Transcribed from the 10 April 2021 episode of The Fire These Times podcast and printed with permission. Edited for space and readability. Listen to the whole interview:
They were all men. They started telling stories of how the agreement was negotiated. It was these stories—who bought whiskey for whom, who invited whom to dinner, how they jostled for power in the corridors—that made me fully aware of just how manly that process was.
Joey Ayoub: Today we’ll be talking with Aida Hozić about a recent blog post she wrote for the London School of Economics called “Dayton, WPS, and the entrenched manliness of ethnic power-sharing peace agreements.” We’ll speak about the 1995 Dayton Accords and its context as well as the gendered impact of these accords, and get a bit into their Women, Peace and Security (or WPS) agenda, its background, and why it matters.
I’m from Lebanon; Aida is from Bosnia. We found opportunity to make many interesting comparisons between Sarajevo and Beirut, and also just more broadly speaking between Bosnia and Lebanon, including looking at the ongoing impacts of the Taif Agreement that officially ended the war in Lebanon as well as of the Dayton Accords in Bosnia.
We also get into how responses to the Bosnian wars and the Bosnian genocide influenced responses to the 2011 Arab Spring in the West and in these countries themselves. We’ll talk about how there are multiple Syrias just as there are multiple Bosnias. Aida even goes into what we should really mean when we talk about intervention, looking at the cases of Bosnia, Rwanda, Libya, and Syria. We’ll get into how peace accords, the way they have been done thus far, essentially “appease men who have guns,” and then go into big power politics: how the EU sees Bosnia; how the EU and Fortress Europe have viewed “foreign” peoples, especially in the case of migrants and refugees struggling through the Balkanroute.
We’ll conclude on how gender analysis also helps us focus on “who else is missing;” how gender analysis extends beyond just gender.
Let’s start with some background to the article. For those who might need it, Aida, could you provide some historical background on what we’re talking about, so no one needs to be a specialist to follow our conversation?
Aida Hozić: Of course. The post was a feminist reflection on the Dayton peace agreement, which was negotiated at the Wright-Patterson air force base in Dayton, Ohio, in November of 1995. It was the diplomatic masterpiece of the late US diplomat Richard Holbrooke. This agreement ended the Bosnian war, and created a very complex institutional infrastructure which allowed for power sharing among the three warring parties, which is how the West liked to call the three ethnic groups vying for power in Bosnia at the time: Bosnian Muslims, Bosnian Croats, and Bosnian Serbs. The US negotiators also invited the leadership of the neighboring countries in Serbia and Croatia as guarantors of peace.
There’s a lot that’s controversial about this setup—who is contesting for power and how, and who is negotiating peace. For some, this was not a civil war between three equal “warring parties” but a case of Serbian (and to a lesser extent Croatian) aggression on Bosnia. Nonetheless, the agreement was praised because it ended the war, and because it put an end to the extreme and very often quite monstrous violence that lasted over four years. It was the first agreement that bore any fruit, after many unsuccessful attempts to negotiate a truce in Bosnia and Herzegovina. But it was also controversial because it sealed ethnic territorial gains which were reached through this monstrous violence, through ethnic cleansing, and through genocide.
The final point, which is not emphasized often enough: the peace agreement was negotiated by men and men only. There were no women present there except for Holbrooke’s wife—even though violence against women was one of the key strategic features of this war, especially by Serbs against Bosnian Muslim women.
This text that I wrote for the Women, Peace and Security blog at the London School of Economics was a feminist critique of this agreement. My key argument was that the agreement was manly—not just in the composition of its key participants but also in its main features, which sealed ethnicity as the key factor in Bosnian politics, thus rendering all other possible and overlapping political identities either less salient or outright unrepresentable and invisible. The agreement also favored a very narrow, militarized interpretation of “security” over issues of social and economic justice, gender equality, or even democracy as such.
My text built on an entire library of fantastic works already written about gender in Bosnia, and about gender and post-conflict studies more broadly, as well as on the numerous policy analyses of the Women, Peace and Security agenda and implementation. But what may have made this long blog post powerful was a long period of gestation. I sat on this for a very long time. I wrote the first draft after attending a very well-organized conference about the twentieth anniversary of the Dayton agreement held in Dayton, Ohio, in 2015. A number of the still-living participants in the negotiations in Dayton came to that conference. They were all men. And they started telling their stories of how the agreement was negotiated. It was the stories that they were telling—who bought whiskey for whom, who invited whom to dinner, how they jostled for power in the corridors—that made me fully aware of just how manly that process was.
I wrote a first draft and presented it at another conference about Dayton at Brown University, where there were a number of diplomats in attendance—and they completely shunned me after I presented. They just wouldn’t talk to me at all. I waited for another five years, for another series of conferences about Dayton, another series of anniversaries, and after realizing this year that that manly discourse was just not going away, I decided to revise the piece and send it to the WPS blog.
JA: You mention it has been twenty-five years—in November 2020 it was twenty-five years. And you argue that the Dayton Accords twenty-five years later “still exert costly and deeply gendered political, social, and economic consequences, not just on Bosnia and Herzegovina but on broader southeastern Europe as well.”
