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Course: Memory and its role in conflict and conflict transformation
Lecturer: Orli Friedman

ReCom – Memory on the war in ex-Yugoslavia or Memory of fears

Course participant: Sakibe Jashari, Kosovo

Initiative on establishing Regional Commission on Truth telling –RECOM

The armed conflict in the former Yugoslavia started in early 1991 in Slovenia expanding to Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and completing with Macedonia. As in every post conflict situation, the number of human losses was huge in all areas of conflict. People talked about the crimes committed on all sides making labels on bases of ethnicity. All of them were inclined to accuse each other or to victimize themselves. In between of all this completion over victimization, the victims were left aside with a total number of some 16,000 missing persons in the whole former Yugoslavia.

The Regional Commission on Truth Telling -ReCom [i]was launched as an initiative in May 2008 in Podgorica with the objective to set up a public platform for victims and civil society in order to deliberate about the crimes committed in former Yugoslavia and how to develop the ReCom initiative as model were people and countries of the region would join the initiative. The core objective of ReCom is to establish the facts about war crimes and serious human rights violations committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia, covering the timeline from January 1, 1991 until December 31, 2001.

ReCom initiative’s goal is twofold; the initiative aims at contributing to establish a feeling of confidence between nations in the regions and individuals, namely former SFRJ as well as contribute to the lasting peace and stability in the region [ii]. Non-recurrence or “never again “is one of the slogans that ReCom is identified with, which gives us to think that Second world war left some hatred in former Yugoslavia, which started from ethnical problems and prejudices that gradually resulted with conflicts evolving in 90s. ReCom initiative through its vision and objectives wants to touch upon reconciliation and conflict transformation  in the region.

In its initial phase three centers i.e. Humanitarian Law Center (Serbia), Dokumenta (Croatia) and Center for Documentation and Research (Bosnia and Herzegovina)  were presenting the initiative through forums and consultation meetings which were being held on the regional as well as on the national level. The initiative by the time has broaden its cycle through a coalition giving opportunity to individuals, non-governmental organizations and associations from the region to become a part of the initiative thus enabling their involvement and contribution in the consultation processes and ReCom activities [iii].

In its development, ReCom initiative was originally introduced by Mrs. Natasa Kandic from Humanitarian Law Center Serbia for which she had proponents from the region supporting the overall ReCom initiative. At the same time she was highly opposed for the initiative as something that down the road will fail in the process.

ReCom- Kosovo
Memory of Fears

ReCom initiative in Kosovo was introduced in June 2008 with the first consultation meeting held in Mitrovica. Subsequent consultation meetings organized in Kosovo were targeting different interest groups; families of victims, former prisoners, religious communities, artists, media and women groups.
Local NGOs such as Partners Kosova and Community Building Mitrovica (CBM) were among the first ones to join ReCom initiative by becoming part of the coalition. Both NGOs were willing to engage Kosovo society in the initiative and contribute to the issue of war victims. The Center for Research Documentation and Publication (CRDP) is one of the recent NGOs that has joint the coalition and which is representing Kosovo in the regional level as part of the council. It is noteworthy that besides local Kosovo NGOs, regional organizations such as Youth Initiative for Human Rights  –YIHR and Humanitarian Law Center- HLC are or were part of the coalition forming a sense of regional project aiming at the same cause. 
However, some of the NGOs such as CBM, Partners Kosova and YIHR in regional level withdrew from the coalition as they did not agree on internal ReCom management, namely their role on ReCom coalition was sidelined from HLC Serbia. Regardless of this fact, all three NGOs believe in ReCom initiative as something that is needed for the region, thus they still participate in forums and consultation meetings.   
I could personally follow some of the consultation meetings organized in Kosovo. The sentiment that was sometimes present in the consultations and/or discussions was a mix between the sentiments of fear of ‘otherness’ and of memory in the collective and individual sense.
The sentiment of fear followed with the rejection of the initiative in the end was present among some of the participants when they had to recall the past memories on the acts of the war i.e. massacres, killings, expel of people etc. In some occasions this sentiment was so high when some of the participants were explicit in refusing the initiative with reasoning that the initiative originates from a Serb person, namely Natasa Kandic [iv]. In this light, preconception of otherness and fear of the past were being associated with the individual and collective memory when recalling past memories.
When talking about Collective Memory and Kosovo as a newly independent state (2008) with its new society, collective memory is something that is still being formed paralleled with Kosovo identity, with two ethnicities of pivotal focus - Albanian and Serbian. Both with different narratives on the unrest and conflicts happened between 80s and late 90s and on the same way both with common misconceptions.
In this context, qualification of terms such as victims, heroes and criminals from the acts of war are understood differently from the perspectives of different ethnic narratives which are written in books of history teaching. So, in changing these narratives to cohesive units first of all that will demand a lot of time and second there will be a need for people who will actually do that.

