Mark Freeman, in his article What is Transitional Justice, defines Transitional Justice as a relatively new discipline within the wider field of human rights. As the name says, transitional justice focuses on the challenges of transitional societies in the transition from war to peace or from dictatorship to democracy.
In both cases, during the course of war and dictatorship massive human rights violations happen. In the “period after” the state is forced to deal with the past, sooner or later. Usually because of lack of political will and lack of courage of the state and its leaders dealing with the past occurs later – when such a painful process becomes even more difficult.
After the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the citizens of the newly established republics have become witnesses of human rights abuses, which are reflected in the genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes. One more of the proofs that things are often „swept under the rug“ is example of the former Yugoslavia.
„Sweeping it under the rug“ later produced larger counter effect with a huge space for calculating the exploitation of victims for political purposes.
Currently, we are witnessing the counter-effects. Despite the clear commitment to break off with undemocratic past, It happens that the new democratic leadership is not ready for a sincere apology (that apology later becomes extracted) nor remorse because he considers it responsible for the crimes of the previous regime. And it’s partly true.
The best example of this is the post-Milosevic Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, the man who is the undisputed symbol of change and a different approach to politics. The former Serbian Prime Minister said that in the name of Serbia for crimes in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo he „will not apologize to anyone,“ and that „for the crimes committed against Serbs and others we should establish personal responsibility rather than collective responsibility.“ I would agree with the Prime Ministers statement that we should not establish the responsibility of an entire nation. I would add that the responsibility of a nation lies in the decision to give legitimacy by choosing nationalistic government that would commit war crimes.
However, we need to establish personal responsibility of individuals, but also – the responsibility of the institutions of the state. In this case responsibility of the Republic of Serbia, whose institution whether directly or indirectly, on a case by case basis, were involved in massive violations of human rights by making war crimes and genocide against other ethnic and religious groups. So, the Prime Minister of Serbia Zoran Djindjic was not demanded of to apologize on behalf of any nation and all citizens of Serbia, but to apologize on behalf of the institutions of the state, in order to break the continuity with the previous regime in order to enter the era of different kind of politics by symbolic gesture that would be made clear that the political matrix does not change only de jure, but de facto – from the root and sincerely.
Because of the reluctance of politicians to deal with painful issues, young people took this task over on their shoulders. Young people who were not involved in hostilities, and who feel no hatred just because of one’s belonging to a nation, religious or any other group.
In the Youth Reconciliation Ambassadors program I found exactly that kind of people from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Kosovo *.
As I said in my application letter for Youth Reconciliation Ambassadors, from this program I expected young and ambitious people full of enthusiasm, energy and good ideas willing for change, knowledge and skills, being allowed to establish contacts and to interconnect in order to become – carriers of change in this region with a rich history of wars and conflicts and to become creators of a stronger Europe by reconciling this, most turbulent region in Europe. That is exactly what I got.
After the seminar, I networked with people from the region, which has contributed to the strengthening of mutual cooperation. Along with one of the participants I was one of the initiators of binding together Students Associations of Faculties of Political Sciences from the former Yugoslavia. It resulted with a mutual Declaration of Cooperation between student organizations from all Political Science Faculties from the region.
This program was surely an encouragement to my further education and life. In my fourth year of studies I intend to choose electoral module European Integrations, and after that gaining a MA also in this specific field. I’m very ambitious and so far I managed to achieve results that require from me to go on and persevere in my efforts in intending to be one of the carriers of changes in our society, by seriously engaging in politics. Serious politics presupposes serious knowledge and experience that I am eager of, which I gained throughout this program.
Seriously politics involves guidance and pointing the society on the culture of remembrance. Societies on their path to stability, societies that are willing to remember for the sake of tribute, not because of calculations for reducing one’s guilt. Reducing guilt is often the case because „he who controls the past … controls the future, who controls the present controls the past. „
As the Germans did , do we have to wait for a generational change that the crimes would be „easier digested“? Or will it be too late then? It is logical that people who were direct participants in the events they want to forget them, often under the pretext of the famous „what’s past it’s past.“ But what may be surprising at first glance is that the people who were not only participants in the war, but they were the biggest proponents of peace come out with a similar attitude, „you do not need to wake up dormant demons“ or „you do not need to add salt to the open wounds“.
Their stand is on one hand understandable for the simple reason because the engraved collective memory produces negative urge for revenge, not necessarily immediately, but sometime in the future when the opportunity presents itself. Collective memory can become a driving force of various retrograde social forces. This kind of collective memory can be put into service of some new nationalism in the future. As the most obvious example, I will take an event from our recent past. When General Ratko Mladic entered Srebrenica on 11th of July 1995, he said „…I give this city to the Serbian people as a gift. Since the revolt against Dahis in 1804 finally the time has come to take revenge on the Turks…“. Because of this kind of attitude the people who were against the war and would not like to remember it anymore, is understandable as long as the wound is „open.“ On a sutured wound you can pour salt as you like, and it will not hurt you, but you will forever have the scar to remind you of that wound. When a child burned on a hot burner, it will never again dare to lay a finger on it again. Of course, the child would not dare to lay a finger on it again until it remembers that it burned its finger there. When the child forgets, then he will get burned again.
I will paraphrase Freud, who said that those who do not recognize now, they are condemned to the horrors that will continue to happen. And only those societies that do remember, understand the history and the historical reasons for the conflict do not permit their repetition.