AH: Probably the most obvious and visible aspect of this gendered inequality is the lack of women in political representation. Women are visually underrepresented, and if they are represented their gender is usually put to the service of ethnicity rather than the other way around. Some of these women then end up being “greater Popes than the Pope”—they are more nationalist than the nationalists themselves. Their gender, or their sexual orientation in some cases, is a signaling device for the West: “Look how gender-equal and tolerant towards LGBTQ people we really are.” But they don’t act upon their gender—and questions of gender are reduced to women only, which no proper gender analysis should ever be.
That’s one layer. I’ve also been paying more attention to media coverage. I’ve been looking at the front pages of newspapers in the region. It’s fascinating how very few women you see, or if you see a woman, she’s a model, a singer, an actress—but there are absolutely no other women in the media. Woman have been rendered invisible—really, properly—in the region.
The promise of WPS, which was to transform our thinking about both war and peace, is hidden behind the performance of implementation. It’s particularly obvious in places like Bosnia. The focus on women’s representation and participation, even though it’s meager, takes the focus away from deeper structural issues of neglect and profound gendered inequalities.
But I’m more interested in the deeper structural, economic, and social aspects of these gender inequalities; the total lack of recognition for invisible labor in care (family care in particular) that women are carrying throughout the region; the continued absence of reparations for the victims of violence; the incredible bureaucratic difficulties and obstacles that women who are war widows and heads of households face if they try to access any kind of help from the state (which is incredibly meager in any case); the lack of appropriate ways to address questions of domestic violence, continued sexual abuse, and sexual harassment. All of these combine and prevent women from participating meaningfully in political life.
And women are invisible not because they’re not doing enough—the “lean in” aspect to Western feminism just doesn’t work in this context. Women are not visible because they are doing way too much. They are carrying such a burden that the question of visibility is not on their radar. That clearly works throughout the region, whether it’s Croatia (which has already accessed the EU) or Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania—this is fairly uniform. And again, it’s not for lack of trying or lack of activism on women’s part, or for lack of their participation on their own terms—this does actually take place!
JA: The broader context of what we’re talking about is a framework or an agenda called Women, Peace and Security [WPS]. Can you explain what WPS is? And how do the Dayton Accords relate to WPS?
AH: WPS is not the first women’s activist organization to start working on questions of peace. The Women, Peace and Security agenda is the result of a century and more of women’s activism related to peace and peace processes. That lobbying intensified during the 1990s, in part because of the greater visibility of women’s suffering, and violence against women, in these two horrific wars. By the end of the 1990s, women activists had managed to push this gender agenda into the United Nations Security Council, and it resulted in UN Security Council resolution 1325, in 2000. That resolution urged all actors who were involved in peace and peacekeeping processes to increase participation of women and to incorporate gender perspectives into United Nations peace and security efforts.
Resolution 1325 (again, because of continued civil society pressure and pressure of women’s organizations) led to a series of subsequent resolutions, the creation of this broader Women, Peace and Security agenda, and the development of “national action plans” for individual countries on how to implement the WPS agenda into their work. Resolution 1325 had four main pillars: participation, protection against sexual and gender-based violence, prevention of violence, and relief and recovery.
Now, twenty years later, this Women, Peace and Security agenda has brought focus onto women, onto gender issues, onto sexual and gender-based violence in conflict—but in its implementation many activists would argue it has not gotten that far. We have women in peacekeeping forces, but has peacekeeping as an institution changed? Not necessarily.
There is some wonderful research that is being done on these individual national action plans. One thing that’s obvious is that most of them focus on participation almost exclusively, in part because participation is easy to track. “We have women here; we have women in police forces; look, we have increased the number of women in the military.” That becomes the showcase of advancement. But substantive issues are not touched or tackled.
The promise of WPS, which was to transform our thinking about both war and peace, is hidden behind this performance of implementation. It’s particularly obvious in places like Bosnia. The focus on participation, even though it’s meager, takes the focus away from deeper structural issues of neglect and profound gendered inequalities.
JA: In the piece you make interesting comparisons between Belgium and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The argument that you’re making is that institutionalized ethnoreligious divisions have a high human cost. It’s not just a bad idea broadly speaking. You cite the COVID-19 pandemic here. Can you explain that?
AH: I turned to Belgium because in current conversations, particularly within the EU, Belgium is often used as a positive example of consociational governance. There are a number of policymakers and think-tankers in the EU who would say there’s nothing wrong with Bosnia because just look at Belgium, look how wonderful it can be. So I looked a little more closely into Belgium, thinking this can’t be right.
Belgium does have very complex political institutions which enable power-sharing between the Dutch-speaking and the French-speaking and a small portion of the German-speaking communities. It’s also characterized by many as a deeply flawed democracy. It has been riven by scandals over and over again. I want to underscore that these power-sharing and consociational agreements can create similar pathologies whether they are centered in a European metropole or somewhere on the periphery.
Some of these issues—which you can find in Northern Ireland, in Belgium, and in Bosnia—have to do with multiple and overlapping layers of government. They have bloated public sectors. They have rampant corruption and organized crime. And they marginalize all those communities which are not represented by dominant ethnic groups. In the case of Belgium it is immigrants, particularly Muslim immigrants.
