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Policy Brief: Reconciliation as Activity – Possibilities for Action

Reconciliation is proving to be a problematic concept for both practitioners and academics: it is laden with normative expectations and is often rejected by local publics. This policy brief (Reconciliation as Activity Policy Brief), based on a workshop with NGOs in Pristina, addressed this problem by reframing reconciliation as activity. It recommends further investment in English language teaching to improve communication between groups; a greater focus on younger generations; and, an appreciation of the importance of the informal domain in reconciliation.

After the Hague Tribunal: prospects for justice and reconciliation in the Balkans

Hosted by the Department of Government at LSE, on 3 May 2018 leading scholars on the Western Balkans met at LSE to discuss the prospects for justice and reconciliation for the region, contested meanings of reconciliation and how the processes of reconciliation can be measured and evaluated. An event podcast can be found here.

Participants included: James Gow (KCL); Denisa Kostovicova (LSE); Jelena Petrović (KCL);  Jasna Dragović-Soso (Goldsmiths);  Eric Gordy (UCL) and Jelena Subotić (Georgia State University).

Paul Coldwell writes on REconciliations

This is a blog post by Professor Paul Coldwell, written about the REconciliations exhibition, History Museum of BiH, June 29th 2018

I was delighted to be invited to show in the exhibition ReConciliation , curated by Dr Paul Lowe and Elma Hasimbegovic as part of the AHRC Art & Reconciliation project. The exhibition ReConciliation provided me with a unique opportunity to show work that I made twenty years ago, before ever visiting Sarajevo, alongside new work made as a resulting of visiting in January 2018 and conducting research within the History Museum.

Abandoned Landscape installed, REconciliations exhibition, History Museum of BiH

The earlier work had been made in response to Martin Bell’s BBC radio broadcast of April 1996 in which he signed off as BBC War Correspondent and reflected on the tragedy of the Bosnia war. I made two pieces of work; the first an artist’s book With the Melting of the Snows in which, through three visual chapters of computer manipulated photographs, I attempted to imagine the Siege of Sarajevo and make visual equivalents to Bell’s text. The second piece was a large installation of bronze objects Abandoned Landscape in which I tried to suggest objects left behind in flight, as if suddenly discarded. Whilst twenty years ago it was Bell’s broadcast that got through my defences and impelled me to respond, the new work I have made takes its key from research in Sarajevo in January as part of the Art & Reconciliation project.

I was immediately drawn to a sweater belonging to Nermin Divović a seven-year-old child who was tragically shot by a sniper 100yards from the museum. His sweater, donated by his family is displayed alongside some photographs of him playing wearing the same sweater, as part of an exhibition remembering the siege.

A Life Measured: Seven Sweaters for Nermin Divović installed at REconciliations exhibition, History Museum of BiH

I have attempted to memorialise this short life, by commissioning seven duplicate sweaters, one for each year of his life, the first a tiny sweater for 0-1-year-old, through to one to fit a 6-7-year-old. I was really grateful to Anne Jones, a friend and curator at the Arts Council who helped me find a knitter. The sweaters were eventually hand knitted for me by Carol McDavid, a lady living in rural Wales (UK) to whom I sent drawings and photographs for her to work from. The sweaters entitled A Life Measured: Seven Sweaters for Nermin Divović are presented in a line as if recording a life which has been cut short.

Another piece, Three Bottle for Sarajevo (for Edin Numankadic) takes its origins from the importance of plastic water containers to collect water in the siege and references a joke told to me by the artist Edin Numankadic’s that a man was crossing Sniper’s Alley with plastic bottles to collect water when a sniper shot his bottles, so the water poured out. The man screamed at the sniper, ‘don’t shoot the bottles, shoot me!’ Here in the black recesses of humour, lies a sad truth that without water you would be dead anyway.

