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Project August 29, 2009

Bosnia: Fragile States - Halting the Slide Toward Failure

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This project was produced in partnership with the Bureau for International Reporting.

It has been 14 years since the Dayton Peace Accords, brokered at an Ohio Air Force base, ended the brutal civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. That war, which raged from 1992 to 1995, killed an estimated 100,000 people, uprooted millions and taught the world the term "ethnic cleansing".

The Dayton Accords brought a swift response by the international community. Led by 50,000 NATO troops, the intervention's first phase of post-war emergency assistance soon transformed into a major, long-term effort at nation building. The Office of the High Representative was created, an international body empowered with a significant ability to make and shape the laws and institutions of the country.

The country was also split into two ethnically-based entities, the Republika Srpksa, a Serb-majority region, and the Federation of Muslims, called Bosniaks, and predominantly Catholic Croats. Both entities have their own governments, as well as representatives in a third, national layer of leadership. There are even three presidents, one from each ethnicity, who serve the country on a rotating basis.

In the last 14 years, great progress has been made in Bosnia; the army, taxation systems, utility grids and other functions of daily life have been successfully integrated. People of all ethnicities have returned to their pre-war homes – not as many as had been hoped for, and often without a great deal of economic security, but enough to suggest that Bosnia was on its way towards a permanent stability.

But then, three years ago, nationalist politicians returned to power, stoking ethnic tensions and exploiting the Dayton Accords' partitioning of the country. Now, the country is in political crisis, unable to move forward towards its dream of successful integration with the European Union, and ultimate sovereignty with the departure of the Office of the High Representative.

This report examines this new political instability and explores whether Bosnia and Herzegovina could be at risk of returning to violent conflict.

About the Fragile States series: Making peace is often thought to be the hardest part of dealing with the world's failing states. But while ending conflict is undoubtedly challenging, nation-building is often more difficult still. And then there are the countries that aren't failing but aren't succeeding, either: a so-called middle tier of "fragile states" that straddle a thin line of survival vs. returning to conflict or other social, environmental or economic distress. The Pulitzer Center's Fragile States project, in collaboration with the Bureau for International Reporting, offers a series of stories filmed in four of the world's most at-risk nations—nations that rarely make the headlines but that offer clear lessons for what it takes to stabilize a country emerging from trauma.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo: How can the world's largest United Nations Peacekeeping force protect civilians when it must partner with a national army that is almost as predatory on the local population as the rebels they are meant to fight against? Spend a day with UN Congo chief Alan Doss as he travels the eastern part of this massive country, trying to shore up a mission facing huge challenges.

In East Timor: 10 years after it voted for independence from Indonesia, this tiny new nation struggles to build itself up from scratch. What does it take to create a functioning army and police force or write national laws when four different languages are commonly spoken? How to combat an unemployment rate of 40%, or manage a promising but perhaps overwhelming natural resources wealth?

In Haiti: The recipient of billions of dollars in foreign aid and repeated interventions by the international community, Haiti may be on the verge at last of stability—or else at the cusp of even deeper misery. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has recently appointed President Bill Clinton as a special envoy to the nation, to help sieze what he describes as "Haiti's big chance."


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war and conflict reporting


War and Conflict

War and Conflict