'Bosnian Poll Challenges NATO to Rethink Dayton'

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Bosnian election workers empty a ballot box at the polling station in Sarajevo

Bosnia's latest elections have once again been convincingly won by nationalist parties in all three of the territory's separate ethnic communities. What message should the West take from the results?

"The message they should take is that the Dayton Agreement has essentially frozen the political landscape in a way that the nationalist parties will continue to dominate. It's a challenge to the international community to rethink its policy in Bosnia. What Dayton did five years ago was to stop the war by more or less freezing the front lines, exchanging a bit of territory, and keeping the nationalist leaders happy by guaranteeing them a place in the future political order. The irony is that the nationalist parties in each community coexist and even cooperate with one another, and have done so throughout the last five years. They make deals at all sorts of levels, and work together against the moderates in their own communities and against the international community.

Do these nationalist parties want to go back to war?

No, there's no imminent danger of war. Each of these parties is looking for ways to secure its claim to be the sole representative of its ethnic group. That's why they can make deals with each other but not with the moderates. This election showed that the nationalisms in Bosnia are connected. When nationalism grows in one ethnic group, then the two others take the same path because, even though people don't like or trust the nationalist parties, when they think the other communities are on the warpath they want to feel protected by a nationalist party of their own."

How do you explain the paradox that the emergence of more moderate regimes in Serbia and Croatia is followed by a strengthening of nationalism in Bosnia's Serb and Croat communities?

"It was easier when the Croatian and Serbian nationalists in Bosnia were just puppets of their mother states, because then the international community was able to tackle the problem directly with Belgrade and Zagreb. But the Dayton Accord cut the bonds to a large extent between the mother states and ethnic communities in Bosnia. So that's created an irony now where Croatian and Serb nationalism in Bosnia is more vibrant than in Croatia or Serbia. Dayton is now a kind of iron lung for nationalism in Bosnia.

"The changes in Zagreb and Belgrade, and the growth of the moderate party in Bosnia, though, may make it more possible on a wider regional level to get both Belgrade and Zagreb once again more involved in Bosnia and other countries of the region, in order to pull the whole region forward to political and economic reform and to separate the parties from the state. The nationalists see themselves as the only guarantee of survival, and they've turned their mini-states in Bosnia into party states staffed mostly by former communists and run like communist states. But that may take some rethinking of the Dayton framework. Dayton froze the situation in Bosnia, and while that may have stopped the war, its framework may also now be an obstacle to political reform."