Autumn-winter 2004
 

 

  Autumn-winter 2004

  CAN THE BALKANS (EVER) BE RECONCILED
  Sonja BISERKO
 
 
The uncertainty of the Balkan’s future casts doubt on the process of normalization and eventually reconciliation. Most of the Balkans countries are still dominated by nationalist policies which are, ipso facto, xenophobic and intolerant. Such ethnic entities or states have not yet manifested an ability to elevate themselves to the level of modern nation states that guarantee equality and rights to their minorities. This is why the present activities of the international community and its institutions such as the United Nations, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and NATO are of crucial importance. These institutions lay down the framework and the system of values for the newly-established countries which really enable them to become members of the European family.

If we look upon the Balkans as a microcosm, we must say that the foundations which would guarantee reconciliation between former warring factions and, consequently, ensure stability in the region have not yet been laid. The international community has over the past ten years invested great efforts to find a solution to what was at first a Yugoslav crisis but could now be termed a Balkan one. The Hague Conference and the Stability Pact are separated by a time-span of ten years. All the solutions offered in the interim - from the Dayton Accords 1995 to resolution 1244 (1999) to the Framework Agreement for Macedonia of this summer - are nevertheless half-measures allowing continual manipulation by local warlords. Besides, peace agreements are not enough in themselves to bring about reconciliation. What is necessary is political will to implement them and the will of the peoples inhabiting the region to restore their life together. One wonders how this can be achieved.

Reconciliation is an indispensable process to give society a new life and a new hope. It presupposes that the two parties to the conflict can find a basis on which they can live together. However, reconciliation construed as a debate on the past is not reconciliation at all. The debate must ascertain the truth and take a stand on the historical injustices at issue. One must show a will to come to terms by acknowledging one’s culpability and penalty, as well as to display willingness to forgive. At the same time, one must take care not to cross the limit beyond which forgiveness and reconciliation sanction evil and criminals. Such an approach to reconciliation must have a moral dimension which presupposes forgiveness and absolution.

What is the situation of the Balkans in this regard today?

The war which Serbia waged not only against the peoples of the former Yugoslavia, but also against Europe and the United States, has led to internal decay the extent of which is not publicly known because no defeat or guilt has been acknowledged.

In the last ten years Serbia has made no effort to enter into dialogue with any of the parties to the conflict with the objection of achieving reconciliation. For one thing, there can be no reconciliation with Croatia while a number of questions remain unsolved; these involve, among others, the silence about the fate of 1,500 missing Croats, the dragging of feet over the Prevlaka Peninsula, the disinclination to deliver the Vukovar three to The Hague. As regards relations between Belgrade and Bosnia, the state of affairs is even more uncertain and complex. To begin with, the Dayton Accords essentially cement the defeat of the victim, i.e. the Muslims. Dayton was framed according to the situation on the ground, not according to the principles of justice. In other words, the Accords themselves have not created any preconditions for a process of reconciliation. Republika Srpska is a creation founded on crime and therefore intrinsically condemned to ruin. Seven years after Dayton only a small number of refugees have returned to the RS, and Mladic and Karadzic, the symbols of ethnic cleansing and mass murder, are still at large. Furthermore, while paying lip service to an integral Bosnian state, the Bosnian Serbs are busy hacking away at its very foundations with a view to a union with Serbia. This project is now being promoted as the ‘rounding off of Serb cultural and spiritual space’. The RS has already been incorporated in the economic, educational, military and media structure of the Serbia and Montenegro. While pretending to be willing to be part of multiethnic Bosnia that has paid off in terms of Western donations, no one has any intention of facing up to the past.

Thus, as far as Bosnia is concerned, an initial error was made. The first Truth Commission failed in its task because, as it turned out, each of the three parties had its own version of the truth which it consistently propagated, which was totally contrary to the spirit of the Dayton Accords. Contrary really to the spirit of a just peace. A new Commission under UN auspices was set up only recently. But unless the truth is established and the character of the war qualified, the new Commission is not likely to make any progress.

A similar situation is evident in Serbia following Milosevic’s fall from power, especially since his transfer to The Hague. After ten-years of frustration with Milosevic, the West has settled for a ‘normalization of Serb nationalism’ – blaming all crimes committed by Belgrade on Milosevic the Communist. No attempt has been made to fathom the deeper roots of Serb nationalism which throughout the twentieth century threatened the survival of the former Yugoslavia and finally was the principal cause of her break-up. Indeed such efforts have been discouraged even by western diplomats, who are eager to have normal relations with Belgrade and willing to give new leaders benefit of the doubt. Instead of making a break with the policies of its predecessor, the new federal leaders perpetuate them by other means. They are awaiting different international circumstances and even a redrawing of the Balkan map. As Dobrica Cosic, the most popular Serb writer, said, that would be a war for ethnic states. We have nothing to lament, for we have created an ethnic state. Admittedly, he has not defined its boundaries yet.

The 11th of September, it seems, served Belgrade as a new excuse to reinterpret the recent past in its favour, obstruct real analysis, and try to mask the crux of the problem. The bigger the mistake and the bloodier its consequences, the harder for people to own up, says the historian Sforza. Recent Djindjic’s murder, who is the symbol of Serbia’s proreform efforts, is the best illustration that conservative and nationalistic forces will do everything to pobstruct openning up of Serbia.

Since reconciliation is all about willingness to change one’s mindset, it is important to try to understand what causes Serbian society to manipulate its understanding of the past with such insistance?

