Peace piecemeal

The news from Bosnia makes sustainable peace seem impossibly remote, more remote than it actually is. The images are, indeed, bleak. In summer 2000 we saw pictures of busloads of Muslim Bosniac women seeking justice for the massacre of their husbands and sons that took place at Srebenica five years ago and we saw the hostile reception they received from the current Serb residents of Srebenica when the women returned for their ceremony of remembrance. What we tend to overlook is that there is another Bosnia where peace is being built, village by village, despite the many acts ofnot-so-ancient hatred. Those village islands of peace can be replicated.

In May 1992, Serb paramilitaries “ethnically cleansed” the village of Klanac, a Bosniacsuburb of Brcko in northern Bosnia. Repeatedly over the past two years, the Bosniac "displaced persons" (DP’s, or internal refugees) have attempted to return in order either to reclaim their intact homes or rebuild the destroyed ones.

As has happened many times elsewhere in Bosnia, each time the hopeful returnees were met with a hail of stones thrown by present residents. Few were surprised by the clashes. The Serbs in Klanac were thought to be the most hardline opponents of reintegration. But the Serbs were also victimized refugees, another displaced community who feared being displaced once again.

But in mid-May, less than a month after the latest clash, 60 Bosniac families began work on their houses in the neighborhood.Serbs and Bosniacs have formed a neighborhood committee. Serbs have expressed a willingness to vacate the houses they are occupying.

Today, Serbs are helping over 700 Bosniacs return. What happened? Part of the credit belongs to the international community. The new Brcko District of northern Bosnia is special, but its key features can be replicated. The sticking point at the Dayton negotiations, Brcko is both the strategic corridor linking the two halves of the Serb Republic "entity" and the northern access route from the Bosniac-Croat Federation "entity" to Croatia and Europe.

Irresolvable at Dayton, the problem was handed over to international arbitration. In a Solomonic decision last year, the international arbitrator, US attorney Roberts Owen, made it an autonomous district of Bosnia, owned by both entities but by neither exclusively. Earlier, he had given nearly limitless authority to implement the arbitration to Ambassador R.William Farrand, the international Supervisor of Brcko. Relying on this authority, the backing of nearby SFOR troops and the assistance of the UN police monitors, Farrand established the only functioning multiethnic administration and police in Bosnia. The District gave the displaced Serbs a sense that they could find a new home and be safe and not be forced back into the Federation. It was the multiethnic local police that quelled the last Klanac riot.

The other part of the credit belongs to the courage and common sense of the Klanac residents, both Bosniac original and Serb current. Manipulated for years by their hardline DP organizations and the ethnic political parties that relied on them for cheap votes, both groups of DP’s stood up for themselves and stretched a hand across the ethnic divide when they saw a way to live together safely.Taking advantage of an offer from Supervisor Farrand, the Serbs agreed to vacate the Bosniac houses they occupied in return for free and secure landplots elsewhere in the District. When the DP leadership organizations balked at this sensible compromise and the new local District Assembly hesitated to pass enabling legislation, the current Serb and prospective Bosniac residents threatened to organize a multiethnic demonstration. (This surely would have been Bosnia’s first.) The Assembly voted wisely and Klanac is nowat peace.


The struggle for a sustainable peace in Bosnia is far from over. Even in Brcko, unemployment stands at sixty percent, organized smuggling is rampant, ethnic tensions still simmer and sometimes boil over, thousands more seek a return to their homes. But Klanac was an important step.

How many potential Klanac’s does Bosnia have? Until recently, very very few. But with the use of international authority, a continued SFOR presence, active efforts to enlist moderate Bosnian leaders in the construction of multiethnic institutions, the economic resources to design expanding-pie solutions, and the courage and imagination of ordinary villagers; perhaps, someday, many more.