The acceptance and promotion of diversity crucial for reconciliation

Feb 26, 2015

photo: undp croatia

Zagreb hosted a meeting regarding the project 'Mapping initiatives for reconcilation in the Western Balkans'

ZAGREB, 26 February 2015 – The regional project 'Mapping initiatives for reconciliation in the Western Balkans' that originated in the past two decades has gathered a number of representatives from the public and civil sector in Zagreb who have been dealing with this issue as a part of their work.

It’s a project that has simultaneously been carried out in seven countries: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo*, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Serbia as to identify and analyze initiatives and activities promoting reconciliation, dialogue and the building of sustainable peace. The project was initiated by the United Nations Department of Political Affairs (UNDPA) in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and in Croatia it is being conducted in partnership with the Documenta – Center for dealing with the past.

The aim of mapping is to collect examples of initiatives from each country included in the project, primarily those initiated by citizens or civil society organizations, and to contribute to the analysis of their impact on different social groups, but also in a society as a whole, as well as to identify their contribution to cross-border or regional processes contributing to reconciliation. The collected data will be analyzed by the Centre for Democracy and Human Rights in Montenegro and will be presented in a unified report.

The war that was waged over the last two decades in the Western Balkans has left many open wounds, therefore, it is of great importance to promote ideas, activities and efforts that contribute to the reconciliation, peace building, and democracy and to the development of society as a whole.

The examples of these initiatives identified in Croatia show that with the development of a legal framework, empowerment of civil society and local communities, and educational and cultural activism it is possible to contribute to the reconciliation of political opponents and social groups with different values.

“Many recent events in Croatia, as well as in other countries of Former Yugoslavia show that there are still numerous tensions between different social groups present. This is also an additional incentive to continue the work on reconciliation processes, and initiatives selected through this project which will give us a clearer overview of the activities conducted in order to build peace,” emphasized Jasmina Papa, Head of UNDP Social Inclusion program.

Goran Božičević, from Documenta – Centre for coping with the past, stressed that reconciliation should not be viewed only through the prism of relations between the former enemies, but also through the development of a society that actively advocates reconciliation, tolerance and democratic values.

He presented around thirty initiatives mapped based on the analysis of available written materials, targeted questionnaires and semi-structured interviews with the representatives from the civil society organizations, prominent politicians and academics, the Ministry of Science, Education and Sport, the Ministry of the Interior, as well as international organizations.

The initiatives that have promoted reconciliation for the past twenty years from the bottom-up were connecting to different networks operating from cooperation positions (so called ‘power with’) promoting non-violence and human rights, as well as using the method of active listening as one of the main tools in their work.

Three phases of action towards reconciliation

Three phases of action towards reconciliation can be observed. Activities conducted towards protecting space for non-violence and diversity, maintaining contacts with the ‘other side’, and work on the restoration of social connections and physical infrastructure in post-conflict areas marked by the 1990s. At the beginning of the 21st century, the need to take action on dealing with the past is promoted, beginnings of systematic cooperation between civil society organizations and governmental institutions are recorded, and institutional reforms are initiated.

These were the necessary steps for broader institutional reforms and public action on the difficult topics of reconciliation in the early 2010s. It was emphasized that there is a certain lack of institutional memory on one hand and the lack of documentation on different initiatives on the other hand.

Systematic recording of the work on reconciliation is important not just from the perspective of the analysis of their contribution to the country, but also because those kinds of experiences have great value for many other countries dealing with the armed conflicts. Thereby, it is especially important that the peaceful reintegration of the Croatian Danube Region is an example of work on the reconciliation at an institutional level. That is particularly significant because Croatia wants to profile itself as a country that can contribute in dealing with the consequences of war in the context of international development aid. 

A key contribution to the formulation of priorities of international development aid is an initiative of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs that in co-operation with the Institute for Development and International Relations is preparing a factual study about institutional responses on the different aspects of the war. 

The fact that these two studies; 'Mapping initiatives for reconciliation in the Western Balkans' and the above mentioned factual study analyze the institutional and civil societies response to the post-war developments signalize that it is time for a certain evaluation of various efforts in which activists, scientists and representatives of state bodies would participate. 

It was also proposed that mapped initiatives in Croatia should be presented in a separate, more detailed report and publicly introduced, which would be an additional contribution to the promotion of public dialogue about dealing with the past.

*In the context of UN Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999)