In the past two decades, scholars and practitioners have focused increasing attention on the question of how countries and societies can come to terms with a history of violence and war, oppression and human rights violations. The concept of transitional justice has come to play a prominent role in academic debates on democratization, nation-building and state reconstruction, and has gained widespread support from international organizations. In the past decade “reconciliation” has become one of the four main categories of initiatives that receive donors, support, along with political development, socio-economic assistance and security.
In the wake of war crimes trials conducted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and national jurisdictions, the countries of the Western Balkans are taking significant steps toward judicial accountability, including the possible establishment of a regional truth commission
Together with transitional justice, the concept of reconciliation has gained importance among those who engage in post-war regeneration. Peace activists in particular see reconciliation as a necessary requirement for lasting peace. The concept is also extensively discussed in the academic literature on peace building and conflict transformation. It has been argued that reconciliation needs both the orchestration of top-down and bottom-up processes.
Most contemporary conflicts are regional and have strong transnational and trans-border dimensions, but justice responses have been very much nationally framed. In the aftermath of violent conflict, establishing minimal justice through the rule of law is one of the most important elements in building a stable peace. This principle provides an answer to the pressing societal demand for change, as it implies that government authority may only be exercised in accordance with written laws, adopted through an established procedure and intends to be a safeguard against arbitrary governmental rulings often connected in the minds of people with the predecessor regime. Achieving judicial reform during a transitional period takes time especially when the system has been in severe disrepair and requires plenty of resources that the new regime may not possess.
When the Hague Tribunal’s mandate runs out, the societies in the region face the challenge of actively shaping processes of dealing with the past themselves. The final phase of the Tribunal thus marks a period of change. Creating positive relations between Serbia and Kosovo requires a patient process of peace building; one that the international community is ill-equipped to conduct and unprepared to support.
The forgive and forget approach has often been justified on the grounds of promoting societal reconciliation or as the only viable solution where former human rights abusers preserve significant power in relation to the new regime.
More than 12 years after the armed conflict in Kosovo, dealing with the past and achieving interethnic reconciliation in the youngest state in Europe continues to remain a major challenge. Reconciliation has to come, because there is no other way, but it starts after the conflict is over. In Kosovo not a single condition has been fulfilled that would guarantee a sustainable reconciliation.
As we know that Serbia did not accept that there was a war here, did not accept to take any responsibility, continues to interfere in Kosovo’s internal affairs, and the victims were not compensated. It seems that until the crimes of the past are clarified and criminals brought to justice, it would be difficult for different ethnic communities to think of full reconciliation and peaceful coexistence. In international law, war crime prosecution and reconciliation is not a luxury for the states. It is not for them to choose whether they want it or not, it is an international obligation. reconciliation has to do with building confidence among citizens in institutions, where citizens would believe that the government will work for them regardless of their ethnic background. The purpose of reconciliation is to interrupt the cycle of violence, revenge and hatred between enemies.
Reconciliation processes should take place at various levels. While there is broad consensus that reconciliation is a kind off bottom up process that cannot be imposed on populations, the state and external factors can still play important roles. Political leaders can give support and legitimacy to reconciliation programmers. Their engagement in reconciliatory processes such as public apologies, public ceremonies and commemorations with representatives from across the divides, and reform of divisive education systems can open up the space for community and individual level processes.
External support can also be essential, particularly in situations where communities remain staunchly divided and unstable, and local populations and political leaders are unable or unwilling to initiate reconciliation processes. Despite the recognized importance of reconciliation processes, however, they have not featured as a priority in peace processes and in international assistance plans and funding. This may be due in part to the challenging, costly and long-term nature of the task – and the difficulty in assessing impact of programmes.
This should not be a deterrent though – reconciliation processes should be considered in early stages of recovery and peace building and in conflict prevention interventions. Reconciliation and the EU entry are very connected. We know that there are difficulties. When politicians are discussing, they must have in mind that there is public opinion and that something must be done on that level. The proposal of the regional commission is going in that direction. If you consider the aspect of the victims, then it is easier to reach the dialogue and justice for victims.
Peace building involves gathering people together and inviting them to tell the stories of their lives. To begin such a process would inject much needed reality into creating positive relations between Serbia and Kosovo. But it will take time and require more than a moment of fitful idealism.