For me it is very poignant to show all these works in the context of Sarajevo and the Museum and its collection. My piece A Life Measured: Seven Sweaters for Nermin Divović is shown alongside the original sweater and sets up a dialogue between the authentic object and the imaginative space in which art functions. Furthermore, a hundred yards from the museum is a memorial stone commerating Nermin’s death so in this context I hope that my memorial of woollen sweaters suggests another way of remembering. In my case it is remembering through the actions of knitting with their associations with love, warmth and nurture.

There are always surprises when showing work. One that I appreciated was how, when viewing Abandoned Landscape on the floor in the gallery, the viewer can glimpse through the windows to see the remains of WW1 I tanks in the garden of the museum which seem to add a degree of menace to my everyday discarded objects such as bottles, children’s toys and picture frames that make up my installation

In terms of reconciliation, I believe that art has a powerful role to play in presenting images onto which ideas and feeling can be attached. Art is vital in supporting empathy, the capacity to see another’s point of view and without empathy, I believe reconciliation is probably impossible. Art provides a portal through which to view the world and as an overall exhibition I think it certainly offers that to the viewer. Reconciliation is a process and my hope is that in some small way, my work and that of my fellow contributors will provide means to help think about the immediate past and make a small contribution as to how we might imagine the future.

Paul Coldwell

After the Hague Tribunal: Prospects for Justice and Reconciliation in the Balkans

 

Nora Biette-Timmons reflects on the public lecture ‘After the Hague Tribunal: prospects for justice and reconciliation in the Balkans’, which took place on Thursday 3 May 2018. The event was organised by the Conflict Research Group, which is based within the LSE Department of Government, and the Arts and Reconciliation research project.


Last November, in a courtroom in The Hague, former Bosnian Croat general Slobodan Praljak downed a vial of poison upon hearing that the International Criminal Tribunal (ICTY) had upheld his 20-year prison sentence for crimes against humanity and Geneva Conventions violations. The story, which made international news, was historic for many reasons, not least its shocking conclusion. The ruling in Praljak’s appeal also marked one of the final decisions of the Hague Tribunal’s nearly 25-year run.

The ICTY wrapped up proceedings in December, and now regional observers are treading water, waiting to see what comes next. A panel of experts convened at LSE earlier this month to discuss the tribunal’s mixed legacy, and what challenges the former Yugoslav countries face in its aftermath.

Though the Balkans conflict broke out more than three decades ago, one of the primary issues plaguing its aftermath is a problem all too familiar in 2018: “alternative facts” and a fundamental disagreement on what exactly happened.

The ICTY was supposed to aide this process of agreeing upon the historic record. According to panelist Eric Gordy, Professor of Political and Cultural Sociology in the School of Slavonic and East European Studies at University College London, the point of the court was “to use the process of presentation and discussion and contestation and presentation of evidence to establish facts.” However, the tribunal’s narrow scope, the general public’s relative indifference to its proceedings, and national governments’ criticisms of its rulings exacerbated the court’s already-limited ability to cultivate a widely accepted set of facts.

As Jelena Subotic, Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at Georgia State University, put it, the court’s jurisdiction was hyper specific: It was “prosecuting a very small subset of individuals in what were mass crimes done by groups against groups,” she said. The cases it tried were “not about what happened in Bosnia… Rather, they were about what happened in this particular village in Bosnia in 1993.”

Despite this, James Gow, Professor of International Peace and Security in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, noted that the ICTY was important in giving at least victims a platform to tell their stories and be recognized by the international community.

Perhaps because of that specificity, the tribunal’s mission and the legacy of the war appear to be less relevant to the region’s nation groups today. “The situation is worse now than it was 15 to 20 years ago,” said Jasna Dragovic-Soso, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Relations at Goldsmiths University of London. “At the end of the tribunal’s existence, fewer people state that they know the tribunal’s purpose or about the crimes [it tried], even if crimes were committed against their nation group.” In addition, like much of the West, the Balkan region is facing a resurgence of nationalism. The consequence, Dragovic-Soso said, has been a rise in “crimes that suggest nostalgia” and ignore the horrific results of nationalist crime in the 1990s.

