Incorrect interpretations of the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina have become commonplace in articles in the domestic media, and in public appearances of politicians in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Thus, the phrase that “the Dayton Agreement created a state union of BiH composed of two entities, the Republic of Srpska and the Federation of BiH” has been reappearing in public discourse for almost ten years now, although it is a description that does not correspond to what is true in the BiH Constitution.
We found the first appearance of this allegation in the document entitled “ANNEX 4 – MODEL OF THE US CONSTITUTION: The way of origin and survival of Bosnia and Herzegovina”, which dates from September 17, 2012. The authors of this document are not mentioned in it, nor is the purpose of its creation. It is available on the website of the Social Democratic Party of BiH, where it was published in 2016 as part of a statement criticizing its content. The document, in the introductory part, states the following:
Thus, a state union was created and composed of two entities that are signatories to all annexes as key documents for the implementation and functioning of the state created by an international treaty.
We found the same claim in a document with almost identical content, entitled “The Dayton structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the legal status of the Republic of Srpska”, which is published on the official website of the President of the Republic of Srpska.
This document does not state who its authors are, and when and for what purpose it was published. We sent an inquiry to the Office of the President of the Republic of Srpska about the date, purpose and authorship of this document, but no answer was received by the time this analysis was written.
This claim is most often advocated in the public discourse of Bosnia and Herzegovina by political actors from the Republic of Srpska.
The same allegation was found in the Conclusions regarding the information on the unconstitutional transformation of the Dayton structure of BiH and the impact on the position and rights of the Republic of Srpska, which was adopted by the National Assembly of the Republic of Srpska in November 2019. These conclusions describe BiH as “a state union” in several places, stating that “according to the Dayton Accords, it is composed of two entities”. Conclusion 8 states that Bosnia and Herzegovina was “created” by the Dayton Accords.
The first appearance of this formulation in the form of a media claim, apart from the statements of political entities and various documents, we found in an article of the public broadcaster of the Radio-Television of Republic of Srpska, dating from November 21, 2012. The article on the Dayton Agreement states, among other things:
This agreement created the state union of BiH, composed of two entities – the Republic of Srpska and the Federation of BiH.
These formulations may lead readers to conclude that Bosnia and Herzegovina as an international legal entity did not exist before the initialling of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina in November 1995 – especially when it comes to media claims reaching audiences in the region.
What does the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina say?
Annex 4 of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, known as the Dayton Agreement, contains the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The first paragraph of the first article of the Constitution does not support the claim that Bosnia and Herzegovina was “created” by the Dayton Agreement, nor does it define it as “a state union”.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
The Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, whose official name is now “Bosnia and Herzegovina”, continues its legal existence under international law as a state, with an internal structure modified by this Constitution, and with existing internationally recognized borders. It remains a member state of the United Nations and may, as Bosnia and Herzegovina, retain membership or seek admission to organizations within the United Nations system, as well as to other international organizations.
Paragraph (3) of Article 1 indicates that the claim that Bosnia and Herzegovina is “composed of two entities” is unfounded. This article states:
Bosnia and Herzegovina consists of two entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of Srpska (hereinafter “the entities”).
Thus, the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina does not support the claim that the Dayton Agreement “created the state union of Bosnia and Herzegovina composed of two entities”. The Constitution, in fact, states that the Republic of BiH “continues its legal existence under international law as a state”. The first article of the BiH Constitution clearly states that the Constitution modifies its internal organization – that is, changes or adjusts it – within the already existing, internationally recognized borders. It is, therefore, not created in Dayton from two entities, in the sense that it was formed by their merging, but “consists of them”, as stated in Article 3.
It is therefore clear from the Constitution that Bosnia and Herzegovina existed before the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and that it was not “created” by the 1995 peace agreement. It declared independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia on March 1, 1992, after the referendum on independence happened. The member states of the then European Community recognized it as an independent and sovereign state on April 6, 1992, and a day later, the United States did the same.
How does this claim appear in the media?
Searching online sources, we found about 500 articles, published in 159 media, in which this claim appears in almost identical form. When it comes to the media from the Republic of Srpska and Serbia, a review of these articles gives the impression that they are an indispensable part of most media reports published on the anniversary of the initialling of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
A number of media outlets published similar articles this year, some of them in a partially modified form, without claiming that Bosnia and Herzegovina is a “state union” (1, 2, 3, 4). The source of the article is Tanjug, where this news is entirely available only to its subscribers. The mentioned sentence is not visible in the part of the text that is publicly available.