The moment you leave EU headquarters, Brussels itself becomes a place where tensions are almost palpable in the streets. The lack of assimilation, and the absence of pathways for assimilation (which is not necessarily the best possible outcome) for immigrants—you can feel it on the street.
COVID has dramatized that, and made it even more obvious. Over the last six months, Bosnia and Brussels have been sharing this unenviable statistic in which they have the highest percent of COVID cases per capita, and they also have the highest per capita mortality rate. One reason for this is they have fragmented public health systems which have proven not to be sufficiently responsive in times of crisis. They are underfunded and often inaccessible to outsiders (and sometimes even to insiders).
Belgium has kind of improved. In Bosnia, the situation is catastrophic. It’s Bergamo and New York combined. In Sarajevo, which was occupied during the wars and endured the longest siege in modern history, more people are dying now per day than during the worst days of shelling. The health system has completely collapsed, and vaccines have not yet arrived, because different strands of government could not even agree on how to order them.
So COVID amplifies and exemplifies how costly for ordinary citizens these power-sharing agreements can be. Laleh Khalili has made a similar argument about the explosion in Beirut. Danger hides in plain sight, and leads to the loss of human lives, again because of the totally ineffective power structure.
When the police functions in order to hide a war criminal, that allows for other forms of criminality to go unattended. In the Bosnian case, the postwar period was not only characterized by this entrenched masculinity but also new and different forms of sexualized use and abuse of women, including the trafficking of women, which totally exploded in the latter part of the 1990s and early 2000s.
JA: That’s a good transition, because a lot of people listening from Lebanon would see similarities in the COVID responses there. A few days ago (we’re recording this on 22 March 2021) the prime minister ordered a batch of vaccine doses be sent to a specific region in northern Lebanon because that’s where he thinks people are going to vote for him. This is definitely a big part of the problem even in COVID response. I’m sure someone has made the argument about how the system of sectarianism in Lebanon itself has affected COVID response. At the end of the day we need a notion of the public, or a notion of a commons—and a common good—to do this.
You did expand the comparisons in the piece to Northern Ireland, Cyprus, north Macedonia, and of course Lebanon, as other examples of power-sharing agreements—I’ll expand on this and why I think the Lebanon angle is interesting.
Rather symbolically, we commemorated the thirtieth anniversary of the signing of the Taif Agreement during the October 2019 uprising. That agreement, which ended the Lebanese civil war, was signed on 22 October 1989. It failed immediately after being signed, but this is still the framework thirty years on. One fundamental flaw in the agreement was the complete lack of any transitional justice. There was no mention of the actual crimes committed or the actual people who lost their lives. The warlords were offered a general amnesty immediately after the Taif agreement, one of the first laws the officially postwar parliament signed into existence.
These warlords have benefited from this amnesty, and thirty years on a lot of them are still in power. If not them, then it’s their male relatives. Two easy examples are the president (a former warlord) and the speaker of parliament (also a former warlord). The president’s son-in-law is the head of his party and has been the foreign minister.
For context, when the agreement was signed Lebanon still had two different military occupations, the Syrian and the Israeli ones (the Syrian one until 2005, the Israeli one until 2000). This is obviously not mentioned in the Taif agreement itself, because Syria is the reason why it was signed in the first place. To cut this long story short, the agreement failed to achieve some of its most basic goals. For example there was no deadline as to when Syrian troops were supposed to leave (again, because they made the others sign it). They stayed for fifteen years after the agreement was signed. There were no plans as to how to disarm militias. It was just assumed they would willingly do that because there would be incentives. And of course we know Hezbollah, thirty years on, is the most powerful entity in the country.
The amnesty law is also where the gender aspect comes in. The Lebanese and Palestinians who were forcibly disappeared during the civil war (I usually call it the Lebanese wars, plural) were never found. They were never looked for in the first place. As most of them were men of “fighting age” (which could really be as young as fourteen and fifteen), most of their loved ones, the people who became activists for the disappeared at the end of the war, have been women. I know it’s a common story. I could easily think of Bosnia, I can easily think of Argentina of course.
This is where the gender component comes in. Militias and warlords—that’s very gendered in the first place. But this is one way that shows how deeply entrenched this patriarchal approach is in Lebanon (and in the country of Bosnia, as you explained). Since the end of the wars, as during the wars, virtually every position of power has been occupied by men (and that’s not even counting the religious authorities who are of course also exclusively men), including the first women’s affairs minister in Lebanon, also a man—this has become a bit of a joke. And Lebanon’s economic crisis, ongoing right now and getting worse as we’re talking, cannot be separated from the fact that men have called all the shots. And yet, this is still something that is not brought up much. It’s taken for granted that the people in power are all men.
“Thirty years on” means basically my entire life. I’m turning thirty soon. My entire generation has lived with this same group of men and no one else—either them or their male relatives. They’re still in power, and Lebanon is going through this severe economic crisis; women are at increased risk of poverty and of course domestic violence, as has been the trend across the world—not to mention the specific violence inflicted on racialized women in particular under the country’s Kafala system.
I’m barely scratching the surface with all of this. To start off this section of the conversation, what do you think of Bosnia-Lebanon comparisons? And what are some examples of the gendered impacts of the Dayton Accords specifically, twenty-five years on?