Serbia has not come to terms with recent changes in the world and the end of the communist illusion which opened up the space for disillusionment and new manipulations. Serbian resistance to new challenges resulted in lengthy and thorough preparation for new egalitarian ideology, through party dogma urging unity, through church preaching about the superiority of Orthodoxy and of East over West, a military doctrine extolling Serbs the warriors, through literature, historiography... Serbs’ world view, their very outlook stems from the totalitarian character of the political and cultural model upon which it rests. Without an alternative and with no possibility of retreat, the inculcation could not but lead to the use of force. This cultural pattern wreaked unprecedented destruction: the razing of towns, the obliteration of centuries-old monuments, the murder of citizens...As one prominent Serb architect remarked: ‘Through this lunacy permeates also the avenger’s hatred of the city and of urban civilization.’

Evolution of a new cultural pattern will require both time and the engagement not only of the small marginalized segment of the Serb elite who consistently opposed Serb nationalism, but of the international community as well. Up till now the preference has been for simple solutions ensuring peace rather than investing in efforts to fundamentally change the cultural pattern essential for reconciliation.

Any attempt at a symmetry of guilt and justice would be immoral because it would imply collective responsibility. We see that the old adage still holds: whereas the completely innocent as a rule take pains to persuade the world of their guilt, only very few of the criminals ever bother to express the least degree of repentance. Hanna Arendt says that there is neither collective guilt nor collective innocence. However, collective amnesia raises the question of collective guilt.

The ad-hoc Hague tribunal for the former Yugoslavia established in 1993, representing a key mechanism for the individualization of crimes and the satisfaction of justice, is not sufficient in itself to bring about reconciliation. The Hague tribunal is in the interest of nations in that it individualizes crimes. It proves the crime as well as prevents a nation from deluding itself and building a new myth in which it figures as the victim. Another important feature of the Hague tribunal is that it compels states to accept limited sovereignty with regard to humanitarian law and human rights violations.

On the other side, the Hague tribunal has its limitations: for example, it has no built-in moral dimension, which can therefore result in responsibility being glossed over. Thus Milosevic’s transfer under outside pressure was presented to the Serbian domestic public as a concession opening to door to Western financial support. Such an approach devalues the moral component. In other words, the Hague tribunal is potentially problematic in that it may leave a state under the impression that it has fulfilled its moral obligation. Furthermore, the tribunal deals with individual culpability without condemning, as the Nuremberg trials did, the policy which caused the crime.

A truth commission therefore can correct these shortcomings. However, a truth commission cannot by definition be a valid state truth commission if the state in question does not acknowledge its responsibility for the crimes. The Kostunica state commission is composed for the most part of people whose books furnished the arguments in favour of starting the war. It wants first and foremost to establish what happened and only then to decide whether or not to assume responsibility. It does not take the indictments against Milosevic, Mladic, Karadzic and others into account as a relevant starting point for determining the responsibility of the state.

The task of a truth commission is, among other things, to diagnose the political context in which a criminal policy could have been accepted and implemented. Unless this is done, a society cannot examine its responsibility for these policies. We are dealing here not with collective guilt but rather with the historical responsibility of a society which agreed to such a such a policy, elected the leaders who prompted those policies, or merely kept silent. Policies as the siege of Sarajevo, the massive killings of civilians in Srebrenica, ethnic cleansing . This is the hardest task for society attempting to confront itself.

A truth commission having made a diagnosis, the process of confrontation cannot proceed without the help of the state, its institutions and its media, above all TV and radio. The state must adopt a set of values as a guidance to the commission and must build them into its system of values and its institutions such as education, media, etc.

If we consider Serbia, for example, we may say that she has not made a single step in the desired direction. The reality of Serbia today is fragmented, as are the activities of the international community. Everything is taking place at several different levels at the same time, so there is no succession of events which could establish a process for achieving reconciliation. At one level, Serbia is being saved from implosion; on another, the FRY is being artificially maintained; on a third, decentralization of Serbia is being blocked by new Belgrade politicians ; on a fourth, an idea to partition Bosnia and Kosovo circulates with the expectation that the international community come round to this sensible realistic idea.

Mass graves of Albanians are being discovered in Serbia without their being linked to the events in Kosovo as if they were just dropped there.. Although many are shocked by the discovery, there have been no real public questions of what happened, how did those bodies get there? Public reaction has basically been one of indifference to this evidence of appalling war crimes. A segment of the population still cannot accept the fact that Serbia was bombed because of the Albanians and that the West has protected their rights. This does not fit into the image of Albanians as third-rate citizens. The NATO intervention is never associated with the plight of the Albanians but always invoked to remind the West it should feel guilty. The feeling in Serbia is that the West ought to pay for our democratization without Serbia having to lift a finger.

Passing over crimes, glorifying criminals like Mladic and Karadzic, and extolling an army responsible for crimes has also been the policy of the new government. Unless exposed, this link could again set the stage for a new war. However, The Hague tribunal has become the mirror of Serbia through reconstructing the past reality which in return has the impact on today’s reality.

Why is it, in my deep conviction, important for Serbia to confront her recent past and draw moral lessons from it before she can be ready for reconciliation? Because, as the well-known German historian, Holm Zundhausen, put it, ‘no society can avoid confrontation with the dark pages of its past. Every democratic community must sort itself out. Silence is destructive.’

This presupposes a break with the Greater Serbia policy. Before this policy is de-legitimized, the crime cannot be condemned. With the defeat of the Greater Serbia project the region can restore its balance and start its painful process of reconciliation.