Former U.S. President Bill Clinton returned to Dayton Nov. 19 for a commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accords, which brought an end to the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
As keynote speaker during the luncheon on UD’s River Campus, Clinton noted that Dayton’s Wright brothers achieved powered flight despite great odds.
“I remember thinking at the time, 20 years ago, it’s a really good thing we’re going to Dayton, because our odds of success are about as good as theirs was,” Clinton said. “And the Wright brothers — and the negotiators — surprised the world.”
It was under Clinton’s leadership that the Dayton Peace Accords were finalized Nov. 21, 1995. His lecture was part of the Dayton Peace Accords at 20 commemorative events, which included a conference attended by current leaders from the Balkan region of Europe as well as some of those involved in the 1995 negotiations, including General Wesley Clark (retired). Also in attendance were members of the University community, including three students from Bosnia and Herzegovina studying at UD as Peace Accords Fellows.
Clinton’s talk addressed the historic significance of the accords as well as the lessons learned. One such lesson is how people from different sides of the conflict made difficult decisions to sign a document. They did not all believe the accords were just, Clinton said, but they believed they were more just than continuing the war.
“Bosnia is just as important as it ever was,” he said. “It is the canary in the coalmine in terms of Europe’s potential to be united, free, democratic and at peace for the first time since nation-states arose on the European continent.”
The lessons learned in Dayton 20 years ago can apply to global challenges to peace today, Clinton said just days after the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris.
“Ever since the Paris attacks occurred, I have said this in every talk I’ve given: Most of us are not in government, most of us have no control over national security decisions or even local police forces,” Clinton said. “But we still are citizens in the battle for an inclusive future — inclusive economics, inclusive politics, inclusive societies — and winning over the long run depends not just on stopping bad things from happening, or even holding the people who do bad things accountable. We also have to make good things happen.”
Good things include creating a climate of prosperity so young people understand that their tomorrow can be better than their today, Clinton said. This takes a combination of societal, economic and political advances for which we should all be striving, he said.
“We should celebrate what happened 20 years ago,” Clinton said. “We should give our gratitude to everyone in the last 20 years who could have derailed it who didn’t, and we should say, we’re going to finish this job.”