BRCKO, Bosnia-Herzegovina - In the battle to win Bosnia's peace, thousands of NATO troops join legions of foreign bureaucrats with a multibillion-dollar arsenal of tanks, helicopters and aid money. There is also a simpler weapon: the black felt pen.
In many Bosnian schools, it is not enough to teach history, art and grammar to the nation's Croatian, Serbian and Muslim children; they're also taught to hate those from other ethnic groups. So last year, the country's foreign administrators ordered that all ethnically offensive words in textbooks be blacked out.
A commission issued a 24-page list of phrases, paragraphs and even whole pages. Teachers were instructed to find them in every textbook and make sure students couldn't read the words anymore.
In a grammar text for Serbian seventh-graders, a lesson appeared under the heading "Tribute in Blood," above a brief excerpt from the 1945 novel "Bridge Over the Drina," by Ivo Andric, a Bosnian Croat and winner of the Nobel Prize in literature. It describes the medieval torture and massacre of Serbs by Muslim Turkish invaders who, according to the tale, kidnapped children ages 10 to 15 in wicker baskets strapped to horses. Teachers were told to rip out the two-page lesson.
Beneath a picture of a boy with an amputated leg, a caption in a textbook for Croats refers to an attack by "grand Serbian aggressors." The phrase was supposed to be blacked out - though some teachers had trouble following instructions.
"In many instances, instead of using black markers, they used yellow highlighters," says Claude Kieffer, who sets education policy for Bosnia-Herzegovina's foreign-run administration.
It is easier to censor words than change minds, a basic truth central to the overwhelming problems that Bosnia still faces five years after its war ended with an accord reached in Dayton, Ohio, in November 1995. Years of complaints that the Dayton accord isn't working have given way to arguments that it never will. Critics say Western governments allowed opponents to dig in and get control of local economies, keeping hard-line nationalism alive.
The Dayton accord was a flawed compromise forced by a brutal stalemate on Bosnia's battlefields and by the diplomacy of U.S. diplomat Richard C. Holbrooke. With the eventual added persuasion of NATO bombing, Serbs agreed to accept Bosnia as an independent but divided country: 49 percent of the territory went to a Serbian-controlled substate called Republika Srpska.
Bosnia's relative majority of Muslims settled for a federation with the Croats in the other 51 percent, with the promise that "ethnic cleansing" would be halted and that more than 1.4 million refugees could go back to prewar homes in areas where they were an ethnic minority.
But five years later, only 9 percent of minority refugees have returned, and hard-line nationalists in all three ethnic groups continue to obstruct efforts to reintegrate Bosnia's people and institutions.
Despite a more aggressive effort to return refugees, most Bosnian Croats, Muslims and Serbs live in almost ethnically pure areas, with three separate systems running schools, phone networks, power grids and other services.
Bosnia officially has two local armies, one in each of the substates. But the Croatian troops are so poorly integrated into the federation's military that they are really a third army, U.S. analyst James Lyon says in Sarajevo, Bosnia's capital.
The NATO-led peacekeeping mission, which includes several thousand U.S. troops, is a fourth force - all that is keeping soldiers in the other three armies from one another's throats. The nation-building experiment in Bosnia has cost nearly $6 billion in foreign aid, excluding the enormous bill for the peacekeeping troops.
Bosnia's biggest success is its peace. However, without the approximately 20,000 NATO-led foreign troops, fighting would probably start again. And the Dayton accord is far short of fulfilling its main promise: a united, multiethnic nation that can survive on its own.
But the world's eyes have shifted to other hot spots, such as the Yugoslav republic of Serbia and its troubled province, Kosovo, leaving many in Bosnia worrying that their best hope has come and gone. "It's the last black hole in Europe," says Srdjan Dizdarevic, who heads the Bosnian branch of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights.
Few places in Bosnia were fought over more viciously than the northern town of Brcko, a choke point between the two halves of what became Republika Srpska, where the three warring sides battled along converging front lines, blasting whole neighborhoods to rubble.
Croatian, Serbian and Muslim nationalists each thought that their conflicting visions of Bosnia's future depended on control of Brcko, so the dispute couldn't be settled at Dayton. An international arbitration panel ruled in March 1999 that the three sides had to share the town.
Ruling by decree