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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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International actors who work on educational issues in Bosnia also admit that they failed in their struggle for peace education to be extended to the school curricula, due to different regulations within the RS and FBiH. Furthermore, they report that the existence of three educational systems, each teaching different views and narratives on the past, is a serious obstacle to reconciliation. They stress that it was a wrong strategy for the international community to support a system that provides school education for children of different (Croat, Bosniak and Serb) communities in separate classes and separate shifts in one building (“two schools under one roof”). This system was introduced in 2003, in order to replace the previous practice of teaching children of different ethnic groups in separate establishments. It was particularly promoted by the OSCE and intended as a temporary measure, to allow families who returned after the war to educate their children in proper facilities. It also aimed to put students in the same building in order to pave the way for the creation of mixed classes. But this expectation was not fulfilled, as more than 50 schools in Bosnia remain divided today. Several international representatives therefore conclude that the concept that was initially promoted as a means of integration has ultimately further deepened the divide. They therefore see an urgent need for a revision of this approach.

They also propose a critical analysis of this experience in order to learn more about the dynamics and peacebuilding potential of divided communities.

3.1.2. Political parties’ assessments of TJ mechanisms, concepts and approaches

The interviewed politicians share the TJ protagonists’ view that impunity cannot be accepted with regard to the war-related crimes committed in the 1990s. They also acknowledge the Hague Tribunal’s contribution to establishing evidence and facts, although some very critical stances can be found, in particular among politicians from the Republika Srpska (BiH). In general, politicians who express the most critical views of the ICTY also regard the domestic courts as problematic, outsider-driven, politicised or biased (see Milićević 2013 and Dvornik 2013). Thus the second hypothesis (assuming that the domestic legal institutions have more legitimacy than international courts) could not be proved with regard to the interviewed political representatives. In Bosnia, the politicians’ lack of trust of TJ institutions correlates with the lack of acceptance of state structures. Given that the state-level institutions are not seen as legitimate, especially in the RS, it is not surprising that the Court of BiH which has overall responsibility for war crimes prosecution is also viewed critically by all interviewed politicians from this entity.

Unlike the CSO activists interviewed, the politicians do not express reservations towards the terminology of truth, justice and reconciliation. Having said this, it must be reiterated that political parties which follow an explicit nationalist agenda were not included in the sample of interviews in Serbia and that the influential Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) was not included in Croatia. They largely subscribe to the view that justice has to be based on truth, and that both justice and truth need to be served in order to pave the way for reconciliation. However, they express diverging opinions regarding the preconditions and framework for reconciliation.

In Bosnia, different views are expressed by politicians in both entities, as analysed by Ismet Sejfija (see Sejfija 2013). Politicians from the FBiH argue that truth and justice have to be served right now and simultaneously, while the reconciliation process will follow on much more slowly and can only unfold in the long run, in the framework of the integration of all countries of the region into the EU, and together with strategies for fostering economic development. While politicians in the FBiH insist on establishing facts and serving judicial justice, their colleagues in the RS put much more emphasis on tolerating three different views on the past. The interviewed politicians in the RS point to the variety of truths and political interpretations of the past that exist both in the region and in Bosnia.

One proposal is to establish a "common minimum of truth", a set of undisputed facts, but at the same time make sure that the different "specific truths" (DP) of the distinct constituencies are acknowledged. While representatives from the FBiH insist on facing the past in public discourse, RS politicians suggest that dialogue on the past should be left to professionals from academia and the judiciary. The latter also explicitly state that all sides have to take responsibility for what happened in the past, and that individuals – not nations – should be held accountable for crimes. Furthermore, they emphasise that economic development and social policies need to be advanced.

Finally, politicians from both entities strongly advocate for reparations for victims of warrelated crimes and their families. Politicians in the FBiH in particular focus on implementation of policies that secure the return of refugees and IDPs to their places of pre-war residence. Furthermore, they push for property restitution for those who were forcibly displaced, in addition to prosecution and public acknowledgment of war-related crimes.





In Croatia, the field research reveals that three different approaches to dealing with the past can be found among the liberal spectrum of political parties (see Dvornik 2013). The first approach regards prosecution of war-related crimes as the key priority and suggests that measures for economic development are a prerequisite for a normalisation of relations, institution-building, and dialogue. The second approach emphasises that it has to be acknowledged that crimes were committed and that members of the Croat majority should demonstrate in a public gesture that they condemn crimes committed in their names against the Serb minority. The third approach advocates for robust analysis of the political and cultural patterns which fuelled the violent conflicts in the past decades.

Even the representatives of the Croatian Party of Rights (HSP) and the Croatian Democratic Alliance of Slavonia and Baranja (HDSSB) express the need to respect human rights and oppose ethnic discrimination (Dvornik 2013, 121). They also emphasise the significance of tolerance and co-existence in diversity. Furthermore, the HDSSB representative does not deny war-related crimes for which Branimir Glavaš (the president of this party) was convicted, although the official party position continues to assume that he is not guilty. This may be taken as an indicator of a shift of discourse, as Srđan Dvornik states, in the sense that relevant facts of the crimes and suffering of the victims have become established, and most political actors would neither deny nor justify those crimes.

But still many would reject any interpretation that holds the Croatian state responsible for them (Dvornik 2013, 129). But in this context, we should reiterate that this study cannot reveal the full picture as it was not possible to conduct an interview with the HDZ.

