bosnia’, which fully coincides with Izetbegović’s both war- and post-war policy. Finally, American Vice-president Biden, in his May 2009 speech before the BiH Parliament, demonstrated that, when it comes to the Dayton peace accords, he was interested in two basic things only: “We [USA] are your project;” this means that the ideal of BiH politics has been pre-defined – BiH politics need simply to follow the American ideal leadership as determined by the USA alone; secondly, as Biden emphasized, “today’s majority may tomorrow become a minority” – this clearly indicates that Biden was not at all concerned with the notion of constituent peoples, and, more importantly, was taking the basic constitutional constraints of Dayton not as really constraining or binding on the parties, but as relative and fluid elements that may soon change their position or weight within a loose constitutional frame.

Summarily then, one can clearly recognize the fact that the key actors of ‘international community’ buttressed Izetbegović’s post-Dayton acting, or perhaps, more precisely, treated Izetbegović as a medium through which constitutional constraints of Dayton can be weakened to pave the road towards a post-Dayton era in which ‘ethno-politics’ will cease to matter. Their own and Izetbegović’s attitude to the Dayton framework for peace are indistinguishable: they both deem the framework as a fig-leaf to impose an arbitrary interpretation (sanctioned by the figure of High Representative), or, euphemistically speaking, a creative revision, which, from the perspective of two constituent peoples of BiH, amounts simply to violation of a collective promise. Again, a predictable effect has followed: key actors of BiH politics are faced with the process of dediscoursification, of gradual suppression of the belief in the role and significance of language in international, or inter-group, relations, which is bound to lead to an increased readiness to tackle political conflicts and problems by non-discursive means.

This means that, nearly twenty years after adoption of the Dayton agreement, the political situation in BiH is essentially similar to one in early 1992; again, language is marked as a factor that makes no difference in politics; again, the key institutional frame is made practically meaningless; again the key actors sense mutual alienation due to the loss of trust produced by a non-committal attitude to one’s own word-promise, and to language in general. The situation is strikingly similar to the situation Cicero accounted in his famous passage from De Officiis: Spartan king Cleomenes signed with his neighbors a truce that should have lasted for thirty days (triginta dierum); however, a few days later he started raiding the fields of his neighbors, but did so over night – Cleomenes ‘justified’ his misdeed by emphasizing that the truce refers to days, not to nights. Cicero brings forward this example as an illustration of an important legal saying: summum ius summa iniuria, i.e. “a maximally stretched law involves a maximal injustice,” and adds that such overstretching of law is performed through a malitiosa interpretatio iuris, a malicious legal interpretation.[23] Within the context of the political relations in post-Dayton BiH, a pertinent question may be put as follows: how far has such overstretching of law in BiH gone, what has exactly motivated it, and can this condition be amended?


The first part of the question can be answered easily. The overstretching of law in BiH has not yet reached a maximum degree. Also, it is unrealistic to expect that the legal overstretching through a malicious and imposed legal interpretation can be further continued. For instance, it is nearly impossible to envisage a situation in which one takes one step further in direction of a further un-constituting of BiH Serbs through a direct assault on the RS by legal and diplomatic means (for instance, by demanding that the name ‘RS’ be modified and its ethnic attribute removed). Hence, and especially judging from some recent statement by relevant commentators, analysts, and even actors, it seems that the continuation of war in BiH by non-violent means has come to an impasse. However, interestingly, nobody seems to be satisfied by the degree of change actually effected. Actually, it seems that many actors are less satisfied today than in 1996 or 1997, which seems somewhat bizarre.

As to the issue of motivation, which is actually the key question, I do not think that I am able to give an unequivocal and straightforward response. What has actually, in reality, motivated the key players, such as US and UK, and a part of the EU, to disturb the subtle compromise reached in Dayton, and to side with one party to the BiH political conflict? What has motivated the former to thus produce great expectations in the latter, and also to discourage and alienate the other parties in BiH both from the peace process and the BiH constitutional frame as actually implemented? In other words, why dediscoursification when it is least needed? Some hypothetical answers can be formulated, but I am not certain about specific weight of each of the factors I will now point to.

