Wright State is playing a key role in commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accords, and university experts served as a major resource for a renowned Bosnian journalist seeking to unlock the historical significance and future of the accords.
The agreement, finalized on Nov. 21, 1995, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, ended the war and brought peace to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The international armed conflict, which occurred between 1992 and 1995, claimed the lives of an estimated 220,000 people and produced 2 million refugees.
Former President Bill Clinton will be among the current and former world leaders participating in Dayton-area events Nov. 17-21 to mark the anniversary.
On Nov. 17, the Dayton Council on World Affairs, which is headquartered at Wright State, will host a dinner with Ivo Komšić, mayor of Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, at Sinclair Community College.
The anniversary is drawing media interest around the globe.
Erol Avdovic, senior diplomatic correspondent at the United Nations for the biggest Bosnian newspaper, Dnveni avaz, and other media outlets, came to Wright State to interview Donna Schlagheck, retired chair of the Department of Political Science, and R. William Ayres, associate professor of international relations and associate dean of the Graduate School.
Schlagheck has extensive knowledge of the Balkans conflict and during the talks was briefing Air Force officers at Wright-Patterson destined for posts in the Middle East and Europe. Ayres currently teaches a course on conflict resolution with a focus on the Bosnian War and Dayton Peace Accords.
Avdovic, who also interviewed Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and other academic leaders, is writing a series of news stories on how Dayton is preparing to mark the anniversary. He said he was impressed and inspired by the depth of knowledge of the accords displayed by Schlagheck and Ayres.
“We should be thankful indeed to Americans. The most important issue is that they stopped the war,” said Avdovic. “But what is next to be done? That is what I’ve striving to understand.”
During the Dayton peace talks, Schlagheck was at Wright-Patterson briefing Air Force officers as part of a seminar sponsored by the Defense Institute for Security Assistance Management. The institute provides professional education, research and support to advance U.S. foreign policy through security assistance and cooperation.
Schlagheck said she was not optimistic that the talks would end with an agreement. However, she said it was “a stroke of brilliance” to hold the talks at Wright-Patterson, out of the glare of the international media spotlight.
“They zipped that place up tight,” Schlagheck said. “The delegates were basically a captive audience. But it worked. It concentrated the thinking.”
Ayres said the Bosnian War was twice as violent — in terms of the number of casualties in proportion to population — as any of the 50 to 60 violent ethnic wars following World War II.
And he understands the painful price of working for peace. One of his mentors, former Ohio State University professor Joseph Kruzel, was among three U.S. diplomats killed in 1995 when their armored personnel carrier plunged down a ravine off of a winding mountain road to Sarajevo. Ayres keeps the newspaper headline in his office as a reminder.
“It’s become very fashionable to criticize the Dayton Peace Accords; they didn’t solve everything,” said Ayres. “It was a very good deal for getting the war stopped. What it didn’t do very well was resolve the political question of how are we going to structure this country so that it has stable politics going forward?”
He said the anniversary is an opportunity to reflect on the original accords.
“Where have we come in 20 years? What works? What hasn’t worked?” he said. “We look at Bosnia today and it’s not where we wanted it to be. It’s still divided. It’s still threatening to fall apart. There is a kind of awareness that this is unfinished business.”
Ayres said the architects of the accords should have set an expiration date, after which time the affected parties could negotiate a new agreement.
“I think it’s an important exercise that we look back,” said Schlagheck. “We now have a 20-year window to measure successes and failures and perhaps apply some of those lessons to other places where we are currently involved militarily.”
Schlagheck, former president of the Dayton Council on World Affairs, said that as a result of the talks, the word Dayton now has international meaning.
“It means a process, and it symbolizes American leadership,” she said. “It’s a lesson in engagement for every American citizen — to be engaged, to be informed, to vote, to know what your government is doing, to promote your national security as far away as possible.”
John McCance, a communication graduate of Wright State who retired as a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, is co-chair of the committee directing the anniversary commemoration. McCance worked with protocol at Wright-Patterson during the 1995 peace talks.
As part of the commemoration, President Clinton will be the keynote speaker at a conference at the University of Dayton, expected to be heavily attended by Wright State students.
There will be a public dedication of the Ambassador Richard Holbrooke Plaza near the intersection of Salem Avenue and Edwin C. Moses Boulevard. Holbrooke helped broker the accords.
At the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Holbrooke’s son David will lead a screening and discussion of his film “The Diplomat,” which chronicles the 50-year diplomatic career of his father.
The commemorations end with a wreath-laying at Wright-Patterson’s Hope Hotel and Richard C. Holbrooke Conference Center.
For more information, visit daytonpeaceaccordsat20.com.