In the first panel on the second day, “Creating the enemy: Every day a new war”, we discussed the causes of how the rhetoric and actions of the authorities lead to tensions and keep societies in the Western Balkans still in a hostile atmosphere. The writer Vladimir Arsenijević assessed that from the perspective of a large number of Serbian citizens, civil society is still perceived as a group of “domestic traitors and foreign mercenaries”.
He added that the government in Serbia constantly produces enemies, and in addition to the “internal enemy”, which are certain opposition parties and civil society organizations, the regime’s tabloids also make enemies out of other peoples. Assistant professor from the Faculty of Political Sciences in Belgrade, Jelena Lončar, said that citizens’ trust in civil society organizations is at a very low level.
Robert Vencel from the Institute for Democracy at UMB from Slovakia pointed out that despite the bad trends in Slovakia that we could see after the murder of two LGBTIQ people a month ago, when we talk about the creation of internal enemies, our last support is still in the EU because there are certain control mechanisms. Milica Pralica from the Oštra Nula (Banja Luka) organization warned about the situation in the Bosnian entity – Republika Srpska, where civil society is on the brink of strength and without the support of the academic community and political parties in terms of building a sustainable peace.
As an introduction to the third panel, Marko Milosavljević (YIHR Serbia) presented the most important recommendations from the regional report and manual on commemorative practices that Youth Initiative for Human Rights issued in January 2022. Ethnocentricity, militarization of war events, marginalization of victims and denial are the main characteristics of official commemorations. On the other hand, non formal commemorations carried out by memory activists from the region are under great restrictions, such as the “Day of White Ribbons” in Prijedor.
“Memorialization in the New Social Reality,” the penultimate panel, discussed the intersection of memory activism, art, and social media. The panel was moderated by Stefan Janjić from FakeNews Tragač, and the speakers were visual artist Mia David, Branka Vierda from YIHR Croatia, Edin Ramulić, human rights activists from Prijedor and Ana Pejović from forumZFD. The panel discussed how to use social media to educate about the past.
Architect Mia David stated that Kosovo and Srebrenica are the two main taboo topics in Serbia and added that the younger generation, through no fault of their own, do not know nearly enough about the context of the wars from the nineties of the 20th century in the post-Yugoslav area. “There is a sea of ignorance in front of us, but it is not young people’s fault, the education system has led to it. Often, they don’t even know who won the Second World War”, said Mia David.
Ramulic asserted that while social media may be too limiting of a platform to fully educate people, it is an excellent means for outreach and connecting people to other opportunities for activism. Mia David suggested that social media is actually a very effective tool for education, but that teaching critical thinking is crucial to combating pervasion misinformation online.
The panelists also discussed art’s potential to be both liberating and manipulative. Pejović discussed how film, literature and visual art are all excellent mediums for conversation and activism, but that it is hard to control what messages individuals will take away from art.
The panelists concluded with a discussion on how to combat fatigue about the topic of conflict. Vierda asserted that while there is undeniable burnout within civil society, we cannot run from these issues nor look away from them; As David stated at the beginning of the panel, “We do what we believe in.” The panel concluded with the question ‘Why should we remember?’, and the resounding answer: to honor the direct victims, the indirect victims, and to stop such atrocities from ever happening again.
The final panel of the conference, “Is There a Shortcut to Peace?”, discussed the future of transitional justice in the region. The panel was moderated by Tea Gorjanc Prelević from Human
Rights Action, and the speakers were Nadira Ćurulija from Regional Youth Cooperation Office, Dr Aidan Hehir from University of Westminster, Fiona Haxhiislami from YIHR Kosovo, and Almasa Salihović from the Srebrenica Memorial Center.
Prelević opened the panel with a reminder that true transitional justice requires responsibility, reparations, truth based on facts, and a guarantee against the repetition of crimes. The panelists generally agreed that mainstream transitional justice tactics in the region have largely fallen short. Ćurulija discussed the political passivity and lack of local mobilization in Bosnia, perhaps caused by fatigue with dialogues about the conflict.
The panelists also highlighted lack of education about the conflicts as a major barrier to successful transitional justice. Questions about the efficacy of victim memorialization were raised, highlighting both the importance of visibility and the problematic politicization of many memorials. The panelists also offered different perspectives on ‘post-conflict’ international intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Dr. Hehir discussed the hypocrisy of modeling transitional justice on Western nations who themselves have not reckoned with their own past wrongdoings, and asserted the importance of transitions being led by local governments rather than the international community.
Salihović discussed the benefits of international intervention, such as how the building of the Srebrenica Memorial Center and the prosecution of war criminals in Bosnia were largely thanks to the international community. Haxhiislami emphasized the importance of youth cultural exchanges and the hope that those interactions provide.
The panel concluded on a cautiously optimistic note, with the understanding that while there is much more work to be done, even slow progress is progress, nonetheless.
The conference was organized by the Youth Initiative for Human Rights, in cooperation with the organizations ForumZFD and the Independent Journalists Association of Vojvodina (NDNV).