«Martina Fischer/Ljubinka Petrović-Ziemer Forschung DSF Nº 36 Dealing with the Past and Peacebuilding in the Western Balkans1 Martina ...»
International actors in all three countries acknowledge the contributions of CSOs (see Fischer 2013a, 85). They are convinced that their work has substantially contributed to fact-finding, war crimes documentation, and court monitoring. In Croatia and Serbia, international actors maintain stable cooperation with CSOs that engage in monitoring of war crimes trials and supporting victims/witnesses. International actors also positively acknowledge the contribution of CSOs to dealing with the past. But some interviewees in Serbia are ambivalent in their assessments of the cooperation among CSOs in the context of the REKOM campaign (Fischer 2013b, 133-135). They assert that some of the lead agencies lack transparency and diplomatic skills in their actions and therefore are not backed by wider society.
Several representatives of international NGOs report that their engagement focuses more on partnerships and joint activities rather than funding, which sometimes disappoints local CSOs who expect that each international agency will offer financial support. For the international actors, a particular challenge is to shape cooperation in such a way that it will enhance sustainability and not end up in long-term dependency. From Bosnia in particular, international actors report that the external funding has reduced CSOs’ individual initiative and that many of these have adapted their agenda to donors’ expectations and often stop working on these issues once the funding ends. International actors believe that this is a hindrance to effective networking and contributes to a credibility gap (i.e. the problem that CSOs lack acceptance in society). Furthermore, the international interviewees observe that strong competition for resources limits cooperation among civil society actors.
Although they voice a great many critical remarks, the international interviewees are convinced that CSOs need to be supported in the future too. They believe that initiatives on the grassroots level of society are needed as a counterweight to ethno-nationalism in all countries of the ex-Yugoslav region. However, international interviewees from Serbia recommend that support should not be limited to the professionalised NGO sector: they believe that there should be a stronger focus on academics and journalists, who are more critical towards the political mainstream and are open to debating alternatives, and therefore deserve much more support.
Furthermore, stable forms of cooperation have been established among the Commissions for Missing Persons and the legal institutions. Commissions for Missing Persons cooperate on a daily basis with legal institutions and victims’ organisations (families of the disappeared) both on a local and regional level (Petrović-Ziemer 2013a, 42). ICTY officials assess the cooperation with the domestic courts as very effective (although marked by conflictive issues, one example being the practice of “in absentia” trials), and vice versa (although the latter are not entirely convinced of the need for the reform of their previous practices). The cooperation between the war crimes chambers in all three countries has significantly improved in the past few years (see Petrović-Ziemer 2013a; Fischer 2013a), and the prosecutor’s offices in Croatia and Serbia even managed to base their collaboration on an official agreement that regulates the exchange of evidence on warrelated crimes. In contrast, cooperation with and among the courts in Bosnia is seen as less effective. TJ protagonists report that the fragmentation of the judicial institutions reflects the political divide and hinders effective in-country and cross-border cooperation.
3.2.2. Linkages across levels In general, TJ protagonists from all actors’ groups (legal and fact-finding institutions, international actors, and civil society organisations) agree that activities for dealing with the past are needed, both on the political level and on the interpersonal, small-group level.
Indeed, some cooperation has developed across different levels and actors’ groups. In all three countries under review, human rights activists and victims’ associations maintain contact with the police and legal institutions (see Petrović-Ziemer 2013b, 66). The same applies to several peace groups that engage in war crimes monitoring and assist victims.
Interviewees from Bosnia very much appreciate the cooperation with the ICTY’s outreach office. Although several of them express some disappointment with the work of the domestic courts in the region, CSOs are committed to supporting their work as well.
Close relations exist between victims’ associations and the Commissions for Missing Persons which were established as state institutions in the 1990s. It is reported that this cooperation is based on regular regional meetings and is helping to establish an understanding that there are victims to be mourned in all constituencies involved in the war(s) (Petrović-Ziemer 2013a, 42). Victims’ organisations also closely cooperate with the courts and prosecutors’ offices in all three countries. The field research reveals that victims’ groups and veterans’ unions began to engage in close cooperation with state institutions right after the war, while peace practitioners and human rights activists have focused exclusively on international actors rather than cooperation with governments in the region (see Petrović-Ziemer 2013b, 64-66). As CSO activists further outline, the cooperation with governments, parliaments and local authorities has improved today, if compared to the situation right after the war. In all three countries, diverse forms of cooperation have been developed, and CSOs assess the cooperation with local authorities in smaller municipalities as very productive. But activists in all countries still believe that many civil society actors still have negative attitudes towards politicians and that they need to find a way to better cooperate with governments, parliaments, and state institutions, in order to advance policies for constructively dealing with the past.
While CSOs in Croatia and Bosnia report that their cooperation with authorities is slowly advancing, reports from Serbia show that the relations between civil society and state institutions remain distant in this country. CSOs consider the government led by the Democratic Party (DS) and the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) to be more trustworthy than former governments, but a high degree of distrust still marks their attitudes towards governmental institutions (see Petrović-Ziemer 2013b, 66-67). All interviewees from Serbia confirm that they cooperate very sporadically with state institutions as many government officials see NGOs merely as service agencies to carry out specific, predefined tasks.
CSOs that engaged for refugee return to Croatia and Bosnia report, for instance, that this was obstructed by authorities in Serbia. Despite these negative experiences, they are fully aware that successful advocacy work for vulnerable persons and minorities very much depends on close cooperation with state institutions.
