Europe Puts Its Stamp on Bosnia
THE Bosnia accord hammered out in Dayton, Ohio, will be signed today in Paris. The hammer was ''Made in America,'' but Europeans hope the US won't get all the credit.
On the whole, European leaders see their failure to resolve the Bosnia war on their own as a bitter disappointment. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, they had looked forward to a ''new Europe,'' signing a charter in Paris proclaiming a ''new era of democracy, peace, and unity.'' But war broke out in the Balkans in 1991, killing 200,000 and displacing 2 million civilians.
Yet France in particular is seeking credit in the peace. ''Some 55 French peacekeepers were killed and some 300 wounded [in Bosnia],'' Prime Minister Alain Juppe said this week. ''The sacrifices of our soldiers weren't in vain.''
The signing comes at a tough moment for France, which is grappling with its worst labor unrest in 15 years. The strike has driven the government's approval ratings to single digits.
Amid the domestic turmoil, France is hoping to put its stamp on the Dayton, Ohio, peace deal. French Foreign Minister Herve de Charette referred to the deal as ''the lysee treaty.'' When the Foreign Ministry later abandoned the term, French government spokesmen adopted instead ''the Paris accords on Bosnia.''
''France may be looking for a bit of prestige,'' says Hans Stark of the Paris-based French Institute of International Relations, referring to the creative naming. ''Nonetheless, it's wrong to see this accord as simply an American peace. It was a Western peace.''
''Europe played an important part in resolving this conflict. France spent more than $1 billion and bore the brunt of the peacekeeping effort [along with Britain]. The Germans have already welcomed more than 400,000 refugees,'' he adds. ''Moreover, maintaining the peace and financing reconstruction will be an international effort.''
French officials say that the main lines of the Dayton accord had been worked out two years ago in the Kinkel-Juppe plan, put together by the then-foreign ministers of Germany and France. Early on, Europeans, and especially the French, insisted on the need to maintain a united and multiethnic Bosnia and to preserve the unity of Sarajevo.
In addition, they say, French President Jacques Chirac's aggressive stance on Bosnia early in his presidency, including initiating a French-British Rapid Reaction Force, set the peace process back on track.
''On July 14, President Chirac called on the international community to mobilize to stop the attacks on the safe zones in Bosnia,'' says a spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry. ''This was the first element that provoked a change in the Bosnia conflict. Then the United States fully engaged in the diplomatic process.''
Nonetheless, the years of diplomatic failure as well as the sidelining of Europeans during the Dayton talks still rankles.
''The international community will stand guilty of this martyrdom before history,'' conservative deputy Daniel Picotin told the National Assembly last week, referring to the massacre of thousands of Muslims at the United Nations ''safe area'' of Srebrenica in July. ''In such a context, the Dayton accords shouldn't incite a sense of triumph.''
'THIS peace certainly isn't the ideal peace, but it's better than the war we have known,'' replied government spokesman Alain Lamassoure. ''France has nothing to be ashamed of. To the contrary: She can be proud of what she has achieved, thanks to her diplomacy and thanks to the courage and the sacrifice of her soldiers.''
French NATO forces, along with the British and the Americans, will be enforcing the Dayton peace deal. Furthermore, the French will have the difficult task of protecting Serb civilians in Sarajevo suburbs. Serbs there fear ethnic cleansing once the Muslim-led government takes control of the entire city. During last week's negotiations, French authorities pressed their demands for special protection for Bosnian Serbs living in Sarajevo.
The release of two French pilots by Bosnian Serb captors on Tuesday gave a lift to France. The pilots had been held in Bosnia since Aug. 30, without official confirmation that they were still alive or signs that French diplomacy was making inroads.
In unusually open criticism of the French government, the families of the two pilots lobbied that the Dayton accords not be signed in Paris until the pilots were freed. Days after the families took to the airwaves, Foreign Minister de Charette warned that the Paris signing would be threatened if the pilots were not returned.
But outside official circles, doubts persist about how effective France has been in influencing the key outcomes of this conflict.
''Germany played its hand. France carried the burden. The United States picked up the pot,'' wrote columnist Alain Griotteray in Le Figaro magazine. ''The only question should be: Why couldn't we French realize [a peace plan]?'' The answer, he writes, is part of the ''lost illusions'' of the Bosnia experience for Europe and for France. The dream of a ''new Europe'' waits in the wings.