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«Martina Fischer/Ljubinka Petrović-Ziemer Forschung DSF Nº 36 Dealing with the Past and Peacebuilding in the Western Balkans1 Martina ...»

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Civil society is still very fragile in the region (see Dvornik 2010; Stubbs 2007; Belloni and Hemmer 2010). It is apparently more developed in Croatia and Serbia, and remains quite fragmented in Bosnia, where a huge number of NGOs emerged as a consequence of international funding, but very few sustainable civil initiatives and structures have developed (see Sejfija 2008; Fischer 2010). Nevertheless, numerous efforts for cultural reconciliation are driven by local civil society actors, mostly with the support of international actors, both on a local community level and on a regional level. Support for civil society will remain an important challenge. Pressure from the grassroots level will be needed to push state institutions and local authorities to take measures in the field of TJ, inclusive forms of memorialisation and gestures of apology. Furthermore, civil society initiatives are needed to monitor accountability mechanisms. However, it is essential that international actors particularly support initiatives that aim to promote networking and dialogue across levels, in order to increase the likelihood that bottom-up and top-down approaches will meet.

Moreover, programmes have to be balanced in a way that supports both regional initiatives for documentation, awareness-raising, peace education and dialogue on the past, and activities in local communities.

At the same time, international support programmes need to be guided by realistic assumptions about the potential of grassroots peacebuilding. Considering CSOs as drivers of change in a setting where state institutions and political structures are contested, or where the top level lacks any will for reconciliation, means overloading CSOs with unrealistic expectations. CSOs can neither make up for failed international strategies of state-building nor compensate for a lack of commitment by state institutions and policymakers. But CSOs have an enormous potential to support processes of trust- and relationship-building from the bottom-up, and thus foster steps for political reconciliation that are taken on the political level (and vice versa). However, where a political will for such steps does not exist, CSO activities are still most important as they at least open niches and maintain spaces for alternative discourses. Experiences from other post-war societies show that processes of political reconciliation and societal dialogue on the past are mostly a consequence of initiatives undertaken by civil society actors, critical historians and social scientists, and often also by individuals who take courage and commit themselves to challenge the mainstream cultures of silencing and denial.59 These initiatives often unfold a strong symbolic power and such actors deserve support in order to ensure that their activities are sustainable.

59 „Er hat die Ritualisierung der Erinnerung durchbrochen“. [“He has broken through the ritualisation of remembrance”.] Peter Steinbach comments on Saul Friedländer, online at http://www.dradio.de/dkultur/sendungen/thema/1889935/ (accessed 16 October 2012).

3.4. Policy Recommendations 3.4.1. Recommendations for civil society organisations in the region

–  –  –

In particular, they should

• avoid a situation in which spending on fact-finding leads to a decline of war-crimes monitoring activities

• search for effective divisions of labour with independent journalists in order to cover “watchdog” functions in both fields

• be aware that besides regional activities, initiatives for inclusive remembrance on the local level are needed, given that numerous atrocity sites are still waiting to be marked (this applies particularly to Bosnia)

• take into account that establishing inclusive cultures of remembrance needs to be based on participatory long-term processes that involve victims, authorities and neighbours in local communities, as well as experts from the arts and academia.

–  –  –

In particular, they should

• insist that a REKOM gets full access to the archives of the courts and police in the member countries

• push for a regional commission that will not only focus on forensic, factual, dialogical and social truth, but also includes elements of justice: pushing for redress – compensation for victims of war crimes in the former Yugoslavia

• extend the scope of their discussion by involving experts from regions that have gone through experiences with truth commissions, in order to arrive at realistic expectations and pragmatic assessments of the potential and limits of these mechanisms.

Beyond this, peace practitioners and human rights activists should extend their scope of collaboration.

In particular, they should

• pay specific attention to the potential of young people in dealing with the past and peacebuilding, search for more systematic forms of addressing issues of the past in peace education and facilitate cross-border encounters in order to advance trust-building and questioning of stereotypes

• intensify cooperation with war veterans’ associations and assess the potential of involving victims’ organisations for inclusive memorialisation

• intensify collaboration with academics (i.e. in the fields of history, law, sociology, psychology and political science) to explore how historical facts and different views on the past can be balanced in formal and non-formal education





• foster cooperation with artists, film-makers, education experts and journalists, in order to advance creative and inclusive forms of remembrance

• search more systematically for alliance partners in parliaments and political parties who share their aims and serve as multipliers of their agenda.

3.4.2. Recommendations for international actors

–  –  –

In particular, they should

• urge state institutions and local authorities in all countries to resolve the pending cases of war-related disappearance, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and the European Convention on Human Rights

• provide the funds and expertise, and monitor the process, in order to accelerate the search for grave sites, exhumations and identification of human remains

• push for more intensive regional cooperation and information exchange on these issues.

International actors should assist the governments in implementing transitional justice mechanisms at the national level and support cooperation on a regional level.