It is possible that, as I noted earlier (in my essay on some disconcerting aspects of American foreign policy towards Bosnia-Herzegovina), that the US presents itself primarily as a protector of Bosniak-Muslim component because such an image enables them to neutralize the bad image of America as ‘anti-Muslim force’ (Iraq, Syria, Libya, Israel-Palestine, Iran etc.). Second, it is possible that foreign actors intend to preserve BiH in the state of low-level but non-armed conflict, which enables them to intervene as they wish and, more importantly, to test their mutual relations on a mini-model. Third, it is possible that the complication and destabilization of relations in BiH is motivated simply by a colonial sympathy for dramatization: once you decide to assume the status of a colonizer in a country, which international community did through the figure of high representative, you cannot simply say to the local actors the following: “guys, here is the peace agreement; you simply read and implement it; should you disagree on some detail, you need to negotiate and continue negotiating until you reach an agreement.” As a colonizer you need some kind of drama, an internal tension in your colonial house to create impression that there is something worth fighting for. For instance, you fight for the ideal of multi-ethnicity, or the ideal of punishing the aggressor, or the ideal of correcting the injustice caused by the war, or the ideal of overcoming the ‘backward ethno-politics’, or something similar.

Fourth, it is quite possible that the colonizers got carried away in their business of ‘state-making.’ As entities connote some division and separation, ‘state-making’ should connote reintegration, the overcoming of divisions, and conflict-resolution. Some naïve people have perhaps thought that ‘state-making’, which in the context of Dayton actually means ‘expansion of the central powers of the government,’ can be presented as universally acceptable and as bringing order into a complex community, which ought to be accepted by all. Why should not the peoples cooperate at the state level, and, once they do so, why should they need entities? In other words, here we see a naïve kind of motivation – we envisage a foreign mediator as a peace-maker with the role of state-maker who is confident about his role regardless of the responses such a role produces locally, within the ethnic communities of BiH.

Fifth, one should not forget financial motivation and the influence of very local factors. First, international officials in BiH are well paid, and for this one needs to create the impression that one has indeed been very busy, that one is engaged in some matters that are of critical importance for BiH. For such a purpose, what can be better than the impression that the BiH is still beset by a war over key political issues? One should, for instance, have in mind that, for year 2013/14, which was a very low point in terms of international engagement and payment, in BiH, the OHR budget amounted to more than €7m, with the EU providing more than a half of the funding. That money, however, is simply paying the salaries of international officials and their local assistants, but is then also spent by the local actors including the local landlords, hotel-owners etc. Additionally, the state which is every so often endangered by a serious political conflict tends to get poorer every day, which however improves the chance of foreign investors or buyers to buy some sectors of the impoverished economy at a lower price. Now, as to the influence of local factors and elites, have in mind that the institutions of international community are mainly located in Sarajevo; hence it is much easier for the advocates of Bosniak unitary politics, or for some kind of anti-Dayton and anti-ethnic intellectual elite, than for intellectual elite in Mostar or Banja Luka, to influence those institutions.

Whatever one’s response to the issue of motivation, one thing is strikingly clear: BiH politics in post-Dayton period is to a large extent a politics of continuation of war by other means, and for such a continuation the international actors are indeed chiefly responsible. The politics looks like a perfect embodiment of Foucault’s dictum that, in certain contexts, one needs to invert the famous dictum by Clausewitz to the effect that “war is continuation of politics by other means.” We saw that, in this regard, the international representatives exploited Izetbegović’s generally non-binding attitude to language, and in particular to a peace agreement. It is again advisable to emphasize both Izetbegović’s and O’Brien’s characterization of Dayton Constitution as a contradiction writ large: in a purely discursive sense, such a characterization has two key effects – first, it implies that Dayton Constitution is binding neither on Izetbegović nor on O’Brien since a contradiction can bind none;   secondly, such a characterization makes the job of ‘interpretation’ of the constitution extremely easy, but also unavoidably irrational; as to the latter, the job is bound to be irrational since a contradictory proposition entails all propositions and no proposition at the same time; and the job is made extremely easy because, to Izetbegović and O’Brien, it can be reduced to an arbitrary selection of a single proposition from the contradictory pair – conveniently to Izetbegović and O’Brien, it is a proposition that reflects the interest of Izetbegović (and O’Brien) and excludes the interests of the other parties; however, one also needs to have firmly in mind that the proposition coincides with Izetbegović’s key war-time aim, a fully sovereign and indivisible BiH in which individual, and not collective, rights play the key constitutional role. Hence, it is clear that such a constitutional hermeneutics, supported also by high representatives to BiH, in fact reproduces the state of war within the medium of an apparent implementation of Dayton framework for peace.

