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Collective Guilt, Collective Responsibility and the Serbs

Written by Janine Natalya Clark, this article appeared on the third issue of Vol. 22 of East European Politics & Societies in the summer of 2008.
 
Can an entire nation be collectively guilty for crimes committed in its name? Focusing on the case of Serbia, this article argues that collective guilt is a morally flawed and untenable concept that should be rejected. It presents various moral and practical objections to both the generic notion of collective guilt and the more specific idea of Serbian collective guilt and contends that the latter is a fundamental impediment to peace-building and reconciliation in the former Yugoslavia. On what basis might it be argued that the Serbs are collectively guilty? To claim that they are collectively guilty for having supported Milosˇevic´ both exaggerates levels of support for the former Serbian leader and does a major injustice to those individuals who bravely fought against the Milosˇevic´ regime. Drawing on
the work of Hannah Arendt and Karl Jaspers, the article concludes by suggesting that perhaps we can speak of Serbian collective responsibility.

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