Susan and I met when we did some training workshops for senior Afghan women in Tajikistan last year. Susan is an American feminist and mediator and lots of other things, so I had to start the discussion with a trigger warning for her progressive podcast audience lest they swoon or panic at my horrible reactionary opinions and male UK accent. But thereafter it all went along fine, at least from my point of view.
The podcast is long – well over an hour. Nothing much of what I said, including a misplaced date or two, has been edited as far as I can see
My part starts at some 7 minutes in. The ‘show notes’ at the site give a good summary of the many different aspects I cover as the discussion unfolds. Highlights include:
Potted history of the origins of the Bosnia conflict: why the world accepted the break-up of Yugoslavia along its internal borders; the Yugoslav ‘ethic key’ (narod and narodnost); competing identities and ownership claims
How the creation during the war of the ‘Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina’ by the US and Germany gave the Serb nationalists what they really wanted, namely non-Bosnian ‘otherness’, and how that led to the bizarre dysfunctional two-Entity deal struck at Dayton in 1995
How US politics played in to the whole peace process: top-down rather than bottom-up peace-building
How technical details deep in eg voting systems have profoundly different long-term ramifications
How the BH constitution agreed at Dayton enshrined unconstitutional discrimination
Follow the money!
Some personal successes and failures
Can you ‘build peace’ only by breaking decisively and visibly with the past?
Where does ‘reconciliation’ fit in?
Peace? Or Justice?
Should I have been made some sort of Governor-General of Bosnia for a decade or two to force-feed modernisation?
One important idea emerging from the discussion is that it is next to impossible in practice to ‘learn from mistakes’. Imagine there is some sort of peace deal for Syria endorsed by international security guarantees and promises of generous assistance. Who among the hordes of busy international folks pouring into Syria to help implement it and get Syria moving again will give even a second or two to contemplate any lessons that might (or not) be relevant from that huge and intensive BH intervention? No-one cares about old stuff! Every situation is different!
True. But it’s also true that small decisions and compromises taken as a mission like this gets going set in motion outcomes years down the road that may be just bad. Where is a sense of responsibility in all this?
Above all, is the philosophical basis for what you’re doing in tune with the people in the country concerned? How far have the locals had any substantive say in devising the new arrangements?
Which locals? The ones who created the whole mess and bring with them all the bad instincts of the ruinous past (see Dayton)? Or new, untried people open to radical new ideas for a very different view? Will, say, younger leaders have credibility and legitimacy in societies that respect older people? Women?
How to use new technology to do things differently?
Who decides? Who decides who decides?
Anyway, no need to thrash it all out here. Listen for yourself. It’s quite interesting if you can stand my annoying voice, not uncontroversial in some of the judgements, and for better or worse my best extended summary of the Bosnia conundrum that still baffles and disappoints Europe today.