The Balkans, 10 Years After the Dayton Accords Ten years ago, an agreement signed in a hotel ballroom in Dayton, Ohio, signaled the end to bloody civil war in Bosnia. Today, Muslims, Croats and Serbs still struggle to move from ceasefire to peace.
NPR logo

The Balkans, 10 Years After the Dayton Accords

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
The Balkans, 10 Years After the Dayton Accords

The Balkans, 10 Years After the Dayton Accords

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

LIANE HANSEN, co-host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Liane Hansen.

NEAL CONAN, co-host:

And I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Ten years ago today, a peace accord signed in a hotel ballroom in Dayton, Ohio, brought an end to the long and bloody civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In the years of fighting that followed the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, almost 300,000 Bosnians were killed and more than a million driven from their homes. The agreement divided the country along ethnic lines: a separate area for Serbs and a Muslim-Croat federation. While many acknowledged the agreement was less than perfect and often Byzantine--among other things, there are three presidents--it did stop the carnage. American and European troops entered the country to enforce the peace; some remain to this day. A decade later, the peace still holds, but the situation remains fragile.

Today on the program, we'll talk about what happened in Dayton 10 years ago and the challenges that lie ahead.

HANSEN: Later in the show, NPR puzzlemaster Will Shortz will join us, and we have an e-mail challenge for you. If you have a puzzle for him, zap it along to us. The address is Again, if you have a puzzle for the puzzlemaster, e-mail us at

CONAN: But first, Dayton 10 years on. If you have questions about happened during the negotiations or about the lessons of Dayton, our number is (800) 989-8255. That's (800) 989-TALK. The e-mail address is that same one: We'd especially like to hear from those of you who served in Bosnia.

Joining us now from our bureau in New York is Laura Silber. She covered the Balkan Wars for The Financial Times in the 1990s and co-wrote a book called "Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation." She frequently returns to the region as a senior policy adviser at the Open Society Institute.

Thanks very much for joining us today.

Ms. LAURA SILBER (Co-author, "Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation"): Thank you for having me.

CONAN: Remind us, if you would. After so many years of civil war, what was it that brought these three parties to Dayton?

Ms. SILBER: Well, I think it was a combination of, A, exhaustion from fighting the war and, B, the consistent and constant pressure led by the United States and Europe that really forced the parties to the negotiating table.

CONAN: Forced the parties how?

Ms. SILBER: Well, a combination of threats, of cajoling, of coaxing, and I think that's what it took to get them all and, finally, frankly, to sequester them in Dayton, where they couldn't go away, where they couldn't just go home, and it was pretty much that which really--it took to get them really to concentrate and actually endorse the peace agreement.

CONAN: Yeah, we talk about the signing ceremony at the hotel ballroom, but really, it was three weeks on an Air force base that provided this agreement.

Ms. SILBER: That's right.

CONAN: Now you have an OP-ED in today's New York Times in which you write, `Dayton won the grudging endorsement of rival leaders by embodying contradiction, most significantly within the constitutional structure of the new state.' Explain what you mean by that.

Ms. SILBER: Well, I think in many ways, Dayton was all things to all people. For the Serbs, which at that time controlled the majority of the territory, it gave them a chance to have two separate entities, that they had what they proclaimed as the Srpska Republika, Republika Srpska, an independent--what they chose to see really as an independent part of a whole of Bosnia. Now, obviously, for the vast majority of the outside world, as well as for the Muslims and the Croats in Bosnia, they didn't want this. They didn't want Serbia to have an indep--for Srpska--the Bosnian Serbs to have an independent entity. And what they got, though, was a unified country, and at least in name, at the time, a central government.

HANSEN: So what do you think, Laura, was Dayton's biggest achievement?

Ms. SILBER: I think it was stopping the war. I think it was--actually, you look at it, there was not a single American killed by enemy fire in that intervention, in that whole years of the peacekeeping. And I think it was really in getting the people to start the long and slow process of living together, at least in the same state, and of, you know, starting about the business of rebuilding a state.