Lastly, can the situation be amended? Is it possible to secure a transition from a discourse-unfriendly politics (1991-2014) to a politics that respects discursive values and demonstrates a higher degree of civilization by, for instance, fulfillment of the promise in the way that satisfies all the parties who jointly gave it? In principle, the answer to this question is in the positive. However, one should not forget that in the meantime, in the course of Dayton implementation thus far, some damage was inflicted, and that one should repair the damage in order to create a stable basis for the politics of rediscoursification. Besides, some actors ought to assume responsibility for such a damage which, in our case, cannot be attributed solely to ‘the hard-liners’ or ‘ethno-political elite,’ or whatever name one chooses for those local ‘baddies.’

Reasoning in such a direction, BiH actually needs a much deeper change than one that would be effected by a new constitution; also, I am very uncertain as to the following issue: has in BiH remained a minimum amount of trust that is required for implementation of any constitution? Therefore, for now, perhaps we should all welcome the possibility of rewinding the time back to late 1995, the period of arrival at original Dayton formula for BiH, with the international community giving the promise that no high representative would ‘come to help’ BiH as it was done in late 1997. However, this kind of scenario is of a low likelihood despite its fairness and a maximum benefit to BiH. It is much more likely that we will continue to vegetate politically in the state of post-Dayton war, in a fluid and to all an uncertain context, which to a large extent simply reflects both the character of pre-modern communities and immoral Realpolitik of major powers. Actual profit, which is in a postmodern world the only value that matters, must have already been distributed among some privileged actors; the post-Dayton war in BiH, in this kind of perspective, serves as a useful veil that protects those actors from both public scrutiny and an annoying interference by the bodies of the state.

Dražen Pehar has a PhD in politics and international relations from Keele University (SPIRE 2006), holds an assistant professorship (BiH) in the philosophy of law and in politics with sociology. Dražen is a DiploFoundation Associate, and previously served as Chief of Staff to the BiH Federation President (1996) and as a media analyst to the OHR (1999/2000). Dražen is also part of the Institute for Social and Political Research (IDPI), a member of theGlobal Coalition for Conflict Transformation

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16) See (accessed on 30 October 2014)

17) See Pehar (2014b)

18) Adams, James, „Bosnia – Stabilization Stalled in Negative Peace“ (Transconflict, 27 October 2014), (accessed on 30 October 2014)

19) Kostić (2011, 109-112)

20) O’Brien (2010, 348)

21) Interview to Dnevni Avaz (Sarajevo, 16 May 2009)

22) It is interesting to note that Petritsch applied Marxist doctrine of ‘withering away of the state’ to the process of gradual disempowerment of High Representative, for which see Kostić (2013, 38, note 16); this demonstrates complete political ignorance of the person who once played the dominant role in BiH politics.

23) See Cicero (1921, I33); it is important to have in mind that Cleomenes can be presented as one of the first practitioners of ‘postmodernist philosophy’ in the area of practical hermeneutics of peace agreements; postmodernist philosophy views meanings as fluid, unstable and open to a never-ending process of interpretation, and it also teaches that there is no truth, but only different perspectives, and that, due to what postmodernists present as principal incommensurability of criteria, the strength of competing reasons can never be fully determined. I deem postmodernism simply as an assembly of incoherent and self-defeating propositions; however, one needs to have in mind that the intellectual trend has exerted enormous (and harmful) influence over many areas of contemporary both social and political life. For an eloquent critique of postmodernism, with which I to a large extent agree, see Gellner (1992).


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