Fifteen years ago this month, the agreement that ended the war in Bosnia was negotiated and initialed here in Dayton. Most people around here know that, and probably remember the talks that happened at Wright-Patterson AFB. The war, the largest of the wars of dissolution of the former Yugoslavia, had lasted three and a half years and cost over a hundred thousand lives, a huge number of them civilians killed in attempts to eradicate a specific ethnic group. The Dayton Peace Accords ended the war and created the constitutional structure that is still in force in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
US Ambassador Richard Holbrooke chose Dayton as the summit site for a number of reasons. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, provided sufficient accommodations for the nine participating delegations at a location easy for US diplomats to reach from the East Coast, it sealed the participants off from the ravenous East Coast press, allowed Holbrooke to completely control the talks’ physical environment, and also the delegations’ movement and contacts, and prominently displayed America’s air power. Holding the talks in Dayton enabled Holbrooke’s use of the “Big Bang” strategy – now known in diplomacy circles as a “Dayton” – where negotiators are more or less locked into an area until they reach an agreement. For our part, Daytonians welcomed the negotiators and then formed human peace chains around the base, holding candlelight vigils, and praying for peace throughout the 21 days of talks.
You can read the history of the war, and of the Dayton negotiations & remarks specifically, in a number of authoritative accounts, and I won’t repeat it here. What I would like to do is talk about two effects of the Accords on Dayton.
The first affect the Accords had on Dayton was to instantly create a bond between Daytonians and the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia. Even today, whether they liked the terms of the Accords or not, everyone in those three countries knows about Dayton and what happened here. The City of Dayton is Sister City to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and numerous organizations and institutions like the Friendship Force and the University of Dayton have established productive exchanges and programs over the last 15 years. In addition, like many American cities, we now have a group of immigrants living here in Dayton from the countries who were involved in the war. As anyone who has seen the South Slavic Club dancers perform or eaten some ćevapi sausages at World A’Fair can attest, they are enhancing our cultural richness. Also, with the language ability they bring, and their experience in distinct cultures, they can potentially help us compete on the world stage in a number of areas. I know that as a community we have not utilized them as a resource as fully as we should have.
Second, because of the high profile of the war in Bosnia, the Accords placed Dayton in the world’s spotlight for an entire month. This sort of exposure is hard to come by, and its value is nearly impossible to measure, in a world where travel and communications advances have enabled rapid cross-border commerce and conversation, where the overseas success of a business could partially rest on it coming from a city with a recognizable international reputation. The Accords have given Dayton our second shot at that exposure and reputation, and our first since the world-shaking successes of the Wright brothers one hundred years ago.
We are doing a better job of promoting our city as the home of the Wright brothers than we used to. The bicycle shop is doing well, the hangar at the flying field at Wright Patt is looking great, and we are finally growing more comfortable with our Wright brothers image or brand. The question being discussed now isn’t whether we should focus on the Wrights, but on the best way to do it.
Even though the Dayton Peace Accords are lower-profile (except in Bosnia itself) than the Wrights, I propose that we should do more to capitalize on the fact that the Accords happened here. As I mentioned earlier, there are many organizations who maintain close relationships with people in Bosnia and the region. Through them, we are doing a good job of keeping the personal connections strong. However, there are more things we can do to take advantage of the increased visibility and recognition the Accords have given us both in Bosnia and throughout the world. I would like to suggest the following as possible ways to help our city by using the Accords to our advantage.
1. We could collect and archive documents from the Dayton Peace Accords. The Accords utilized a unique model to reach agreement between the warring parties, one that is still being studied and analyzed, and we would likely gain some international attention as the prime location for that analysis.
2. We could mobilize our current immigrant population from Southeast Europe and our universal name recognition there to encourage skilled immigrants to come to Dayton, and following the model provided by our new Ahiska Turk population (and countless other immigrant waves over the last 200 years,) revitalize a neighborhood or two and provide new energy to the city.
3. We could come up with a strategy to exploit the historic sites of the Accords to attract historical and other tourists. Other cities have opened museums and offer tours with displays, reenactments and other attractions that highlight their roles in major negotiations, agreements, signings and other historically significant events, but we haven’t even tried to do this here. I think we should at least take a look at the feasibility of such a coordinated effort.
4. We could endow an academic chair at a local university to teach about the region or to research and teach about applying lessons learned in our involvement in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
5. Before the war, Bosnia and Herzegovina was a highly industrialized place, with a skilled workforce. Now they are making the transition, like we are, to the information-based economy. There are progressive minds in the region looking to increase the number of companies working on new green technologies, and in other areas that coincide with areas that we are working in, like the heat pump systems that use groundwater instead of outside air to heat and cool buildings. Perhaps we should research and assist our local companies in signing cooperative agreements with business incubators and small businesses in Bosnia and Herzegovina, along the same lines as the model Montgomery County is using in Israel today. We hold the same advantage in this case, which is access to the huge US market for these technologies. If we can use this advantage to create jobs here in Dayton, using new innovative technologies, we should.
In these days of cynicism about government, and the general reluctance of people to put aside their own personal comfort for a greater goal, the Accords are especially good for us to remember. We Americans, through our government’s action, ended a horribly vicious war, and the peace has held, even though the political situation continues to be unruly there, 15 years later. We can be proud of the small but crucial role we played, and we should do more to take advantage of the fact that the Accords took place here in Dayton.
To that end, this coming weekend, UD, WSU and Sinclair, along with a number of other partners, are sponsoring two events to commemorate the 15 years since the Accords were negotiated here. There is a dinner on Friday night at the Hope Hotel, in the same room that the accords were initialed, and there is a policy forum on Saturday from 9 to 4:30 at UD. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Minister Sven Alkalaj, will be here for both events, along with the Mayor of Sarajevo, Dr. Alija Behmen, and a number of other guests and experts from the region. We are including, for the first time, a greater focus on the status of average people caught in the conflict, with one panel talking about everyday life in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and another discussing the experiences of the immigrants who came here during and after the war. As of this morning, there are still seats available for both the dinner and the forum. I’d like to see us make this weekend’s events the start of a more focused strategy to take advantage of the opportunities granted to us by the historical quirk of the Accords’ signing here in Dayton, and I hope you will join in both this weekend, and in what will come after.
If you would like more information, go to www.daytonliterarypeaceprize.org/accords_update.htm, and to order tickets to the Banquet, or RSVP for the Forum, please visit: http://daytonpeaceaccordsat15.eventbrite.com, or call Kate Evans at 333-3659.