This agreement created BiH which is composed of two entities – the Republic of Srpska and the Federation of BiH. (Krstarica)
However, this topic was especially relevant when this year the public broadcaster Radio Television of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BHRT) and the regional television N1 were among the media that published this claim. The article that contained this phrase was published shortly before the 26th anniversary of the signing of the Dayton Agreement in November 2021, on the website of BHRT. Reactions and criticisms from other media followed, including some that had previously published identical claims themselves, such as Dnevni Avaz, Slobodna Bosna and Face Television (1, 2). Thus, for example, this sentence is quoted at the end of an article dating from November 20, 2021, on the website of Dnevni Avaz, also in the article by Slobodna Bosna from November 21, 2021, and on the website of Face Television in the article from November 20.
After the reactions of the public followed, BHRT issued a statement stating, among other things, that it was an article taken from Srna, the news agency of the Republic of Srpska, and that it was “shared by mistake” onto BHRT’s website. In a statement, BHRT said that the management would “consider suspending the future use of the services of this news agency”. A significant number of political entities from the Republic of Srpska reacted to this procedure of BHRT, repeating the same claim in their reactions.
The original version of BHRT’s article is no longer available, and in the version available at the time of writing this analysis, this statement is missing. However, screenshots of the article containing this sentence can be found on social networks and in articles in other media (1, 2, 3).
While BHRT did make a statement in 2021 regarding this mistake, the same sentence can still be found in the article that was published on November 21, 2020, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Dayton Agreement. In the article from November 21, 2019, it is stated that Bosnia and Herzegovina is “composed of two entities”, while there are no allegations that it is a “state union created by the Dayton Agreement”. However, some media reports (1, 2) from this period indicate that the claim is incorrect, along with the part stating that Bosnia and Herzegovina was “a state union” created by the Dayton Agreement, published in 2019 on this website.
The narrative from neighboring Serbia
In addition to the Bosnian media, this claim mostly appears in the media from neighboring Serbia, which indicates the similarity of the narratives represented by the media from this country and the Republic of Srpska.
On several occasions in the past few years, a secondary topic of the media and the authorities in Serbia has been the integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, all because of the statements made by the member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina Milorad Dodik regarding the Republic of Srpska. In these cases, too, the media almost without exception described Bosnia and Herzegovina as “ a two-entity state union created by the Dayton Accords”.
Thus, among the media from Serbia that published this claim were: Radio Television of Serbia – (RTS), Radio Television of Vojvodina, B92, Politika, Novosti, as well as the tabloids Blic, Kurir and Telegraf.
The same phrase was used in an article published in 2019 by Sputnik Srbija, a Russian state media whose regional publication, as determined in various analyzes, often publishes disinformation on political topics related to BiH. The narratives supported by this media coincide with the narratives promoted by the member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Milorad Dodik, who, even in the case of this claim, is one of its most prominent and frequent promoters.
The platform Istinomjer, which assesses the accuracy of politicians’ statements, has repeatedly assessed the following allegations: in 2018 – a statement by the Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations of Bosnia and Herzegovina Stasa Kosarac, in 2019 – statements by BiH Presidency member Milorad Dodik (1, 2, 3 ) and the delegate in the House of Peoples of BiH Barisa Colak, as well as in 2020 – the statements of a number of political entities (1, 2, 3). This incorrect claim gained “popularity” during 2021, which is confirmed by a large number of analyzes conducted by the platform Istinomjer (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7).
Bosnia and Herzegovina, therefore, existed even before the Dayton Agreement, and the Constitution, which is an integral part of it, clearly confirms its international legal continuity. The Dayton Accords changed its internal organization in such a way that the state consists of two entities, but BiH has existed as an independent, sovereign and internationally recognized state since 1992 and was not “created” by merging the two entities in 1995. In accordance with all the above, the claims that “the Dayton Agreement created a state union of BiH composed of two entities” are assessed as manipulation of facts.
December 29, 2021: After the publication of this analysis, websites Face, Info Bijeljina and Telegraf corrected the incorrect allegations in their articles, and received a rating corrected.
December 30, 2021: After the publication of this analysis, websites Slobodna Bosna, Srpskainfo, Krstarica, Bolja Bosna, Republika, Alo and Bijeljina (.org) corrected the incorrect allegations in their articles, and received a rating corrected.
December 31, 2021: Websites Blic, Avaz and 072info corrected the incorrect allegations in their articles and received a rating corrected.
January 4, 2022: The website Cafe corrected the incorrect allegations in its articles, and received a rating corrected.
January 5, 2022: The website Alo online corrected the incorrect allegations in its articles, and received a rating corrected.
January 6, 2022: The website Nezavisne corrected the incorrect statements in its articles, and received a rating corrected.