Thursday, August 31, 2006

Reconciliation seems to be the hardest word

I was listening to some Elton John today, hence the title. ;)

I certainly don't want to impose my views on anyone, especially on the issue of reconciliation. I believe that imposed or forced "reconciliation" is not reconciliation at all. True reconciliation must come from the communities that are affected.

I'm especially interested in hearing the opinions of those who have lived or visited the Balkans. While I consider myself significantly more educated on the Balkans than the average American is, I always feel that not being able to visit these countries or speak the language(s) has certainly placed a handicap on my understanding of the Balkans.

So, with that legnthy introduction:

First of all, what is your definition of reconciliation?
Answers.com has many definitions of what recocniliation is.
The legal definition is "The restoration of peaceful or amicable relations between two individuals who were previously in conflict with one another.
Reconciliation ordinarily implies forgiveness for injuries on either or both sides. The term is often applied to the parties to a divorce who cease proceedings for the dissolution of their marriage upon a resolution of their differences. Reconciliation is used interchangeably with conciliation."


From the various definitions of reconciliation, I got the impression that reconciliation is more than just admitting of wrong, or admitting of suffering; it is an attempt to bring the relationship (either between people, or countries) back to the level it was before the tensions.
Is that even possible? I'm not sure that it is. The wars and the atrocities have taken too much of an emotional toll and are too ingrained in the pscyhe for things to be like they were before. However, that doesn't mean that a new, perhaps more pragmatic relationship can't come out of a lot of difficult self searching, talking, debate, discussion (and argument!).

While it might sound cliche, or like something from an Oprah show, I honestly don't think that reconciliation can come without there first being a fully transparent, multi-ethnic admissions of war crimes and suffering. Truth is at the basis of reconciliation.
South Africa has made headlines the world over with their "Truth and Reconiliation Committee". The purpose is that people who have committed crimes during the apartheid era testify about what they did, and in return, do not face legal ramifications for their admissions. The point behind it is that crimes commited during the apartheid are not hidden in the national closet, but are fully recognized out and in the open.
Would a Truth and Reconciliation Committee work for the Balkans?
In the book, "The Key To My Neighbor's House" Judge McDonald of the Hague discusses the idea of a Truth and Reconciliation Committee for Bosnia; but thinks that the country is not ready for it yet. The book was published several years ago, but given the recent tensions over the elections, I dare say that it still might be too early for such a plan.

Again, I don't want to impose my views on anyone, or to say "this is how it has to be done."

But the first step in any reconciliation process has to be to create a true and honest and objective of a narrative as possible about what happened. Of course, the question that probably comes to mind, is how do you create an objective and truthful narrative when there is so much emotion and anger; and where there are so many people who are convinced that their specific narrative of victimhood is the only narrative there is?
I don't have an answer for that. If I did, I would be making hundreds of thousands of dollars operating a sucessful peace and mediation center.

But there are some undeniable truths about the war in Bosnia. It needs to be recognized that the Milosevic regime and the leadership in Pale planned and committed genocide. They used the full power of the JNA military and propoganda to carry out their plans. And judging from some recent posts of the "Finding Karadzic" blog, it appears as if that propaganda is still winning as Karadzic still has quite a fan club in the RS. There cannot be any sort of reconciliation without first acknowledging the genocide. I also think it must be fully recongized that the Bosnian Serb leadership was the only leadership to engage in genocide. I was watching a video on Srebrenica (thanks to the Yagima Gulag blog!) and one of the participants, a Bosnian Serb man said something to the effect of "Genocide was inevitable, on both sides." I disagree with him that genocide is ever inevitable. People just suddenly don't kill their neighbors out of the blue. Manipulations by political leaders is what causes genocide, and not, that old stand by "ancient hatreds." I also disagree with him that genocide was committed on both sides. The Croatian and Bosnian side did not plan or commit genocide.
It seems that a lot of people are stuck in this sort of this "everyone is equally guilty" stance. They committed genocide against us, so we committed genocide against them.

