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INFO   :::  Human Rights > Political elites illegitimate to spearhead reconciliation



The expert workshop “Regional Reconciliation: Achievements and Problems”

Political elites illegitimate to spearhead reconciliation

February 5, 2016


The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia held the expert workshop entitled “Regional Reconciliation: Achievements and Problems“ on February 5, 2016 in Belgrade. The workshop assembled representatives of civil society organizations and activists from the Western Balkan countries, Norway, Ukraine, Moldova, Switzerland, as well as OSCE Mission to Serbia, academic community and the media.

Participants discussed the progress in regional reconciliation and dealing with the past in the countries emerging from the former Yugoslavia, factors which hamper these processes, as well as the role of various actors in regional reconciliation, such as governmental institutions, political elites, civil society organizations, academic community, citizens, etc. Participants also examined the role of international institutions – particularly the Hague Tribunal and EU institutions – in the process of regional reconciliation in the Western Balkans. Regional reconciliation is slow, concluded the participants, given that 20 years after disintegration of Yugoslavia far less has been achieved than it should have been. They also concluded that societies in the region were not prepared to deal with the past in a decisive and mature way. Most participants believe that ruling political elites can crucially contribute to reconciliation, but they neither have legitimacy, nor capacity for effectuating genuine and lasting reconciliation in the ex-Yugoslav territory. Therefore, the process requires broader participation of civil society organizations, academic community, young people and other groups of citizens.

Chairwoman of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia Sonja Biserko highlighted that dealing with the past is a trans-generational process. Moreover, she said, “We are witnessing regression in the region. All the newly established states are undergoing complex transformation, but their consolidation remains incomplete. Transition in most of them was more or less unsuccessful, and local societies have still not begun adopting new values. From this perspective we should also mention new national-identity building and its both internal and external components. Unfortunately, these newly forged identities only raise regional tensions, for they embrace narratives and stereotypes that deepen mutual misunderstanding.” Speaking about Serbia, Biserko noted “Perception of the recent past should be based on exact and proven facts irrespective of whether they are pleasant or not.” “At the same time dealing with the past indicates the level of the maturity of the Serbian society and its willingness to accept certain civilizational values. We can only recover from our trauma if we understand the past” she concluded.

Historian Hrvoje Klasić said, “Most people, unfortunately, are increasingly ignoring the segments of the past they dislike and emphasizing the segments that suit them instead.” “History is the teacher of life, but we are very poor students. However, we need to give thought to some developments in the past. For instance, we can compare the war in Croatia and in Europe in 1939-45 and subsequently compare the state of affairs between former Yugoslav republics and Europe some 20 years later. What were the relations between Germany and France in 1965 and the relations between Croatia and Serbia in 2015? So you can see for yourselves how much have we accomplished.”

Historian Milivoj Bešlin noted that in underdeveloped states, like the ones in the Balkans, the historiography still serves a pragmatic function of fostering and homogenizing national identities as well as formulating the political nationalistic ideologies. “Therefore, the struggle for interpretation of the wars in the1990s, which we will inevitably face, is to be a ‘struggle for history’, namely a struggle for rational and critical thinking in a society which needs to distance itself from the policy of greatpowerness, ethnic cleansings, crimes and genocide,” Bešlin concluded.

Psychologist Žarko Korać argues that people are reluctant to face the crimes and other acts that were done in the name of their nation or on their behalf: “This reluctance is very consistent and significant. It is only a conscious effort of political and intellectual elites that may change the situation and make dealing with the past possible. Regrettably, we who appeal for actions are seen as acting against human nature and that makes us rather unpopular.”

Director of the Centre for Cultural Decontamination Borka Pavićević pointed out the necessity of establishing the culture of peace and added, “There can be no fruitful return to a normal human condition while people with war experience are in power in Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia.”

As for Professor Obrad Savić, he thinks that “reconciliation as a normative and political task of a future democratic state cannot be attained with the capacity of warring ethnicities.”

The workshop was organized with the support of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the Open Society Foundation (OSF).
























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