Bosnia - Izetbegović and implementation of the Dayton peace agreement

Bosnia – Izetbegović and implementation of the Dayton peace agreement

Alija Izetbegović, a member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina until 2000, considered the post-Dayton peace agreement period as a frame that ought to be used as a tool to continue the war by verbal means, including both legal and diplomatic channels.

 Suggested Reading Collaborate Analysis

By Dražen Pehar

The first part of this paper is available by clicking here.

At the time I started formulating the theory of dediscoursification, Alija Izetbegović seemed to me to be able to serve as a highly pertinent and illustrative example.[9] There is no doubt that Izetbegović through 1991-1992 acted upon his political interlocutors as a dediscoursifier – he was demotivating them in the sense of producing in them the loss of belief in the possibility of arriving at a negotiated formula or compromise, a long term solution to Bosnia-Herzegovina’s (BiH) problems, in communicative partnership with him. Izetbegović’s discourse is filled with examples that violate all key values of the moral-discursive matrix of language: for instance, we find many contradictory statements concerning essential issues and aspects of BiH politics; the statement on a civil, ethnically unmarked BiH in parallel with a statement on BiH-Moslems as a foundational, and even majority, people to BiH who can claim some special rights over the state; or the expression of the wish to accept the condition of war with the aim of defending Bosnia’s full sovereignty in the sense of an undivided rule; but also the expression of readiness to arrange the relations within BiH in accordance with both Serb and Croat interests. The ultimate effect of such contradictions is easy to predict: your interlocutor ceases to ascribe some meaningful content to your statements because they cancel each other out, which then generates in your interlocutor the belief that, to you, language is neither an essential nor a binding medium. Furthermore, on a number of occasions Izetbegović indicated that he did not at all subscribe to the view of inherent power of argumentation or exchange of reasons as a part of political discourse: he interrupted negotiations with the Serb representatives at the most critical point in time because, in his view, the distance between negotiating positions implied that there could be no agreement, and also that negotiating per se did not make sense. He has not thought for a second that the offering of political reasons, and a joint assessment of such reasons aiming at a kind of compromise, was the only discourse-friendly strategy in the given conditions, and more importantly that it was the only strategy that could have prevented war from erupting.

However, as a dediscoursifier, Izetbegović most clearly acted so upon the others through his treatment of constitutional-institutional frame that was in force in 1992 (The constitution of Socialist Republic of BiH prior to declaration of independence in 1992), and also through his attitude to the agreements he endorsed or signed in February and March 1992 that could have prevented the war. In the former sense Izetbegović of course was not the only culpable party as he was supported by the BiH Croat representatives: their walk towards BiH independence through referendum was joint one, and also their violation of the BiH Constitution then in force was shared too. According to the constitution then in force, any alteration of territorial-constitutional status of the Socialist Republic of BiH required two-third majority of the constituent peoples. However the referendum outcome failed to reach such a majority. This means that, in fact, the BiH independence referendum did not succeed, and, given the results of the referendum, Izetbegović together with the Bosniak and Croat political representatives had no right to declare independence. As they in fact declared it, they have violated the constitution then in force, which means that they have broken a collective promise that was supposed to be binding on all the peoples and citizens of BiH. Dediscoursification is a predictable effect of such a strategy: one cannot trust the person who fails to fulfil his or her promises simply because the failure to fulfil them indicates that, to the promise-breaker, language is not sufficiently binding; hence the language of all future promises, that all agreements normally involve, is unlikely to be sufficiently binding too, which necessarily has an adverse effect of one’s will to negotiate with a promise-breaker, given the fact that all negotiations are ultimately about the making of promises.

As to the second aspect of Izetbegović’s loose attitude to the agreements he signed, or to which he was implicitly committed, this was demonstrated unmistakably through his notorious reneging on two agreements: ‘Cutilheiro’s plan’ accepted in Lisbon a few days before the referendum, and the agreement on general principles accepted and initialed in Sarajevo in March 1992. Again Izetbegović acted in his role of a dediscoursifier: he reneged on the promises he made in a very critical situation in which such promises to all carried an utmost significance. To his political adversaries, for instance the representatives of the Serb people, this could have had only one impact: due to Izetbegović’s fundamental unreliability as a negotiator, hence as a user of language, they had to form increasingly the expectation that a war was forthcoming, which involved planning for an actual use of armed force. Additionally, one can today very successfully defend the view that, while Izetbegović was reneging on the said agreements, US Administration lent him their support and made his decision in favor of the war much easier; they have spotted an easily swayable actor who, due to his lack of faith in his own, internal political discourse, can be guided to this or that direction depending on a prevailing need. However, it is also interesting to note that, by the very end of Dayton negotiations, both American and European mediators remained uncertain as to Izetbegović’s readiness to sign the peace agreement.[10] Dediscoursifiers act upon all users of language equally: as the persons whose language can never be taken, or relied on, with confidence.