CONAN: Before, the war, Bosnia, and certainly the city of Sarajevo, its capital, was a multiethnic society. Is it today?

Ms. SILBER: That's what I think is the biggest loss of the war, in addition, obviously, to the lost lives and the millions of people who were displaced by the war. It was a loss of the cosmopolitan nature of what was Sarajevo and Bosnia. The idea that it didn't matter whether someone was Serbian or Croat or Muslim; it was a mixed and common heritage of being Bosnian. And I think to many, to a great extent, that is lost today. There still--it still lives on in individuals, and it still lives on in Sarajevo, perhaps, but it's not the same strong sense of what Sarajevo was with basically a Bosnia in miniature, as well as a former Yugoslavia in miniature.

CONAN: And today it is?

Ms. SILBER: It's a city where you have people who are cosmopolitan, you have people who are obviously from mixed marriages or just identify themselves as Bosnian rather than as Serbs, Croats or Muslims. But it's also a city that, for four years, was under a siege, a city where many people--no one's life was untouched by the war. And I think you have a residue of that and a city that's not--it's not quite the proud centerpiece of Bosnia that it once was.

HANSEN: Laura, you've been back quite frequently. What's it like economically there today?

Ms. SILBER: It's made, obviously, a vast improvement from the end of the war, so we have to be careful. When we look at it, we have to also realize it takes a long time to rebuild from nothing. But today many people who have the option of leaving Bosnia or Sarajevo will leave; people who can vote with their feet, so to say, people who can go--who have a better chance of building a life elsewhere, they will leave. You have a Bosnia where it's very, very complicated to rebuild an economy because of the--frankly, of the very complicated construct of the Dayton Agreement, the agreement that was done 10 years ago today. Everything has to be negotiated. It's very complicated to do, say, any kind of simple economic reform, which may not even be so simple, becomes even more complicated in Bosnia-Herzegovina today.

CONAN: If you have questions about what happened 10 years ago or about the future of Bosnia, give us a call, (800) 989-8255. That's (800) 989-TALK. The e-mail address is

And let's get a call in from Jacob. Jacob's calling us from Minneapolis.

JACOB (Caller): Yes, hello. Thanks for taking the call.

CONAN: Sure.

JACOB: My question is that why did not the NATO peacekeeper put enough effort to arrest Ratko Mladic and his master, Radovan Karadzic, for the war crimes they committed? I mean, they were in the area at the time when they got in and I am very pessimistic, if those guys stay on the loose, that the peace would unravel if anything happened, and I'm afraid the reason they did not do that, because they don't want to antagonize the Serb population who think that they are ...(unintelligible)...

CONAN: Mladic and...

JACOB: ...war criminals.

CONAN: Mladic and Karadzic are the indicted war criminals. Laura Silber.

Ms. SILBER: I think you raise a very important point. I think that the fact that 10 years later, these two men are free and at liberty is actually a constant reminder and an impediment to rebuilding some sort of Bosnia, because these men are free, because despite the fact that tens of thousands of thousands of international forces have been deployed there, they still have not been captured. I hope that these men are obviously captured within the next year, because it--really, we have a relatively short window of when there's still an international military presence there that might do that. And even perhaps if you have local armed forces ultimately making the arrests, it's very complicated, and the fact that it hasn't been done, when there was such a huge presence, I think is a huge problem, and obviously, this is one of the major failings, I think, of the people that implemented the peace, the fact that they're not arrested yet.

CONAN: Jacob, thanks very much for the call.

HANSEN: We turn now to someone who was directly involved with the negotiations at the Dayton peace conference. Carl Bildt is the former prime minister of Sweden, and he was the European Union co-chairman of the Dayton peace conference. He also served as the EU's first international high representative in Bosnia from 1996 to 1997. He joins us on the line from Stockholm, Sweden. Welcome to the program, sir.

Former Prime Minister CARL BILDT (Sweden): Thank you.

HANSEN: What do you consider to be the breakthrough point at Dayton?

