Bosnia and Herzegovina - acknowledging the crimes of the past

Bosnia and Herzegovina – acknowledging the crimes of the past

Acknowledging the crimes of the past is a difficult but vital step to build lasting peace. Old wounds can easily be reopened by discussing history, but in order for them to heal properly history must be confronted.

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By Goran Šimić 

The question that always occurs is: ‘Why fiddle with our past?’ Why can’t we all just leave it behind and look forward to a happy and peaceful future? Unfortunately, the experience of many countries and people, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, shows there is no future without addressing the issues of the past. Especially if that past was filled with crime and suffering.

Such issues always find their way to the surface and are often used in daily politics, usually with no real desire to solve and overcome them. If we can move beyond this, no longer will it be possible to use them to manipulate society and prevent lasting peace. These conflicting interests mean that the decision on whether to “peddle” the past or simply push it all under the carpet is more difficult than it seems.

While the simple solution of avoiding the past has its merits, deciding to confront it is difficult, painful and a long-term process. Unfortunately, not only in Bosnia and Herzegovina but in the whole of the former Yugoslavia, people are not ready or have not accepted the need to deal with the past. Will this now change? I worry that, like well-known Bosnian writer Meša Selimović said, this generation will be no different from previous ones. If we are going to be completely honest with ourselves, we cannot be completely secure of our views today, even for the days that are ahead of us.

But this need not be our fate. We are choosing our own destiny, and whatever we do, it will not be the fault of some imaginary that is not ours. Dealing with the past will not be easy, but it is essential. Dealing with our own past by bringing closure and offering justice for all, perpetrators and victims, is the only right way. This path will not remove crimes from history. It will not repair souls that have been torn apart. But it will offer them the option to move on, and future generations will be able to live without the baggage of what went before. Hence people will have the opportunity to live full and worthy lives. Otherwise, and this can be seen in many communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, we will have towns, villages, places and people in conflict, whose lives together in an area will offer nothing more than waiting for the final settling of the score. There is no happiness in that, for victims or perpetrators. In this equation, everyone is a loser.

It seems that the most important ingredient missing is honesty. Honesty with ourselves, with others, to the society in which we live. Without it, the activities that we carry out will always be oriented towards cosmetic things, but the essence we will never find. In addition, the most important thing is to start with ourselves. Ourselves as individuals, but also ourselves in sum, as ethnicity, as society. Some say it is compassionate not to look back, but this is a cheap excuse. Ultimately, it does not bring benefit to anyone. Therefore, no matter how painful, it is necessary to start with yourself, and finds the strength for tears and to lend a hand. ‘A kind word and a steel door opens,’ we say in this country, and not without reason.

Unfortunately, we live in a time when the peak of vision is often individual benefit, regardless of those who live with us.

In the long run, this cannot bring good to anyone. So, how to deal with justice in a society full of pain and suffering? Is it valid to address so painful and difficult a process? To go back in time again to remember the suffering? I believe so. Moreover, I would say that this is the only thing worth doing. It’s nice to talk about economic progress, prosperity, material goods but what is it all worth when people create and then destroy every 50 years? Is there not a real need to stop the combination of destroying not only material goods but also peoples’ lives? To change the practice of the last few centuries? There is no doubt that there is, and it is hard to really find, if they exist at all, any counter-arguments. After all, this approach has led us to where we are now, so why not change it. Why would you continue to insist on the atrocities and destruction that have been repeated throughout history?

But is it just a pipe dream of this author who doesn’t understand the reality of the moment in which Bosnia and Herzegovina is located? Is peace (and why not reconciliation) in these areas possible? A peace that will finally eliminate the suffering and the suffering of the people who live in these areas and to give them, and future generations, peace and prosperity.

Maybe it is a dream. The dream of a better future without bloodshed, murder, arson and abuse. We who have experienced killing certainly have the right to dream and do everything in our power to make it not just our dream, but our reality. Activities that have been already taken show that that is achievable. To go further, it will take more determination and courage. More wishes for a better today and a better tomorrow. Only in this way will we create a positive enough atmosphere to do everything that is necessary, because it will be neither easy nor painless. Not only victims but everyone involved should have their say. And nor should it be left to the politicians, on whose good or bad will we too often depend. It should be a commitment from all of us, society as a whole, that suffering will no longer exist. Never again.

 is an expert in the field of criminal law and transitional justice, professor, lecturer, writer, fighter for human rights and the rights of victims.

This article was originally published on Insight on Conflict and can be accessed by clicking here.

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28 Responses

  1. Yoooooooo

    Very moving article. My heart goes out to the victims; who have gone through unimaginable atrocities & which the whole world has seemed to have pretended never happened (and local politicians too it seems). Justice, reparation & ultimately peace are vital elements. Must be so hard for victims though when many of the perpetrators are still out there. I cant imagine the pain of acknowledging the past; but if that’s what it takes to prevent future atrocities. It Is very worth it. This organisation seems to do many amazing things!! :)

  2. Anonymous

    Reconciliation can be achieved if right to self-determination is freely practiced. Those that wish to live next to their neighbors in a separate country, rather than living in a country that they have no love or loyalty for, should be allowed to peacefully secede so any future bloodshed can be avoided.

    1. The problem with self-determination under a realist notion fails to take in account the businesses, possible arable land, mineral resources, etc. Self-determination does solve things under circumstances, but it is not just pure secession alone that ultimately brings resolution to conflict (not an expert on Bosnian geography nor the economic situation in the former Yugoslavia). I agree that history is something that must be deeply examined in order to set aside differences and give reparations to those victims or establish some clarity, but it also takes a cautious resolution under both parties’ consent under a complex set of mutual agreements (economic division, geographical borders, arable land distribution, political direction, and careful coordination). It also takes a worthy prince, someone who either has bloodline ties to the mutual governorship that exists to win the hearts of the people, or establishes legitimacy under a newly formed state that forms a social contract with the people to respect the ancient way of laws or establishing new reforms that the newly existed state couldn’t reach with the older rulers.

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