The plan to "ethnically cleanse" the area of Bosniaks (primarily) and of Croats needs to be recongized. The fact that some people helped the ethnic cleansing process by taking part in the looting or killings, or moved themselves into the houses of their former neighbors needs to be recongized. The fact that many more people stood by and did nothing as almost the entire Bosniak community in Eastern Bosnia was removed (by force and fear) during 1992, needs to be recongized.
I've been thinking a lot about bystanders during wars and atrocities. The people who don't take part in the atrocities, but do nothing to register any sort of protest (and I don't just mean in a literal sense) against the atrocities. They ignore what is happening around them and they try to live lives as normal and humdrum as possible. The reason why I have been thinking about these bystanders is because there are situations in my own life, where I to have been a bystander. Obviously nothing compared to being a bystander to mass atrocities. But, I have seen people get teased and bullied in school, and I did not do anything about it. Besides being a bystander to bulling, I was also bullied during middle school, and there was also more than one occassion where as a child I had been cruel to somebody. I think one of the reasons bystanders don't do anything is because of fear. You are fearful, not only of violence (verbal of physical) against you, but of being made an outcast.
But that is even more reasoning why the bystanders need to "come clean" so to speak, about what they witnessed and what they did or didn't due.

While the Bosnian Serb side needs to admit that genocide was planned and carried out; and that both quanitatively and qualitatively the crimes committed by the VRS differ from the crimes committed by the HDZ and the ABiH; there also must be a recongition of Bosnian Serb victims and of their suffering as well.

Recently, a documentary produced by both Croats and Serbs on the siege in Vukovar won a prize at the Sarajevo Film Festival. It is certainly a step in the right direction. I wonder if it would ever be possible to create a joint project on a film about the Krajina and Opperation Storm? In my opinion, that issue is much more complex and sensitive than the siege on Vukovar, and it is probably going to take a while before a good, accurate Croat-Serbian film is produced on the topic.
While I think that Milosevic is responsible for the wars in the former Yugoslavia, Trudjman can certainly not be held on any pedistal. His behavior, such as sacking ethnic Serbs from civil service jobs was not only discrimination in its most blatant form it was also bound to arouse fear and suspension amongst the minority Serb population. And when they (re)introduced the checkered flag, a symbol of Croatia for centuries, but also a symbol of the Ustasha without even so much taking into consideration the feelings of the Serb minority it shows how potent Trudjman's nationalism was. Crimes committed against Bosnian Croat and Croat civilians must absolutely be recognized but so too must the crimes committed by the HDZ in the supposed name of the Croat people. The crimes of the Herceg-Bosna leadership. The siege of Mostar. The plan by Milosevic and Trudjman to split Bosnia down the middle. All of it must be recognized.

And while the Bosnian Army and leadership is the least responsible of all of the parties for atrocities and for war crimes; the fact that individual soldiers, commanders and certain divisions committed war crimes and atrocities needs be recongized. The fact that these were the acts of rogue individuals instead of planned top down central command plan to commit atrocities shouldn't and doesn't take away from the suffering of the individual victim or from the crime itself. And while Bosnia was in a bind, thanks to the UN sanctions, the crimes committed by the foreign fighters who were invited to Bosnia by the goverrnment, also needs to be recognized. And while the crimes committed by soldiers and divisions needs to be recongized, the suffering of Bosniaks also needs to be recognized.
In my opinion, the suffering of a Croat mother who loses her son is no less painful than the suffering of a Serb mother who loses her son, and that suffering is not less painful than the suffering of a Bosniak mother who loses their son. As indviduals, human suffering can never and should never be qualified. However as governments and as broadbased communities, it needs to recognized that the crimes committed by the different 'sides' differ substancially.

