European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell used the 25th anniversary of the peace agreement that ended the war in Bosnia to urge Bosnia’s political leaders to overcome ethnic divisions and prepare their nation to join the EU.
Borrell said that the U.S.-brokered peace agreement known as the Dayton accords concluded “one of the most shameful episodes in the modern history of Europe.”
Speaking during a visit to Sarajevo for the anniversary on November 21, Borrell added that while the past must be commemorated, “We have to look to the future.”
The peace agreement, initialed at a U.S. Air Force base outside Dayton, Ohio, on November 21, 1995 and formally signed in Paris a few weeks later, ended more than three years of war in which Bosnia’s main ethnic factions — Muslim Bosniaks, Catholic Croats, and Orthodox Christian Serbs — fought for control after the breakup of Yugoslavia.
More than 100,000 people were killed, most of them Bosniaks. The conflict left Bosnia-Herzegovina divided into two autonomous regions — the Bosniak-Croat federation and the mainly ethnic Serb Republika Srpska — united under a weak central government.
The agreement was formally signed in Paris on December 14, 1995 by the presidents of Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia. The U.S. president at the time, Bill Clinton, and 50 other world leaders attending the signing ceremony.
Under the accords, nearly 60,000 international troops were deployed to Bosnia as part of a NATO-led mission to maintain peace and demarcate territory awarded to the Bosniak-Croat federation and Republika Srpska.
While it stopped the fighting, the Dayton accords formalized the ethnic divisions in Bosnia by establishing the complicated and fragmented state structure.
The EU accepted Bosnia’s membership application in 2016, but its government has failed to make the deep structural reforms required before the application can move forward.
The bloc is waiting for Bosnia to make changes in how its judiciary and economy are run and intensify efforts to fight corruption, among other reforms.
After meeting with members of the country’s tripartite presidency, Borrell said Bosnia’s “future is European” but that in order to get there “authorities must step up their efforts to deliver on the reform priorities.”
Some Bosnians hope the election of Joe Biden as the next president of the United States will spur change by renewing Western interest in the country, one of Europe’s poorest. Biden was the last U.S. leader to visit Bosnia. The trip took place in 2009 when he was vice president.