Mr. BILDT: Well, I think the breakthrough point was rather earlier. I think the key thing that was done was the agreement in early September, where the foreign ministers from Zagreb, from Sarajevo and Belgrade were brought together, and there was an agreement on really the broad outlines of what then later became the Dayton Agreement. Dayton was then--the details, difficult as they were, and there was a serious risk of the entire thing breaking down. But that was exactly where you had the so-called ...(unintelligible) boundary line. It was a lot of the implementation issues. It was just certainly constitutional issues.

The breakthrough in political terms, of course, was when, from my European perspective, when Washington decided to get serious. Prior to that, there hadn't been that serious engagement from Washington on the political side. But late summer, there was a change of emphasis in Washington, and it was possible to get very quickly then agreement between the Europeans and the Americans on what needs to be done, and then from then on, we had a peace process worthy of the name, which we hadn't had, I would say, for three years. We prolonged the war for a long time, but when we got serious, we were able to close down the war within a couple of months.

HANSEN: What was it like on that Air Force base for those three weeks? Were people talking to each other like in the hallways or was it always formal negotiations?

Mr. BILDT: No, I would say it was more talking in the hallways than it was formal negotiations. I mean, for a long time, I remember the first week, we spent doing virtually nothing. Just having round--and there were talks on rather sort of marginal issues, but it was very difficult to get to the grips on the core issues. I mean, the atmosphere was fairly relaxed. Everyone was talking to everyone, but there was also serious disagreement within the different delegations. I mean, it's easy to see to sort of the Muslims vs. Serbs, for example, but there were very serious disagreements within the Bosnian-Muslim delegation that created a lot of problems. And on the Serb side, there was Milosevic, who was fairly easy to deal with because he wanted an agreement. And then there was the Bosnian Serbs, who were kept in the dark, to a very large extent, by Milosevic, and then there was President Tudjman, who was primarily interested in settling the problems of eastern Slavonia in Croatia. So it was very much up and down. It was a strange experience, those three weeks.

CONAN: Stay with us if you would, Carl Bildt, and also Laura Silber. We're talking today Dayton Accords, which happened--were signed 10 years ago today. If you'd like to join the conversation, our number is (800) 989-8255, (800) 989-TALK. Our e-mail address is Later in the program, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke will join us.

I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan.

HANSEN: And I'm Liane Hansen.

Ten years ago, the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords ended a bloody war in what was then Yugoslavia. Today we're talking about what's happened in Bosnia since the end of that war. Our guests are Laura Silber, author of "Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation" and who covered the war for The Financial Times, and Carl Bildt, former prime minister of Sweden and European Union co-chairman of the Dayton peace conference.

You're also invited to join the discussion. Give us a call at (800) 989-TALK. That's (800) 989-8255. And our e-mail address is

CONAN: And let's get another caller on the line, and this is Bill. Bill's calling us from Chapel Hill in North Carolina.

BILL (Caller): Good afternoon, everyone.

CONAN: Good afternoon.

BILL: My question is the way you have spoken of the people dividing themselves, and by that I mean you speak of Serbs from Serbia and Croats--the same--Croatia--and Muslims. And that's--my question is two names are place names. I'm from here or there. I could be any religion in the world, but I'm from one of these two places. The third one is religion, the most of whom--most people who are Muslim are from Indonesia. So why not like people identifying themselves as Christians, Jews and Muslim or Buddhists, or Serbians and Croats and Romanians or, it doesn't matter, Chinese?

CONAN: Carl Bildt, how did--did those self-identifications enter into this--how did those self-identifications enter into this?

Mr. BILDT: It has a long history, but I think it's a very valid point. This is--goes to the crux of what Bosnia is. You can say that what divides these people is not that they are ethnically different. They are all Slavs, no different, virtually same language. But they are divided through history by three different religions, three difficult cultural traditions. They are Christian Orthodox, they are Muslim, Ottomans I would call them, and they are Catholics. And the Catholics happen to be Croats and the Orthodox happens to be Serb in general terms. And historically speaking, there was a rise during the '50s and the '60s and '70s and the '80s in Bosnia, often attempt to get the Muslims recognized as Muslims. I mean, that was President Izetbegovic's big thing throughout his political career, that he wanted to have the Muslim nationality recognized as such. And that's why we ended up this--I agree with that--not entirely correct way of saying Croats, Muslims and Serbs. We could also say Catholics, Muslim and Orthodox, or we can say Bosnians about them all.