And rather than facilitating any sort of resolution, the tribunal’s rulings — even in these discrete cases — often prompted national groups to double down on the innocence of their countrymen.

Croatian reaction to Praljak’s sentence and subsequent suicide reflected this intractability. In a press conference a few hours after the incident, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said Praljak’s act was caused by the “deep moral injustice” exercised against Croatian nationals convicted in the ICTY. Plenkovic condemned the court’s broader legal legacy, characterising its failure to establish “the responsibility of Serbia’s leadership for involvement in a joint criminal enterprise” as “absurd.”

Beyond the ICTY, these nationalist reactions frustrate a need for what Subotic calls societal responsibility. “The state can provide official apologies and reparations,” she said, but permanently changing the minds of nation groups has proved to be a more difficult task.

“Why is it so hard to admit that crimes were done by your group to another group? Why does that minimise your group’s suffering?,” Subotic asked. “Why is it so difficult to acknowledge and provide some kind of redress for horrific crimes that were done with your tax money?”

Subotic’s “dream” example of societal responsibility would resemble the “Berlin millennials who go to publicly available archives to see who lived in their apartments previously. They want to mark who lived in the apartment and where they were taken. That is societal responsibility.”

Such developments would first require an archive, and establishing one is of great importance for many in the region.

Some of the panelists, including Dragovic-Soso, are hopeful that the establishment of an ICTY archive could at least partially resolve the issues — blame-shifting and indifference — presented by the lack of a coherent historic record in the region. Among the information included would be “numbers and names of people killed; the circumstances of their deaths; [information on] detention centers and where they were located.”

Of course, Dragovic-Soso noted, a tribunal archive would deal only with those cases that were adjudicated within its legal boundaries and wouldn’t contain the experience of victims, just those convicted or acquitted.

Like many violent episodes that played out against the backdrop of the post-World War II international order, NGOs and international governmental organisations have been deeply involved in shaping the justice and reconciliation process, and come July, London will host the fifth meeting of the Berlin Process,where dealing with the ICTY’s legacy issues will be on the agenda.

A quarter century on, though, a further issue confounds such meetings. As Jelena Petrovic, Post-doctoral Research Associate in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, asked her fellow panelists, “To what extent are we keeping the conflict alive by deciding externally what needs to be done?”.

Image credit: Paul Lowe


  Nora Biette-Timmons is a journalist and a masters student in Comparative Politics in the Department of Government at LSE. You can find her on Twitter: @biettetimmons.

Art&Reconciliation: Final Exhibition and Symposium

To round off Art & Reconciliation: Conflict, Culture and Community, an AHRC funded project between King’s College London, LSE and UAL, we are holding a final exhibition and symposium to show case the ground-breaking work that has been achieved throughout the project, and to reflect on where this leads to next. Sticking with the interdisciplinary theme that has underpinned the project so far, the event will involve a mix of academic presentations, art workshops and performances, and, at its core, an exhibition showing the work of the artists that have been commissioned by the project to design and implement art projects in the Western Balkans. This is just a place holder for now, and more details will come in the following months, but key dates to keep in mind are:
 
·      01 November 2018: Exhibition Launch
·      29 November – 01 December 2018: Symposium
·      In between these dates there will also be a series of public events in preparation for the final symposium.
 
If you are interested in being kept informed about these events, please fill out this google form: https://goo.gl/forms/RZfxDy8Tiaa5niGt1
 
We look forward to seeing you in November.
 
Best wishes,
 
Art & Reconciliation Team
 

Visiting Sarajevo: drawing workshop, Professor Paul Coldwell

Visiting Sarajevo 

This is a blog post by Professor Paul Coldwell, written about the drawing workshop held in Sarajevo, Jan 2018

In 1996 on 4th April, I heard a radio broadcast from Martin Bell, signing off as the BBC war correspondent and reflecting on the tragedy of the war in Bosnia. This, along with the daily news reports of the war, touched me in ways I hadn’t expected. Over the next year, in my studio in London I made an installation of some 15-16 bronze objects Abandoned Landscape and an artists’ book With the Melting of the Snows as a response in which I imagined the siege of Sarajevo.

