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.