AH: Based on your description, Lebanon and Bosnia could be mirror images of each other. There’s the issue of transitional justice. The other day, while we were preparing for a webinar on women in Srebrenica on International Women’s Day, I was thinking about how long it’s been and how much time has been used on women’s activism and women’s ability to participate in the hunt for the war criminals. The chief perpetrators of violence were not really captured until the latter part of the 2010s. Transitional justice was farmed out to the international criminal tribunal in the Hague. Justice was not even done locally; that meant waiting for the ICTY to capture these war criminals, and on top of that to prioritize the building of precedent in international law over the real people expecting justice to come.
That delay had another effect I want to mention briefly, to add another layer to what you were talking about regarding this power of men. There are entire sectors of these newly formed states coming out of conflict devoted either to the hunt for the criminals or to the hiding of these criminals. They build institutions around them. When the police functions in order to hide a war criminal, that allows for other forms of criminality to go unattended. In the Bosnian case, the postwar period was not only characterized by this entrenched masculinity but also new and different forms of sexualized use and abuse of women, including the trafficking of women, which totally exploded in the latter part of the 1990s and early 2000s. It was not a local problem, either—it was a transnational problem, because the demand for women was spread by the international “peacekeepers.”
In international relations we often speak of “frozen conflicts.” Both Lebanon and Bosnia are examples of frozen conflicts. They are interpreted as conflicts where there are no clear victors and the potential for the eruption of violence is never too far under the surface. I think the freeze was intentional in these peace agreements. First of all, they were based on a false interpretation of conflict to begin with. They were interpreted as sectarian, ethnic—cases of religious violence. They were viewed as idiosyncratic and as local, and as a product of something which is actually the asset of these societies: their rich cultural and ethnic and religious diversity.
The international dimension of these conflicts was also negated. You mention the Syrian and Israeli occupations in Lebanon; in Bosnia it was Serbian and Croatian meddling and aggression. Those aspects were neglected, not to mention the broader geopolitical jostling of superpowers affecting the conflicts as well. So we end up with these power-sharing agreements with local actors who are all men who have assumed the mantle of these various aspects of ethnoreligious nationalist politics, because they are the perfect clients for the great powers: they continue to operate according to this bizarre stability pledge. On the one hand, the international community claims that it cannot find any credible alternatives to these thugs because no one else can deliver, and on the other hand there are fears that violence could break out again any time, so they fetishize stability at the expense of any other aspect of politics.
It becomes a real catch-22 over time. It’s a traditional way of enforcing security—again understood in this very manly way—through the perpetual production of insecurity.
Many people outside of Lebanon might be surprised to hear this, though at this point in Lebanon, especially since October 2019, it’s become as clear as it gets: the ruling elites are all in this together.
JA: While you were talking I thought of two more potential comparisons. In Lebanon after Taif, “No Victors, No Vanquished” was adopted as the de facto underlying policy. Of course this also hides the fact that there were people who were technically vanquished. In postwar Lebanon, Palestinian factions were all vanquished, compared to their positions in the early seventies. Regardless of what people might think of that, it’s just a fact. And of course I’m not even talking about the civilian victims who were obviously vanquished—they weren’t given any kind of recognition either. It’s a completely self-serving policy, is what I’m trying to say.
The other thing is—many people outside of Lebanon might be surprised to hear this, though at this point in Lebanon, especially since October 2019, it’s become as clear as it gets: the ruling elites are all in this together. I can give two quick examples. The more recent one and the ongoing one is the fact that the party that wants Hariri in most as prime minister is Hezbollah. Hariri is the Saudi-backed prime minister, son of a millionaire, himself a billionaire, completely entrenched in the world of Gulf capitalism—and the party that wants him in power most is the “anti-imperialist,” pro-Iran, anti-West militia/party. The reason for that is that with him in power, the status quo can continue in the same way as it has before, which has benefited that specific group.
A more obvious example—people know I’m anti-Hezbollah; I’m also anti-Hariri but people think I’m biased on this. I can point to the fact that during the municipal elections in Beirut, there was only one independent party; civil society leaders, you might call them, engineers and teachers—the list they were running on was opposed by the entire Lebanese establishment. There was Hariri and Amal and the Free Patriotic Movement all together, even though they are part of opposing coalitions, because they understood that they need to control the seats in Beirut.
Another very interesting example that you make is the impact of the Dayton Accords on the 2011 Arab Spring, at least inasmuch as Western governments were concerned:
Many US politicians, including president Joseph Biden, diplomats, and academics have created affective links with Bosnia and the Balkans, which now serve as formative experiences for their research/practice and the lens through which they observe other global conflicts. It was Bosnia which apparently loomed behind the US and UK’s decision to intervene in Libya in 2011, but also behind Western indecision to decisively aid opposition forces in Syria when president Obama famously said that ‘former farmers or pharmacists or teachers’ were not hardened enough as fighters to be credible and, therefore, worthy of US support [Hozić 2021].
