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European Regional Master's Degree in Democracy and Human Rights in South East Europe
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(Im)possibility of reconciliation in the Balkans

September 2013 | #39

by: Prof. Bilijana Vankovska
pp: 35
ISSN: 2038-632X

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The latest wave of violent conflicts in the Balkans (1991-2001) as well as the ones that engulfed the other parts of the world has provided a fertile ground for new concepts that are equally embraced in the policy community and the academia around the globe. Among them, the post-conflict peace-building, transitional justice and reconciliation constitute a significant triad. The international environment has also dramatically changed so it seems that there is zero tolerance for mass violations of human rights and war crimes, while the responsibility to protect doctrine become a legitimate ground for international interventions in various parts of the world. The contemporary version of the just war theory has also been amended by adding one more dimension - in addition to the well-known jus ad bellum and jus in bello, an strong emphasis is given to the jus post bellum principle. One way or another, the notion of reconciliation is central to the strategy of building sustainable peace in the post-authoritarian and the post-conflict societies. Nevertheless, in spite of all efforts to promote this new and wider approach to peace-building both on the policy agenda and the theoretical debate, the empirical evidence is still too inconclusive in order to confirm that peace is just an elusive goal without any form of dealing with the troublesome past, war crimes and victims. Namely, the conceptualization and use of the mechanisms of dealing with the past and transitional justice are relative new phenomena related to non-Western countries - or better, post-authoritarian and post-conflict societies. The retributive justice on international level appeared for the first time with the international tribunals after the Second World War, and it took a few decades to institutionalize a special International Criminal Court to deal with war crimes and heavy violations of human rights. Its reach is, however, limited because not all countries ratified the Roma Statute (among them, the US is the most notable case) and because so far its work is focused on the criminal proceedings against some African leaders indicted for war crimes, while there is vast impunity for crimes committed by the Western military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan, for instance. The idea of restorative justice became popular much later with the establishment of the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa but also the ones in Chile and Argentina. Actually, the debate over the dealing with the past violence and human rights abuses has very short history, since 1990s - and it seems that everything that had happened before belongs to history and historians. The concepts of dealing with the past and transitional justice refer to recent past and traumas and intentionally avoid going further back in the past, i.e. the quest that may have display the roots of many of the contemporary conflicts. Looking from this perspective, one could conclude that the fashionable mechanisms of transitional justice and reconciliation are just some of the tools in the box of the contemporary state-builders that David Chandler (2006) rightly entitles as “empire in denial”.
This paper deals with the past but has no ambition to contribute to history as an academic discipline. To the contrary, its argumentation comes from the ground of peace and conflict theory. The analysis has a two-fold objective: firstly to conceptualise reconciliation as an outcome of transitional justice, both of them being parts of the wider concept of dealing with the past; and secondly to analyse empirical aspects of so far undertaken initiatives for coming to terms with the violent past in the Balkans, with special emphasis on the Republic of Macedonia. Following Galtung’s definition of positive peace, reconciliation here is understood as removal of lingering or new forms of structural and cultural violence in a post-conflict society/region. While the structural aspects of peace-building are usually focused on imposition of new political/institutional arrangements for the societies that have gone through violent experiences, the key goal of countering cultural violence is identified as ‘reconciliation with history’. The latter entails building agreement through enabling engagement between opposing historical perspectives, as well as by acknowledging and including in the ‘official narrative’ individual ‘little narratives’ in the form of victims’ and perpetrators’ testimonies.


Table of contents

On the Past - from a Different Point of View
The Gnawing Dilemma: Looking Forward or Looking Backward?
Reconciliation in the Balkans: Mission (Im)Possible
Instead of Conclusion

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