SERBIA HAS NOT REACHED YET A
CONSENSUS ON A TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE CONCEPT
The first seminar within the project "Promoting a Social
Climate Propitious to Transitional Justice and Culture of Non-impunity" realized with
the assistance of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights
Novi Pazar, May 27, 2011.
The first seminar on transitional justice for university students was
organized at the International University in Novi Pazar under the title "Transitional
Justice: Serbia's Attainments and Challenges." About thirty undergraduate final years
students attending the course of human rights (at the Law Department) participated in the
seminar along with several professors and Rector Melvud Dudic.
With their keynote addresses Seska Stanojlovic, Izabela Kisic and Pavel
Domonji of the Helsinki Committee in Serbia and Aage Borchegrevnik of the Norwegian
Helsinki Committee opened a lively and dynamic debate among the students.
On the very eve of the seminar, on May 26, Serbian authorities arrested
the most infamous fugitive from the ICTY justice, Ratko Mladic, indicted for the
Srebrenica genocide among other things. This major event practically marked the entire
seminar. In her keynote address, however, Seska Stanojlovic stressed that though
inseparable from transitional justice trials and punishment of perpetrators were
insufficient for "a social catharsis in Serbia." Atrocities and monstrous crimes
of the 1990s wars, she said, "contributed" to further development of
international humanitarian law given that ICTY for the first time qualified rape - with
reference to systematic rapes in Foca - as a crime against humanity.
"The manner in which ITCY rulings are interpreted in the media and
in general public are as important for facing the past as sentences themselves," she
said, adding, "This also refers to interpretations on the context of 1990s wars,
mostly those that either relativize Serbia's primary responsibility by putting blame on
'others' or negate any responsibility." Actually, Serbia has not abandoned the
Greater Serbia project yet, this goal is still valid though the means to attain it have
changed, she explained.
Aage Borchgrevnik said that at first he planned to speak about his
recent experience of Chechnya and Georgia but then gave up the idea when he saw a
controversial documentary on Srebrenica at the Norwegian main TV channel. True, the said
documentary, a joint enterprise by Norwegian, British and Serb journalists, does not
negate the Srebrenica crime but considerably relativizes it by belittling the
responsibility of Serb troops and Gen. Ratko Mladic. According to Aage Borchgrevnik, the
documentary raised a hue and cry in his country and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee
publicly protested against the manner in which Srebrenica developments were featured.
Izabela Kisic reminded that Serbia has not reached yet a consensus on
the concept of transitional justice. The situation in the media made the great bulk of her
keynote address. Speaking of transitional justice the role of the media needs to be
thoroughly analyzed, particularly the role they played in the preparations for the war and
during it, she said. Even Milosevic's ouster and October 5 have failed to launch the
process of facing the past in the media. The media have not undergone lustration and
warmongering reporters have not been dismissed. Moreover, after appealing to higher courts
some of them, like infamous Milijana Baletic, have resumed their jobs. The
"apology" the RTS Public Broadcasting Service has recently publicized gives no
mention to the war or war crimes, let alone analyzes the media house's doings at the time.
By trying to justify their roles during the war, older journalists are practically
justifying the war itself, she said. Younger generations of reporters, who make the great
majority in today's media, do not remember golghota of Sarajevo, Vukovar or Srebrenica
and, as it seems, are quite indifferent about it.
Speaking of the arrest of Ratko Mladic of the day before, Pavel Domonji
indicated three characteristics of reactions by Serbia's politicians: first, Serbia
fulfils its international obligations; second, the cooperation with ICTY is nearing its
end; and, third, Mladic's arrest will facilitate Serbia's EU candidacy. According to
Domonji, the arrest of the person accused of the biggest crime in Europe after the WWII
must not be seen as a bargain with Europe but a matter of justice.
There are mechanisms of transitional justice such as trials, truth
commissions or reparation programs, said Domonji. The sentence no matter how high that
will be ruled to Ratko Mladic cannot compensate for atrocities and massive violation of
human rights in 1990s. Facing up the past may not prevent some new war but may crystallize
moral, intellectual and political criteria for recognizing evil and more efficient
confrontation with it than in 1990s, he added.
As expected, the ensuing, dynamic discussion from the audience was toned
by Mladic's arrest. Students also said that everything seemed like a bargain with ICTY,
something like "we give you the accused for war crimes, you open the door to EU for
us in return," all of which is far from transitional justice. Besides, the memory of
the 1990s wars weights on Sandzak as a region bordering on Bosnia-Herzegovina: not only
because of columns of refugees who sought refuge there but also because of repression
against Bosniaks in Sandzak, resulting in some 20,000 Muslim victims. As for the
present-day, said students, Bosniaks are again discriminated, notably in public
administration. For instance, Serbs make up 80 percent of police forces in the region in
which they amount to only 20 percent of total population.
The participants in the seminar were also interested to learn more about
the REKOM initiative. Commenting it, some underlined that the major task to determining
the number of victims of the 1990s wars should not be an excuse for relativization of
responsibility for the wars and the crimes committed. Questions from the audience mostly
referred to the reasons behind and the context of the wars, as well as to the modes for
renewal of mutual trust between Serbs and Bosniaks. They kept reminding that Bosniaks were
not only exposed to repression during the 1990s wars but also throughout the past 150