In Serbia, all the politicians interviewed insist that political and legal institutions and society have to deal with the recent past in close collaboration with the other countries. Most interviewees agree that the needs of victims in the region need to be much more seriously addressed, and empathy needs to be created towards the victims on all sides. All of the interviewed politicians distance themselves from discourses that state that Serbia had never been at war, or that it only “defended” itself. However, as Katarina Milićević (2013) uncovered, such a discourse is still powerful and expressed by some right-wing parties.

They continue to justify war crimes committed during the 1990s as an inevitable side-effect of a “defensive war”, pointing to the suffering of the Serbian people in the Second World War. Unfortunately, these voices are not included in the sample.

Politicians’ assessments of REKOM The interviewed politicians, in general, appreciate the idea of a regional fact-finding mechanism. The interviewees in Croatia largely endorse the REKOM initiative (although most of them have only a rough idea of its purpose, see Dvornik 2013). Representatives from left- and right-wing parties, and followers of both liberal and collectivist approaches share the opinion that a regional commission could make a useful contribution by gathering information on missing persons and testimonies on war-related crimes. They suggest that a regional commission should complement the domestic legal institutions, provide incentives and push them to take up investigations and prosecutions. However, critical voices warn that such a commission should not be composed of NGOs alone, as facts established by NGOs might be too subjective and need to be verified by legal institutions.

Politicians in Serbia focus primarily on the need to trace and name the missing persons (see Katarina Milićević, 109; 113). They insist that REKOM should closely collaborate with the courts. They all support the idea of a regional commission, with the exception of one person who believes that setting up one commission for all countries would require too many compromises; this policy-maker suggests that instead, truth commissions should be installed in every country, and that intensive cross-border cooperation should start.

In Bosnia, opinions are more diverse (see Sejfija 2013), as politicians in the RS appreciate the regional concept of REKOM, but at the same time doubt that the persons and agencies that initiated the campaign are able to advance a process of dealing with the past. RS politicians want to see state institutions in the driving seat. Policy-makers from the Federation of BiH also welcome a regional mechanism (with the exception of one person who questions this approach given that not all countries have experienced war on their territory). They acknowledge the achievements of civil society actors but at the same time believe that NGOs alone cannot carry the process. Some interviewees suggest that scholars and legal experts should be the main drivers of the process, and preferably political independent personalities, in order to guarantee that it will not be dominated by a specific political agenda. Others also recommend that Members of Parliament and government officials should be included. Political representatives in both the FBiH and RS see REKOM’s function not only in the field of forensic and factual truth but also in advocating for redress for the victims of war-related crimes. Politicians from the RS in particular argue that in order to regulate compensation, state representatives have to be involved.

3.2. Interaction of different actors and linkages across levels

3.2.1. Cooperation among TJ protagonists CSOs in all three countries point to some positive effects of their work on communitybuilding and also to successful campaigning with other NGOs (see Petrović-Ziemer 2013b, 64-65). Networking on the community level is judged to be more effective than regional cooperation, although the latter is maintained for specific campaigns. But they are rather self-critical about their achievements with regard to alliances beyond the NGO sector. In all three countries, several CSO representatives believe that they were not able to communicate their agenda to a broader society. They also concede that they focused too much on collaboration with like-minded people, and on urban areas while neglecting rural regions. Human rights activists think that victims’ associations were not sufficiently involved in community-building. Human rights activists and peace practitioners in all three countries suggest that there should be more systematic involvement of war veterans who can effectively support processes of dealing with the past as they are held in high esteem by society.

The field research reveals that while peace practitioners and human rights activists are eager to broaden the scope of cooperation, victims’ groups and veterans’ associations are more reluctant and network primarily among themselves. Victims’ organisations from Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia have established stable cross-border cooperation on a regional level. Moreover, some veterans have engaged in cross-border/regional peace work, but in general, veterans’ associations’ regional networking activities cannot compare with those of victims’ groups. Victims’ organisations and veterans’ unions alike still have difficulties in developing valuable partnerships with other CSOs, and vice versa. Cooperation between these associations and peace practitioners and human rights activists is the exception rather than the rule. Victims’ organisations in all countries maintain close cooperation with international and domestic legal institutions and Commissions for Missing Persons.

Local CSOs have established diverse forms of cooperation with international actors, ranging from close partnerships that include exchange of expertise, up to more formalised collaboration that is largely limited to financial support (see Petrović-Ziemer 2013b, 67).

CSO representatives from all three countries criticise the fact that international funding strategies often focus on short-term projects and do not sufficiently consider the non-linear and long-term dynamic of peacebuilding. CSOs complain that many donors apply efficiency criteria that aim to measure short-term success and do not enhance selfreflection, learning and adjustment of strategies. They suggest that local and international actors should hold more strategic discussions that reflect the dynamic of peacebuilding in a realistic manner, and ensure that programmes are shaped in line with social needs.

Furthermore, CSOs recommend that international actors should carefully assess past experiences, in order to better coordinate future grant-making; in particular, they should learn from failures in Bosnia where, according to the interviewees, funds have been wasted, partners were not selected appropriately, and civil society organisations were overloaded with unrealistic expectations regarding their capacities (in a period when state institutions were considered obstructive and international agencies shifted the focus to CSO actors, seeing them as agents of change).



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