Bosnia-Herzegovina Church and Dayton Agreement

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) — The president of the Bishops’ Conference of Bosnia-Herzegovina called for renegotiation of the 1995 U.S.-brokered peace deal, which ended the country’s bloody four-year war.

Bishop Franjo Komarica of Banja Luka told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, July 3 that a revision of the Dayton Agreement reached at the height of the war “would be needed for Bosnia-Herzegovina to become a united, sovereign, peaceful, secular country.”

“The Dayton agreements stopped the war but didn’t help create democracy and peaceful cohabitation,” he said of the accord negotiated in the southwest Ohio city.

He said Bosnia-Herzegovina’s “social, political, legal and economic situation” remained unsatisfactory 16 years after the war, which cost more than 100,000 lives and ended with the formation of two autonomous entities within a unitary state: a Serb Republic and Croat-Muslim Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The bishop added that the Catholic Church risked “annihilation” after losing many of its members, because of the state’s failure to provide “political, legal and material support’ for returning refugees despite constitutional guarantees.

“A rhetoric of hatred, spread by ruthless, irresponsible politicians still prevails here, and justice, equality and rules for civilized, democratic coexistence are missing,” said Bishop Komarica, who has been recognized internationally for pastoral work during the conflict following the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Unofficial figures from the Bosnian State Statistics Agency in 2008 show that Catholics made up about 15 percent of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s 4 million citizens, while Muslims comprised 45 percent of the population, Serbian Orthodox 36 percent and Protestants 1 percent.

The church has complained about the implementation of the general framework of the agreement, insisting its guarantees for rights and freedoms have been routinely ignored.

In his address, Bishop Komarica said the international community had put “great efforts and resources” into rebuilding Bosnia-Herzegovina, but that they were being squandered by crime and corruption and a “lack of shared vision about the future.”

Msgr. Ivo Tomasevic, secretary-general of the bishops’ conference, said church leaders concurred that “fundamental change” was needed to enable the country’s three main ethnic groups to “enjoy the same civic rights.”

“Many good things have happened here. We’ve rebuilt most of our destroyed churches and tried to create an atmosphere of hope, but you can’t build democracy in such a deeply divided society,” he told Catholic News Service.

“Our own constitution formed part of the Dayton Agreement and wasn’t adopted in a democratic way, while every subsequent change has been at the cost of the Catholic community. Today, foreign governments are too divided in their views to uphold justice here or ensure the equality of languages, cultures and faiths, which is so important for each ethnic community,” he added.

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