While I spent a lot of time talking about truth and Bosnian/Croat/Serbs; I also must say that the international community has a lot to answer for as well.
Starting with the US. You know, I try my best not to be closed minded, but no one has ever convinced me that if the primary victims in this war weren't Muslim, we wouldn't have had interved sooner. While the US did finally intervene, the fact that we waited 3 years to do so, and used a lot of semi racist garbage about the "cruel Balkan man" who will "continue killing each other for centuries" to justify during nothing, needs to be recognized. The fact that the UN imposed an arms sanction against Bosnia, thereby making it very difficult for the Bosnian government to defend the country, needs to be recongized. The blantantly pro Serb dealings of the French and to a lesser extent, British government, also needs to be recongized.
But while the Western world needs to recognized their own Balkan deomons, it certainly isn't the only ones.

Arab governments and Pakistan needs to recognized the crimes committed by their mujahideen fighters; who committed horrific atrocties against Croats and Serbs. Some truly believed that they came to Bosnia to help their "Muslim brethen" others were there simply to murder non Muslims. And of course, some probably believed they were doing both. The mujahideen have also been harmful to Bosniaks as well, they were more interested in turning Bosnian's version of Islam into a fundamentalist, strict version of Islam. They didn't care at all about the plurality or democracy in Bosnia.

The Orthodox world also needs to recognize the crimes committed by the larger Orthodox community. Greek and Russian soldiers joined Serb soldiers in committing atrocities. Like their counterparts from the Arab world, some of them probably truly believed that they were helping their Orthodox brethen, others just wanted to kill Muslims. Besides the role of the individual Greek and Russian soldiers, the roles of the Greek and Russian government also needs to be acknowledged as well.
The truth is painful, it is not an easy process. But, by admiting the truth and by not glossing over the suffering of indviduals or the responsibilities of the state and army I think that is the first in the long step towards reconciliation.

And while the crimes and suffering must be acknowledged, so to must be the good. The people who, risking everything they had, stood up against the warlords, regardless of their ethnicity. And reading books on the Bosnian war one can get overwhelmed by the crimes; it is also important to remember the good. I remember reading about a Bosnian Serb man from the Northwestern region who saved the life of his Bosniak neighbor's teenage son, by having the boy pretend to be the man's son. I remember reading about a Bosnian Croat who gave some aid to a Bosniak mother and her young children as they were leaving the town. I remember reading about a Bosniak doctor stationed in Srebrenica during 1992-1993, whom Bosnian Serb patrons credit for treating them with the same respect and care as he did his Bosniak patrons.
All of these acts of human kindness must be acknowledged with the same intensity that we acknowledge the crimes.

The word truth is often associated with the world justice. Can reconciliation occur without justice? In my opinion, true justice is impossible. It is impossible for every single war criminal to face prosecution or even for every war crime to be acknowledged. The best we can do is to acknowledge the truth in a way that is as accurate and non biased as possible. A kind of justice would be one where war criminals are not made out to be heroes in their communities. And I know that is somewhat difficult, because one man's war criminal is another man's hero. I have already spoken about the Karadzic supporters earlier. I was very happy that a list of 8,000 people involved in the Srebrenica massacre was recently published; but I was upset (although not surprised) to know that so many of those people were also involved in various aspects of the RS sector government. It is impossible to charge all of those men, but the fact that so many of them are representing the government, leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The level of ethnic chauvinism and nationalism is greater in the RS than in the Federation. But that doesn't mean that the Federation is without responsiblity as well. The are parts of Hercegovina where HDZ war criminals are treated as heroes. I was very dismayed when President Tihac met with Naser Oric following the verdict. Oric is a convicted war criminal, who is convicted of committing crimes against Bosnian Serbs, who are also President Tihac's fellow citizens. I know the meeting with Oric was simply an election ploy; but it was a wrong one at that.
I would love to see all war criminals, regardless of what they did, be it indviduals who committed atrocities or the office workers who planned the atrocities, not be consider paragons of virtues but as men and women who committed crimes.

Besides not having war criminals be touted as heroes; I'm not sure what else justice would entail. However, I do say that I'm not sure that reconciliation can ever be realistic without war criminals facing justice. Mladic and Karadzic are the first and biggest examples; and they need to be at the Hague since yesterday. But, there are also a lot of smaller fish in the sea too, who will never face justice. Can there still be reconciliation in light of that?

