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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

West Must Act Fast to Preserve Dayton Accord

Alas, poor Dayton, I knew it well. Dayton is the peace agreement for Bosnia, signed last December, that was supposed to pave the way for the re-creation of a tolerant, pluralistic, multinational, undivided Bosnian state. But what we are witnessing on the ground in Bosnia, and particularly in Sarajevo, is the systematic violation of everything Dayton stands for.

Look at the way tens of thousands of Serbs are abandoning their homes in the Sarajevo area, preferring the bleak comfort of a rogue Bosnian Serb mini-state to the prospect of having Moslems and Croats as their next-door neighbors. It seems impossibly optimistic to believe that these Serbs have any faith in the Western ideals of co-existence that are encapsulated in the Dayton agreement.

Unless urgent action is taken, there seems little prospect of avoiding the permanent partition of Bosnia. One zone, populated by Serbs, will inevitably merge with Serbia. The other zone, populated by Moslems, Croats and a Serb minority, will inevitably become a satellite of Croatia.

It might even be worse: The Bosnian Croats might merge with Croatia, leaving the Moslems all on their own, in a pitiful "free zone" that would enjoy nominal independence, but would in reality be a plaything of its more powerful neighbors.

Dayton stipulated that five Serb-controlled suburbs of Sarajevo should be returned to Moslem-Croat rule, thus restoring the capital's unity after four years of Serb efforts to partition the city. Dayton envisaged that Serb civilians living in the suburbs would remain in their homes, enabling Sarajevo to reclaim its multinational identity.

But what the Western mediators who brokered the Dayton settlement did not foresee was that the Bosnian Serb authorities would be so successful in their efforts to sabotage the agreement. The Bosnian Serb ambition is to achieve in peace what they could not achieve in war: the permanent disentangling of Bosnia's multinational communities, so that Serbs, Moslems and Croats live for evermore in distinct patches of territory.

In Vogosca, the first Serb-held suburb to be returned to Moslem-Croat control, the Bosnian Serb authorities deliberately closed down banks, schools and shops so that even a Serb family that wanted to stay had practically no choice but to uproot itself. Rumors were spread that the incoming Moslem-Croat police forces (which also included moderate Serbs) would viciously persecute ordinary Serbs.

However, Moslem government officials are not entirely blameless. They could have done more to encourage the Serb population to stay. When their policemen arrived in Vogosca to take control, one of their first acts was to tear down the Serb flag and trample on it in the snow. An understandable reaction, perhaps, but what sort of message do they think this sent to ordinary Serbs?

If Sarajevo cannot be restored as a multinational city, the prospects will be even bleaker for Mostar, the southern city that local Croat warlords have deliberately divided into Croat and Moslem sectors. What incentive is there for the Croats to pursue a policy of harmony and cooperation when they see the Serbs getting away with quite the opposite policy in Sarajevo?

The pressures for a formal partition of Bosnia are growing stronger all the time. If the West thinks it can reverse the process, it had better act fast.