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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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Furthermore, researchers, human rights and peace activists have raised awareness that a better understanding of gender, culture and power structures is needed to appropriately analyse the causes, dynamics and consequences of conflict and violence.42 Reconciliation and conflict transformation as multi-level processes Together with transitional justice, the concept of reconciliation has gained importance among peace practitioners and is also extensively discussed by the academic literature on peacebuilding and conflict transformation. Most authors define reconciliation as a process rather than an end state or outcome, aimed at building relationships between individuals, groups and societies. The need for reconciliation is emphasised in particular for societies that have gone through a process of ethnopolitical conflict, as these are marked by a loss of trust, inter-generational transmission of trauma and grievances, negative interdependence (as the assertion of each group’s identity is seen as requiring the negation of the other group’s identity) and polarisation. Given that antagonists live in close proximity, not addressing these legacies means risking that they will form the causes of new spirals of violence. Reconciliation is regarded as being necessary to prevent the desire for revenge.43 The concept has also been discussed in the context of contrition, mercy and forgiveness (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa 1998;

Lederach 1995, 1997; Rigby 2001). Others have argued that reconciliation processes will not necessarily lead to forgiveness (Minow 1998, 17), as this is considered to be a power held only by those victimised. Bloomfield suggests a rather pragmatic understanding “that does not depend on peace and love, and forgiving”; reconciliation, according to this view, is “a process of gradually (re)building broad relationships between communities alienated by sustained and widespread violence, so that they can over time negotiate the realities and compromises of a new, shared socio-political reality” (2008, 264).

It has been argued that reconciliation is a necessary requirement for lasting peace, and that it needs the orchestration of top-down and bottom-up processes (Bar-On 2007, 81;

Bar-Tal/Bennink 2004, 27). Civil society actors have a special role to play in this regard (Assefa 2005; Kritz 2009; Kriesberg 2007; Bloomfield 1997; 2006a). Bloomfield (1997)

42 See Nikolić-Ristanović 2000; Slapšak 2000; Basić 2004; Đurić-Kuzmanović et al. 2008.

suggests that the interaction between the structural (top-down) and cultural (bottom-up) approaches should be addressed. He sees them as complementary, and outlines that the top-down and bottom-up terminology itself points to some movement, “downwards or upwards from the starting point, some degree of relation or convergence” (Bloomfield 2006b). Furthermore, he highlights that “interpersonal reconciliation – the cultural approach – operates necessarily and by definition from the bottom-up, starting at the individual or small group level, where reconciliation involves personal interaction directly between people who have fed each other’s grievances and who need such interaction to help them define the terms of their future co-existence” (ibid.) The top-down approach is defined as the realm where political actors try to support civic trust-building and political reconciliation, and democratic reciprocity, “where the goal is less to achieve deep understanding and more build adequate working relations as free of, and protected against, subjective engagement” (ibid.). However, the question is very much, where both spheres meet, whether civil society can form the “transmission belt” (White 1996) between state and society, or “between, on the one hand, grass-roots initiatives, victim advocacy, interpersonal interactions, encounter and dialogue work, documentation and human rights work, and, on the other, the national, society-wide process of legal and constitutional reform, truth commissions, national reparation schemes, development policy, political power-sharing, and so on” (Bloomfield 2006b, 2).

Overcoming power asymmetries is also mentioned as crucial for reconciliation (Kriesberg 2007; Bar-On 2007). Furthermore, as Kriesberg (2007, 254) emphasises, there is a need to address imbalances in suffering. Often, both sides have suffered injuries at the hand of the other, although not in equal measure, and reconciliatory actions are often ineffective because they fail to reflect the given asymmetries. Moreover, reconciliation can only take place if it entails significant complementary reciprocation: if members of one side assert truths that are ignored or denigrated by the other, their assertion is hardly a mark of reconciliation, as the truths need to be shared or at least acknowledged to indicate some degree of reconciliation on that dimension. Expressions of regret or apology and acts of contrition must also be recognised and in a sense accepted by the other side, if reconciliation is to progress. Similarly, terms that only one side deems just and the other regards as unjust do not indicate a significant level of reconciliation on that dimension.

Therefore reconciliation in post-war societies has four dimensions: shared truth, justice, regard and security (Kriesberg 2007; 2004).

In a similar way, conflict transformation theory has outlined that overcoming ethnopolitical conflicts in particular requires a focus on structural, behavioural and attitudinal aspects.





According to Johan Galtung (1996, 70-126), it is necessary to transform the relationships, interests, discourses and the very constitution of society. Hugh Miall (2004, 75-77) believes that the meaning of a conflict depends largely on the context from which it arises (culture, governance arrangements, institutions, social roles, norms, the rules and codes in place).

In conflicts involving ethnicity, minorities or challenges to state structures, the very existence of the state is at issue. Relationships involve “the whole fabric of interaction” (ibid., 76) within the divided society as well as beyond, i.e. with other societies. Poor relationships between groups are all too often a trigger for conflict, and remain a critical hindrance to peacebuilding efforts in post-war settings. Moreover, the attitudes of the conflicting parties are shaped by previous relationships: their behaviour is based on their memory of what has happened in the past and expectations of what may happen in the future. Memories are part of each party’s socially constructed understanding of the situation, shaped by culture and learning, discourse and belief. The way groups remember and construct their past is often central to the mobilisation for conflict, and thus a crucial matter to address.

2.2. Research design

The research is based on the core idea that societies recovering from war and dictatorship have to follow a holistic approach that builds on prosecution of mass crimes in accordance with international legal norms, but moves beyond this and includes elements of forensic and objective/factual, narrative, dialogical/societal and restorative forms of truth recovery.