People who opposed intervention in Kosovo, let’s say, tended to oppose intervention in Libya; the same chorus of opinions more or less line up on this (which is problematic, don’t get me wrong). In Syria, the link isn’t really well understood, despite the fact that it’s been ten years now. I haven’t come across that many nuanced takes when it comes to this. Obama’s attitude (this still surprises people who might still believe the anti-imperialist mythology that America intervened in Syria) towards Syrian rebels is often ignored in these debates. It is assumed that they did in Syria what they did in Libya.
What I’m trying to get at is that there are multiple Syrias, in the way that Syria is thought about, just as there are multiple Bosnias. You describe the Bosnia of many US politicians. That’s the one I’m a bit more familiar with just by watching a bunch of movies on Sarajevo. That Bosnia is a very distinct idea. There’s also the Dayton and the Bosnia of Bosnian political elites. Here I can definitely compare it to the Taif of the Lebanese political elites compared to the Taif of ordinary civilians in Lebanon. There is also the Bosnia of Serbian ultra-nationalists, or the Bosnia of authoritarians either on the left or on the far right who erase any kind of native agency in favor of ideological posturing.
I didn’t even have much of a question here, I just wanted to see if you want to jump in with your thoughts on this.
AH: Yeah, let me first start by clarifying one aspect of the Bosnia “intervention,” to very quickly dismantle the idea that there was an “intervention” in Bosnia. Bosnia is used as an example, in US diplomatic circles, of coercive diplomacy or “muscular” intervention. What they really mean by that is diplomacy cannot work unless and until it is backed by force. That’s why you need a couple of planes and a few bombs, and the threat of possibly bringing in American troops, to persuade someone like Milošević to sign a Dayton peace agreement. It’s that same duality which played out in the Libyan and the Syrian case.
In the Libyan case, even thought that intervention took place mostly because of French insistence (it was not led by Americans themselves), once again the idea was that we will use force to support the opposition before we have a massacre and a genocide on our hands, and then we can negotiate. It turned into something else. In Syria, that did not happen in this prescribed way, precisely because Obama never trusted “the rebels.” Either they were thugs that you can’t figure out who they are, or they were middle-class intellectuals who were not “credible” as someone to deliver the force with. That’s where Bosnia loomed in the background of these decisions. It went: “We cannot really do that in Syria, because we don’t have that credible force and we don’t have credible thugs on the ground to deal with.”
I may go on a little bit here—I find the question really interesting. I think that there are multiple Bosnias, and there are multiple Syrias, and there are multiple Libyas. But there are also multiple interventions and varieties of non-intervention that are being practiced. Bosnia, as I mentioned, is now used as an example of a “successful” intervention, while we forget that the world—Europe and the US in particular—were just watching carnage in Bosnia for four years without doing anything (or while simulating intervention by sponsoring a number of diplomatic talks and possible peace agreements which led nowhere).
In the meantime, the digging of mass graves in Srebrenica was watched by the satellites. We know that. We know that, once again, world leaders knew exactly what was going on, and did not react. That poses the question of what we really mean by intervention. We know very well that there was no intervention in Rwanda to stop the genocide. But Belgian troops under the flag of the UN were actually there. There was also outside support for Operation Turquoise, which preceded the genocide. There was diplomatic intervention by outside powers in the negotiations of the Arusha peace agreement. So when did intervention happen or not happen in Rwanda? Or in Libya? Was the intervention just the NATO bombing? Or was the intervention the chase after Gaddafi and his sons after that? Do we think that intervention is happening only when the US or the UN or NATO are intervening? Or can we call the Russian and Turkish incursions into Syria interventions also? Or should they be labeled in some other way?
In my own view, the US arming of some Syrian rebels was not an intervention; sending some US special forces into Syria was not an intervention. The US vacillated on Syria from the very beginning. There were voices in the United States, from the very moment the protests started in Tunisia, saying that any kind of movement for democracy in the Arab world will die in Syria.
There’s a lot going on in the talk about intervention in multiple circles and on many levels where we don’t clarify these concepts. In my own view, the US arming of some Syrian rebels was not an intervention; sending some US special forces into Syria was not an intervention. The US vacillated on Syria from the very beginning. There were voices in the United States, from the very moment the protests started in Tunisia, saying that any kind of movement for democracy in the Arab world will die in Syria. That is going to be the graveyard of protest. Syria was perceived as way too big, too complicated, too beholden to Russia for any credibility. Who could the power be turned to in Syria if not Assad? Quickly, Syria was turned, in media chatter and in diplomatic chatter, into another unreliable spot of tremendous cultural and religious diversity where no one could be trusted, and therefore it was not suitable for intervention or for any kind of transparent risk of American lives.
In conversations about intervention, the anti-imperialist non-interventionist left, the ones who would be against anything in Kosovo or Libya, and are against doing anything regarding Uighurs in China, usually make a huge mistake by denying the reasons for any kind of intervention at all; they assume that calls for intervention are always somehow based on false premises. In my world at least, I know very few people who would simulate genocide upon themselves just to grab the attention of the world media or world powers. But the denial of actual violence that may ‘justify’ intervention is something that unifies this anti-imperialist left.
