The process of reconciliation in the Western Balkan States is one of the most important steps towards the Euro – Atlantic integration of the region. It is a key factor for creating security and political stability. The reconciliation in terms of the Western Balkans is strongly connected with the process of transitional justice in the region. The concept of transitional justice refers to the set of judicial and non-judicial measures that have been implemented by different countries in order to redress the legacies of massive human rights abuses. These measures include criminal prosecutions, truth commissions, reparations programs, and various kinds of institutional reforms. In the aftermath of massive human rights abuses, victims have well established rights to see the perpetrators punished, to know the truth, and to receive reparations. In this context, the process of reconciliation means that the states have duties to guarantee that the violations will not recur, and therefore, a special duty to reform institutions that were either involved in or incapable of preventing the abuses.
Dealing with a legacy of war crimes and human rights violations is a common challenge in post-conflict societies. According to Jonathan Sisson, a “decade of internecine war in the region had left behind not only a terrible legacy of human losses and material destruction, but also an unprecedented level of traumatization among the population at large, which contributed to a widespread and generalized sense of victim hood on all sides of the conflict.“
In order to build peaceful and stable relations the Western Balkan countries need to focus on the truth and understanding, and the development of cultures of commemoration and tolerance, which represent basis for further democratization and reconciliation. The crucial factor is inter – ethnic and cross border dialogue. In an enlarging Europe, this dialogue is not only a moral duty, it is a political necessity.
In the past period there have been several initiatives that elaborate the question of reconciliation. One of them is the Balkan Reconciliation Initiative. The main goal of the Balkan reconciliation Initiative was to debate on the role of politics, culture, media, religion and civic society in the process of promoting tolerance in societies and dealing with conflicts from the past.
According to the director for the Western Balkans in the European Commission’s Directorate for Enlargement, Pierre Mirel, the EU will remain devoted to transitional justice in the Balkans as part of the accession process. Although the progress that the Western Balkans are making towards EU integration of the region is still very low. Things are changing, mainly as a result of the work of civil society, but there is also a political will emerging to deal with this issue. Regarding the fact that the Western Balkan states do not have extradition agreements for war crimes, the efforts made by signing the bilateral protocols between prosecutions to exchange evidence are crucial. Until now, Bosnia and Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia, and Serbia and Croatia have signed such agreements.
Another important step in this regard is the RECOM Commission for determining the facts from the wars in former Yugoslavia. The result of the three-year consultation across the region is a document that establishes the model of RECOM. The priority of this commission was to establish the facts about victims, including their names, and to prevent manipulation of the numbers involved. The main goal of the commission was to record the names of all people killed in the war, not only victims of war crimes, but also soldiers, policemen, members of the Armed Forces, and civilians who were killed in the war. According to Tanja Fajon, Member of the European Parliament, the RECOM initiative is very important for the region to analyze the past, to enable people to talk to one another, find the truth and understand. But this independent commission will have a very demanding and difficult task. According to Iavor Rangelov, Global Security Fellow the second step would be to transfer the process from civil society to governments – to convince them that the establishment of a regional commission is a state obligation. It is important to transfer the process to enable it to be an exit from the past, an important instrument for remembering what happened without revenge or without fear that crimes could be repeated.
Here, the question about the importance of the EU integration of the region should be placed. Although the Balkan region has always been a part of Europe, the situation in the region is often described as complicated and controversial. Thus, the process of Europeanization in the Balkans would mean the structural transformation, modernization and adjustment to the advanced European models in the areas mentioned above as well as higher levels of security and prosperity.
In order to establish a secure and stable environment in terms of the Western Balkans, it is important to focus on strengthening the regional cooperation, especially in the field of security. The Western Balkan countries have made significant progress in improving the regional security and integration processes in the EU, but also agreed to promote regional cooperation initiatives, bilateral and multilateral agreements on defense and security. Progress has been made especially in the bilateral relations between Serbia and Kosovo, internally in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). According to the university professor at the European Center for Peace Studies, Mathew Rhodes, the biggest contribution in the field of the regional security cooperation was the signing of the Framework agreement between the Serbia and Kosovo, which launched the basis for peaceful and regular communication between these states.
According to Stojan Slaveski, professor at the Faculty for Security in Skopje, the region slowly but certainly becomes stable and secure and is included in the Euro-Atlantic processes, and it is great progress with which we should be happy, though there are still open questions that NATO and the EU should focus on. Countries in the region are now more prepared for cooperation and become initiators of such collaborations. Numerous regional initiatives in terms of defense and security are already giving positive results.
One of the most important steps towards more stable and secure region is the need for a new political generation to emerge that can move on from the legacy of conflict. Civil society in the region is a vital counterweight to the power of political elites in the region, and plays a crucial role in making public aware of governance problems. The support from the EU is vital in order to maintain healthy civil society that supports democratic transformation and regional reconciliation.
On the level of the civil society, there is one successful story that elaborates the question of reconciliation of the region between the youth. Since 2012, the organization Omladinski Odbor za Obrazovanje, with financial support of the British Embassy in Serbia, organizes the seminar “Youth Reconciliation Ambassadors”, which is very intensive program that includes a different methods in order to facilitate the process of reconciliation between the youth in the region. The idea of this program is to encourage multi-perspective discussions on topics relevant to the future of the entire area of former Yugoslavia. The exchange of experiences between young people from neighboring countries, which are all at different stages of transition, could help form new ideas and overcome conflicts from the past.
Image source: www.independent.mk