It Happened Here

Dayton Peace Accords @ 20

By Patricia Gallagher Newberry

Photo: Dec. 14, 1995: Serbian President Slobodan Milošević, Bosnian President Alija Izetbegović, and Croatia President Franjo Tuđman sign the Balkan Peace Agreement at the Quai d’Orsay (Foreign Ministry) in Paris;
photo: William J. Clinton Presidential Library


Twenty years ago, the world watched as leaders from war-torn Balkan states arrived in Dayton to hammer out a peace agreement.

Next week, the world will be watching again as some of those same leaders—and plenty of new ones—return to Dayton to mark the 20th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accords.

With events planned throughout the region, local policy wonks and just-plain-folks will have the chance to hobnob with Balkan and U.S. leaders—including former and current ambassadors, foreign ministers, elected officials and diplomats—during a three-day event at the University of Dayton, a one-day event at Miami University and related bookings from Sinclair Community College to Wright State University. The headliner at UD: former President Bill Clinton, who pushed the United States into intervening in the Balkans and whose state department finally got warring parties to lay down arms.

A Brief Primer to All Things Balkan

Start with World War II and the post-war creation of Yugoslavia. It became home to six republics and two provinces, created along ethnic and historic lines. After its “leader for life” Josip Tito died in 1980, conflict and chaos ensued.

By the early 1990s, Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (that’s one country, which is also known as either BiH or just Bosnia) had all broken away and declared themselves independent Balkan region states. But given the wide mix of different ethnic and religious identities in each of the new countries, territorial disputes followed. That was especially true in Bosnia. Neighboring Serbia, led by the wily Slobodan Milošević, rejected Bosnia’s claim of independence, leading to war that lasted three-and-half years, killed some 100,000 people and left about 2 million refugees. Milošević and his allies get credit for adding “ethnic cleansing”—a practice that encompasses everything from forced migration to concentration camp-like detention to systemic rape to outright mass murder—to the world’s dictionary of war terms.

In 1995, the U.S. hopped off the fence and into the fray. It pushed for NATO bombings to get the attention of forces on the ground. It called for peace talks. By Nov. 1, 1995, it got Balkan leaders around the table at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. On Nov. 21, after nearly round-the-clock negotiating, the presidents of Serbia, Bosnia and
Croatia initialed the now-famous, U.S.-crafted Dayton Peace Accords.
A month later, with Clinton on hand, they made it official with a signing ceremony in Paris.

Dayton Set to Celebrate

Back to 2015, Dayton, Ohio.

Dayton City Commissioner Matt Joseph, whose wife, Irena, hails from Bosnia, has taken the lead on organizing DPA commemoration events. He and his committee have assembled an all-star cast of speakers, confirming Clinton, after six months of back-and-forth with the Clinton Foundation staff.

“We were hopeful that he would come,” Joseph says. “[Given his pivotal role in the accords], we figured he wanted to be involved with these kinds of things.”

The Nov. 19 lunch featuring Clinton, with seats for 300 at the UD River Campus, sold out in less than a week. But registration to the overall conference continues through Nov. 13. The $75 fee includes a seat at all sessions, including an overflow room with a live feed for the Clinton speech.

Among the other notables scheduled to attend are Igor
Crnadak, BiH foreign affairs minister, Maureen Cormack, U.S. ambassador to BiH, Josip Paro, Croatian ambassador to the United States, Valentin Inzko, high representative to BiH, Mate Granić, former Croatian vice president and former U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill, who helped negotiate the accords.

The UD conference will also include two events honoring Richard Holbrooke, the lead U.S. negotiator of the Dayton Peace Accords. The Richard Holbrooke Plaza, near the intersection of Salem Avenue and Edwin C. Moses Boulevard, will be dedicated at 4 p.m. Nov. 18. Holbrooke’s widow, journalist Kati Marton, is expected to attend. Additionally, “The Diplomat,” a 104-minute HBO documentary about Holbrooke directed by his son, filmmaker David Holbrooke, will make its public debut at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at 6 p.m. Nov. 19.

The public is welcome at two other events. Dayton Peace Prize winners, including, in absentia, 2015 winner actress Angelina Jolie Pitt, will be recognized with a music video presentation at the Dayton Art Institute. A 20th anniversary brunch will be at the Hope Hotel at Wright-Patt Nov. 21.

Among the other dozen or so regional events marking the anniversary of the accords are two more local events: The Art Institute continues a three-work exhibit on DPA through Feb. 28. And the Dayton International Peace Museum will screen a documentary at the Neon called “Seeking Truth in the Balkans” Nov. 15.

Miami University
Shares the Spotlight

At first blush, Miami University’s deep engagement in the Dayton Peace Accords might seem puzzling.

Until you learn about the Campbell family—starting with Molly Yankovich Campbell.

A resident of Dayton, the 89-year-old Campbell and her husband, Dick, raised their five children here. As the daughter of Croatian immigrants, she has long been interested in her heritage, participating in the South Slavic Club, befriending new residents from the Balkans and making one trip to Croatia in her 50s.

But beyond learning a few words and songs, her children didn’t take much interest in being half-Croat.

Then, in early 2012, their father passed away. “We were having a party three days after he died … and I asked her, ‘Would you ever like to go back to Croatia?’’’ recalled son Richard Campbell, Ph.D., the chair of Miami’s Department of Media, Journalism and Film. She said yes, and mother, son and four other family members were there just months later.