What is your opinion on reconciliation. Is it possible? Is it necessary? If so, what "steps" do you think need to be taken and by who?
Looking foward to your comments.

11 comments:

Bg anon said...

Interesting post I will give my reply later...

Shaina said...

Thanks. looking forward to it.

Bg anon said...

Like you I suspect Shania, I have quite a high emotional stake in all of this.

But I firmly believe the best way to approach what happened is with a cool (but determined) head.

Reconciliation to me in the Balkan context is the normalisation of relations between countries but above all the normalisation of relations between those of different ethnic groups. In fact personally I dont make such a distincition since we are all members of the human race and there is no question that even if we insist upon ethnic / religious differences that the differences between Serbs, Bosnians and Croats is mininal, tiny.

Is an admission of wrong a prerequisite for reconciliation? I dont think so. It may give the more sinned against group(s) some kind of moral satisfaction but problems (and memories of war) will remain. There have been some high profile apologies in history. Somebody (usually the one who wasnt responsible) apologises on behalf of those that were - when those same people arent even sorry.

In any case it is never that simple. We can talk about the Serbs bearing more responsibility than other ethnic groups (I would argue even if the blame was equally spread the most numerous group - in this case the Serbs, should have behaved in the most responsible way) but what does it mean really?

The man on the ground a Serb in this case who was a victim of Oric's. How does he feel every time he hears about Srebrenica? Is it hard to understand that he feels like screaming about his own story (vitimhood) which people arent interested in? When his ethnic group is pressed to admit genocide and a Bosnian Muslum in a mirror situation who has also lost family members isnt? What makes the individual Bosnian Muslum any more or less guilty than the Bosnian Serb if their crime was to look the other way?

One must admit his people were genocidal (when he knows damn well he was the victim) the other one has the comfort blanket of feeling that the other side was completely to blame.

But I do agree that a reconciliation comittee should have been set up. There are enough intellectuals in each former Republic to form a join bipartisan commission to establish some minimum 'truths'. Failing this former Yug independent journalists should have established such a body (or project) whose results would be published in the respective former Republics.

I would be wary of bringing in victims to testify to their own experiences. Perhaps I'm wrong but then there would be some sort of argument over who would testify, whether there should be an equal number of victims from all sides etc. If the perception was that the commission was one sided it wouldnt work.

As far as your comments about Milosevic are concerned it is difficult to recognise genocide something that remains opinion and not fact. At the very least this is jumping the gun. Even the very worst crimes dont always have to have an bogeyman planning it all. Sometimes there simply isnt one reason for all the bad that happens. That may cause anger and a lot of disatisfaction for some who want to make sense of war but it may also be true.

In the eyes of the law Milosevic was unconvicted so cannot be prounounced guilty of genocide. I suspect you followed the trial at the Hague as I did. If so you will have noted that a body (nominally pro tribunal media) of opinion believed he would have been found not guilty on the genocide charge.

Now the factual nature of whether the charge is true or not moves to the international court at the Hague. They will probably have the final say and decide whether Serbia under Milosevic comitted genocide against Bosnia. That is of course a seperate point from Srebrenica where most agree that genocide was committed (and are backed up by the tribunal verdict).

One of the ironies about this is the subject I raised with you on the genocide topic. You see had the international community refused to recognise Bosnia for example and the same crimes like Srebrenica occured Serbia could not be accused of genocide. Mass murder of Yugoslavs vs genocide against Bosnian Muslums.

Having said all of this there is no doubt in my mind that the Serbian regime (government lets face it - Milosevic was elected even if the people were subjected to propoganda) conspired with the Bosnian Serb leadership. It provided military support, moral support etc. However, it also conspired with the Croatian leadership through on a possible carve up of Bosnia. It also conspired with the Bosnian Muslum Fikret Abdic. The latter two cases more acceptible because they were non Serbs?