In this context, they should

• ensure that the legal institutions in all countries are provided with the necessary means to work effectively and continue to monitor national and regional strategies for transitional justice

• ensure that the war crimes chambers in the region are equipped with the necessary expertise, staff and resources for investigation, prosecution and victims’ protection

• support efforts by domestic courts to establish cross-border systems for regional cooperation in all the above-mentioned areas

• secure a minimum of international monitoring and control of TJ institutions via the OSCE (in BiH and Serbia) and EU institutions (in Croatia)

• continue to push for reforms that strengthen the rule of law and reliability of police institutions in monitoring the implementation of the law

• take measures to increase security for minorities

• support domestic TJ institutions in developing convincing information policies and cooperation with media and investigative journalists

• continue to support independent journalists and media in order to provide unbiased reporting on war crimes proceedings

• assist domestic governments, legal institutions and CSOs in advancing judicial and non-judicial TJ strategies

• continue to support CSOs that monitor war crimes proceedings and implementation of TJ strategies.

Furthermore, international actors should take action to support restorative forms of justice and improve the situation of those whose life perspectives were most severely affected by the war.

In particular they need to

• urge the authorities in all three countries to provide redress for the victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity; measures need to be taken to ensure reparations for victims of war-related crimes and their families in line with the principles established by international law, to provide social protection and to overcome unequal treatment of civilian and military war victims

• assist the governments to establish the legal conditions for compensation of victims of war-related crimes, with a specific focus on gender justice: women who have been raped and all victims of gender-specific and sexual violence.

Furthermore, they should assist legal institutions to develop psychological treatment programmes for convicted war criminals in order to facilitate their reintegration into society after release

• continue their pressure on governments and authorities in the region to respect the rights of refugees and displaced persons, to conclude pending cases of property restitution and find durable solutions for refugees and IDPs besides return for those who need assistance at their current place of residence

• help to provide the funds for programmes aimed at integration and rehabilitation of the above-mentioned vulnerable groups

• ensure that once the criteria for EU accession and the human rights standards demanded by the Council of Europe are fulfilled, the accession process for the three countries is accelerated and accompanied by strategies that promote economic development and offer prospects for young people in particular in all countries of the region, in order to create opportunities for regional integration.

–  –  –

In particular, they should

• support a REKOM if it comes into being; although decisions on the mandate and design of such a mechanism is a matter for local actors, international actors should monitor the process and push for a pluralist composition that involves legal and judicial experts, historians, journalists, experts from state institutions, parliaments and civil society organisations

• help to foster initiatives that aim to promote inclusive cultures of remembrance, also at the local level (such as oral history projects, acts of remembrance in municipalities and marking of atrocity sites)

• assist critical intellectuals and academics in their efforts to investigate the war events of the 1990s and previous periods. International actors should provide resources for independent “think tanks” and discussion forums where experts from universities and private research institutions can debate and further develop research on these issues

• continue to support cultural and arts initiatives (i.e. films, theatre, music and literature) in the field of dealing with the past

• take into account that complex discourses on victimhood and victim identities exist in the region that are used for diverse political purposes

• see themselves as facilitators and provide forums for debate where different views on the past can be exchanged, and where discourses that build on collective victimhood and collective blames or relativisation of crimes can be deconstructed

• continue to support initiatives to develop alternative school textbooks in the region, as well as training for teachers in using such material

• assist initiatives that transfer knowledge on the potential of non-violent engagement and resistance in order to establish alternative forms of remembrance of recent history and national identity.

Furthermore, international actors need to modify policies in BosniaHerzegovina.

In particular, they need to

• facilitate a process that enables the constitution to be brought into line with the standards required by the Council of Europe. Such a process needs to involve all relevant political parties and as many civil society actors as possible (peace practitioners and human rights activists, women’s groups, victims’ organisations, veterans’ associations, labour unions, media organisations and faith communities), in order to ensure that the outcome can be accepted by all relevant stakeholders and different constituencies

• support reforms of the education sector in Bosnia, push for a revision of the “two schools under one roof“ system, and facilitate a transformation towards inclusive, pluralist and participatory forms of teaching to counteract ethnic segregation.

In their engagement in the Balkans, international actors should pursue inclusive strategies.

In particular, they should

• avoid a discourse that attributes collective blame for war events; interpretations that hold entire nations “guilty” (or “more guilty” than others) do not match the complex dynamics of the 1990s and undermines dealing with the past processes in the region by fostering stereotypes

• highlight that in all three countries of the region, people engaged in peace movements during the 1990s, and take initiatives to make such actions more visible.

International actors should critically evaluate their own engagement for peacebuilding in the Balkans during the past decades to identify successes and learn from mistakes.

In particular, they should critically

• reflect on the consequences and unintended side-effects (so-called collateral damage or spill-over effects) of military interventions

• acknowledge the limits and contradictions of political power-sharing institutions in multicultural societies

• assess policies in the field of refugee return and compensation

• analyse the effects of separated systems of education.



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