The Troubled History of Partition

Courtesy Reuters


The September elections in Bosnia highlighted what was until then an implicit aspect of the current peace: it is more likely to move Bosnia toward the ethnic states for which the war was fought than to reestablish the multiethnic Bosnia that once was. Indeed, as the Dayton process unfolds, it becomes clearer that the peace agreement signed in November 1995 after three and a half years of war was something historically familiar: a so-called peace accord that is in reality a partition agreement with an exit clause for outside powers.

At the same time, while key aspects of the document, such as the creation of two "entities" with virtually separate legislatures, administrations, and armies, tend toward partition, the pact attempts to get around some of the more hostile legacies of partition through a common economic space and arms control, and it creates structures that could reverse the partition process by returning refugees and rebuilding civil society. So far, these structures have been dormant, and the holding of national elections in a still highly uncertain peace marks the tilt toward partition. As was widely predicted, the Bosnians gave their ethnic leaders new mandates, and Bosnia took another step toward partition. However, the postponement of the municipal elections due to irregularities in voter registration means the international community is not yet in a position to accept partition as the democratically expressed will of the people.

The Bosnian war and the Dayton peace agreement have reignited a debate on whether partition is an effective solution to ethnic conflict. Although Bosnia is the starting point, the arguments in this debate have broad resonance at a time in which the rapid spread of ethnic and communal wars east and south of Bosnia is of increasing concern to the international community. Defenders of partition make an argument that runs as follows. When an ethnic war is far advanced, partition is probably the most humane form of intervention because it attempts to achieve

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