International actors also express ambivalent assessments of the cooperation with governments and authorities in the region. Cooperation with governments in all three countries on war crimes prosecution has significantly improved in the past five years, according to IGO representatives (see Fischer 2013a, 82). In terms of cooperation with the ICTY, the government of Bosnia-Herzegovina has an excellent record, and the performance of the Croatian and Serbian governments has also improved. This development is seen as a consequence of conditionality and pressure from the European Union. The cooperation with government institutions on domestic TJ programmes is also positively assessed. This applies in particular to the Action Plan for War Crimes Prosecution adopted by the government of Croatia, and the Strategy for Transitional Justice adopted by the BiH Council of Ministers, whose purpose is to address judicial reforms, reparations, support of victims and veterans and reintegration of vulnerable persons. At the same time, international actors emphasise that the ambitious elements of the Bosnian TJ strategy can only be implemented if constitutional reform is completed in this country; at present, different bodies of legislation exist in the two entities that would pose a serious obstacle to most of the proposals agreed upon during the consultations facilitated by UNDP.
In Serbia, international actors report on good experiences of cooperation in internationally driven education initiatives together with the Ministry of European Integration and the Ministry for Human Rights. Some progress has been made with regard to the use of new history books for primary schools. Their publication was supported by an international organisation and generally rejected by the Ministries of Education throughout the region, but recently accepted by authorities in Serbia and officially recommended by the Ministry of Education. However, the interviews with international actors reveal that the cooperation with authorities and governments is still facing a great many difficulties in all three countries, especially when it comes to issues related to history teaching. They are convinced that a more pro-active approach by authorities is needed to achieve more openness to different views on the past in the classrooms.
Furthermore, international actors point out that the cooperation with governments and local authorities on refugee return and solutions for IDPs faces many obstacles (see Fischer 2013a, 82). Improving life for refugees and returnees and for the specific group of IDPs who do not want to return and still live in uncertain conditions is seen as crucial.
International interviewees report that it is difficult to convince authorities and governments in the region to cooperate and search for solutions besides return. This applies first of all to Bosnia, where authorities of the Federation, after a long period of pushing for return and refusing to assist people in their current places of residence, now need to shift their policy by closing the remaining collective accommodation and offering possibilities for the integration of IDPs and refugees in the respective communities. This applies also to Serbia, where refugees from Croatia and Kosovo face a similar dilemma. International actors see an urgent need to push all governments to cooperate on solutions in order to avoid increasing frustration among refugees and IDPs, which in their view forms a constant source of political radicalisation and destabilisation.
Political parties’ willingness to cooperate with civil society In Bosnia, party representatives in the FBiH believe that civil society plays an important part in the process of reconciliation and that there is a need for cooperation with CSOs on issues of transitional justice (see Sejfija 2013). In contrast, politicians in the RS express more sceptical opinions, arguing that some of the NGOs that are drivers of current TJ initiatives lack credibility and damage the process. They insist that processes of dealing with the past need personalities of high moral credibility and political independence.
Interestingly, most of the interviewed politicians in Bosnia believe that the main responsibility for initiatives on dealing with the past lies with the judiciary, scholars, and civil society. Very few express the view that parliaments and government officials have an obligation to deal with these issues. In fact, as the politicians report, no political party has explicitly mentioned issues of dealing with the past in their programmes, and they do not believe that these issues need special elaboration in their strategy documents.
In Croatia the interviewed politicians also recognise civil society organisations as important drivers of change (see Dvornik 2013). They emphasise that political actors and the judicial institutions alike need impetus from CSOs and that they should complement the work of the courts by documenting facts and monitoring trials. The interviewed politicians in Serbia emphasise that initiatives both by policy-makers and CSOs are needed (see Milićević 2013), but civil society actors should put pressure on the state to develop constructive policies for dealing with the past. They also stress that collaboration between CSOs, state institutions and parliaments is needed.
Even though all political representatives consider dealing with the past and peacebuilding to be crucial, their respective parties have not determined explicit policies for such purposes. Furthermore, several politicians from Serbia stress that progress in this field can only be achieved by the societies in the region themselves; nevertheless, international assistance is still seen as necessary in the future.
3.3. Further perspectives and challenges
Fostering institutions’ capacities for accountability and the rule of law In the countries under review, many measures have been taken in the field of retributive justice, compared to other post-war societies. The Dayton Accords and the International Tribunal in The Hague paved the way for legal accountability. However, several thousand war crimes cases remain to be investigated by local courts in Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia, including cases related to killing of civilians during and after the military operation “Storm”.49 Fostering the capacities for war crimes prosecution, and thereby building on the achievements of the Commissions for Missing Persons, international and domestic courts, remains an important challenge in future too. First of all, there is a need for intensified efforts to resolve the pending cases of war-related disappearance. The question of how to design such solutions will very much depend on the political will of the governments in the region, but also on the willingness of international organisations to provide funding for this process. Secondly, there is a need to build the courts’ capacities for prosecution and regional cooperation. Witness protection systems need to be developed and installed in cross-border cooperation. Victims and witnesses who have to testify at the courts in other countries need police protection before, during and after the trials, both in their home country and at the places where they testify (see Petrović-Ziemer 2013b). Effective witness protection is expensive and will require international support.