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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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They emphasise that the process is as important as the goal, that REKOM is a “homegrown” initiative, and that the local organisations should own both the process and the final decision on the scope of the commission. The principle of “local ownership” is highlighted as a must for advancing the field of dealing with the past by almost all of the interviewed donors.

Representatives of the ICTY also welcome an additional, non-judicial mechanism for factfinding on a regional level (see Petrović-Ziemer 2013a, 35). They are convinced that a regional commission can complement judicial proceedings and provide an open space for debate on different interpretations of the past. Representatives of the domestic judiciary are much more reluctant or even critical towards the idea of establishing a regional commission. They point to the archives and facts that have been gathered already both by the ICTY and domestic courts, and they see a risk that establishing a REKOM might lead to a duplication of efforts. They recommend that instead of creating another mechanism, the right way forward is to start to systematise and analyse the existing material. Finally, they warn that the setting of public hearings that involve elements of story-telling might confuse and disappoint the victims. They see a risk that victims who speak out in this context might expect that legal prosecutions and compensation will result from this process (ibid.).

Thus we can conclude that the assumption expressed in the fifth hypothesis, namely that legal representatives would regard a regional fact-finding commission as a competing or disruptive mechanism, applies in the case of the domestic judiciary but not for the representatives of the International Tribunal. Instead, the most critical opinions towards REKOM are expressed by the Commissions for Missing Persons from all three countries (see Petrović-Ziemer 2013a, 42). They all share the view that efforts are duplicated. They are convinced that the establishing of a regional commission will question and undermine the efforts that the CMPs have undertaken together with the courts, police and victims’ organisations. Furthermore, they see a risk that victims could be overloaded and involved in too many parallel activities that urge them to tell their painful stories again and again.

Although the REKOM initiative is very much supported by most of the TJ protagonists, they also express conflicting assessments of the campaign as such. Some criticism is voiced with regard to the performance of the lead agencies and representatives. The most critical voices can be found in the group of interviewed CSOs, both the members of the REKOM coalition and non-members. Many of these interviewees perceive the process as highly conflictive. International actors share this view. They observe that some of the leading personalities lacked the skills and sensitivity needed for dealing with conflicts among different stakeholders (i.e. controversial positions and tensions among competing faith communities). There is also criticism of the formats chosen for the NGO consultations, which did not meet the standards of inclusivity (see Petrović-Ziemer 2013b, 53-55). CSOs report that as a consequence of such deficits, several organisations that had co-initiated the campaign have meanwhile left the coalition. International supporters are aware that the coalition faces a great deal of fluctuation as some organisations are leaving while new groups join in. But they believe that such a fluid dynamic is normal for civil society engagement and will not harm the campaign or put its aims at risk. Furthermore, they regard it as a positive sign that leading politicians (i.e. the Presidents of Croatia and Montenegro) have signed the REKOM statute, and therefore are fully confident that the campaign will maintain or even gain momentum. However, several international actors also make proposals for improvement. They suggest that the REKOM team should involve more experts from academia and also from other conflict regions, in order to better prepare decisions on the scope and mandate for a commission to be established in the Western Balkans (see Fischer 2013a, 76-78).

Guiding concepts and approaches Representatives of the Commissions for Missing Persons (CMPs) consider forensic truth to be the first priority, as outlined in Chapter 4. Representatives of the legal institutions emphasise that the verification of facts (“prove beyond reasonable doubt”) is an essential precondition for serving judicial justice in the context of war crimes prosecution.

Accountability is therefore at the top of their agenda, but at the same time these actors point out that legal prosecution does not necessarily lead to acknowledgment and redress for the victims. Compensation is urgently needed and still lacking in the region.

Representatives of the ICTY regard this as a prerequisite for reconciliation (in the sense of trust-building, shared values and common visions for a peaceful future). Representatives of the domestic courts explicitly state that reconciliation is not part of the legal institutions’ mandate, and, as several interviewees from this sample also outline, is far too ambitious a concept. They do not expect people in the region to reconcile but rather to tolerate each other and to cooperate. Representatives of the CMPs also avoid the term “reconciliation” and prefer the concept of trust-building, in addition to forensic and factual truth recovery.





CSO representatives in all countries agree on the priority of establishing a set of undeniable facts, and regard this as a prerequisite for serving both justice and trustbuilding, as analysed by Petrović-Ziemer (2013b, 55). Yet they are aware that a “shared truth” can hardly be established in the region of former Yugoslavia, where so many diverging perspectives and interpretations of the past exist. Furthermore, CSOs in all three countries agree that justice has certainly not been sufficiently served as there are still many war crimes not being prosecuted and prominent legal cases pending. Moreover, they emphasise that to date, state institutions have largely ignored the claims of the victims, as reparation programmes have not been developed. This issue is most strongly emphasised by victims’ organisations.

As reported by Ljubinka Petrović-Ziemer (2013b, 57) several human rights activists concede that they use the term “reconciliation” mainly in funding applications in order to fulfil the donors’ expectations, but avoid using the term explicitly in their daily work. They point to the specific understanding of the term in the Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian language, according to which reconciliation is linked to the interpersonal level, where individuals restore a relationship after a quarrel. Alternative concepts used by human rights activists are: empathy, solidarity, normalisation, stability and peaceful co-existence, peacebuilding, or engagement for social change based on nonviolence and respect for human rights.

