In November 1995, on a US military base near Dayton, Ohio, negotiations brought an end to Bosnia’s devastating three-year-war. The following month in Paris, the three leaders of the time, Bosniak Alija Izetbegovic, the Serb Slobodan Milosevic and the Croat Franjo Tudjman signed the Dayton Peace Accord. It divided Bosnia into two entities of roughly equal size and created one of the most complicated political systems in the world.
The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina is mostly populated by Bosniaks or Bosnian Muslims and Croats. The Republika Srpska is mainly made up of Serbs. Each entity is divided into a number of municipalities and has its own president, prime minister, parliament and constitution.
Together, these two entities form Bosnia Herzegovina.
It is run on a federal level by a presidency made up of three representatives of the three ethnic groups, each elected for four years. The Chair of the Presidency rotates every eight months between the Bosniak, Serb and Croat member.
The Dayton ideal was that Serbs, Croats and Muslims would be represented equally and that reconciliation would follow peace. But it has never really worked. Nationalist parties failed to stamp their authority on the ballot box in 2006. But they are now looking strong in the run-up to this year’s elections.
Bosnia’s people have learned to live together again but its political leaders struggle to get on, without the intervention of the High Representative of the international community, who is still present there.
In reality, two men share power in the country. They are Haris Silajdzic, a former Bosnian prime minister and the Bosniak member of the country’s tripartite presidency, and Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik.
One seeks the end of Bosnia’s division. The other demands self-determination for the Republika Srpska. Two incompatible positions bubbling under the surface. Hence a Bosnia that is stable, but at an impasse.