Furthermore, TJ initiatives should aim at institutional reforms to induce a change of the systems of justice and security, and should seek to set up procedures for compensation.

Finally, in order to set up restorative approaches, multi-level processes, both top-down and bottom-up approaches, are needed in order to reach a minimum of a broader societal consensus at some stage. In terms of research, this means that the interaction of different actors and compatibility of their initiatives should be a focus of interest. A better knowledge of the respective strategies, concepts and underlying assumptions is a first step in this direction and may help to enhance processes of (self-) reflection.

Research goals The study investigates the coherence and compatibility of approaches of actors who have a specific focus on dealing with the legacies of the past (“protagonists” of transitional justice), such as the ICTY and the domestic courts, state-driven fact-finding commissions, international and bilateral donors, international NGOs and foundations, and local civil society actors. The study looks at the guiding concepts, goals and strategies of all these actors, at cooperation and learning experiences in order to identify synergies, as well as examining incompatibilities of goals and dilemmas that might arise from their interaction.

Finally, the study analyses how TJ initiatives are assessed by representatives of political parties, as some of these are very powerful in the public discourse.

We seek to learn how different actors evaluate the existing transitional justice mechanisms, which achievements and deficits, positive or negative effects they identify so far, and which they would support or reject. Furthermore, we intend to find out what different actors expect from additional mechanisms (such as the idea of a regional truth commission), and whether they have further proposals for approaching the legacies of the past. We also put a focus on the guiding concepts. We want to know how different actors understand terms like truth and justice and reconciliation, how these relate to each other and whether they use these terms in their fields of practice. Another question is what they regard as obstacles and what they see as necessary preconditions for reconciliation and long-term peacebuilding. Moreover, the study asks which strategies are applied by TJ protagonists, with whom they cooperate, for which reasons and which learning experiences stem from this cooperation, and what kind of initiatives they recommend for the future.

The study makes a contribution to assessing the acceptance and legitimacy of TJ mechanisms and it also identifies commonalities or differences with respect to the situation in each of the three countries. We hope that the findings will contribute to critical reflection on the potential and limits of TJ policies in the context of peacebuilding in war-torn societies, and inspire discussions among TJ institutions, civil society organisations and political actors in the region of former Yugoslavia and beyond.

Methods Local partners and peace and human rights activists contributed to discussions of the research design, and researchers from Belgrade, Tuzla and Zagreb were involved in the empirical field research. A feedback loop was established through discussions of interim results with our partners from CSOs and with colleagues from academic institutions.44 The study is based on a qualitative content analysis of 150 focused and semi-structured interviews that were conducted in 28 cities of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia in 2010 and 2011. Interviews were conducted with (1) Representatives of the ICTY field offices, of the war crimes chambers at domestic courts and prosecution offices, and of state commissions for missing persons; (2) Peace groups and human rights organisations (including women’s and youth organisations), journalists, victims’ organisations (including family associations and organisations of camp inmates) and veterans’ associations. The sample includes a broad range of views not only from the capitals but also from rural or less urbanised areas; (3) Representatives of delegations of the UN, EU, and OSCE in the three countries, as well as foreign embassies, and international NGOs, foundations and private donors; (4) Representatives of the governing parties in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia, and of relevant opposition parties.45 The interviews have been partly saved as full transcripts and partly as selective protocols. The study is based on a content analysis of interviews based on predefined categories: (1) Relevance and dynamics of dealing with the past; (2) Potential, legitimacy and acceptance of TJ mechanisms; (3) Guiding norms and concepts; (4) Achievements and learning processes (5) Forms of networking and cooperation.

Most of the field research was coordinated by Ljubinka Petrović-Ziemer. She conducted 52 interviews and worked on the analysis of 104 interviews (with legal institutions, commissions for missing persons, and CSOs). 21 interviews were conducted by Martina Fischer who provided an analysis of the international actors. 80 interviews were conducted by researchers from the region, Ismet Sejfija (Sarajevo), Katarina Milićević (Belgrade), Srđan Dvornik (Zagreb), and Vesna Nikolić-Ristanović and her team at the Victimology Society of Serbia (Belgrade). Ismet Sejfija, Katarina Milićević and Srđan Dvornik also provided an analysis of interviews with representatives of political parties (23 talks).

44 In November 2011, Ljubinka Petrović-Ziemer drafted a report on the preliminary results and organised a workshop in Belgrade where the findings were discussed with our partners.

45 For a detailed overview on the interviewed organisations and institutions see Fischer and Petrović-Ziemer 2013 (Annex).

Box 1: Working hypothesis46

(1) We assume that human rights organisations see war crimes prosecution and judicial evidence as a precondition for peacebuilding and reconciliation and thus attribute a priority to the work of the ICTY and domestic courts. We also assume that peacebuilding actors are more sceptical towards the potential of retributive justice and promote alternative approaches.

(2) It is likely that political actors have ambiguous assessments of war crimes prosecution by the Hague Tribunal, with a strong tendency to perceive it as imposed from outside. It is likely that politicians attribute more legitimacy to the war crimes chambers at the domestic courts (3) As the ICTY’s trials have contributed to polarising discourses in the countries of former Yugoslavia, it is likely that promoters of a regional truth commission want to open space for dialogical and societal truth.

(4) It has been criticised that legal prosecution addresses primarily the perpetrator, rather than the victim. We assume that the promoters of a regional truth commission aim to address the needs of the victims and, along with this, also to offer space for gender-specific perspectives.

(5) It is our assumption that the representatives of criminal courts are sceptical with regard to the establishment of a regional truth commission as they perceive this as a competitive mechanism that challenges the courts’ efficiency and legitimacy.



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