Thursday, February 4, 2016
20 years after Dayton, here’s what Bosnians think about being divided by ethnicity
The country remains poor overall, ranking 101st of 185 countries in GDP per capita, according to the World Bank’s 2014 figures. Ethnic differences are also evident. Bosniaks report the highest unemployment rate at 32 percent, while Serbs and Croats are at 27 and 25 percent, respectively. Serbs report significantly lower household incomes than the other groups at an average of $413 a month (converted at current exchange rates); Croat households earn $513 and Bosniaks $447.
Should Bosnia’s ethnicities be separated into different territories?
In 2005, we asked Bosnians if they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: “Ethnic relations will improve in my locality when all nationalities are separated into territories that belong only to them.” (In 2005, 50.5 percent of the sample said “yes”; at the time, we compared those results with attitudes in the North Caucasus of Russia, another former war zone, where less than 14 percent wanted ethnic separation.)
Here we have seen some important shifts in opinion. Fewer and fewer Bosnians — in all ethnic communities — support exclusive ethnic territories. Over 43 percent of Bosniaks supported ethnic separation in 2005; today that’s 33, a drop of 10 percentage points. Among Bosnian Croats, support has dropped from 58 percent to roughly 40, or 18 percentage points. The decline is strongest among Bosnian Serbs, with a drop from 57 percent to 33, or 24 percentage points.
Less-educated individuals in all three communities still prefer separation.
Has this drop come because of the attitudes of the “Dayton generations”? Let’s look at the graphic below, which shows various age groups’ attitudes towards ethnoterritorialism.
Our age categories have roughly equivalent respondent numbers in each. The youngest age group (18 to 35) in 2015 is the “Dayton generation,” ranging from those not yet born in 1995 to those who were 15 years old when Dayton was signed. This cohort shows the biggest differences from the attitudes of the young adults in 2005.
Far fewer young Bosnian Serbs of that age agree that ethnic separation is a good strategy than did 10 years ago, with a drop from 60 percent to 28, for a total of 32 percentage points. More Bosniaks in all three age groups disapprove of ethnic separation than did in 2005. However, as Bosnian Serbs and Croats get older, they grow more supportive of separating by ethnicity.
What does all this mean for Bosnian ethnic relations?
Overall, Bosnians are becoming less ethnoterritorial. Only 10 years ago, more than half the population believed that ethnic separation was the way to prevent conflict. And that drop isn’t just because a new generation is growing up in a less ethnically violent world.
Why then? Perhaps tolerance has increased as people have gotten used to dealing with other ethnic groups, especially those who have returned to the homes they were driven from during the war. After all, Bosnians have been traveling back and forth between the political entities without significant friction or dramas. Or perhaps ethnoterritorialism is already so widespread that, ironically enough, respondents feel it’s less urgent to say they want it. After all, it’s already the norm in most places.
To answer our question: Bosnia’s “Dayton generation” is the cohort least likely to support ethnic separation.
Here’s the most optimistic interpretation of this data: Attitudes in Bosnia are changing for the better — but institutions remain stuck in Dayton’s straitjacket, now two decades old.
Yet here’s the reality: Bosnia’s youths are very disengaged from politics. Seventy percent want to leave the country and only 15 percent think that they have any influence on governments.
Bosnia will apply for European Union membership next month. The prospect of E.U. membership, like the prospect of Bosnia again becoming a land of multiethnic tolerance, is far in the distance.
Gerard Toal (Gearóid Ó Tuathail) is co-author of “Bosnia Remade” (Oxford, 2011) and a professor at Virginia Tech’s campus in Alexandria, Va. John O’Loughlin is college professor of distinction and professor of geography at the University of Colorado at Boulder.