Regarding US and Western policies in the Balkans. Terrible, just terrible policies. Ill thought out, at odds with one another and in many cases ruled by cynical self interest. Western policies toward the former Yugoslavia made the situation much worse. I would even argue that a consistently wrong policy would be much better than an inconsistently wrong policy. The arms embargo is quite often used as an example of the wrong policy. But another story for me is that the US was bound by security council decisions made by the international community but unilaterally broke this by arming in documented secret flights and so on. And there are documented cases of ethnic groups in former Yug ostensibly at war with one another even selling arms to each other. Go figure.

US policy under Bush then an about turn for US policy under Clinton. British policy under Major, then a U turn for British policy under Blair. German policy of stretching their muscles for the first time since WW2. Russian policy of always supporting their own self interest whilst pretending to support the Serbs - how much did the Russians gain (in US dollars) by backing down at crucial moments of the crisis? French policy was historically thought of as pro Serb but then you have Mitterands visit to Sarajevo - an exhibition of real concern or just another bas-ard politician using the visit for PR purposes to show what a 'humanitarian' he was?

Operation Storm - still a very difficult topic to discuss in mainstream Croatian society with any objectivity. Unlikely that such a film will be made anytime soon. Croatia (like the others) likes to feel as if it was the most sinned against and criticising storm (coupled with the aggression of Croatia against Bosnia) is too much to swallow for most Croatians. The latter point is almost too much to swallow by Bosnian Muslum officials and media who prefer to forget the crimes committed against them by Croats because they desperately need their support if Bosnia is to continue in its current form as a nation state.

Tihic's recent statements which are responded (or are a reaction to) by similar reverse statements in Banja Luka are further evidence of no progress.
Why did he feel the need to say recently about Gen Dudakovic (the guy on the recent tape allegedly comitting war crimes) 'Bosniaks should be proud of Dudakovic'? Elections are about to take place. Oh well, thats ok then. Support of suspected war criminals they believe, wins votes.

Im probably posing more questions than answers writing this but to sum up yes a truth and reconicilation commission. I would do it yesterday. If such a commission isnt formed soon it will be too late. There must be a miniumly accepted narrative by all groups on the events of former Yugoslavia. If not then people will just revert to the worst kind of 'behaviour' in potential future conflict. Such a comission doesnt have to be staffed with those considered as traitors by their respective peoples. I could pick a comission myself convinced that all former Yug countries would be pretty satisfied.

You know the more I look at the statements of Bosnian (all sides) officials the more I think that the country doesnt have a future. The old (Yugoslav) reliance of external threats isnt done to foster unity (as Tito did) its done to create division.

Is it a Western failure? Yes. Is it a domestic failure? Yes.
Cant we all just get along? Yes, if we choose to.

Srebrenica Massacre said...

bg_anon said:

"Is an admission of wrong a prerequisite for reconciliation? I dont think so. It may give the more sinned against group(s) some kind of moral satisfaction but problems (and memories of war) will remain."

I know you are wrong man, because admission of wrong trully leads to reconciliation. I had one Serbian guy email me and says: "Sorry for what my people did to your people in Srebrenica." He is still in Serbia. Since then, we remained best friends. When one commits crimes and admits he was wrong, then he is human. However, when one commits crime and refuses to admit guilt, he is worse than an animal and denial of crime leads to more hate, and diminishes prospect of reconciliation.

Srebrenica Massacre said...

bg_anon said:

"But I firmly believe the best way to approach what happened is with a cool (but determined) head."

yeah right, how can people have cool head while one deny genocide and others still grieve dozens of their families slaughtered in UN's supposed "safe haven" zone of Srebrenica?

You need to admit guilt of your people, full responsibility, and then we will enter a process of reconciliation and treat each other as human beings.

Srebrenica Massacre said...

for bg_anon:

Why is it so damn hard to admit guilt???

Shaina said...

I know this is probably a difficult and an emotional topic and I do truly appreciate everyone who gives me their opinion and comment. I think it is important to engage in discussion, but also to remain civil during that discussion.

