ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Ten years ago today the Dayton Accords on Bosnia were signed. The former Yugoslav republic, where Serbs, Croats and Muslims had engaged in a terrible civil war, was reconfigured. It would be two republics with three presidents and more than a dozen cantons. As constitutional architecture, it was not a thing of beauty, but as President Clinton said that day, it achieved the main objective.
(Soundbite of 1995 speech)
President BILL CLINTON: The presidents of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia have made a historic and heroic choice. They have heeded the will of their people. Whatever their ethnic group, the overwhelming majority of Bosnia's citizens and the citizens of Croatia and Serbia want the same thing. They want to stop the slaughter. They want to put an end to the violence and war. They want to give their children and their grandchildren the chance to lead a normal life.
SIEGEL: Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns ranks number three at the State Department. He's the senior career officer there. And he was at Dayton 10 years ago. He's now working on encouraging constitutional reform for Bosnia.
Secretary Burns, welcome.
Mr. NICHOLAS BURNS (Undersecretary of State): Thank you very much, Robert.
SIEGEL: A few days ago in the British paper The Guardian, the leader of Sarajevo's Jewish community offered this appraisal. He said, `There is no good will between the political elites in this country. You've got 86 political parties, 14 parliaments, 14 governments, hundreds and hundreds of politicians but not a single statesman thinking of the country as a whole. They can't agree on what kind of a country they want.' That's a pessimistic appraisal. Is it an accurate one?
Mr. BURNS: I think it's quite pessimistic. It's not inaccurate. The problem in Bosnia-Herzegovina today is that, you know, to achieve the peace at Dayton after that horrible, savage war of 10 years ago, we had to leave the ethnic communities in charge of their own affairs, so there was great devolution of authority. You know, it goes back to Yugoslavia. It was a country built on separate ethnic identities. People had the right to run their own affairs in many respects, and they fought a war over it. When Yugoslavia disintegrated, instead of the peaceful emergence of new countries, the Serbs fought the others for domination. And you saw the results: 250,000 people died; two million people were made homeless. We saw Srebrenica, which was the worst human rights atrocity in Europe since the Nazis.
And so it's not surprising that the sense of ethnic identity has persisted to this day, so that political parties are formed purely on ethnic lines. And kids can't go to school with each other. There are 14 departments of education in one country. It's not a normal country.
I think there's some hope that, in Washington tomorrow, Secretary Rice will be able to convince the leaders--the Serb, Croat and Muslim leaders to agree on the principle of reform, so that instead of the three presidents that they currently have, there'd be one president, one prime minister, an effective parliament. You know, it was necessary to build that structure to stop the war 10 years ago at Dayton. It was a great achievement of American diplomacy. But it's now necessary to look ahead and say, `You've got to change that structure.' And that's what we're trying to convince the Bosnian leadership to do.
SIEGEL: You have said that all of Bosnia's political leadership has agreed that Radovan Karadzic, who was the leader of the Bosnian Serbs during the war, and Ratko Mladic, his top military commander, must be sent to The Hague and put on trial.
Mr. BURNS: Yes.
SIEGEL: Should we understand the fact that those two have not been sent to The Hague as a weakness of the very political leadership whom you cite, a weakness in the face of pro-Karadzic or pro-Mladic sentiment there?
Mr. BURNS: Yes. It's a lack of political will. Mladic, until two years ago, was living on a Serb military base near Belgrade, and yet he's the man who ordered 8,000 men and boys murdered in July 1995 in Srebrenica. And Karadzic is the man who is the spiritual father of this notorious notion of ethnic cleansing. And so both of them need to be arrested.
You know, I think, Robert, people might--listeners might wonder, `Why is this so important?' These war crimes committed during the Balkan wars were reminiscent of what happened in the Second World War, and they were so savage that you can't bind a society back up unless justice is done. And so that's why we're insisting that they take this step.
SIEGEL: Having been involved in Balkan diplomacy now for some time, have you seen something happen over the past 10 years that makes you truly feel in your bones that a future bloodbath between Muslims, Orthodox Christians and Catholics in the Balkans is significant less likely in the future because of some change that has evolved, or is it still a real possibility?
Mr. BURNS: I think that it is unlikely that we'll see any recurrence of ethnic bloodshed on the scale of the Balkan wars of the 1990s in our own time in the 21st century, unlikely because it was such a savage and bitter war. The people were literally exhausted and defeated at the end. And now they've had 10 years of peace. They've been able to reflect on the fact that the bigger ambition now has to be ethnic reconciliation; it has to be jobs for people, and it has to be this vision of joining the EU and NATO. I think most Bosnians are focused on that. They just want to live a normal life, after having gone through that horrible war.
SIEGEL: Ambassador Nick Burns, thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. BURNS: Thank you, Robert.
SIEGEL: Nicholas Burns, who is now the undersecretary of State, talking with us on this 10th anniversary of the signing of the Dayton Accords on Bosnia.
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.