16th December 2020
IN ZAGREB International Conference “The Legacy of Peace – 25 Years of the Dayton-Paris Peace Agreement”
Ignoring the legitimate representation of the three constituent peoples in Bosnia and Herzegovina as defined by the Dayton Peace Accords "would be a serious mistake," Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said on Tuesday at a International conference on the occasion of the accords" 25th Years of the Dayton -Paris Peace Agreement". The conference in Zagreb was organized by Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts and the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs.
Prime Minister PlenkoviŠ's speech:
Dear Minister of Foreign and European Affairs,
Excellencies, distinguished participants,
I have the honour to deliver this speech on behalf of the Republic of Croatia, in agreement with President MilanoviŠ.
Twenty-five years ago, the Dayton Peace Accords were agreed in Dayton, Ohio and afterwards formally signed in Paris on 14 December 1995.
This marked the end of the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina and paved the way for peace and democracy in the country.
This is the most common, short definition of the pivotal event that is still the focal point of any and every debate on Bosnia and Herzegovina, an inseparable part of its past and present.
Nevertheless, the final, definitive word on the matter has not yet been spoken.
There is universal consensus on one point: the Dayton–Paris Agreement successfully brought to an end a devastating war; it ended the violence, destruction and suffering.
But, when it comes to the Dayton–Paris Agreement as the foundation upon which the peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina can build a fully functional state, capable of meeting all its goals and ambitions, opinions differ considerably.
One thing is certain: the Dayton–Paris Agreement is much more than a peace agreement.
It is a document of high juridical complexity and, ultimately, its Annex 4 is the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
This Conference comes at the right time - not only to mark the anniversary, but above all, as an opportunity to reflect upon all aspects of the Dayton–Paris Agreement at a moment when Bosnia and Herzegovina is at the crossroads between stagnation and a decisive breakthrough towards its European future.
A particular feature of this Conference is its inclusivity and overarching timeline: in the first panel, it will look back into the past; the second and third panels are looking at the present moment and the future ahead.
I would like to thank the organizers for all their efforts in assembling such a distinguished and relevant group of participants.
Some of the panellists in this Conference personally took part in the Dayton peace process.
Their knowledge and experience shall certainly contribute to the quality of the debate.Ladies and gentlemen,
Croatia has actively participated in the negotiations in Dayton and is one of the co-signatories of the Dayton–Paris Agreement.
As such, we are obliged to “respect and promote the fulfilment” of the Agreement.
This remains high on Croatia’s state policy agenda.
Croatia has contributed to the conclusion of the Dayton–Paris Agreement in more ways than one: through its intense diplomatic efforts and political leadership of Franjo Tuman, the first President of Croatia, and above all, through its military victories in 1995, which have strategically changed the balance of power in the region.
To understand the genesis of the Dayton–Paris Agreement and the role of Croatia in it, one has to go to the very beginning of Bosnia and Herzegovina's statehood and the ensuing conflict.
Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Slovenia, were the victims of the aggression of Slobodan MiloševiŠ's regime in the futile attempt to create a Greater Serbia.
The referendum on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s independence was successfully carried out on 29 February and 1 March 1992.
Considering the 63.7 % turnout and since 99.7% of the voters were in favour of independence, there is no doubt that resolute and wholehearted participation of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the referendum led to the clear result.
Consequently, Bosnia and Herzegovina was recognized in April by Croatia, the United States and – at that time – the European Community Member States.
One month later, on 22 May, it was admitted into the United Nations, together with Croatia and Slovenia.
From a historical – but also political and legal perspectives – it is worth recalling the referendum’s question: “Are you in favour of a sovereign and independent Bosnia and Herzegovina, a state of equal citizens, the peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina – Muslims, Serbs, Croats and members of peoples living there?”.
From the very beginning of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s statehood, from the first day of its independence, its sovereignty went hand in hand with equality of Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs, as well as all its other citizens.
Since the start of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992, Croatia sheltered and took care of many of its refugees – around 400 thousand just in the first year of the war.
Although Croatia, engaged in the Homeland War, was itself heavily burdened with its own displaced persons and refugees, with parts of its territory occupied and its industry largely destroyed by the war – we opened our doors to all people from Bosnia and Herzegovina who were seeking shelter, fleeing the horrors of war.
Although we were victims of the same aggressor who took over two-thirds of the country, relations between Croats and Bosniaks in Bosnia and Herzegovina deteriorated as free territories shrank.
However, despite these difficulties, the alliance was restored and mutual support continued.
Several essential agreements stand out in particular.