Now 20 years later I have had the opportunity to visit Sarajevo for the first time and to spend time at the Museum of History as part of the Art & Reconciliation project. I was also fortunate to be guided by Dr Paul Lowe who as well as being one of the principle investigators for the project, witnessed the war first hand as a photographer and who has so movingly documented the horror of the conflict through his camera lens.

The reason for my visit was twofold; firstly, to conduct a drawing workshop with high school pupils and secondly, to carry out some research both in the Museum of History and in Sarajevo in general in order to make new work for an exhibition at the museum in June.

For the drawing project I had asked everyone to bring a shoe and with only a very brief introduction I asked them all to start drawing. There were around 15-16 teenagers and I wanted them to discover how, through drawing such an everyday object, they might be able to instill it with character and personality.

Shoes represent something which is both common and specific since through wear, the shoe takes on the shape of the owner and can therefore suggest a life lived. Over the period of three days, these drawings developed from being individual drawings, to being part of a large composite drawing measuring over 5 meters in length. Here, the shoes were accompanied by lines, as in contour maps, in order to explore the interconnectivity of things, and by implication, of people. In the end the drawing spoke of individually bound together within a common mesh. Within the scope of the project, I wanted the pupils to explore how we can both celebrate difference while also being aware of common needs. We explored these ideas through other drawings including a large scale communal drawing which began with each transferring an enlarged version of their signature, around which drawings of shoes, and other objects including those on display in the museum were added.

The only formal aspect of the workshop was a talk I gave on my work and how I have worked with museums and collections. On other days, I spent time in the museum and on the streets and in many ways the two were directly connected. Firstly, since it was really cold, and with little heating in the museum, it was just as cold inside or out. Secondly, the city still bears the scars of the conflict, both in evidence of damage still visible on certain buildings and in the manner in which deaths are marked by ‘Sarajevo Roses’, resin filled craters in the pavements like blood stains. About 50 meters from the museum as a memorial stone to Nermin Divovic a little boy aged just 7, shot dead by a sniper in the notorious ‘snipers alley. In the museum, was a small sweater that he had worn, and in which he was photographed playing in the snow. This sweater seemed to represent the futility of war and the tragedy of a life cut short. I am now in the process of commissioning replica sweaters, one for each of his seven years to be displayed in the exhibition in June. The exhibition will also be an opportunity to show the installation I had made 20 years ago, now in the place I imaged.

Visiting Sarajevo was also an opportunity to listen to stories, many conversations with the director and her staff all brought home to me the real nature of life under siege. Amongst the artists I met, was Edin Numankadic. I visited his studio in the social housing complex and in the top of the building was a treasure chest of decades of work including floors covered by surreal boxes each filled with incongruous objects. On the drive to his studio he mentioned a Bosnia joke, in which a man running had his water bottles shot by a sniper to whom he screams, ‘Don’t shot the bottles, shoot me!!!!’. The plastic water bottles, so essential for survival during the seige, become in the joke, more important than the life of the carrier. This story has informed a small triptych that I have just cast in bronze in London, in the foundry at Chelsea and which I hope to show in Sarajevo in June.

 

Evaluating the social impact of the arts, Art and Reconciliation research seminar, 14th March 2018

This workshop will explore the evaluation and impact strategy developed for the AHRC funded project, Art and Reconciliation, in collaboration with Kings College War Studies Department and the London School of Economics.

It will be lead by Paul Lowe and Tiffany Fairey from LCC and Professor James Gow from Kings, and will be run as a workshop to share experiences, ideas and best practices.

Evaluating Arts Practice in a social context led by Dr Tiffany Fairey

This session will discuss the evaluation strategy and framework that has been developed to explore the impact of these artistic commissions and to investigate how these artistic interventions are experienced by those involved and whether (and how) they do or do not contribute to reconciliation and peace-building.