Representatives of victims’ organisations also doubt that the term “reconciliation” is appropriate in view of the mass atrocities which occurred.

It can be concluded that – in accordance with the sixth hypothesis – the guiding concepts and approaches among TJ protagonists vary, according to their different mandates. However, all of them accept that fact-finding and accountability are mutually interdependent and form an important basis for trust- and relationship- building in the societies of the former Yugoslavia. At the same time, it is noteworthy that local CSOs, in comparison to international actors, express much more reluctance to use terms like “truth” and “justice” in their grassroots activities in local communities or cross-border encounters. Many of these interviewees come to the conclusion that all of these concepts are contested (see Petrović-Ziemer 2013b, 55). Peace practitioners and human rights activists report that the terminology arouses controversy or misunderstandings among participants in their workshops or campaigns, and therefore they do not use it in their daily communication. The concept of reconciliation is also a controversial issue in the debate among CSOs.

Peace activists, in contrast, use the term “reconciliation”. In their view, it is important to facilitate a process in which persons can accept the view and narrative of the other, in order to provide the ground for reconciliation; at the same time they voice assurances that changes in the social and political power structures and governance mechanisms are a prerequisite as well, along with effective war crimes prosecution, fact-finding and acknowledgment of the victims on and from all sides. In particular, local peace practitioners and international actors in Bosnia and Croatia stress the urgent need for relationshipbuilding and trust-building in divided communities.

International representatives see reconciliation as a consequence of factual, narrative and dialogical truth and re-establishment of human values, as a process of bridge-building and restoring relationships, healing, and creating respect and empathy for different interpretations of the past (see Fischer 2013a, 82). They see a need for reconciliation between people of different ethnic and religious constituencies within and across the countries. Some of them emphasise the relationship between minorities and majority groups in the region of former Yugoslavia, while others also stress the need for individuals’ reconciliation with themselves and their identity. In their view, compensation for victims of war crimes, durable solutions for refugees and displaced persons, and property restitution are necessary preconditions for reconciliation. Furthermore, they regard economic development as crucial in establishing a favourable climate for reconciliation. However, a couple of international actors also share the scepticism expressed by the critical CSOs, and suggest replacing “reconciliation” with less ambitious concepts like dialogue, pacification, social trust, and regional cooperation; international actors in Bosnia in particular observe a tendency for people to feel they “betray those who have lost their lives if they join the reconciliation discourse” (interview I-18). Others warn that in a context where a substantial part of the population is Muslim, the concept must not be guided by a Christian notion. In particular, it should not be overloaded with a claim for “forgiveness”.

To sum up, the field research reveals different notions of truth, justice and reconciliation. Local actors – in particular human rights activists and victims’ groups, but also the representatives of legal institutions – are more reluctant to join the reconciliation discourse than international actors, and they propose using less ambitious terms. But despite these differences in the use of terminologies, no fundamental incompatibility of strategies – or proposals on how to approach the past – can be identified among the different protagonists of transitional justice. When it comes to the question of preconditions and obstacles for reconciliation/trust-building, or relationship-building, most of these actors come to very similar conclusions.

Learning processes and modification of strategies Peace practitioners and human rights activists in all countries have very positive assessments of their own achievements in the period during and after the wars of the early 1990s (Petrović-Ziemer 2013b, 59-60). They are convinced that their engagement helped to maintain space for dialogue between people from different sides. However, assessments of the following two decades are more ambivalent. Peace practitioners and human rights activists in Croatia are quite self-confident. They are convinced that they have substantially contributed to the reintegration of the Krajina area (a territory that was severely affected by war operations and crimes against Serb civilians), and to positive development in Eastern Slavonia and the former UNTAES region around Vukovar.

In contrast, CSOs in Serbia and Bosnia are not so satisfied with their achievements. Peace practitioners regret that trust-building has not significantly advanced in the region and no broader movement for peace has emerged. In Serbia, CSOs express frustration at the lack of willingness of both politicians and society to face up to their own active involvement in war operations in the 1990s and to take responsibility. Activists in Bosnia have the most pessimistic assessments (see Petrović-Ziemer 2013b, 46). In their view, not even the Strategy for Transitional Justice adopted by the BiH Council of Ministers in consultation with civil society actors can be considered a significant achievement, and serious doubts are expressed, that the state authorities are going to implement it.

Along with the critical self-reflection at the grassroots level, international actors also concede some failures from past activities in the field of peacebuilding and dealing with the past that require (or have already led to) a modification of strategies. This applies in particular to experiences in Bosnia regarding policies for the return of refugees and IDPs, and education. International organisations, together with Bosniak leaders right after the war, have strictly followed a strategy which aimed to return people to their pre-war place of residence, in order to reverse ethnic cleansing (see Fischer 2013b, 83). It took many years for the international organisations to realise that this strategy ignores the needs and rights of many vulnerable groups (refugees and IDPs who do not want to re-migrate to their prewar communities) and therefore had to be revised. However, it took even longer to convince the Bosniak political representatives, as they regard such a shift of strategy as an endorsement of ethnic cleansing.



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