The Washington Agreement, signed in March 1994, was more than a ceasefire agreement between the Bosniaks and the Croats, that put an end to “the conflict within a conflict”; it laid the ground for the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Split Declaration, a mutual defence agreement signed in July 1995 between the Croatian President Franjo Tuman and the Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina Alija IzetbegoviŠ, is another key milestone, occurring ten days after the terrible genocide in Srebrenica.
In that Declaration, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina agreed to strengthen their relationship and closely coordinate their defence cooperation.
In early August 1995, through its military-police operation Storm, Croatia liberated most of its occupied territories.
It also successfully broke the siege of BihaŠ – a supposedly UN Safe Area since 1993, where 300 thousand people (mostly Bosniaks), were besieged by Serbian forces – thus preventing another Srebrenica.
Finally, it created the conditions for joint military operations of Croats and Bosniaks, which restored the balance of power on the ground in Bosnia and Herzegovina and forced the other side to sit at the negotiating table, thus ending four years of war.
The Dayton–Paris Agreement would not have been possible without the active, contributing role of President Tuman.
His visionary view of the peace process did not only include Bosnia and Herzegovina – in Dayton, the foundation was laid for the peaceful reintegration of Croatian Danubian area into Croatia through the UNTAES (United Nations Transitional Administration for Eastern Slavonia), one of the most successful UN peace-keeping operations to date.
Ladies and gentlemen,
For Croatia, as a friend and neighbour of Bosnia and Herzegovina with which it maintains strong historical and cultural ties, the political, economic and institutional stability of this country is of strategic importance and the geography only reinforces this fact.
Our support to its sovereignty and territorial integrity is therefore total and unequivocal.As the only EU neighbour of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia is the staunchest supporter and best advocate on its Euro-Atlantic path.
Knowing only too well what this would bring to a country which has already suffered too much, we would like to see it achieve the candidate status for EU membership as soon as possible.
We have been giving it our full support on this path.
Bosnia and Herzegovina submitted its application for EU membership on 15 February 2016, with Dragan ╚oviŠ, a Croat member and the Chairman of the rotating Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina at the time.
Then, as a Member of the European Parliament and the Vice-chair of its Committee on Foreign Affairs, I promoted and advocated this application to the Dutch EU Presidency of the Council and to the Juncker Commission, especially to the Commissioner for Enlargement Hahn.
As no official event had been organised by the EU institutions to mark this, the Croatian MEPs organized a reception in the European Parliament for Chairman ╚oviŠ and the delegation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Since I took up my duties as Prime Minister of Croatia, in October 2016, I remain just as devoted in helping Bosnia and Herzegovina to succeed on its road towards the EU.
And, whenever possible, I draw the attention of my colleagues in the European Council to the European perspective of this country.
Well aware of what European integration has brought to Croatia, I do this as a true friend and with best intentions.
Croatia, as the youngest EU Member State, strongly promotes continuation of the enlargement process to all the countries of South-Eastern Europe.
This was confirmed during our first EU Presidency of the Council and the Zagreb Summit in May this year.
Twenty years after the first Zagreb Summit in 2000, a new methodology of accession process was adopted and the decision to open negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania was reached.
In 2019, the European Commission identified 14 key priorities for Bosnia and Herzegovina to fulfil in order to achieve the candidate country status and continue on its path towards EU accession.
Bearing in mind the painful and particularly difficult history of this country, the EU should do its utmost to help it in meeting these priorities, as this is the best way and guarantee to ensure its true political and economic transformation, in line with European values and standards.Ladies and gentlemen,
Bosnia and Herzegovina was founded on the principle of equality of the three constituent peoples – Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs – as well as on the equality of all its citizens.
Annex 4 of the Dayton-Paris Agreement stipulates legitimate representation of the three constituent peoples in the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as in the House of Peoples of the Parliamentary Assembly.
This was decisive for the successful conclusion of the Dayton–Paris Agreement and, as such, embedded in the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
One state, two entities, three constituent peoples – in its constitutional framework, each of these elements is equally relevant and mutually reinforcing.
From the very beginning, Croatia advocated and supported this paramount and fundamental principle.
It is also an intrinsic value of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s truly unique, complex, multi-ethnic and multi-layered identity.
Overlooking this crucial part of the Agreement or, worse, deliberately ignoring it, would be a serious mistake.
These days, some often impose a false dilemma: a Dayton-based Bosnia and Herzegovina, or a Bosnia and Herzegovina of all its citizens, going beyond ethnic boundaries?
The principle of equality of the three constituent peoples, and the principle of equality of all the citizens, do not exclude each other.
They should not compete, but complement one another.
nsisting on equality of the constituent peoples in Bosnia and Herzegovina is not backward nationalism; it is sound constitutionalism.