CONAN: Bill, thanks for the call.

BILL: Well, thank you. Bye-bye.

CONAN: Prime Minister Bildt, after 10 years, do you regard Dayton as a success and what do you think needs to be done now?

Mr. BILDT: Well, I think Dayton was distinctly a success in closing down the war and undertaking quite a number of measures in terms of state-building; that is making virtually certain that the war is not going to come back in Bosnia. I'm fairly confident about that. Then state-building is a long-term process, and I think there was a tendency in Dayton--immediately after Dayton to think of this as a fairly quick, easy thing. It's not. It's a long-term, very demanding thing to build a state where we have, as we just discussed, really three different nationalities of three different cultural and political traditions that needs to be coming together. So Dayton was a success in ending the war.

Whether Bosnia has been a success in them is more debatable. I'm very worried by the economic and social situation in the country. I think the politicians of Bosnia have been failing in the last few years and coming to grips with the real long-term issues that are facing them. I mean, it's been easy for them, to a certain extent, to blame the international authority, because that's been so overpowering in Bosnia in the last few years, and it's also been fairly easy for them to involve or devolve or descend into different constitutional squabbles and refit some of the issues of the war and, thus, avoid responsibility for an economy and a social situation that is fairly desperate. I think Laura Silber alluded to that.

HANSEN: Laura Silber, what do you think about that? What do you consider to be the successes of Dayton?

Ms. SILBER: Well, I agree with Carl Bildt completely in that I think the success was obviously in ending the war, and I am very worried about the fact of the real absence of a development of any kind of real democratic political culture among the politicians, and I think it was kind of a paradox in that there was a very strong international presence which was needed, a very robust presence that had fought wide-ranging powers, and that was needed, because otherwise, there was no way to knock together the heads of all these rival sides so that they could actually get about the business of passing laws and do all that.

At the same time, it's somehow, I think, stunted the growth of the Bosnian politicians, and so--and as much as the Bosnian politicians like to blame the outside world and the international administrators for the failures of Bosnia, it's also their fault, because they really have refused and even impeded progress by their rivalry, by their petty political struggles that they are waging now; they're not fighting, but they're really waging them in the parliament. So that I think we have a lot of the issues still unresolved and a lot of the problems that could ostensibly really be addressed by a responsible political leadership, regardless of, say, party affiliation that we really haven't seen yet, and I hope that as Bosnia moves in the future, in the very near future, obviously, into a much more European context, that somehow, the politicians in Bosnia can see what's at stake and say, `We need to address these, and we really need to live up to the task at hand,' and they haven't been able to do that so far.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line, and we'll go to Peter. Peter calling us from Corvallis, Oregon.

PETER (Caller): Hi there. My question regards Balkanization. You're talking about these groups of people with different backgrounds seemingly unable to rectify their differences and, you know, that seems to be happening in lots of places, and people use the term Balkanization. I'm wondering what lessons we can take from this conflict in preventing these different groups of people becoming more and more disparate in their interests and just scrabbling for power and then resorting to this horrible violence? And I'm thinking in particular in Iraq; obviously, we have similar sorts of problems. But I also feel like within the United States, our differences are becoming more and more acute, and it just really hurts to feel--that direction.

CONAN: Carl Bildt, I wonder if you had thought about that?

Mr. BILDT: Well, I haven't really thought about it in terms of the United States, but I've thought about it relation to a lot of other issues that were mentioned. It is true. I mean, we have in--what I sometimes refer to the post-Ottoman space, the entire area that was once occupied by the Ottoman Empire. We have a mosaic of different nationalities and people. And we've tried to get them together in more or less functioning states. It's worked sometimes and it's failed in other cases. I mean, Yugoslavia is a spectacular failure. We've succeeded, to a certain extent, in Bosnia in keeping a state, which includes then the different groups that we mentioned previously.

