Focus
Protecting Dayton’s Shared Governance by Countering Faux Narratives of Russia’s Influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina
(Volume 25, No. 1, 2024.)
12 tra 2024 05:59:00
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Author: Marta Vrbetic

DOI: https://doi.org/10.37458/nstf.25.1.10

Original scientific paper

Received: January 21, 2024

Accepted: April, 12, 2024

 

Abstract: It is well-known that Russia seeks to undermine the Western order in the Balkans, such as supporting Serbs in their rejection of NATO membership for Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). However, some assertions of Russia’s influence discussed here show no merit and seem to have been brought to delegitimize the Western installed peace order vital to the stability of the region: the 1-2-3 Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA) with one state, Preuzmite članak u PDF formatu two entities, and three constituent peoples (Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats). The meaningless assertions include disinformation against High Representative Schmidt as a Russia man; the misrepresentation of the U.S. -E.U. led electoral reform as the one benefitting Russia; the frequently repeated falsehoods that NATO and EU member state Croatia is aligned with Putin or that some U.S. officials embrace Russia’s values. Such disinformation narratives do not show the ties between the supposed Russian assets and Kremlin, nor do they demonstrate that the alleged pro-Russian actors pursue pro-Kremlin policies. Instead, they tend to be based on the ludicrous claims that the very support for the Dayton categories of ethnic power-sharing reflects the embrace of Russia’s values under President Putin. Striking at the core of the Dayton peace bargain, the anti-Dayton unitarists want the DPA to guarantee BiH’s external borders, while urging the international community to dismiss the DPA designed two-entity state structure (important to Serbs) or ethnic power-sharing (important to Croats) to impose a centralized, unitary state with a majority rule, or the so-called “civic state.” However, besides thwarting (Serb) secessionism and (Croat) separatism, the purpose of Dayton has been to prevent (Bosniak) majoritarianism. The intensity of the debate surrounding the disinformation activities discussed here shows that--though the DPA still remains relevant to the BiH postwar peace and the Western Balkans stability--the consensus on what Dayton is or should be is now collapsing.

 

Keywords: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dayton Peace Agreement, power-sharing, Croatia, Russia, disinformation, liberal peace, nation-building.

 


Introduction 

 

In the weeks preceding Russia’s attack on Ukraine in February 2022, President Vladimir Putin claimed that Russia had no intention of invading Ukraine (BBC, 2022). About 100,000 Russian troops had massed at Russia’s border with Ukraine before Russia’s Defense Ministry announced it would withdraw some troops in a sign of de-escalation (Rosenberg, 2022). Meanwhile, there were unmistakable signs of the imminent invasion as Western intelligence sources reported that Russia was building field hospitals near its border with Ukraine (BBC, 2022). On February 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. Since then, Russia’s deception and disinformation activities have been discussed at international conferences, such as the 2023 Zagreb Security Forum (Akrap, 2023) and the problems of the hybrid threats and concerns about Russia have gained broad recognition going well beyond the policy and scholarly circles. 

However, what still remains to be recognized is that some actors can exploit the well-established facts of Russia’s disinformation and Ukraine’s victimization to attract support for their own causes that in reality may have little to do with either Russia or Ukraine. It is such cases of misinformation or disinformation that will be reviewed here—the cases seeking to influence the West’s policies on Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) by presenting extraneous, incomplete, and even fraudulent narratives as part of the legitimate ongoing effort to constrain Russia. More precisely, discussed here is the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA or Dayton), together with various statements made by anti-Dayton unitarists to discredit the DPA-based BiH Constitution by portraying its ethnic governance as the one serving Putin’s Russia. While some of these misleading statements are intentional falsehoods, the majority of the faux narratives seem to be constructed around unfounded, partial opinions based on select evidence in disregard for the inconvenient data or counterarguments. 

Needless to say, there have been case studies addressing disinformation and hybrid warfare in the countries of South-East Europe (Nehring and Sittig, 2023). The Hybrid Warfare Research Institute of Zagreb also published an analysis of disinformation promoted by the Ljubljana based International Institute for the Middle Eastern and Balkan Studies (Akrap, 2022). In addition, some cases of disinformation originating in the Western Balkans are well-known. Thus, pretending to be a sovereign state—while existing as an integral part of the internationally recognized BiH state—the Bosnian Serb Republic, or Republika Srpska (RS), regularly submits unsolicited reports to the UN Security Council (Republic of Srpska Government, 2023). However, this article does not deal with such familiar cases of mostly Serb disinformation in South-East Europe and Russia’s support for the Serbs’ secessionist aspirations, both of which put well-recognized pressures on the DPA and the internationally recognized BiH’s borders. 

Instead, the hybrid threats analyzed here concern the less discussed cases of disinformation generally propagated by the self-described “pro-BiH actors” who, unlike Serbs, want the West to preserve the BiH state within its internationally recognized borders, while demanding, at the same time, that the West help them dissolve Dayton’s decentralized, shared ethnic governance and force a unitary state with a majority rule. This so-called “civic state” as demanded by the anti-Dayton unitarists--in particular those associated with the SDA-DF political parties--would inevitably empower the Bosniaks as the BiH’s majority constituting slightly above 50% of the total BiH population according to the last (2013) official BiH census (Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2013a), while disempowering the Serbs (31%) and the Croats (15%).  

