Gret Haller
Bosnia 10 Years after Dayton: From Ethnic Structures to a State Structure?
On the way from a US-American to a European-influenced understanding of Human Rights
Lecture in the context of the seminar "Peacebuilding and peacekeeping: concepts, strategies and initiatives for a peaceful Europe" Association des Etats Généraux des Etudiants de l'Europe (AEGEE), December 10, 2005 in Geneva

Ten years ago, the Dayton Peace Agreement was signed in Paris. It drew the line under years of horrific acts of war, ethnic expulsion and extermination campaigns, which decades after the end of the second world war had been considered unthinkable in Europe. The Balkan wars shook Europe to the core. After the horrors of the second world war, the world reacted with new instruments in the field of Human Rights, and Europe took the path of integration towards the European Union, to make the step towards a new peace irreversible. The horrors in Bosnia & Hercegovina were not met with the same consistent reaction. Ten years after Dayton we have to observe that the pacification of Bosnia has not been successful. However, it was possible to silence the guns, and thanks to international integration they will not be used again. And if we compare the quality of life in this country today with the time during the war or shortly after, the two situations are clearly worlds apart. Many people today live incomparably better lives than at that time. But a new beginning has not taken place, industry lies in tatters, and many young people are still leaving the country.

Above all, in these 10 years, Bosnia has not found an identity. It has not been able to walk the path to a new (or rediscovered) identity, because the structures established by the Dayton peace treaty simply did not allow it. Anyone who worked in Bosnia on the rebuilding of the country after the war could very soon determine, after an initial phase of enthusiasm bordering on euphoria, that the political and governmental ground rules laid down by Dayton formed an obstacle to the development and pacification of the country. The new country Bosnia & Hercegovina was conceived along precisely those ethnic dividing lines which had led to war. Not only did the demarcation lines become new internal borders in the federal state structure, but also (much more significantly) there was a consistent ethnic orientation introduced right down into the detailed structures, which for centuries had never existed in Bosnia. In the first years of implementation of Dayton, these faulty structures seemed explicable. It was said that any other outcome would have been non-negotiable to the then warring parties at Dayton. Ten years later, other interpretations are possible; in particular, a comparison with the attempts at state reconstruction in Afghanistan and Iraq reveals an enlightening similarity. In all these crisis areas there was an attempt to establish an order based on ethnic or religious groups. All of these attempts at «Nation-building» were strongly, although not exclusively, influenced by the United States.

It is often ignored that there are fundamental differences between the European and US-American understanding of society. Since the beginning of the settlement of the New World, America has been marked by a strict minimalism of the State, for both religious and economic reasons. The English Puritans regarded their religious communities as the absolute public order, which did not require a state at all. (1) They made citizenship secondary to religion, and thus established the US-American relationship between religion and state for all time and all religions. Thus, already more than 100 years before the American revolution, another order was established than the one in Europe, where the reverse hierarchy was fixed by the peace of Westphalia in 1648. A decade before the French revolution raised the banner of equality, the American revolution deliberately avoided the social question, leading to a 1787 constitution in which the propertied minority were explicitly to be protected from the unpropertied majority. (2) The Calvinist teaching of predestination led to a mutual reinforcement of the religious and economic reasoning behind minimalism of the state: if it should already be evident (through the accumulation of earthly goods) who has been chosen by God, there is also a normative necessity for a certain amount of inequality between individuals. (3) State structures however tends towards a certain amount of equality. For all these reasons, in the US-American understanding of society, the state is not an identity-forming phenomenon, but rather the various groups and communities form a superstructure which allows social cohesion, bound into a national identity which is not political, but rather moral and religious, in which this Nation stands absolutely for «the Good». (4)

If the «Nation-Building» in Bosnia as well as later in Afghanistan and Iraq was based, not on the political identity of the individual citizen, but on the group identity of ethnic or religious communities, this is quite precisely because in US-American thought, national identity on the basis of citizenship does not exist. National identity in the US is based on the one hand on «the Good» that the US Nation embodies in its self-perception, and on the other hand on democratic identity. This democratic Identity, however, is not derived, as in Europe, from the awareness of the parliamentary participation of the citizen, but rather from the guarantee of constitutional rights, which the individual can always pursue in court as a private person. US democracy is understood above all as the ability of the individual to pursue his rights at any time. The private person, according to the US-American understanding, does not have the civic responsibility of the citizen (as it would be understood in Europe) to ensure that the State is active regarding the general good, and does not infringe on the rights of the individual in the first place. Individuals can also demand their rights in Europe; in the case of alleged Human Rights violations they can even use international protection mechanisms. But the European philosophy of Human Rights – which has also considerably influenced that of the UN – also demands that the State should guarantee Human Rights as such. The State can even be held to account for this through international tribunals. Thus defined, «Human Rights» is in many ways more demanding than in the US-American definition.

Both of these – on the one hand the lack of citizenship in the sense of a lack of responsibility for state actions, and thus a national identity exclusively through group- and community-belonging; and on the other hand the reduction of Human Rights to the initiative of the individual – represent a special case in terms of the specifically US-American peculiarities. For the United States they are historically explicable, but worldwide, and especially in the European tradition, they are not shared – unless we assume that in the context of globalisation a US-American understanding of rights, democracy and society will be set forth as a worldwide norm. This however is still far from being the case. In the Dayton agreement, these two US-American peculiarities were consistently applied. Thus, numerous international treaties on Human Rights, even those which are not or not yet directly applicable worldwide, were integrated into directly applicable national law. Many instances were created through which individuals could protest against alleged Human Rights violations. These institutions had partially overlapping competences, and other structural errors in their legal basis. (5) A consistent rule of law was obviously of secondary importance to the architects of Dayton, as long as enough avenues of complaint stood open to the individual. But an accumulation of countless uncoordinated institutions does not make a functional state.

