Bill Clinton arrives at the University of Dayton for the Dayton Peace Accords anniversary.
Photo: Ty Greenlees
Photo: Ty Greenlees

Bill Clinton to speak in Dayton today

Base was home to talks that built a 20-year peace in the Balkans.Area to recall 20th anniversary of Dayton Peace Accords this week.

UPDATE @ 1:23 p.m. (Nov. 19)

Former President Bill Clinton started his remarks in Dayton today by offering his condolences to Bosnia for the two soldiers shot and killed, and a third injured, on Wednesday.

“It’s worth noting the man who shot them had a history of mental illness and a brother in Syria,” Clinton said.

The U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia Maureen Cormack was also in the audience.

Clinton also thanked Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley for welcoming him. Clinton joked he’d finally finished reading a biography on the Wright brothers.

“I remember thinking 20 years ago, going to Dayton, our odds of success were about as good as theirs (Wright brothers) was,” Clinton said.” The Wright brothers surprised us.”

Clinton also thanked the family of late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, whom was instrumental in the Peace Accords.

“He was the most gifted diplomat the U.S. produced in the entire Cold War era,” Clinton said. “We wouldn’t be here without his skills, determination and uncanny ability to read everyone he encountered.”

Clinton called it “fascinating and deeply encouraging” that folks are still interested and actively participating in panels on the Peace Accords.

“There’s still a lot of work to do to reap the full promise of Dayton,” Clinton said. “In winner-take-all politics … our common humanity matters more.”

Clinton said the elected leaders in Bosnia have to take the lead on continued work to improve the country.

“Still for too many people they believe every tomorrow will be like yesterday,” Clinton.

In reference to the terrorist attacks against Paris, Clinton said he cheered the country today when he read news of the death of the purported ring leader in the attacks.

“The Internet has been the greatest instrument of economic empowerment… and most effective modern device for destructive forces,” Clinton said in reference to terrorists. “Every citizen has the capacity to bring us together while others are trying to tear us apart.”

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EARLIER STORY:

Twenty years without a shot fired in Bosnia and Herzegovina began with 20 days of talks in Dayton, Ohio.

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the accords that ended civil war and genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the small southeastern European country once known for winter sports and tourism.

The Dayton Peace Accords that ended the Bosnian War were signed in Paris on Dec. 14, 1995. But the pact was painfully hammered out a month earlier at the Hope Hotel (today the Hope Hotel and Richard C. Holbrooke Conference Center) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Negotiations went on there from Nov. 1 to 21.

The main participants in those talks included Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman. Richard Holbrooke — who chose Wright-Patterson as the location of the talks — was then assistant secretary of state for Canadian and European affairs.

The accord has been criticized and is regarded as imperfect. Izetbegovic told Holbrooke that he felt it was “an unjust peace,” according to Holbrooke’s son, the filmmaker and documentarian David Holbrooke. (The elder Holbrooke died in December 2010 after complications following heart surgery.)

But the agreement ended a nearly four-year war that had taken more than 200,000 lives and displaced more than 2 million people. It halted the first European genocide since World War II, stopped widespread killing, and achieved what a United Nations arms embargo and earlier attempts at peace had failed to do.

“This peace was forged in Dayton — it’s amazing,” David Holbrooke said.

Carolyn Rice, Montgomery County treasurer, is overseeing about 100 volunteers helping handle logistical details in pulling together this week’s commemoration events.

About 70 people are coming to Dayton from across the world, including former President Bill Clinton. who will offer a keynote address Thursday at the University of Dayton’s River Campus.

Scheduled to be in Dayton are Igor Crnadak, Bosnia’s foreign minister; Maureen Cormack, U.S. ambassador to Bosnia; Josip Paro, Croatian ambassador to the U.S., and retired U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark, former NATO supreme allied commander who traveled to Europe as part of U.S. negotiations to end the war.

Rice and her fellow volunteers are responsible for arranging transportation, lodging, printing of programs, invitations, signs and other details including private receptions and gatherings.

Nothing about coordinating this is straightforward, Rice said.

“I can’t even begin to tell you all the small decisions that just add up,” she said.

Matt Joseph, Dayton city commissioner and co-chair of the local organizing committee of the “Dayton Peace Accords at 20” events, has an interest in international affairs. But he also has a personal reason for concern about Bosnia: He has been married for 10 years to Irena Joseph, a native of the Herzegovina portion of the country.

“It really heightened my sense that we can do things to help them here in Dayton,” Joseph said. “We can do things to help run (the country) smoother.”

He wonders if there was something about Dayton that contributed to what so far has been an enduring peace.

“What we contributed here — on the sidelines, admittedly, of the actual negotiations — was support,” Joseph said. “We all cite the example of children who sent in art work (to the talks) or encouraging notes, that were then posted in the Hotel Hotel for the negotiators to see. There were people who would carry signs and had peace vigils outside the fence.”

A ‘remote’ heartland

The very remoteness of Dayton — the fact that it wasn’t New York or Washington, D.C. — was the reason Holbrooke chose Wright-Patterson, said Kati Marton, Holbrooke’s widow. He liked the “symbolism” of building peace in the American heartland, she said.

“Plus, these guys couldn’t come there and have a good time,” she added with a chuckle.

But good times were had and more than once, Marton added. Dinners at the four-star french cuisine restaurant L’Auberge in Kettering, drinks at much-humbler Packy’s bar and grill at the Hope Hotel, tennis on the base and shopping at local malls.

