The Dayton negotiations

I have done all kinds of jobs in my long life: as a prisoner, I dug soil, carried plaster, felled trees, and later, as a free man, ran a building site, represented clients in court, and wrote articles.  But my most difficult job has been negotiations. To negotiate means to make decisions; and to make decisions is the hardest thing that can be forced on an unfortunate human being.  My problem was that I could neither achieve peace nor run a good war.  The negotiations were held in an atmosphere of blackmail, with a sword hanging over Bosnia’s head.  The people, under attack and outnumbered by a better equipped enemy, were suffering terribly, but the peace that was on offer was always contrary not only to my principles, but to elementary justice. I would have been hard for me to accept such a peace, but still harder to go back home with the message that the war was to continue.  My dilemmas were painful ones.  I felt as though I were being crucified.”

With these words, Izetbegović began his Dayton diary, admitting to himself what many others had observed: he disliked taking decisions, and would dither endlessly before making up his mind.  But this time, there was no escape; the entire international community, led by the Americans, agreed on one thing – a peace agreement of some kind simply had to be reached.

The “compromises” that would have to be made would surely be painful.  And while for the Serbs, and to some extent the Croats (at least those represented by Tuđman), the word meant a few percent more or less territory, the odd institution here or there, the Bosnians were playing for justice, morality and people’s lives. The other parties, Milošević above all, followed by Tuđman, had chosen war, but it had been forced on the Bosnians and their president.  The moral aspect was thus important only to one side, not to the other two.  They had factored in their haggling over territory in advance, where people’s lives were for the most part nothing but small change – collateral damage as the two “great men” sought to achieve their greater-state ambitions.

Ten days before the talks began, at an SDA executive committee meeting, Izetbegović set out the objectives of the “Bosnian party” in sixteen points.  Roughly speaking, they called for the country to remain one, for the presence of international peace implementation troops, the prosecution of war crimes, and “no giving up Brčko.” This was the bottom line.  But as they would later see, he who sups with the devil ...

The exhausting talks soon began at the Wright Patterson military base.  The starting-point was the Contact Group plan, the partition of the country, 51:49 in favour of the Federation, and a weak central government, the responsibilities of which had yet to be determined.  Izetbegović described the atmosphere on the first day: “Official luncheons are the scene of forced smiles, vanity, artificiality and pretence, all seasoned with food you don’t like.  Such lunches were an integral part of the protocol at the Dayton talks, and whenever I could, I avoided them. It was at an official lunch at the Hope Hotel that the talks officially began – it was 1 November 1995.  Our delegation consisted of myself, Haris Silajdžić, Krešimir Zubak, Jadranko Prlić, Miro Lazović, Ivo Komšić, and Muhamed Šaćirbegović, with Kasim Trnka, Kasim Begić and Džemil Sabrihafizović as legal advisers.”  Lunch was followed by a plenary session at which Warren Christopher, Carl Bildt, Tuđman, Milošević and Izetbegović spoke.

On day two of the talks, 2 November, the Bosnian delegation met Tuđman, with Holbrooke as mediator, to discuss issues around the formation of the Federation and its accompanying problems.

On 3 November, Izetbegović had a meeting with the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Great Britain and Russia.  All four delegations stressed the importance of the talks and offered the assistance of their governments in the peace process. Izetbegović also had his first Dayton meeting with Slobodan Milošević, which he recorded as follows: “I am not sure I know Milošević that well, but it often seemed to me that he and his politics were two different things. I found it hard to reconcile what he was doing with the impression I had of him as a man.  He is not a rebarbative figure.  True, he is always a little drunk – or seems to be – and in the mood to chat.  It looks as though he believes what he says.  I have no doubt he is brave, but I would not say he is two-faced.  A split personality, perhaps, but that is something else.  However, it seems that the other, evil side of his personality is the stronger, so that Milošević inevitably generates evil.”  A detail from the Dayton talks may illustrate this contradictory view.

“After lengthy, long-drawn-out talks, he suddenly changed his position on Sarajevo one day, largely accepting our demands.  As we left the room, he said to Silajdžić and me: ‘It’s easy for you, you’ve got Sarajevo, and now I need a helmet against those idiots.’ He was referred to Krajišnik and Koljević, who were in another building impatiently awaiting the outcome.  I don’t think he was putting on an act.  On the contrary, I think that was what he really thought about the people around Karadžić.”

The next few days were mainly taken up with talks on fine-tuning the structure of the Federation, with a succession of international mediators and officials from Croatia, Mato Ganić and Gojko Šušak.

On day seven Izetbegović had a private meeting with Holbrooke, at which they agreed that some progress had been made over the Federation, but not even a millimetre of progress over Sarajevo.  The Serbs were demanding that the city be divided, while the Americans wanted a “‘District of Columbia’ or ‘federal’ model, in which Sarajevo ... would become an independent enclave governed by representatives of all three ethnic groups,” with a unified police force.  Izetbegović met mainly with the Americans.  The Serbs again tabled a range of overpasses, underpasses, bypasses and the like, all designed with the sole purpose of retaining as much of the territory they had seized as they could and ensuring that it was nationally exclusive.

The ceremonial signing of the Agreement on the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina was held on 10 November, at which Izetbegović said, “I shall call this a historic day; I shall leave it to the historians in some remote future to judge its significance.  They will judge it, not on what is said today, but on what is done.  I would rather call today the day of our resolve or the day of our hope, as Secretary of State Christopher has just said.”