More broadly, it will consider the question of how we can effectively research, evaluate and communicate the social impact of the arts. Recent decades have seen the arts increasingly harnessed to tackle issues of social exclusion, community renewal and in post-conflict societies as a means to build peace. Institutional funders are keen to see evidence of impact however traditional evaluation methods with their emphasis on quantative methods and linear, causal models of change fail to capture the emergent qualities of the arts and their transformative effects. Is there a way to navigate the clash of cultures between programmatic evaluation approaches and open-ended artistic processes?   How can we build research strategies that critically capture and communicate the contribution and qualities of artistic projects to complex and unstable social contexts?

Reconciliation as Activity, collaborative workshop, Prishtina, 5th March 2018

Reconciliation as Activity: Constraints and Possibilities

Ivor Sokolić and Denisa Kostovicova, London School of Economics and Political Science

Reconciliation is proving to be a problematic concept for both practitioners and academics: it is laden with normative expectations and is often rejected by local publics. Ivor Sokolic and Denisa Kostovicova report on the exchange with civil society in Kosovo on reconciliation as activity. Participants shared their experiences of how interethnic contact between individuals through a variety of activities often had unintended positive outcomes for intergroup relations.

On 05 March 2018 the London School of Economics and Political Science, as a part of the ‘Art and Reconciliation: Conflict, Culture and Community’ project (artreconciliation.org), held a collaborative workshop in Prishtina titled “Activity as Reconciliation: Lessons from Practice”. The event was organised together with our local partner in Kosovo, the Centre for Research, Documentation and Publication (CRDP), who work on, and research, themes of peace, justice and truth in Kosovo. There was considerable overlap with the CRDP’s work on human security and reconciliation and our own, which made for a natural partnership for the workshop organisation. The workshop was attended by representatives of local and international civil society organisations who conduct a range of activities within communities and across ethnic lines. Some dealt directly with reconciliation issues (for example, efforts in coming to terms with the past), but many did not (for example, youth dialogue programmes).

The workshop dealt with one of the key research questions behind the AHRC-funded project, ‘Art and Reconciliation’: how to reconceptualise reconciliation? Our partner’s findings on reconciliation show the importance of this question in the post-conflict context in Kosovo. They find that projects under the label of reconciliation were initiated too early, are simultaneously both unclear and too ambitious, and favour one side of the conflict (the full results can be found here). This has often resulted – mirroring experiences in other post-conflict contexts – in the rejection of the concept on normative grounds. The biggest challenge, then, is how to reconcile this rejection with the necessity, as well as the desire expressed by many who themselves have suffered from violence, to work on social repair for the sake of peace.

The workshop addressed this conundrum by reframing reconciliation as activity. The premise here is to focus on activities that, sometimes labelled as reconciliatory and sometimes not, lead to better relations between groups. Underpinning this was the idea that activities that involve contact between different groups – be it physical or symbolic (such as interaction with outgroup symbols), intentional or unintentional – can lead to positive outcomes for intergroup relations. Many of these activities are missed in traditional appraisals of reconciliation, which are loaded with specific expectations of what the process and outcomes ought to look like. This focus on activity, then, helps to reconceptualise and critique reconciliation. Together with civil society organisations, we shared experiences of what types of activity can aid reconciliation and what is it about these types of activity that make them conducive to transforming interethnic relationships. We questioned if this concept was useful, and if not, what concept would be more useful from a practice-oriented point of view?

Representatives of civil society exhibited a readiness to acknowledge the problems associated with the normative load of reconciliation, which had become an impediment to the work they were undertaking. Some felt trapped, since they needed to adhere to labels to attain funding, but these labels hampered their work. Organisations experienced hostility towards their work, if they labelled it as reconciliatory. At the same time, numerous examples were provided of activities they had undertaken that had positive outcomes on intergroup relations, but which did not fall under the label of reconciliation. Participants also noted a number of macro and micro factors that inhibited these types of activities from taking place. Three key themes, with clear policy implications, underpinned the discussions on the day.