Some say that the revision of the Dayton–Paris Agreement is long overdue and necessary for making Bosnia and Herzegovina a more successful, stable and prosperous state.
This notion is certainly open for debate.
Nevertheless, any change in the Constitution must come from within and be owned by all political stakeholders.
It should be brought upon by citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, political parties and institutions – through a political and methodical legal debate – and stem from the fundamental principle of the equality of its constituent peoples and all other citizens.
The international community, including Croatia, is willing to help.
The European future of Bosnia and Herzegovina is possible only through full respect of the equality of three constituent peoples.
This is the overarching constitutional category that directly supports the rule of law, which is the priority in the EU accession process, its fundamental value and a basic precondition for the constitutional stability of the country.
Among many priorities and tasks facing Bosnia and Herzegovina, I want to emphasize – above all – that the Election Law needs to be changed without further delay, no later than June 2021, and well in advance of the next general election.
The modification of the Election Law should be regarded not only as a required improvement, but also as an investment in the political stability of the country, based on the prevention and elimination of all forms of inequality and discrimination.
Nothing can justify the practice – which did not exist until 2006 – that has emerged through electoral engineering and which deliberately allowed the elimination of legitimate political representation of Croats in the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
This already happened three times (2006, 2010, 2018), and it certainly does not contribute to the cohesiveness of the country and the normal functioning of its institutions, where all constituent peoples should feel and be equally represented.
Therefore, the change of the Electoral Law is needed in order to rectify the anomalies which have no basis in the Dayton–Paris Agreement and which were not envisaged as a possibility.
No participant in the Dayton Conference that I have consulted with ever thought of such a scenario at the time.
Here, I would like to express our satisfaction that the local elections in the City of Mostar will, after 12 years, take place on 20 December, thus providing all citizens of Mostar with the fundamental opportunity to exercise their democratic right.
This is a step in the right direction, proving that political leadership can bring results.Ladies and gentlemen,
Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country of great importance for Europe and globally.
What connects Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina is much more than a thousand kilometres long common border.
The Croatian people in Bosnia and Herzegovina are as much a foundation of the country as they are the bridge between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Their well-being is of Croatia’s lasting interest and our constitutional obligation, now and in the future.
The Stabilisation and Association Agreement between the EU and Bosnia and Herzegovina entered into force in June 2015, deepening since then the political, economic and trade ties between the two partners.
We have to make full use of this Agreement and its mechanisms to steer sectoral reforms and ensure a more structured political dialogue and cooperation.
We want to see Bosnia and Herzegovina complete its transition into a functioning market economy.
We want Bosnia and Herzegovina to play a strong role in the region in all forms of cooperation.
We want to deepen economic cooperation and trade with Bosnia and Herzegovina.
We want to further develop the cross-border infrastructural projects with Bosnia and Herzegovina – the Corridor Vc and the Svilaj Bridge especially come to mind.
We want strong cooperation with Bosnia and Herzegovina in efficiently managing the challenge of illegal migration and illicit trafficking, with particular focus on preventing migrant smuggling by criminal groups.
Above all, we want to see all citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina flourish in their homeland and young people to feel that they have a bright perspective and opportunity to fulfil their dreams.In conclusion,
Today, we mark a significant event that brought peace in the recent history of Europe.
After 25 years, we need an honest, inclusive and comprehensive debate on the Dayton–Paris Agreement among all relevant stakeholders, with the best interests and prosperity of Bosnia and Herzegovina in mind, its three constituent peoples and all its citizens.
This is why international events like the one today are very important.
I wish you a good and productive debate and I look forward to its conclusions as an important contribution to creating a brighter, European future for our friend and partner - Bosnia and Herzegovina. (vlada.hr)
Unification on EU path
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell said in a video message that the path to EU integration had helped his country, Spain, to overcome divisions in society after a civil war and 40 years of dictatorship.
The EU helped on that path, it can help BiH too as well as all of Europe, he said.
Difficult but necessary reforms await BiH, he said, adding that its politicians must create an environment which advocated cooperation and reconciliation instead of undermining them. He urged politicians in BiH to avoid the temptation of identity politics.
The international conference, organised by the Croatian Foreign Ministry and the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts, will have three panels attended by participants in the Dayton negotiations, EU and BiH political representatives, and legal and scientific experts.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are expected to address via video.
Croatian Foreign Minister Gordan Grlic Radman said ahead of the conference that its goal was to "mark the historic achievement and offer views on what the peace agreement meant a quarter of a century ago and what it means for BiH's present and future."
He said the agreement "recalls the importance of responsible leadership in difficult times" and that it was one of the biggest achievements of international peace-building. (total-croatia-news.com)
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