On the other hand, personally I have no hopes in altruistic interventions either. These military machines, and especially the military machines of the world’s largest powers, don’t move to protect innocent civilians anywhere. The US moved in Bosnia and Kosovo only once it became obvious that what was at stake was really US-European relations, the future of NATO, and the credibility of US post-Cold War leadership. Otherwise there would be no NATO. It’s very dangerous, in my view, particularly for those actors who are structurally weak in global politics, to pin their hopes on regime change, on the sympathetic actions of great powers. We’ve seen that with the Syrian opposition. Even when it happens that the great powers come to their aid, they will usually treat them only as a sideshow in some bigger global geopolitical spectacle, over which these local actors will have very little control.
I love the work of Walid Raad, a Lebanese artist who works here in the United States, who has produced these very eerie maps, where he colors the bullet holes in walls of Beirut, giving a different color for each country of origin of the manufacturers of these bullets. The walls then become dotted with Russian, American, German, and Chinese colors and bullets. When I think of intervention in contemporary wars now, I think of Walid’s work. Instead of seeing clean and surgical interventions (which is what people are usually hoping for or fearing) for the sake of protecting human lives, I just see it as these bullet holes mapping the world’s greatest powers. And I view most of us as targets in that mapping rather than objects of sympathy or compassionate intervention.
JA: We’ve been talking about multiple Syrias, multiple Bosnias, multiple Libyas, etcetera. Let’s expand a bit more on what we mean when we talk about many Daytons, or many Taifs. What are the many Daytons?
AH: I argue that there were at least three Daytons. There were probably more, but for the sake of this argument there were three. The first one was the Dayton of the US diplomats, who see it as an example of diplomacy, muscular intervention, and who also view Dayton as one of the greatest diplomatic achievements of the US post-Cold War foreign policy. That in itself is a really interesting statement, because they are implicitly saying that everything else was a failure, be that as it may.
The second Dayton was the Dayton of the Bosnian political elites, who perpetuate fear and insecurity in order to keep themselves in power—and they need each other in that game, just like you were describing with Hezbollah and Hariri.
The third Dayton is the one of everyday life in Bosnia, which probably can be described as muddling through—or as I suggested earlier in relation to COVID, an absolute tragedy. What’s probably most interesting and important here is the symbiotic relation between the first two Daytons, the world of US and EU diplomats and the local elites, and the way in which they sustain each other in that game and in power, while simultaneously excluding everyone else.
JA: I kind of want to think out loud about how this can apply to the Lebanese case. I can easily argue that there is a Taif of the diplomats, or the politicians. And pre-2005 (when the Syrian army was forced out of Lebanon in the Cedar revolution after the assassination of Hariri the father) there had been the Taif of Syria and Europe, for example. People tend to forget that France, for example, was on pretty good terms with the Assads, just as Berlusconi and Gaddafi were very close.
That would be one Taif. There’s also the Taif of the political elite in Lebanon that benefited from what some people call Pax Syriana, in the nineties up until 2005—and this includes Hariri, who was close to the regime before falling out with them, which ended up with his assassination in 2005.
And then there is the Taif of ordinary people in Lebanon. Some of the obvious examples I mentioned before are the families and activists who work for the cause of the “disappeared.” Ghassan Halwani, a Lebanese director whose father was one of those communists forcibly disappeared in Lebanon, once described to me how the cause of the disappeared has been depoliticized on purpose to fix this post-Taif status quo. That’s one example off the top of my head. But the way Taif affects civilians is very different from the way it was perceived by those at the top, whether locally or regionally.
In the context of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Dayton Accords mention the so-called three constitutional peoples of Bosnia-Herzegovina: Bosnians, Serbs, and Croats. Here I’m quoting you: “But they make no mention of issues that are traditionally viewed as ‘feminine’ and are particularly acute in post-conflict spaces: education, healthcare, invisible and informal labor, family care work, reparations for wartime violence—these have never been seriously considered, especially in relation to justice, and continue to be trumped by security and stability concerns.”
You then go on to describe the country as “a country where babies die because of ethnified bureaucracies, where train tracks exist but trains no longer travel anywhere, where building some sixty kilometers of highway has taken nearly twenty years, where the key cultural institutions (including the national museum in Sarajevo) were shut down for years,” adding a mention by Azra Hromadžić that today restrooms are just about the only public space where the youth from different ethnic backgrounds can meet and date.
Can you expand just a bit more broadly on how this gendered patriarchal approach has impacted ordinary civilians in Bosnia-Herzegovina?
Today in Lebanon, ironically considering the geopolitical tensions that exist in the country, the West, the Gulf states, and Iran pretty much agree on the basics of how to “stabilize” the country. Of course they will have their own preferred actors in how to do that, but the vision is more or less the same.
AH: In Bosnia, one of the key reasons people would travel by train would be tourism: to take a train and go down to the coast, go to the beach, go to the Adriatic sea. It’s really tragic to me to know there are children growing up who have never seen a train; they don’t know what a train looks like.
Azra’s story about these restrooms is in her book, which focuses on ethnographic work in a high school in Mostar. The high school is divided between the Croat and Bosnian Muslim populations. Apparently the schoolmasters have done such a fabulous job that children would go to classes and attend school in such a way that they don’t even encounter each other in the corridors. But the restrooms are still common, and they have breaks at the same time, so during breaks teenagers go to these restrooms to meet, to date, to flirt, to smoke, and exchange life stories. But they don’t really use the restrooms. They have gotten this to the point of science—they would ask to go out to use the restroom during the class because then there is no one there. But they would not break that precious moment of interaction that they have.
