NOT EVEN AFTER SO MANY YEARS
SINCE THE WAR HAS SERBIA PROPERLY ANSWERED THE QUESTION ABOUT WHAT REALLY HAPPENED
Public debate 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
Belgrade, June 27, 2012
About fifteen students participated in the debate hosted by the Center
for Gender Studies of the Faculty of Political Sciences.
In her opening address Seska Stanojlovic, editor-in-chief of the
Helsinki Charter, explained the concept of transitional justice as an organized social
endeavor to overcome the past. Transition to democracy, she said, requires a proper
response to systemic and systematic human rights violations and the crimes committed in
the past, empathy for victims and promotion of tolerance and interethnic trust. Reminding
that every transitional country adjusts transitional justice to its specific needs and so
resorts to trials, truth commissions, lustration, etc., she said Serbia had not yet
adopted any of these forms. "The case of Serbia" is characteristic: apart from
domestic dimension it has a regional one because of Serbia's responsibility for the bloody
disintegration of ex-Yugoslavia. Except for war crime trials before international and
domestic courts and some reformist moves in the army and the police, all other forms of
transitional justice rest on the shoulders of non-governmental organizations that
practically do the work the state would not: they analyze of overall context of the war
and brutal crimes, including genocide, publish relevant documents and books, and produce
documentaries. And they come public with factual information to counteract politically
motivated interpretations. The Helsinki Committee is among these organizations, said Ms.
Professor Obrad Savic spoke about the significance of scientific
publications dealing with transitional justice and its moral, ethical, political and legal
aspects. Some of these works, said Mr. Savic, were translated and published in Serbia as
well. The importance of coping with the past is in the fact that "the past shapes the
present." Serbia has a "deficit in empathy" and is incapable of expressing
regret for the crimes committed.
Referring to two basic discourses about transitional justice -
historical and legal - Prof. Savic said he preferred the legal for its being more
authentic and, in the final analysis, more just. The historical discourse is marked by
narration that is, as a rule, shaped by those who won the war.
Sociology professor Janja Bec supported this thesis. In her book of
moving testimonies of women victims from Bosnia-Herzegovina, "Soul Cracks," she
had followed the suggestion by the then ICTY main prosecutor, Richard Goldstone, and
interviewed only women who had already witnessed for the prosecution.
Ms. Bec also spoke about various experiences of the countries that have
worked on overcoming traumatic pasts, this way or another - from South Africa to
Argentina, Chile, Guatemala or Uruguay. As for Serbia, it is still in "the state of
denial." This denial, she said, is actually the eighth and the last stage of
Andrea Doder, editor-in-chief of the project "Transitional Justice
in the Balkans" implemented by BIRN, reminded that not even twelve years after the
October 2000 change of the regime and eighteen years after the war Serbia had properly
answered the question about what had happened or launched a "Never Again"
campaign. Today's media could contribute to regional reconciliation and renewal of trust
the same as they had spread war fever on the eve and during the war. Ms. Doder attracted
students' attention to the project "Transitional Justice in the Balkans" aimed
at the exchange and publication of newspaper stories throughout the region - in Skopje,
Prishtina, Belgrade, Sarajevo, Zagreb and Ljubljana. There are stumbling stones everywhere
when it comes to publication, she said.
Students engaged in a lively debate were most interested to learn more
about some forms of transitional justice such as lustration and responsibility of
journalists. They also asked keynote speakers about specific activities by some
non-governmental organizations concerned with transitional justice.