ReCom- Regional Project
Pros and Cons

Currently there are approximately 300 NGOs and associations from the region of former Yugoslavia that are part of the ReCom coalition, with the aim for ReCom to become governmental project. Drawing from the experiences of similar commissions overseas i.e. Morocco, South Africa and Argentina which were successful and relating to the context of the events in the former Yugoslavia, ReCom can be a cornerstone for analysing on what happened in former Yugoslavia (1991- 2001), agreeing on what shall they work on differently thus transforming the past occurrences for the future generations and contributing to peace in the region. Also the recent decade has added another layer of complexity in the approaches to memory.

As there are different and divers groups of interest that are part or want to become part of ReCom of course there are different ideas and understandings of the ReCom project. As mentioned earlier narratives are quite different, notions of victims, criminals and war heroes are having different meanings for different stakeholders in ReCom project.

When brining all these parts of former Yugoslavia that literally went to war with each other, ReCom ultimately becomes politicised and this is one of the factors that ReCom is having difficulties with some parts of the region. Another issue that needs attention is that in the tradition and culture of this region discussing publicly on the occurrences of war and reflecting on the family happenings is rather closed. It is unlike other customs for instance in Argentina or South Africa were people do appreciate when people tell the truth on what has happen to them and their family members.

Also, ReCom mandate in its draft still is not clear whether ReCom as regional project should deal only with war crimes or also with the facts of the crimes done. With former it would not imply to have changes in the timeline, whereas the latter would imply a drastic change in the timeline of the facts that could even be proposed to start with 1912 .

This year ReCom project has been introduced to some governments of the region with the recent meetings with President Boris Tadic (Serbia) [v] and President Ivo Josipovic (Croatia), from which ReCom was supported. In 2009, Mrs Natasa Kandic met with Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu and Special Representative for EU Peter Feith, from which she could have a support in principle. It is foreseen by end of 2010 ReCom to compile one million signatures from all regions and to present statute and ReCom mandate to respective governments for approval, with the idea to become a regional project where all governments will be liable to implement ReCom mandate.

It is to be seen how all these milestones will be developed and incorporated into governmental agenda, and furthermore how politiciens of the countries of this region will be ready to co-operate in this initiative after governments endorse ReCom mandate as such, especially governments of Kosovo and Serbia.

Way Forward

Sometimes memory of the past can be a uniter i.e. bringing a group of people closer in remembering past experiences and/or commemorating an event. But it can also be a divider i.e. when certain collective memories have different meanings to a group of people that experienced same event on the same timeline. Here I can give the example of the Racak [vi] massacre as an event that is being denied from one side whiles the other side is asking for responsibility. For the Albanian community Racak is a place where civilians were massacred bySerbian paramilitary forces, whereas for the Serbian part this case was action taken against KLA [vii] terrorist groups [viii].

This is only one of many similar issues that can be challenging for ReCom project. Indeed, the success that ReCom has until now needs to be hailed. It introduced the project/idea to all former Yugoslavian governments namely through civil society as something that has been supported and driven by them.

However, ReCom needs more time for deliberating i.e. public hearings, consultations and forums on the idea. I say this as the region is facing something new as a concept that needs more time to be clearly understood on what the Recom mandate will be, what can and what it cannot do.

From Kosovo consultation meetings that were organized insofar I could observe that people in general regard transitional justice and dealing with the past - both related to ReCom initiative – as two very new concepts for Kosovar society. There is an eagerness from people to discuss on these issues more so to understand what these concepts are and why they should be important for Kosovo.

But at the same time ReCom initiative - as any other initiative - should not expect to have unified consent from all of former Yugoslavia and all stakeholders in ReCom initiative. It should aim at the grates number of people for the greatest good.

At the same time it is important that the objective remain confined with its primary goal and does not broaden as current developments lead to for instance taking into consideration suggestions from different interest groups to include in the ReCom mandate issues such as raping of women during the war, or extending the timeline to 1912 etc.

It should be of paramount importance that ReCom be focused on very specific objectives that can be doable within the mandate. With this said another important issue is to have ReCom started and see weather will be functional. Thereafter drawing from the experiences, knowledge etc, ReCom can be subsequently focused in another mandate with another specific focus.

Every government assumes political responsibility for the deeds and misdeeds of its predecessor, and every nation for the deeds and misdeeds of the past. Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem

i John Paul Lederach “The Little Book of Conflict Transformation” - 2003
ii Documentation and Research center in BiH with Mr. Tokaca as head of the center withdrew from the initiative in 2009.
iii YIHR in regional level has withdraw its membership form ReCom coalition in 2010
iv Consultation meeting with former Prisoners- Kosovo September 2010