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.
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.
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: 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.
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.
Over the last decade, reconciliation in the aftermath of violence has evolved from being a by-word for impunity, to being conceived of as a vital element in a society’s transition to sustainable peace. Despite the confidence that reconciliation is crucial to successful transition, there is, on the one hand, little consensus over what reconciliation means and how it is to be reached, and on the other, a growing sense that reconciliation has come to be defined by the liberal peacebuilding paradigm in which it was conceived, and as such offers only limited value to post-conflict/ authoritarian societies. It is clear, then, that there is a need to re-evaluate what reconciliation does, can, has and might mean as scholars continue to search for viable ways for introducing sustainable peace. In order to challenge what it is that is meant by the term ‘reconciliation’ and how this ‘goal’ is reached, the workshop brings together academics from a range of disciplines to explore hidden and forgotten moments of (non)reconciliation from a diverse range of historical and cultural contexts and from a variety of theoretical perspectives. Papers include explorations of reconciliation practices in Ancient Greece, the longue durée of (non)reconciliation in the aftermath of the English and American Civil Wars, the reverberations of the memory of violence with the Bolshevik revolution, the dynamic role of religion in reconciliatory moments, and the role of traditional reconciliation practices in East Africa.
Whilst the workshop is principally for those presenting papers, there are a limited number of spaces left for those interested in attending. Please firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Please join us for a lecture by the award winning landscape photographer, Simon Norfolk, on the politics of remembrance after WW1, based on his forthcoming documentary series Ricochet.
After the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 soldiers’ dead bodies were simply ‘shovelled into a hole and so forgotten.’ Even in the early months of the First World War the only names on casualty lists in newspapers were those of Officers. But by the war’s end in 1919 we had shifted to building hundreds of military cemeteries where every single soldier, down to the lowest Private, would be eternally remembered, in stone like a pharaoh. Elaborate ceremonies – this thing we call ‘Remembrance’ with a capital R – were manufactured to memorialise their deaths. The sheer number of dead and the brutal, industrialised meaninglessness of their dying called forth the greatest period of British cultural creativity of which you’ve never heard. This lecture (which is based series of documentary programmes) examines how that change came about and offers a hard-hitting polemic against the standard model of Remembrance that was created after the Great War. What’s wrong with pretty war cemeteries and cenotaphs and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier? Quite a lot, this lecture argues.
The lecture is a keynote address for an AHRC funded workshop, ‘Reconciliation Histories’ as part of Art&Reconciliation: Conflict, Culture and Community. The workshop explores forgotten and hidden moments of (non)reconciliation to challenge what it is that is meant be reconciliation and how it is to be achieved in the contemporary era. To this end, papers draw on diverse historical and cultural contexts, from responses to the Athenian wars, to the consequences of the reverberations of the memory of the Bolshevik revolution for Russian culture today. Whilst the workshop is principally for those presenting papers, there are a limited number of spaces left for those interested in attending. Please email email@example.com for more information.
Simon Norfolk is an award winning landscape photographer (including Prix Pictet, 2013) whose work over twenty years has been themed around a probing and stretching of the meaning of the word ‘battlefield’ in all its forms. As such, he has photographed in some of the world’s worst war-zones and refugee crises, but is equally at home photographing supercomputers used to design military systems or the test-launching of nuclear missiles. He has produced four monographs: ‘Afghanistan: Chronotopia’ (2002); ‘For Most Of It I Have No Words’ (1998); ‘Bleed’ (2005); and ‘Burke + Norfolk: Photographs from the War in Afghanistan’ (2011). He has been described by one critic as ‘the leading documentary photographer of our time. Passionate, intelligent and political; there is no one working in photography that has his vision or his clarity.’ His work has been shown globally, from The Getty (LA) to Tate Modern (London). For more info see https://www.simonnorfolk.com/
Dr Rachel Kerr will participate in a discussion at Norwich Cathedral on Saturday 11 November 2017 (11.00am – 4.00pm) around the exhibition, ‘Art Conflict & Remembering’. The exhibition explores non-sectarian murals about the Civil Rights movement and the Troubles in the Bogside area of Derry, Northern Ireland. For more information see here.
Venue: Norwich Cathedral
Date: 11 November 2017
Artist in residence, Milena Michalski, is participating in a panel discussion after a performance of the dance project, Remember. Remember has been produced by Candoco & the Soldiers Arts Academy, and the performance was created by a cast of veterans and young people.
Remember is a unique dance to commemorate the First World War choreographed by the award winning dance company Candoco and performed by veterans from recent conflicts from the Soldiers’ Arts Academy cic, War Studies students , young people and members of Candoco’s youth group, Cando2. The dance has been created to explore experiences, stories and objects from the First World War through the experiences of veterans from more recent conflicts and non military members of the community.
The performance is aprox. 25 mins and will be followed by an opportunity to hear from the perfomers and artists involved in making the work. The discussion will cover how objects are used to remember, the study of war and the experience war and the role of the arts in transition from military into civilian life.
Location: Anatomy Museum (6th Floor) King’s Building Strand Campus:
When: 07/11/2017 (18:30-20:00)