We have a big problem in Kosovo, where we did an intervention in 1999. We failed to get a peace agreement with Kosovo, by the way, and after that failure, there was a military intervention, and we tried to build a multiethnic society. We have utterly failed in that. We are now trying to set up an independent state. That might be the least bad of the bad solutions available, but, I mean, we should recognize that that is failing in that respect. We've had great difficulties getting Cyprus together. We have immense difficulties now, as you know, in Iraq trying to get sort of the Kurds and the Arabs primarily to be together. I think the main lesson is that prevent these wars before they start.

I mean, the irony--the tragic irony of the Bosnian situation is that we had really an agreement in, I think, it was February or March of 1992. That is prior to the outbreak of the Bosnian War. There was an agreement that was signed--initialed at least--on the future of Bosnia, which was in principle very much like Dayton. But there was not the willingness to go down that particular road at that particular time. And then instead, we got more than three years of war, hundred thousand dead, a million people displaced, because we did not have a sufficiently forceful and foresighted diplomacy to prevent the war from happening. And once a war has started, it is very difficult to repair such a nation.

CONAN: Carl Bildt, thank you very much for taking the time to be with us today.

Mr. BILDT: Thank you.

CONAN: Carl Bildt, former prime minister of Sweden, the European Union co-chair at the Dayton peace conference, and he joined us from Stockholm, Sweden. And, Laura Silber, thank you so much for your time today as well.

Ms. SILBER: Thank you.

CONAN: Laura Silber covered the Balkan Wars for The Financial Times and is co-author of the book, "Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation."

Joining us now is Richard Holbrooke. Richard Holbrooke was the chief negotiator for the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords in Bosnia. And he joins us now on the line from here in Washington, DC. And, Ambassador Holbrooke, very good of you to join us today.

Former Ambassador RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Well, it's my pleasure.

CONAN: Looking back on the 10 years since Dayton, what are the lessons do you think we should draw from this?

Mr. HOLBROOKE: Well, the biggest lessons for me is that the United States has a role to play in these issues. It should take the lead. And when it engages, it makes a difference. We got into the Bosnian situation much too slowly. 1991, the Bush administration disengaged. Clinton, after campaigning that he would get involved, was slow to get involved. When we finally got involved in August of '95 in a serious way with an all-out negotiating effort and bombing--and, by the way, I should note that three of my four initial negotiating team members were killed trying to get into Sarajevo; Bob Frasure, Joe Kruzel and Nelson Drew, on that terrible road that Carl Bildt knows so well.

When we finally got involved, including NATO bombing, we got them to the table, got them to the Wright-Patterson Air Base outside Dayton, Ohio, and forged the Dayton peace agreement. That was American leadership. The second point I'd make is that Dayton worked. It achieved all our initial objectives. It ended the war, and not one American or NATO soldier has been killed or wounded in the 10 years since then; 60,000 NATO troops went in, of which 20,000 were American. Now we're down to about 7,000 total, of which under 200 are American, and I repeat, no American or NATO killed or wounded. We wrote a peace agreement, unlike Iraq, which was full and complete. Everyone signed on to it. And the agreement worked. Now Dayton wasn't perfect, but it achieved our objectives, and I think it stands as perhaps the most successful peace negotiation of the last quarter century anywhere in the world.

HANSEN: Ambassador Holbrooke, what do you think then are the challenges that lie ahead for the country?

Mr. HOLBROOKE: For Bosnia?


Mr. HOLBROOKE: Well, the Dayton Agreement had plenty of flaws in it; some of them are now being corrected. We allowed three armies to remain. You can't have three armies in a single country. And that was because NATO refused the mission of integrating them. But now they have military integration that has finally been agreed to. There were two ethnically based police forces. That was no good. That's being reformed. And today, in Washington, Secretary of State Rice and Undersecretary of State Burns are heavily working on trying to fix some of the constitutional problems. This should have been done years ago, but quite frankly, in the four years leading up to the last few weeks, the US government did absolutely nothing in the region of any consequence, and I'm including Kosovo in this, because I heard your last discussion with Carl Bildt on Kosovo.