As Izetbegović relates, when Tuđman spoke, he treated the Federation as a state and referred to its relations with Croatia.  “I didn’t like Tuđman.  He behaved rather like an upstart, and his protocol was on the verge of kitsch.  He always wanted to take a piece of Bosnia, large or small. I have not read his doctoral dissertation, but I know it deals with the Croatian Banate established in 1939 under the terms of the Maček-Cvjetković agreement.  The Banate was exactly to his taste, since it included much of Bosnia.  I imagine he would have read Huntington with pleasure.  In fact, Huntington’s ‘clash of civilizations’ provided a good theoretical justification for his aspirations towards Bosnia.”  And yet, despite this undoubted antipathy, Izetbegović tried to weigh objectively the “interior” aspect of Tuđman’s politics.  “Tuđman was one thing for Croatia and another for Bosnia and the rest of the world.  What he did for Croatia is incalculable.  He laid the foundations of a Croatian state that will one day – when he is gone – become a democratic, progressive country.  His services to Croatia are lasting, his mistakes temporary and rectifiable.  But as for his impact on events in Bosnia, the reverse is largely true.”

While the Federation issue was somehow making progress, the peace deal as a whole was still very much in doubt.  More than ten days of talks had left things essentially as they were. Izetbegović was in a poor state of health, eating little, feeling his heart pounding, often waking at night.  Holbrooke must have noticed these changed, for he made Izetbegović an unexpected offer: if he wished, one of his daughters or his son could come to Dayton to be with him.  Izetbegović thanked him for the offer, turning it down, but could see that Holbrooke was not going to give up easily.  Yet he had the impression that every day he was getting closer to a heart attack. Sadly, his doubts became reality three months later.  Izetbegović was certain he had “earned” his cardiac problems in Dayton.

The next ten days were full of talks about maps.  Holbrooke presented the Serb option, which was unacceptable to the Bosnian side. The British put pressure on the Bosnians to accept this disadvantageous map, with its large Brčko corridor, but this time Izetbegović and Silajdžić stood firm, refusing to yield to the pressure.

On day thirteen, news spread of a rift between the Bosnian Croats and Tuđman. Zubak was refusing to agree to give up the Sava valley region to the Serbs, which Tuđman had already agreed to, and perhaps even spoke of a “pure Baranja.” “It will happen, with or without you,” Tuđman had apparently told Zubak, to which Zubak replied, “Without me, then.”

The eighteenth day of talks was crucial to the entire negotiations: Milošević had decided to “surrender” Sarajevo.  Here is how Holbrooke described this momentous event: “Early Saturday afternoon, I asked Milošević to take a short walk around the inner compound.  I complained bitterly that his behavior was going to cause a breakdown of the talks, and concentrated on Sarajevo. ‘Some issues can be set aside or fudged,’ I said, ‘but Sarajevo must be settled in Dayton.’  ‘Okay,’ he said with a laugh, ‘I won’t eat today until we solve Sarajevo.’  A short while later, while I was chatting with Hill and Clark, the door to my suite opened without warning, and Milošević walked in.  ‘I was in your neighborhood and did not want to pass your door without knocking,’ he said, smiling broadly.  Clearly, he had something important to tell us. ‘Okay, okay,’ he said as he sat down. ‘The hell with your D.C. model; it’s too complicated, it won’t work.  I’ll solve Sarajevo.  But you must not discuss my proposal with anyone in the Serb delegation yet.  I must work the “technology” later, after everything else is settled.’  ‘I tell you,’ he continued, ‘Izetbegović has earned Sarajevo by not abandoning it.  He’s one tough guy. It’s his.’.... As he talked, Milošević traced on a map with a pen the part of Sarajevo he was ready to give to the Muslims. Immediately Chris Hill objected; it was a huge concession, but it was not all of the city.  Milošević had retained for the Serbs Grbavica, a key area across the river from the center of town.  Although a dramatic step forward, Milošević’s proposal did not quite unify Sarajevo.  When Hill pointed this out, Milošević exploded.  ‘I’m giving you Sarajevo,’ he almost shouted at Christ, ‘and you talk such bullshit!’  We told Milošević that while his proposal was ‘a big step in the right direction,’ it was likely Izetbegović would reject it.  Hill and I went immediately to see the Bosnian President. Izetbegović did not acknowledge the importance of the offer, but focused solely on its defects. ‘Sarajevo without Grbavica cannot exist,’ he said with passion.  The area that Milošević wanted to retain for the Serbs jutted directly into the center of the city and was known to Western journalists as ‘Sniper Alley.’  Still, we all recognized that the negotiations over Sarajevo had entered a new phase.  Taking a detailed street map of Sarajevo, Hill, Clark, and I went back to Milošević’s suite.  We began examining every road and every terrain feature.  Milošević seemed flexible; Hill predicted after the meeting that if we stuck to our position we would get all of Sarajevo the next day.  Feeling suddenly encouraged, we adjourned with our hopes soaring.”  And that is how Sarajevo was won.  Izetbegović’s one great goal had been achieved.  After this, Milošević also agreed to arbitration over Brčko, and with a few more details, the agreement was almost ready.

On 20 November, agreement was reached, and the document was formally initially in the presence of the US President.  It was then signed in Paris on 14 December.  Peace had been established in Bosnia.


The permanent museum exhibition is located in the towers Kapi-kula Ploča and Širokac. In the Ploča tower, the life of Alija Izetbegović as statesman and politician is displayed on chronologically arranged exhibition boards, accompanied by text and photographs. In the Širokac tower, the exhibition is dedicated to Izetbegović's role as the Supreme Commander in the defense of Bosnia and Herzegovina from the Serbian agression.



Established in the recent times, the Museum „Alija Izetbegović“ offers modern answers to questions from the past, but also sets the foundation for the future. Through its objective scientific approach, it encourages young people, intellectuals and researchers to approach modern history with expertise and knowledge. 



The Museum educational programs are designed for elementary and secondary school students. They include professional tours of the permanent museum exhibition, interactive school workshops, pedagogical and educational publications, lectures, special programmes observing important historical dates, etc.