“He loved Dayton,” Marton said of her husband. “It was America — it was the best of America.”

Marton married Holbrooke in May 1995 in Budapest, just weeks before the Srebrenica massacre, an event in which 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed in and around the town of that name. The July 1995 slaughter was arguably the catalyst for sparking U.S. involvement in trying to end the war.

Before the talks, Holbrooke was keenly aware of his role on the stage of history, Marton said. He had been part of the U.S. delegation to the Paris peace talks that ended the Vietnam War.

“Richard was not only a diplomat, he was an historian,” she said. “He was sharply aware that he had an opportunity to play an historic role in ending what really was developing to be the worst crisis for Europe since World War II.”

He prepared for the talks by putting together a “brilliant team,” and reaching out to all government agencies, from the Pentagon to the White House to the State Department — even the U.S. Agriculture Department — to tap the right participants, she said.

And Holbrooke wasn’t shy about winning the support of Congress, making more trips to Capitol Hill “than any other diplomat in history,” Marton said.

“He did not live in a diplomatic bubble,” she said.

Marton was with Holbrooke at the Hope Hotel, and she said he deployed her whenever talk participants hit a wall, particularly with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. Holbrooke tasked her with reminding participants of their longstanding goals.

“I’m here to tell you that these warlords were not particularly interested in their grandchildren,” Marton said. “They were interested in holding on to power. This was as tough a negotiation as you can imagine, and success was not at all assured.”

That was where the trappings of military power — near at hand at Wright-Patterson, the world’s largest Air Force base — proved useful. Holbrooke wanted to remind talk participants of American power. That summer, NATO air forces had bombed Serbian troops, after all.

Holbrooke’s choice of Wright-Patterson and Dayton was “very deliberate,” she said.

David Holbrooke said his father wanted an area for talks “sealed off from the press” sufficiently remote, yet easily reachable from Washington, D.C.

Presidential retreat Camp David, in the mountains of Maryland, was considered too close to Washington, “too small, too presidential and too closely identified with the 1978 Egypt-Israel negotiations,” Holbrooke said, consulting his father’s memoir on the talks, To End a War (published by Modern Library Paperbacks).

The Pentagon offered three possible locations: A Navy base at Newport, R.I., Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Va. and Wright-Patterson.

“Dayton was chosen for the talks, to everyone’s surprise,” David Holbrooke said.

That included Milosevic.

“What, are you going to keep me locked up in Dayton, Ohio?” the New York Times quoted Milosevic as saying in October 1995. “I’m not a priest, you know.”

“We wanted a press blackout,” an unnamed official told the Times in an Oct. 29, 1995 story. “We didn’t want the work to be interrupted by opportunities for posturing before the cameras.”

‘Understandable pride’

Holbrooke said his father appreciated “comfort” as much as anyone. But he also appreciated the way the Hope Hotel’s dormitory-like layout forced participants to see and face each other daily. That kind of proximity and inability to go anywhere else forced a “breakthrough,” he said.

“You can see that people are kind of pushed together, forced together,” he said.

David Holbrooke was 30 in 1995 and not present for the talks. But he said his father expressed warm feelings for Dayton.

“He had a lot of respect for the people who worked there,” Holbrooke said. “When I came back to film in Dayton two years ago, I met several people at the Hope Hotel who had been there, who talked about it with evident and understandable pride.”

Carla Lilly, 53, of Fairborn, worked for the Hope Hotel as a maid during the talks.

Lilly said staff were kept strictly separate from talk participants. Her understanding is that much of the actual negotiating took place in the evening, when custodial workers were not present.

“We weren’t allowed in the offices with them in there to clean them,” Lilly said. “It was interesting. It was very private. We had to get dropped off at the gate in order to get (walk) to the Hope Hotel.”

“I met some of the big people, but we weren’t allowed to be too much around them,” she added.

She recalled an incident one morning in which someone involved with the talks was struggling to move a cart laden with briefcases on to a hotel elevator. The cart tipped over.

Lilly said she tried to help pick up the briefcases, but a large man — whom she guessed was a security officer — told her to stay back.

“He said, no, no, no, don’t touch that. That was one of the big guys,” she recalled.

For her work, she received a bonus check as well as her regular pay check — and a certificate of recognition with a letter of thanks.

“It was pretty nice,” she said.

Holbrooke’s documentary aired on HBO Nov. 2. It will be shown again at 6 p.m. Thursday at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

The word “Dayton” today is firmly established in the annals of European history, said Dzeneta Begic, 20, a Bosnian native and an international relations major attending the University of Dayton this year on a Dayton Peace Accords fellowship.

“Dayton before I came here was this abstract noun,” Begic said. “When I came here, I saw that Dayton really exists (as a city).”

Begic credited the accords with establishing two decades of peace. But she worries about resurgent hatreds and feelings of nationalism, especially among young people. The three-member presidential panel established by the accord is unwieldy and was meant to be “temporary,” she said.

“Whoever spends a couple of days in Bosnia and looks under the surface, you still see so much nationalism,” she said. “It seems to me these children are much more nationalistic.”

The accords need to be seen as a work in progress, a Bosnian journalist told this newspaper.

“The international community, which has assisted Bosnia in adopting the Dayton accords, has a responsibility to see this issue to the end and see what the future holds,” Denis Džidić, deputy editor with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, said in an email.

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