Miami’s involvement followed as Richard Campbell began to learn more about his roots.

One impetus was meeting Kićo Gegić in the summer of 2012. The husband of a second cousin, Gegić had enlisted as a “child defender” of the Croatian town of Vukovar at the age of 14. His three older brothers died in the Serbian war against Vukovar, and he and his father were sent to a Serbian prison. A month of torture there still scars him today.

“Kićo had just gotten out of three weeks of intensive therapy and been told by his therapist that he needs to talk about what happened,” Campbell recalls. “So we show up when he’s ready to talk.”

Campbell returned the next two summers with his brother, Tom, to continue their conversations with Gegic and advocate on his behalf.

“I found it embarrassing that I’m half Croatian, and I never knew about the Battle of Vukovar,” Campbell says. “So I thought, ‘We should do something about that.’”

That “something”—Miami’s Nov. 18 Dayton Peace Accords @ 20 conference—will include a panel on witnesses to war with Gegić as one featured speaker. The day will also include a keynote speech by Kenneth Merten, a 1983 Miami graduate who just ended a three-year stint as U.S. Ambassador to Croatia, a panel of journalists from the Balkans, including famed war photographer Ron Haviv, and a panel of experts, including Miami’s own Carl Dahlman, who directs the international studies program and is considered a leading scholar on Bosnia.

Dahlman, Richard Campbell and Merten aren’t the only Miamians with ties to the Balkans, however. Ed Arnone, visiting assistant professor of journalism, is deeply engaged in the topic and has run a summer travel course to the Balkan state of Kosovo for the last eight years. And one of his earliest students, Austin Fast, is back on campus this fall after five years in neighboring Macedonia. A Peace Corps veteran, Fast is assisting with Miami’s conference and a class supporting it.

Making the War Tangible

The 14 students in Miami’s senior-level class, meanwhile, have benefitted from all that expertise, as they have produced stories about conference guests and related issues. Many, like Marissa Stipek, came to the course with little prior knowledge of the Bosnian War.

“I had never heard about the Balkan wars before this, which is shocking in itself and just shows how little attention this region of the world gets,” Stipek says. “Knowing I am telling stories that are very real and very important to people … makes me work harder to ensure I am giving this topic the quality coverage it deserves.”

In studying the Bosnian War and the accords that ended it, students have also learned how journalists cover conflict. Bosnian journalist Davor Glavaš, who will be in Oxford next week, told student Daniel Taylor he’s been a frequent victim of harassment. “My tires were flattened seven times. I still remember, exactly seven times,” Glavas says. Cartoon journalist Joe Sacco told student Kate Ferry that Bosnians in Sarajevo, site of some of the worst war crimes, grew “tired of meeting journalists” by 1995. That pushed him southeast to the Bosnian town of Gorazde, where he stayed for four months and produced a graphic novel.

And, of course, they have learned about the human cost of war.

Miami student Shejila Avdig recounted how war forced her family from Bosnia to Kosovo. When she finishes her Miami degree, Avdig tells student Jordyn Burke, “I will go back to my country and help.”

And Gegić, the child soldier of Croatia, told student Katie Taylor the battle that ended in three months for the people of Vukovar has never really come to an end for him. After losing his brothers, friends, neighbors and home to the Serbian army, Gegić continues to fight. In the 20 years since the Dayton Peace Accords settled the conflict, Gegić has yet to find peace of his own. On top of an endless battle with post-traumatic stress disorder, he is still fighting his government to gain veteran status.

The Legacy of the Dayton Peace Accords

When the Hope Hotel clears away brunch tables Nov. 21 and more than two dozen conference luminaries fly back to U.S. or Balkan destinations, the conversations about Bosnia, its neighbors and its relationship with the United States will surely continue.

While here, conference speakers will consider whether or not the “tri-presidency’’ of Bosnia (wherein three presidents rotate into the role every eight months) is effective. They’ll debate whether the boundary lines established by the accords (giving 51 percent of the land inside Bosnia to Muslim-Croats and 49 percent to Bosnian Serbs) are sustainable. They’ll lay out how countries in the Balkans are dealing with the current European refugee crisis. And they’ll focus on how BiH can advance its goal of membership in the European Union.

“The 20th anniversary is an opportunity to look back at what happened here and to discuss its ongoing effects on Bosnia and Herzegovina, the region and the world,” Joseph notes on the conference website.

The conference is also a celebration of Dayton’s role in bringing peace to the Balkans, conference co-chair John McCance adds.

“We sent pizzas, potato chips and buckeyes,” McCance says. “We held peace vigils, wrote letters and adorned the halls of the Hope Hotel with artwork made by local school children. It was noticed, it was important and it is something w∑e should never forget.”

The Dayton Peace Accords celebrates its 20th anniversary Nov. 21. Various events take place throughout the Dayton area Nov. 15-21. Registration for the UD River Campus conference continues through Nov. 13. For more information on this event and others, please visit, and

Patricia Gallagher Newberry is a senior lecturer in journalism at Miami University and co-instructor of the senior capstone class called “Dayton Peace Accords @ 20: Stories of War and Peace.” Miami students contributed to this article.

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