Today, of course, we are aware of the option Izetbegović ultimately chose at Dayton. He opted for a peace in the sense of a peace treaty that was set on relatively clear premises and signed with a specific understanding – two strong entities, one loose central government, and, of equal importance, representation of BiH constituent peoples through entities in the following way: BiH Federation as a shared Bosniak-Croat entity, and RS as an entity to represent primarily the Serb people in BiH.[10] Additionally, Dayton Constitution has endowed the entities with the right to establish special parallel relations with the neighboring states in accordance with the division of powers between the entity and the central level of government. Based on this provision, Republic of Croatia and the BiH Federation had such a special relationship, which was abrogated by Croatia on its road to the EU; a special parallel relations agreement between Republika Srpska and the Republic of Serbia remains in force.

I deem the theory of dediscoursification as an important theoretical frame not only for the purpose of elucidating the dynamics of relationship within the period that precedes the outbreak of armed conflict; the theory is of a sufficient strength and relevance to be applied to the periods that seem to be the periods of a post-war political peace. Hence, here we may immediately pose an interesting question: is the process of implementation of the Dayton framework for peace one of rediscoursifying, or is it perhaps of such a character that it too can be couched in terms of the theory of dediscoursification? In other words, assuming that the framework for peace embodies a collective promise, which implies primarily the commitment to be guided and bound by one’s own words under their agreed meanings, and also the capacity of rational argumentation in the condition of interpretive conflict, are we in position today to claim reasonably that the promise was fulfilled to a sufficient extent? Or, have some actors, by violating their own promise and thereby dediscoursifying their political partners, in fact showed the will to initiate a new round of armed conflict? In other words, have some actors, by relating to the language of the peace agreement in a harmful and discourse-unfriendly way, diminished in the others the will to resolve further political issues by negotiating, and thereby produced in the others both the kind of silence and the sense of dehumanization that, under suitable conditions, inescapably lead to an outbreak of armed violence?

There is no doubt that Alija Izetbegović considered the period of post-Dayton peace as a continuation of armed conflict by other means. To him the peace agreement meant but a frame that ought to be used as a tool to continue the war by verbal means including both legal and diplomatic channels. This can be documented easily by his public statements. One of his key theses concerning the Dayton Constitution reads that the constitution contains “an inaudible but dangerous war of provisions;”[12] this means that, as Izetbegović views it, war through one medium is simply replaced with a war through a different medium. One group of provisions takes one to one direction, as e.g. Bosniak-Muslim armed force did during the war, and another group takes one to a different direction, as e.g. Serb armed force did. The directions are opposed and irreconcilable; hence the only important question for Izetbegović may be put as follows: which group of provisions is likely to prevail at the expense of the other?

What we need to emphasize here emphatically is peculiarity of such a view: it is a strange and disturbing kind of legal-political hermeneutics within the confines of which the state of war cannot be distinguished from the state of peace. Language is not a medium that serves to stabilize relations or to contribute to an actual conflict resolution by, say, a compromise. It is a destabilizing factor, a medium in which the war continues, and which prevents arrival at a shared position or definition of compromise. Such an image of language affects one’s view of a peace agreement in the sense that it undermines or blocks two factors without which an actual peace implementation process cannot be envisaged: first, the factor of legal interpretation as a rational process that, on the premise of the agreement taken in its entirety, establishes the most solid and persuasive reasons in support of an interpretation that could be binding on all; secondly, the factor of a meaningful compromise that can effectively determine the contents of a collective promise to which the parties could effectively adhere – in Izetbegović’s view, there are only particular or individual perceptions of such a promise that generate a conflict over the meaning of the promise, and that therefore effectively undermine the notion of ‘commitment to the compromise.’

Had Izetbegović’s musings remained in the realm of theory, no serious political consequence would have followed; however, Izetbegović has also made his views operative in the sense of a demand with a legal force and effect. Some serious political effects have then taken place of which political destabilization of the BiH state, that marks the period from year 2000 till today, is the most disturbing one. How has such post-Dayton destabilization of relations been effected?

First, we need to have in mind an important fact: in early 1994 Izetbegović adopted Washington agreement on BiH Federation with a specific understanding in mind – BiH Federation is an entity constituted jointly by two constituent peoples, BiH Croats and BiH Bosniaks. As Izetbegović at a BiH Presidency session from 1994 emphasized, the Serb people are not constituent to the BiH Federation because that would means that “Serbs get a half of power within the whole of BiH, and one third in the BiH Federation.”[13] Such Izetbegović’s attitude remained, of course, unchanged at the date of his signature to the Dayton Framework for Peace, and continued unabated after the signature, in the period of the beginnings of implementation of the Dayton accords. One can undoubtedly recognize such an understanding in the structure of the Dayton constitution: the fact of separate entity-based constitutionality of the constituent peoples of BiH, of Croats and Bosniaks within the Federation and Serbs in the Republika Srpska (RS), is translated into adequate institutional forms; for instance, two members of the BiH Presidency (‘Croat’ and ‘Bosniak’) are elected from the territory of the Federation, whereas one member (‘Serb’) from the territory of the RS; similar forms dictate the method of electing of the BiH House of Peoples representatives; additionally, the fact of separate entity-based constitutionality is a source of the rationale for the right of establishment of special parallel relations between the entities and the neighbouring states.

