The process of reconciliation: A sine qua non in the Western Balkans
Dealing with the human rights violations as well as the consequences from the legacies of war crimes is one of the most important steps towards creating a stable and secure environment in the parts that were subject to ethnic wars and conflicts in the recent period. In this regard, reconciliation is often related to the process of normalization of the relations in the post conflict societies. Some researchers often connect the term reconciliation with the broader concept of conflict management resolution. Therefore it indicates a process in which key actors present their accounts and views of the past developments and their roles and responsibility in this context. Ideally, all involved sides reach a consensus or at least understanding regarding these issues. This understanding should be the basis for the future coexistence and cooperation: although the past is not and usually cannot be forgotten, it should be accepted and, ideally, individual responsibility for different actions and wrong doings could be established thereby reducing the social trauma.1
The process of reconciliation is a complex issue and requires acceptance of the past and the present situation with all present divisions and structural limits that exist in a certain environment.2
The elements of successful reconciliation are the following: stable relations, coexistence, tolerance as well as good communication between the sides involved in it. It is a two side process that presupposes that the justice would be delivered through the institutions of the system. The term normalization of the relations in terms of reconciliation means that there is a necessity for rebuilding the relations which takes a long period of time to happen.
Post-conflict integrative normative solutions, such as assurance of minority participation in public life and power-sharing mechanisms, have contributed to the re-emergence of cooperation and, to a certain degree, to the normalization of relations between different ethnic communities across the region. In a post-conflict scenario policy-makers should also focus on the rectification of ethnic homogenization and the increase of inter – ethnic tolerance.3
When we talk about the process of reconciliation in the Western Balkans it is necessary to point out that there have been several initiatives towards fostering the process in the region. The first attempt towards establishing a long lasting peace began with the creation of the Balkan Reconciliation Initiative4. The main purpose of this initiative was to raise a debate on important issues such as the role of the politics, culture, media, religion as well as the role of the society in the process of promoting the tolerance and dealing with the conflicts from the past.5
The second initiative created as a joint effort of the Western Balkan is the RECOM Commission, which was established to determine the facts from the wars and conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. The first priority of the RECOM is to establish the facts about the number of victims and to record the names of the people killed in the war.
The reconciliation is also part of the EU Stabilization and Accession process. In this regard, the countries from the Western Balkans which have a candidate status are subject to the post – conflict conditionality. There are several elements of the post – conflict conditionality: on the first place is the normative – institutional requirement which is under the Copenhagen criteria which requires respect and protection of the rights of minorities. The second refers to the prosecution of war crimes and human rights abuses, or in other words, commitment for judicial prosecution of war crimes in domestic criminal courts and cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).6 The third element refers to the implementation of various measures in order to return the refugees, fostering the regional cooperation, public apologies by political leaders, creation of reconciliation commissions. Only by successful implementation of these elements, the process of reconciliation is possible. By implementing of these reforms, the countries of the Western Balkans commit themselves to respect the basic values upon which the EU is built on, democracy, rule of law, respect of the rights of minorities, peace – building and so on. The enlargement process is thus a powerful force, both for promoting regional normalization, as well as resolving the political obstacles to reconciliation.7
There are some important steps towards which the Western Balkans countries need to move on to fulfill all of the conditions in order to become part of the EU. On the first place is the requirement to create a stable and secure environment, where the rule of law and the basic human rights will be respected. In this regard, it is very important to analyze the past, to enable the people to talk to each other to find understanding for the common issues.8 The second attempt towards improving the situation in this area will be to transfer the process from the level of civil society to the governments, to convince them that the establishment of a regional commission is a state obligation, and more important, to ensure the people that those crimes will never be repeated again.9
But above all positive developments, still there are some security challenges which require attention from all Western Balkan countries. The fight against organized crime, political extremism and radical structures is the basis for creating security and stability on long term. In general, the security threats for the Western Balkan become common for all of the countries in this region. These kind of threats are connected with the fragile political developments; economic and social concerns; separation and lack of trust among ethnic groups; organized crime existence expanded within region and beyond; Presence of a significant explosives weapons and munitions which may be attractive to the extremist groups; Impact from the financial crisis.10
As a youth reconciliation ambassador, I can now say that I have solid knowledge on the topics of reconciliation in the region. After the successful finish of the program, we were given a few tasks in order to share the experience and the knowledge gained on the training in Belgrade. This essay is the last one. I hope that I have managed to transfer at least a half of what I have learned in Belgrade. The people that had opportunity to hear from me and became Youth reconciliation ambassadors as well, now it is their turn to spread the message about the necessity of reconciliation in the region. First we need to start from ourselves, to reconcile in our groups. There are a lot of divisions in the society in which we live, not only the ethnic ones. To start to talk about the joint problems, to find common solutions. I had the pleasure to present my story in the Yahja Kemal College in Skopje. The students were so grateful for our initiative and wish to go there and spend one school class with them. They said: “the best lecture that we ever had”. Not all of them shared the same opinion, but now I know that all of them have different opinions about the other, and for sure they know what the reconciliation is about.
In addition there are some important measures which I consider to be the most important step towards building the peace in the region. In my opinion, first, we need to focus on fostering the regional security cooperation; second, to agree on the necessary procedures and reforms to start with the implementation of the process of reconciliation; third, to establish a basis for a strong civil society that would be included as a partner in the process of reconciliation and transitional justice in the region; fourth, the role of the actors involved in the process should be more precisely defined; fifth, need of harmonization with the legislation of the EU in those parts that need further development and improvement and finally to increase the political will among the political actors in the region in order to start with the process of reconciliation.
1 Mitja Žagar, “Reconciliation and its impacts on peace in the Balkans: Success or Failure?” University of Ljubljana, Institute for Ethnic Studies, 2008. p. 1.
2 Žagar, p. 1.
3 Antonija Petričušić and Cyril Blondel, “Introduction – Reconciliation in the Western Balkans: New Perspectives and Proposals”, Journal on Ethno politics and Minority Issues in Europe. Vol. 11, No 4, 2012. p. 1.
4 The European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation. “Balkan Reconciliation Initiative”. See more at: http://ectr.eu/en-projects-and-initiatives/world-forum-let-my-people-live
5 The crucial factor is interethnic and cross border dialogue. In an enlarging Europe, this dialogue is not only a moral duty, it is a political necessity. Therefore the ECTR with partners have organized a large international gathering entitled “Towards Reconciliation – Experiences, Techniques and Opportunities for Europe” in Dubrovnik, Croatia, October 24-25th, 2010. As a follow up to this Balkan Reconciliation Initiative, the ECTR has organized a series of additional meetings, seminars and discussions.
6 Petrusic, Blondel p. 2.
7 Jacques Rupnik, “the Western Balkans and the EU: “The Hour of Europe”, Chaillot Papers, 2011. p. 20.
8 “Dealing with the past: justice and reconciliation in the Western Balkans”. Analysis by the: European Policy Centre. Brussels. 2011. See more at: http://www.epc.eu/prog_details.php?cat_id=6&pub_id=1278&prog_id=1
9 Iavor Rangelov, “EU Conditionality and Transitional Justice in the Former Yugoslavia”, Croatian Yearbook on European Law and Policy, 2006, p. 4.