Structural barriers to activity

First, the structural dimension of activities that can aid, or hinder, reconciliation was highlighted. On the macro level, dynamics between the global and the local; donors and civil society organisations; and civil society and the state, all defined the structural framework within which organisations operated, and by which they were often constrained. The ghettoisation of minorities, segregated educational systems and regional divergence in state capacity within Kosovo made it easier for organisations to conduct activities between Kosovo Albanians and Serbs from Serbia, rather than with Kosovo Serbs. These macro level differences also fed into other issues. Differences in education provisions meant participants noted that the language barrier between Serbs and Albanians, who do not speak each others’ language, which is often seen as an intrinsic barrier to cooperation, could be overcome through the shared understanding of English. This was, however, found to disadvantage Kosovan Serbs who lacked sufficient English skills to communicate with Albanians. An inability to communicate within Kosovo thus forecloses opportunities for reconciliation even when reframed as activity.

Generational focus of activity

The generational dimension, with an emphasis on youth and the transgenerational dimension of reconciliation, was the second key theme underpinning discussions. Many civil society organisations targeted their work at young people and saw positive outcomes between groups. These organisations defined success in their work as educating young people about opportunities to travel, to converse with other groups and, sometimes, as enabling such travel and exchanges. They believed these activities provided participants with new information that questioned dominant narratives about the conflict, as well as an invaluable opportunity to meet members of the other ethnic group. These situations did not involve discussions about politics, society or violence at first, but through socialisation outside of the core activities of travel or exchanges (for example, over drinks) and in the pursuit of common interests (for example, interests in the arts or music), these conversations began to occur. They “talked about the war incognito”. This finding contradicts the commonly assumed premise that the divergent, ethnically-centred, representations of conflict are an obstacle to discussions about the most delicate issues concerning the conflict. In this respect, activities that are not primarily addressed at reconciliation, through challenging dominant narratives about the conflict, facilitate exchange on the most challenging issues dividing Serbs and Albanians.

Formal resistance to reconciliation

Much of the activity with positive intergroup outcomes that organisations had undertaken occurs in the informal domain, which emerged as the third key theme of the day, but these processes meet resistance from formal institutions and societal norms. Informality, across all levels of society, was seen as a space where friendships were created. The informal spaces at the margins of reconciliation efforts contained some of the most meaningful interactions between groups. They were spaces where constraints surrounding interaction across ethnic lines disappeared. Civil society organisations believed there was a readiness to reconcile, observed through informal activities that resulted in restoration of torn relations between members of the two communities. This trend was also documented in the LSE-based research (available here), that found that Albanians’ and Serbs’ participation in Kosovo’s informal economy that cuts across ethnic lines leads to creation of friendships, and was reflected in the above-mentioned study by the CRDP (available here). The positive will to change was, however, obstructed by societally defined boundaries that formal institutions reproduce. Organisations cited examples of cultural programmes, exchanges or interethnic sports events that were literally halted by politics. They also highlighted the reproduction of ethnic division through textbooks, nationalist political rhetoric and the political instrumentalisation of minorities. The effect was that individuals often made friends with members of the other ethnicity in the informal setting or away from their home or in spaces where they would not be exposed to public scrutiny, only for these interactions to be sanctioned by their own ethnic communities.

Summary

Overall, the workshop provided a forum for dialogue based on evidence deriving from academic research and experience from practice focused on reconceptualising reconciliation as activity. This recognised the paradox of people’s desire and need for normalisation of relations, dignity and reckoning with the legacy of conflict and the hostility towards the concept of reconciliation. The resulting outputs will be both academic publications (including a journal special issue edited by I. Sokolić) and a policy brief for local and international policy makers. The policy suggestions will focus on the roles of education, youth and cultural activities. Improved English language teaching across ethnic lines can provide a lingua franca for future generations. Youth exchange projects will be recommended since they are cost-effective and not typically labelled as reconciliatory. Furthermore, activities in the cultural sphere, such as the arts, will be highlighted due to their potential to help younger generations from different ethnic groups meet each other and bond over shared interests.