Ten years ago, with financial support by the National Scientific Foundation, Washington Post organized a research with 2,000 participants from Bosnia and Herzegovina and asked them, face to face, what they think about the Dayton peace accords and ethnic separation. Last month, twenty years ago, the same questions were posed to 3,000 people, also face to face.
In 2005, the participants were asked to choose between four statements regarding the Dayton accords. Two were simple positive/negative reactions: “Dayton has been generally positive and should not be altered” or “Dayton has been generally negative and should be abolished”. Two other statements are opinions also present in Bosnia: “Dayton was necessary to end the war, but now BiH needs a new constitution to prepare for the EU” and “Dayton was an imposition of foreign powers”.
Not much has changed in the attitudes of Bosnians and Herzegovinians to the Dayton Peace Accords between 2005 and 2015. The unqualified endorsement increased from 19.7 to 24.1 percent, the “necessary but” option increased from 47.5 to 50.5 percent, and the unqualified negative attitude was cut in half, from 10.8 to 4.8 percent. Attitude of those who thought of Dayton as an external imposition remained essentially unchanged.
In 2005, Bosnians and Herzegovinians were asked if they agree or disagree with the following statement: “Ethnic relations will improve in my locality when all nationalities are separated into territories that belong only to them.” (In 2005, 50.5 percent of participants said “yes”; at the time, those results were compared with responses in the North Caucasus of Russia, another former war zone, where less than 14 percent of participants wanted ethnic separation.)
Some important shifts in opinion can be seen here. Fewer and fewer Bosnians — in all three ethnic communities — support exclusive ethnic territories. Over 43 percent of Bosniaks supported ethnic separation in 2005; today that percentage is 33, which is a drop of 10 percent approximately. Among Bosnian Croats, support for ethnic separation has dropped from 58 percent to roughly 40 percent, or by 18 percent. The decline is the strongest among Bosnian Serbs, with a drop from 57 percent to 33 percent, or a drop by 24 percent.
Less-educated individuals in all three communities are still in favor of separation.
All summed up, Bosnians and Herzegovinians are becoming less ethno-territorial. Only 10 years ago, more than half of the population believed that ethnic separation was the way to prevent conflict, and that drop in support isn’t just because of the new generation growing up in a less ethnically violent world.
To answer the question, the Bosnian-Herzegovinian “Dayton generation”, those born in the time of the Dayton peace accords, is the group that is least likely to support ethnic separation.
This is the most optimistic interpretation of the data: attitudes in Bosnia and Herzegovina are changing for the better, but institutions remain stuck in Dayton’s, now two decades old, straitjacket.
However, this is the reality: Bosnian youth is not included in politics. Seventy percent wants to leave the country, and only 15 percent believes they can influence authorities.
Bosnia and Herzegovina will apply for membership in the EU soon. Membership in the EU, as well as the possibility of B&H becoming a land of multiethnic tolerance, are in far future.