Azra has done fabulous work asking and getting the information from the kids about how far they would go in their flirting, whether they would sometimes date, and that many of them are afraid of getting married because they don’t want to complicate lives for their children. Something that was a completely normal thing twenty years ago, ethnic mixed marriages—they were over thirty-five percent of all marriages in Bosnia before the war—there are basically none now. So the restrooms are both symbolic and actual places of multi-ethnic encounter.
On a different level now: since Dayton was, like the Taif agreement, very much about securing a military stalemate (in the end that’s what these agreements are all about), the emphasis was on appeasing men who held guns, and men who could control guns. So let’s look at the bigger picture here beyond restrooms. In Lebanon, the neighborhood made things more complicated. In Bosnia, the situation was further complicated by the exigencies of NATO enlargement, securing of the role for NATO in the Balkans; some of the geopolitical competition is becoming more obvious now because Russia has reared its ugly head.
Mundane “human security” issues (the ones most important to ordinary citizens) such as education, healthcare, even justice—all of that was pushed aside. Even economic recovery in Bosnia was engineered in such a way that it emphasized shady privatization in infrastructure, which privileged these manly elites who controlled guns and who could guarantee the peace agreement. Informal economy, which ranged from completely illegal stuff like the organized trafficking of women or other forms of organized crime all the way to something like undeclared employment, working on the black market—that entire informal sector was criminalized without any such differentiation. This very often hurt women who were working in these informal sectors.
People adapt by muddling through or by leaving. Those who muddle through are very often dependent on the ethnified political parties, clientelism, and patronage, because they dole out public sector jobs as a prize for political loyalty. Those who leave, on the other hand, leave and then send money back home. I don’t know how big the Lebanese diaspora is, I know it’s huge; the Bosnian war produced nearly two million refugees who are now sending remittances back to Bosnia. Statistically, fifty-six percent of Bosnians now live abroad. More recently, since 2015 in particular, additional tens of thousands of people have left. Interestingly enough, many of them are medical workers, because that’s what the EU has a demand for. They are leaving Bosnia to find employment in Germany and Sweden, and leaving the impoverished healthcare system even more impoverished of human capital.
Remittances, when they come back, usually support women and cover care work for the elderly who were left behind, or they sustain households which were struck by unemployment. So even this kind of shadow economy, which is produced and reproduced through various forms of migration, becomes highly gendered.
JA: Along similar lines, I’ll note another thing you wrote because the parallel to Lebanon for me was quite something. We mentioned those two Daytons, that of the diplomats and that of the Bosnian political elites. From your article:
Their common interest is in maintaining the political status quo and exclusion of all other actors who could threaten their positions in power. Their achievement, and the standard of political/democratic practice, is that ‘people are no longer killing each other.’ Hence, when people, those ‘others’ unrecognized by the Dayton peace agreement, happen to rise and demand more than ‘not killing’ from their political representatives, as was the case during the Bosnian spring of protests in 2014, the EU and the US response is to increase funding and training for Bosnian surveillance programs and anti-riot police [Hozić 2021].
I can almost copy-paste this paragraph and replace it with Lebanon-specific terms. I can mention that in 2019, when we were being teargassed, that was French teargas. A month later Trump unlocked a hundred million dollars of military assistance to the Lebanese state and the Lebanese army. People who have a simplistic geopolitical understanding of Lebanon might be surprised that a hundred million dollars are going from the Americans to a state that includes Hezbollah. But that’s just the nature of these entrenched political dynamics.
If we speak about “others” in the Lebanon context it wouldn’t just be working class Lebanese or Lebanese of certain minorities that aren’t represented politically, like Kurds to choose just one example, but would also be Syrians and Palestinians—who in a very xenophobic imagining of Lebanese identity tend to be perceived as exclusively male—in addition to migrant domestic workers, who are almost exclusively women. These groups have been worst hit by the ongoing crisis even today, and at best they remain an afterthought. There’s almost never any mention of what to do with three hundred to four hundred thousand migrant domestic workers who are stuck in the country, and their salaries are utterly useless at this point.
And yet, when our ‘Spring’ happened (it was in October) it was also used as an excuse to ramp up militarism with Western backing. Just listen to what Gebran Bassil, our former foreign minister, had to say. He would do this a lot: he would literally go to Europe and tell the Europeans that if they don’t save Lebanon, they’ll have a refugee crisis on their hands. He would literally tell them that. So they knew very well what the game was. They understood what the EU’s priorities were in the first place. It’s not that difficult to figure out.
Today in Lebanon—ironically, considering the geopolitical tensions that exist in the country—the West, the Gulf states, and Iran pretty much agree on the basics of how to “stabilize” the country. Of course they will have their own preferred actors in how to do that, but the vision is more or less the same. I just wanted to make a note of that.
So how does a situation such as ours (in Lebanon, Bosnia, etcetera) tend to be considered “successful” simply because people are no longer killing each other?
By using this gender lens in analysis, we can more easily see all the other limitations these power-sharing agreements pose to political life. If we ask, “Where are the women?” and we realize how absent women are from this public light and political life in these power-sharing societies, that enables us to see who else is missing.