Kosovo's going to be a much harder problem. Condoleezza Rice assigned the undersecretary of State, Nick Burns, to this issue. Burns, who was a veteran of Dayton--10 years ago today, he was at my side as we negotiated the final drama there, exactly 10 years ago, almost to the hour. We pulled a negotiation out of a failure, a success out of a failure. Burns knows the area. He's engaged, and so they're trying to fix Dayton. It's belated, but it's the right thing to do. I want to echo something that I hard Carl Bildt say a minute ago. In Bosnia's case, we're trying to improve on a success to fix some of the flaws, but in Kosovo, we're dealing--we're going to have to deal with a situation that was ignored for the last four and a half years and that has gotten progressively more tense and for which the solutions are going to be far, far more difficult.

CONAN: We're talking about the lessons of the Dayton Peace Accords which were signed 10 years ago today.

And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Let's get another caller on the line. This is Katerina. Katerina's calling us from Ann Arbor in Michigan.

KATERINA (Caller): Good afternoon, gentlemen. I'd like to know, of those people who fled, especially in those last days before the war began in '92, how many actually came back to Bosnia, particularly in Sarajevo? I wondered if you know that?

Amb. HOLBROOKE: I'm so glad you asked that question. The statistics on the war are pretty staggering: 300,000 killed, two and a half million homeless. Of the two and a half million refugees, homeless, well over half have now returned to the country, and most amazingly of all, many of them, many, many of them--statistics are a little weak here--have returned to minority areas. Let's take the worst place in the whole region, Srebrenica, the famous killing field where one of the great war crimes in the 20th century took place, where the Bosnian Serbs killed 7,700 Muslim men and young men in the soccer field. I was there in that soccer field, in that mud field on its 10th anniversary a few months ago as a member of an official delegation, and two my utter amazement, 4,000 Muslims had returned to the valley. When I was there five years ago, the number was 10 Muslim families. Now 4,000 had returned. The Serbs who had come there from Sarajevo had begun to leave. They were down from 12,000 to 8,000. And I believe that when we come back there in five years, the valley will once again be a Muslim valley.

That doesn't bring back the dead and it doesn't bring justice to the people who lost their loved ones, but this is an amazing turn of events. The people want peace. It is the thuggish leaders, many of whom are just plain old Mafioso crooks masquerading as nationalists who prevent it. But the return of minorities, even to the most difficult areas--Banja Luka, Srebrenica, Focce(ph)--is well under way.

As for your question about Sarajevo, do not forget that it was the Bosnian Serbs themselves, the Serbs themselves who drove their own people out of Sarajevo after Dayton. We had agreed they would stay, and the thugs who run the--who ran the separatist effort of the Serbs went in there, told Serb families who had lived there for generations, centuries to burn their furniture, light up the gas ovens, explode their apartments and leave. That was a terrible day, and I regret to say a day in which our own implementing forces, the NATO forces, stood by and did nothing. March 15, 1996, a day I really think was the worst day of the last 10 years. But even there the Serbs are coming back now. Progress is slow, slower than I want, but by God it's happening.

CONAN: Katerina, thanks very much for the phone call. We appreciate it.

KATERINA: Thank you.

CONAN: And, Ambassador Holbrooke, we know you're extremely busy today on this 10th anniversary. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.

Amb. HOLBROOKE: It's my pleasure.

CONAN: Richard Holbrooke, former chief negotiator at the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords on Bosnia and former ambassador to the United Nations. He joined us by phone from here in Washington, DC.

We're going to take a short break. When we return, the puzzlemaster of "Weekend Edition Sunday" and the puzzle editor of The New York Times, Will Shortz, will join us. If you've always wanted to challenge the puzzlemaster, send him a puzzle. The address: That's If you've ever suffered at his hands trying to solve those devilish puzzles on "Weekend Edition Sunday," you could just put `payback' in the subject line. Again,

I'm Neal Conan. We'll be back after the break. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.


Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.