Reconcilation and stability

Dragan Aleksic of Serbia’s Tanjug news service asked some questions. I replied:

Q: We would like to have your comment on Serbian Prime Minister Vucic’s initiative to declare a Remembrance Day for all of the victims in the 1990s war in former Yugoslavia. This initiative has not been well received neither in Kosovo (it was criticized by Prime Minister Thaci) nor in Croatia. The argument is more or less that Serbia is guilty for the war so this initiative is not welcome.What is your view of the initiative to establish a common Day of Remembrance for all of the victims of the 1990s wars in former Yugoslavia?

A: I think it is up to the people of former Yugoslavia, especially the victims, to react to the proposal, not a foreigner like me.

Q: Does the attitude toward Serbia as the culprit justify the rejection of a legitimate initiative aimed at reconciliation?

A: A proposal of this sort works best if it is the result of reconciliation rather than having reconciliation as its objective. Would Serbs have reacted well had the proposal come from Hashim Thaci or Bakir Izetbegovic?

I am reminded of the Recom initiative, which seeks first to establish the facts of what happened in a way that engages everyone concerned. It too has had difficulty being accepted at the governmental level, but it seems to me correct to start with a broad fact-finding strategy, like the one used by the Scholarly Initiative (an effort to get agreement among academics on what happened in the 1990s in the Balkans and why). I recommend all concerned read its Confronting the Yugoslav Controversies, which goes a long way toward developing a common narrative.

Q: Does this mean that Serbia does not have the right to launch positive initiatives?

A: Serbia has every right to launch positive initiatives, but other people have the right to react the way they want. It is not only in the Balkans that prior consultation and mutual understanding is important to the success of an initiative.

Q: How do you see the relations in the region, especially when it comes to stability?

A: None of the states in the region have either the desire or the means to create the kind of instability that dominated the 1990s. All but Serbia are either already NATO members or want to become NATO members. The requirement that they first establish democratic institutions is an important barrier to any further conflict among them.

But there are still unresolved issues, especially about the state structures in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as about mutual recognition and exchange of ambassadors between Serbia and Kosovo. My email tells me Serbs think I am crazy to talk about that: they say it will never happen. I say it has to happen before Serbia can enter the European Union. Belgrade has already accepted the constitutional authority of the Pristina government on the whole territory of Kosovo, as well as the idea that Kosovo will qualify for and enter the EU separately, which implies that Kosovo will be a sovereign state. It is not such a big step to UN membership, which makes bilateral recognition almost irrelevant, and even exchange of ambassadors.

Anyone concerned about stability in the Balkans should be thinking hard about undermining radicalization among the region’s Muslims by quickly resolving these issues in Bosnia and Kosovo. They should also want Greece to lift its veto on Macedonia’s NATO membership and EU prospects.

PS: Let me add something I forgot to say to Tanjug. Reconciliation begins with acknowledgement of harm done, by those whose leadership did it. This starts a mutual process. We aren’t quite there in the Balkans, yet.

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