AH: Let me respond in two ways. There’s a directly similar situation which is now developing in Bosnia with migrants and refugees who are traveling through Bosnia on the “Balkanroute” to the EU. Bosnia is kind of a mini-Turkey now, because it’s the last buffer before reaching Croatia and entry into the EU, and it’s where thousands and thousands of migrants get stuck. So the EU is sending money to Bosnia to keep these migrants within its own borders.
One of our incredibly brave colleagues, journalist Nidzara Ahmestašević, has been working as an activist with refugees and also writing about them a lot. She just gave a presentation the other day at Columbia University where she showed photographs of what the camps look like for refugees and migrants, camps that were paid for by the European Union. Here’s a survivor of the Bosnian war saying this is the equivalent to the concentration camps we had in Bosnia during the war, and I’m not using that word lightly.
The migrants and refugees, in the current constellation of power, where there are only Serbs and Muslims and Croats negotiating over power, are much like the Romas who are a local population much like the Jews were: one of the constitutive people of Bosnia (not by constitution but in terms of legacies and historical contribution to Bosnia) along with thousands of others who don’t belong to any of these ethnic groups.
But in terms of these negotiations, and the wrangling of the world and the cohabitation and symbiotics between the international and domestic: many years ago I was planning to write about how conflict and post-conflict spaces are now being transformed into “unwanted colonies” in the contemporary international system. They are not regarded as worthy of a full-fledged colonial effort, not even of colonial violence; instead they linger in this legal netherworld with semi-sovereign governments or protectorates, like Bosnio and Kosovo until recently, and they are guarded only insofar and only so much so that they don’t start new wars.
In turn, they are worthy of attention only because they can start new wars. That relation to violence is their only raison d’être. The elites in those places have now learned very well how to extract favors from the outside sponsors they have by keeping the possibility of violence alive at all times. They have very little else that they can offer or trade except for the threat of new war.
On the other hand, for their part these outside sponsors use these areas as bargaining chips on the shifting geopolitical terrain. My eyes are on Bosnia obviously because of my background, because of my affections, but I’ve been looking at Cyprus for several years now, and just waiting for it to explode—or to be traded somehow in these imaginary bargains that Russia, Turkey, the US, and the EU are doing in the Mediterranean neighborhood.
There’s no other “value” to these places except for the fact that they can be traded and exchanged.
JA: Since you mention the Balkanroute, I’ll take the opportunity to mention two previous episodes of The Fire These Times, numbers 35 and 49. Episode 35 is on the European Union’s violence against asylum seekers; I interviewed Jack Sapoch of the Border Violence Monitoring Network, which focuses a lot on the so-called Balkanroute. Episode 49 is on the Moria camp, the one on Lesvos that was burned down a few months ago. I interviewed Ghias Al Jundi, a Syrian-British activist who would go to Moria a lot to help out activists there. I had interviewed him soon after he had come back after the fire.
I will also interview the Border Violence Monitoring Network again, because recently they published a massive volume called the Black Book of Pushbacks which they even presented to the EU. It’s a massive book, it’s like 1500 pages. There are two sections of it, and it documents the horrific “violence suffered by over twelve thousand people at the hands of authorities at the EU’s external borders” on the so-called Balkanroute.
In the comments to your article on LSE’s website, you replied to a question by a person named Rachele. If it’s okay, I will just ask it again here because I found it very interesting, both the question and the answer. She asked, “Is it correct to say that the ‘manly’ approach—both in terms of women’s underrepresentation and lack of gender clauses—of the Dayton peace agreement has been deemed one of the main causes of the failure of the national action plans (NAPs) for the implementation of the WPS agenda in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s transition?”
AH: What I told Rachele in response was that the Dayton peace agreement might not be the only factor that pushed women’s rights and gender issues backwards in Bosnia, or for that matter in Northern Ireland or in Lebanon. But it probably was and is the most important institutional barrier for any other kind of politics except for ethnic politics. It basically precludes any other kinds of political identities that can come to the fore, and that then includes any kind of politics attentive to gender equality.
This is probably the most important aspect of what I wrote: it is really by using this gendered lens in the analysis that we can more easily see all the other limitations these power-sharing agreements pose to political life. If we ask, “Where are the women?” and we realize how absent women are from this public light and political life in these power-sharing societies, that enables us to see who else is missing, and how many others are missing. So I don’t necessarily use gender analysis only to focus on women but really as a way of highlighting these huge gaps and tremendous inequalities—both in political participation and also in terms of economic and social justice—that are inflicted upon the population as a whole.
Once we recognize how unrepresented women are, we can see how exclusionary, by their very nature, these power-sharing agreements and consociational politics are. While at the same time they do their best to simulate inclusion and equitable division of power.
JA: We might say that adopting a gender analysis would allow us to make those forcibly invisibilized components of these societies more visible.
AH: Exactly. In some of the responses that I received from friends who read this long post, their first and immediate reaction was: Wow, now I can see the refugees and now I can see the immigrants, and how there is literally no space for them in this political world.
Featured image: from Walid Raad, “Let’s be honest, the weather helped” (1998/2006)