Without denying the benefits of democratic civic governance or the existence of some BiH actors genuinely interested in a non-ethnic, pluralist society, the term “civic state” may be placed within quotation marks to highlight the anti-Dayton activism seeking to upset the Dayton’s shared governance in order to impose majoritarian rule, in disregard for the constitutional process and the conditions inappropriate for BiH’s transition to a democratic majority rule at this time. However, the term “anti-Dayton unitarists” will be used here most of the time to denote the supporters of such unconstitutional activities who have also engaged in faux narratives, whether intentionally or unintentionally. 

Supported primarily by Bosniaks and non-ethnically defined Bosnians,  as well as some left-leaning circles in Europe (Sarajevo Times, 2022c), a civic BiH state objective (in this context not placed within quotation marks) may superficially resemble non-ethnically organized Western liberal democracies, thereby holding some appeal in the eyes of certain actors in the West. However, a civic state contradicts the BiH Constitution and Dayton (the two terms can be used here interchangeably). Based on the DPA postwar settlement, the BiH Constitution was designed to prevent—in the interest of peace--majoritarian rule in the historically divided BiH society, where ethnic relations got aggravated postwar. 

Nevertheless, in the recent years, there have been several attempts to disparage the DPA and its supporters, by wrongly tying Dayton’s ethnic governance to the values of Putin’s Russia, thereby seeking to discredit not only the well-known pro-Kremlin actors like the Serbs, but also the pro-Ukraine, anti-Russia actors, such as some EU and NATO member states, including several high-level officials from both Croatia and the United States (Circle, 2022). These anti-Dayton activists claim that—in contrast to the West’s pro-democracy policy on Ukraine--the United States and Europe are betraying BiH by pursuing illiberal, pro-Russia policies such as supporting the allegedly disastrous Dayton-based BiH Constitution (Bassuener et al., 2023; Mujanovic, 2023b). However, BiH’s two-entity structure and ethnic power-sharing have been the tradeoff for keeping a single BiH state. This Dayton compromise has been crucial to ending the BiH war and maintaining peace, thus still enjoying, however imperfect, American and European support. 

Before discussing some anti-Dayton faux narratives, this paper will review the importance of the DPA, in particular its 1-2-3 peace bargain, followed by the discussion of the past Western-led nation-building and a current lack of self-sustaining peace in BiH. Next, the paper will discuss some examples of extraneous, incomplete, misinforming, and disinforming narratives used to undermine the DPA, the peace settlement important for the BiH postwar stability that the anti-Dayton unitarists now falsely portray as an agreement that empowers Russia’s proxies in BiH. 

To clarify, the “old” anti-Dayton activities not reviewed here are primarily those of the BiH Serbs, who notoriously rejected the DPA in the immediate postwar years and demanded full independence, thereby rejecting BiH’s external borders. Under Milorad Dodik, the BiH Serb leader originally helped to power by the United States (Associated Press, 2022) the Serbs’ attitudes began to change towards the acceptance of the DPA. However, upset over the forced revisions of Dayton in the direction of greater centralization, as well as the recognition of Kosovo, the BiH Serbs began threatening outright independence again, now with Russia’s encouragement. These “old,” enduring anti-Dayton activities are well-known and have earned the Serbs sanctions; the United States especially seems committed to curbing the Serb secessionist activities and Russia’s influence on the Serbs (Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, 2023). 

However, the cases reviewed here concern mostly the “new” anti-Dayton “civic state” advocacy that wants to break the Dayton’s 1-2-3 peace bargain by preserving BiH within its internationally recognized external borders while forcibly changing its internal state structure–entities, constituent peoples, or shared ethnic governance--through unconstitutional or undemocratic means. Connected primarily to some Bosniak nationalist circles--especially to the SDA-DF supporters--dismantling Dayton’s ethnic governance has also been embraced, most likely for very different reasons, by some Europe’s progressives (De Bruijn and Vrbetic, 2022). Hence, discussed here are various statements attributed to a politically wide range of actors who rhetorically denounce Russia’s proxies in BiH while in fact aiming at discrediting Dayton’s shared governance through cherry-picking evidence to construct misleading arguments. 

 

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Cite this article:


APA 6th Edition

Vrbetic, M. (2024). Protecting Dayton’s Shared Governance by Countering Faux Narratives of Russia’s Influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina. National security and the future, 25 (1), 213-286. https://doi.org/10.37458/nstf.25.1.10

 

MLA 8th Edition

Vrbetic, Marta. "Protecting Dayton’s Shared Governance by Countering Faux Narratives of Russia’s Influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina." National security and the future, vol. 25, br. 1, 2024, str. 213-286. https://doi.org/10.37458/nstf.25.1.10. Citirano DD.MM.YYYY

 

Chicago 17th Edition

Vrbetic, Marta. "Protecting Dayton’s Shared Governance by Countering Faux Narratives of Russia’s Influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina." National security and the future 25, br. 1 (2024): 213-286. https://doi.org/10.37458/nstf.25.1.10

 

Harvard

Vrbetic, M. (2024). 'Protecting Dayton’s Shared Governance by Countering Faux Narratives of Russia’s Influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina', National security and the future, 25(1), str. 213-286. https://doi.org/10.37458/nstf.25.1.10

 

Vancouver

Vrbetic M. Protecting Dayton’s Shared Governance by Countering Faux Narratives of Russia’s Influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina. National security and the future [Internet]. 2024 [pristupljeno DD.MM.YYYY.];25(1):213-286. https://doi.org/10.37458/nstf.25.1.10

 

IEEE

M. Vrbetic, "Protecting Dayton’s Shared Governance by Countering Faux Narratives of Russia’s Influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina", National security and the future, vol.25, br. 1, str. 213-286, 2024. [Online]. https://doi.org/10.37458/nstf.25.1.10

 

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