However, in 1998 Izetbegović changed his view to the opposite direction. He submitted an appeal to the BiH Constitutional Court that contains the request to delete, or put out of force, exactly the provisions to which he signed in the period from 1994 till 1995. By reading carefully his appeal, one can quickly and unmistakably realize that Izetbegović now aims at devaluation of the key provisions of the Dayton Constitution for BiH: for instance, the provision on constitutionality of the peoples as entity-mediated; the provision on parallel special relations between entities and the neighboring states; the provision on the powers of entities in the area of civilian command authority over the armed force; and even the provision on official languages to be used by constituent peoples within entities.[14] Izetbegović founds his appeal on a simple idea: preambular provision on BiH constituent peoples needs to be interpreted as implying equal constitutionality throughout the BiH territory, which implies transformation of BiH entities into multiethnic units. Of course, the appeal is a kind of a symbolical projection, or a piece of symbolical struggle – Izetbegović is fully aware of the fact that the Bosniak and Croat population of RS is significantly reduced in size, which implies that actual consumption of the right of constitutionality (throughout the BiH territory) is bound to be of a very limited, actually negligible, character.

Such Izetbegović’s reasoning could have been then, as it could be now, easily defeated on the basis of the text of Dayton Constitution as it was initially, originally understood and signed in the course of Dayton negotiations: all the peoples of BiH are indeed equally constituent throughout the BiH, but ‘BiH’ under Dayton means only a certain level of power; additionally, all the peoples indeed implement their status of constituent peoples throughout the BiH, but such implementation takes place through explicitly defined institutions and in the areas of government that Dayton Constitution explicitly refers to. Primary constitutionality of the peoples pertains to them through the entities simply because the representatives of specific peoples as peoples have constituted some specific units of BiH as a federal constitutional arrangement, but the three peoples have not constituted jointly both units. The Serb people representatives, as Izetbegović already emphasized, have not constituted the BiH Federation, hence their primary constitution-making role cannot be implemented through the bodies of the BiH Federation. Constituent peoples have given their explicit consent to establishment of specific entities, but then secondarily, also to establishment of BiH as a central level of government in accordance with the list of powers of the state, which is again entity-mediated in the sense that it preserves the fact of representation of the entities at the central level – the fact that BiH is a federation makes such arrangements easy to understand.[15]

Altogether, this means that Izetbegović again acts as a dediscoursifying agent in the period after adoption of the Dayton peace package, both through his public political acting and through his appeal to the BiH Constitutional Court. He in fact conveys the following message: “the language of the peace agreement is binding on me, but not in the sense in which it is binding on other actors. My promise is understood by me in my own way; if the others have taken the promise to mean something else, this is their own problem. My only commitment is to achieve through the language of the peace agreement those goals that I set as my own prior to, and during, the war. I do not discuss such issues with my political adversaries; I simply fight for such goals, this time through the appeal to the BiH Constitutional Court.”

Long-term effects of such a view had not yet been clearly recognized. Izetbegović’s appeal has produced a symbolical revolution in BiH, not in a positive sense of the word, and has undermined the very fundamentals of post-Dayton BiH. The appeal has in fact clearly signaled that one key party to the peace treaty in fact reneged on the compromise; the party has transformed the compromise-related elements of the treaty into a means to recover and resume the process of implementing of its war-time aims. In a theoretical sense, this is an extremely important phenomenon: the phenomenon clearly indicates that the state of peace to a large extent depends on an actor’s attitude to language: if the actor did not endorse some standards of discourse, some discursive values, as a part of his or her political communication or an effort to act upon his or her political partners and interlocutors (which involves primarily the standard of promise-fulfillment under a prior joint understanding of the promise, or under an understanding that is jointly determined through the most persuasive reasons of interpretation), alienation, cessation of communication, and consequent destabilization of relations are normal and predictable effects.

However, one should not dismiss an important fact. In his dediscoursifying Izetbegović does not act alone. In fact the strongest actors of international community lend their support to Izetbegović’s movement towards the dissolution of a sophisticated Dayton compromise. How, and more importantly, why has such a support been given, and what are its actual consequences?

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

The third part of this paper will be published tomorrow.

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9) Here, and in the next few paragraphs, I simply draw on Pehar (2011).

10) See Holbrooke (1999, 224, 271, 302)

11) Holbrooke (1999, 96-7)

12) Izetbegović (1998, 192)

13) The quote and context in Kostić (2013, 28)

14) See (accessed on 30 October 2014) 2014)

15) See Pehar (2014a)

What are the principles of conflict transformation?



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