The combination of an ethnically-oriented basic structure in the construction of the State with the comprehensive guarantees for returning refugees had fatal consequences. It was precisely this combination that blocked the possibility of a citizens' endeavour for multiethnic coexistence according to the European understanding. When individuals wanted to establish a multi-ethnic community, it referred them to the struggle for individual rights according to the US-American understanding. Thus the responsibility for multi-ethnic coexistence was ultimately individualised. The individual had no opportunity to cooperate as a citizen in the creation of better chances for coexistence. On the contrary, in the state organisation, certain structures were created along neat ethnic dividing lines. On the other hand, the individuals theoretically had all the guarantees and rights that might allow them to escape the restrictions imposed by the ethnically-oriented basic structures, and to return to their original home – even when members of another ethnic group had since settled there, as a majority or as the only residents, and took up arms against their return. To put it exactly, it was expected that the inhabitants of this country would individually – that is, through their return to their original homes – accomplish exactly that which the Dayton agreement obstructed on the structural and collective level of the state.

Such an approach overburdens not only the individuals – especially a war-traumatised population – but also the culture of Human Rights as a whole, because every denied return is primarily or even exclusively regarded as a violation of Human Rights. That it is, in fact, insofar as it represents a denial of freedom of movement. But in Bosnia the denial of return was above all a result of State organisation. The culture of Human Rights can also be weakened by the abuse of Human Rights, in that, as it were, a kind of «inflation» of Human Rights violations takes place. To summarise, Dayton could be described as an attempt to convert a population with a European tradition to a US-American understanding of rights and democracy, based on the basic US-American dogma of the minimal state. From a political and legal point of view, the responsibility for the realisation of Human Rights was individualised and thus «denationalised». The responsibility of the individual as a citizen, indispensable worldwide for the realisation of human rights, to ensure that the state guarantees the Human Rights of all the inhabitants of its territory, was ultimately negated. Instead of this, «nation-building» was propagated by means of the individual's repossession of land. (6) The peace treaty of Dayton thus created a cleverly thought-out system. Later the United States proceeded in a more coarse manner: in Afghanistan, after the Taliban regime was driven from power, there remained the tribal structures, which offered a ground plan for building a state on the basis of groups and communities. And finally in Iraq, there was a splintering of the country into three ethnically and religiously defined communities, which could still lead to the failure of this state.

Viewed across the world and in the long term, the structured order generally develops so that a society gradually grows from an tribal or ethnic entity to a state entity. When state structures collapse, this always means a step backwards from state entity to tribal or ethnic entity. US «Nation-Building» tendentially tries to stage a direct leap from tribal or ethnic entity to a minimal-state society. But this direct leap is not possible, it also did not take place in the history of ideas of the United States. The US-American state minimalism could only develop as an antithesis to the European understanding of the state; its path through the history of ideas passed through the stages: «Tribe-State-Minimal-state society», where the first two stages of development took place in Europe and among Europeans before the growth of broad migration in the 17. century. Thinking in communities, as is typical for the minimal-state US society, is too close to tribal thinking for a direct progression from one to the other to be possible. A single person can manage this direct leap, when migrating from a tribal society to the United States. But there he or she finds a well-established structure, in which social cohesion is ensured through phenomena other than citizenship in an european understanding. In countries where the state structures have collapsed, there is no path that bypasses the reconstruction of the state. Hostile tribes, ethnic groups or religious groups can only be pacified and reintegrated in the state and on the basis of citizenship. At the point of «Nation-Building», it must remain open whether the road to a minimal-state society is later taken, and above all the decision should be reserved for the later choice of the population concerned.

European actors do well to argue out their differences – in their understanding of society as well as of Human Rights – with their partners in the United States, before they take action, especially joint action with the USA. Ten years after the signing of the Dayton Agreement, one can only hope that Bosnia will not suffer much longer from the international community's failure to recognise transatlantic differences. In Washington the tenth anniversary of the Dayton agreement has been officially celebrated. Today, however, it is obvious that the Dayton Agreement is defended in Bosnia itself above all by ethno-nationalistic leaders, whose purposes are served by the state minimalism which is anchored in the treaty. On the other hand, whoever has recognised the lack of citizenship as one of the worst failings of the status quo, wants to look for new horizons in Bosnia, and leave Dayton behind. Reports from the country itself seem encouraging: the Bosnian media reported the celebrations in Washington rather reservedly – a symbolic meeting in America is considered to be of far less significance than the efforts towards European integration. (7)

1) cf. Gret Haller, Politik der Götter. Europa und der neue Fundamentalismus, Berlin 2005, p. 19 ff

2) Alexander Hamilton / James Madison / John Jay, Die Federalist papers. Übersetzt, eingeleitet und mit Anmerkungen versehen von Barbara Zehnpfennig. Darmstadt 1993, S. 11 f., 43 und 100. (english original: The Federalist papers, with an introduction, table of contents, and index of ideas by Clinton Rossiter, New York 1961)

3) cf. Rainer Prätorius, In God We Trust, Religion und Politik in den U.S.A., München 2003, p. 38 ff

4) Erhard Eppler describes the significance of such communities with a reference to Alexis de Toqueville, Auslaufmodell Staat?, Frankfurt a.M. 2005, p. 48

5) cf. Gret Haller, Die Grenzen der Solidarität. Europa und die USA im Umgang mit Staat, Nation und Religion, Berlin 2002, p. 107 ff; to be published in English in 2006.

6) «Nation-building» through the individual possession of land forms a central element of American history; North America was settled from the East coast outwards by individuals «trekking» towards the West. In a global context, however, this «Going West» represents a US-American peculiarity.

7) Neue Zürcher Zeitung of 24th November 2005