One issue that I see coming out of both of your posts are issues closely related to the issues of "collective guilt" vs. indvidual guilt. As well as the difference between acknowledgement of a wrong done by a government that "represented" you; and collective guilt.
Is this correct?

BTW: there is a new article about Truth commissions that I just posted about.

Shaina said...

Other questions:

If there is a truth commission, how would you like to see it organized?
Who should sit on the commission?

Do you think that an acknowledgement of a basic narrative of the wars is necessary BEFORE the actual process of a truth commission?

Or do you think that such a basic narrative can only arrive AFTER the creation of a truth commission, and everyone who wants to has time to talk about their own victimhood or guilt or what they witnessed?

How should this narrative be "decided"?

I think that there is probably some debate between Establishing a basic narrative/historical record of the wars AND establishing indvidual guilt and acknowledging indvidual suffering, regardless of the ethnicity of the victim/perpetrator.
In my opinion, the two are related, but are different things.
I don't think that establishing a basic narrative/historical record that places the vast majority of the blame for the war on the Pale leadership (and I do believe that Pale bears the vast majority of the blame) takes away from the indvidual suffering of indvidual Croat, Serbs or Bosniaks.
(I probably didn't explain that very well...)

Would it be useful to have a basic narrative of the wars and of the political situation. And then once a basic narrative that is more or less accurate; then have a truth commission that looks at indvidual guilt and victimhood; and treats all victims the same?


I just finished reading a wonderful book by Desmond Tutu, whom I find to be an inspiring person, where he briefly talks about T&R Commissions in South Africa. Of course Bishop Tutu was instrumental in the creation of the S. Africa commissions, so perhaps that colors his views on such commissions.
But he said that one of the "best" aspects of a commission is that it allows the victims to fully express their victimhood and their suffering out in the open; and to have that suffering be recognized.

About admissions of guilt. I'm not talking about collective guilt here at all.
I also realize that if there is a T&R commission people might say that they are "sorry" even if they really aren't, just because they know they won't face prosecution.
On the otherhand, I don't believe you can have a Truth and Reconciliation commission without the perpetrators, be it an indvidual soldier who committed a war crime, or someone more high ranking; taking part and also admiting their own indvidual guilt as well.

Bg anon said...

Daniel it isnt hard for me to admit guilt at all. The problem is that I'm not guilty. What crime am I supposed to be guilty of exactly?

I opposed the bombardment of Sarajevo, I opposed Slobodan Milosevic's policies. I consistently attended protests against government policies. I supported projects to help free media in Serbia, Croatia and yes Bosnia as well.

I dont ask for thanks for this but apologise for what exactly? Apologise only of account of having some Serbian blood in me? That is ridiculous. Or are you saying any resident of Serbia, foreigner or Serb must apologise? It might make you feel better but dont you want an apology from somebody who did something wrong? Trust me I would think it was great if some Serbian or Bosnian Serb paramilitary came upto you with tear in his eyes, shook your hand and apologised for what he did. That would give me a lot of moral satisfaction (obviously if you could keep from not wanting to strangle him). Equally anybody who comitted crimes apologising from any side would make me feel good.

So tell me am I an enemy of reconciliation. If you think I am that is absurd.

Btw is there a difference if one's family members are all murdered and it isnt labled 'genocide' against a family that is all murdered that is labled 'genocide'?

Shaina sorry dont have time today to answer your other questions :(

Owen said...

Shaina, you might find this review of Elizabeth Neuffer's book "The Key to My Neighbor's House: Seeking Justice in Bosnia and Rwanda" interesting

http://www.bosnia.org.uk/bosrep/report_format.cfm?articleID=912&reportid=155

I'll try and come back with a comment of my own but I've had a bit of a muddle-headed couple of days.

Shaina said...

Thanks Owen, look forward to your comments.

I read "The Key To My Neighbor's House" and remember being shocked when the author died (I believe it was in a car accident) in Iraq(?).