RECOM initiative aims at confronting region's past

16/05/2011

A new panel would focus squarely on the victims in documenting an "approximation of the truth".

By Marina Stojanovska for Southeast European Times in Skopje – 16/05/11

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"The power of this initiative is in its regional approach," says Macedonia Co-ordination Council member Gordana Duvnjak (right). [Marina Stojanovska/SETimes]

A campaign dubbed "One million signatures for RECOM" is under way in cities across the region -- Belgrade, Zagreb, Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Ljubljana, Pristina, Skopje and Podgorica.

RECOM is a proposed regional commission that would seek to uncover the truth about war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia. SETimes correspondent Marina Stojanovska discussed the initiative with Gordana Duvnjak, a member of its co-ordinating council in Macedonia.

SETimes: What does the RECOM initiative mean for the region, and specifically for Macedonia?

Gordana Duvnjak: Our country was the last to join the RECOM coalition (last fall), but its importance was quickly recognised and understood. RECOM is the first intergovernmental initiative of its kind, and should lead to an approximation of truth about what happened in this region after the breakup of Yugoslavia, from 1991 till the last conflict in Macedonia in 2001.

In the past two decades, the Balkans faced the bloodiest military conflicts, unprecedented in Europe since WWII, which caused many victims, destruction, migration, and major political and social changes. Although the intensity and duration of the conflicts was different [from country to country], what connects all the countries of the former Yugoslavia is the suffering of people. Pain of the loss of the loved ones is equally great among families in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Croatia, as those in Macedonia or Kosovo.

SETimes: Does the participation of NGOs, veterans' organisations, victims' associations and the media in the forming of RECOM mean that politicians in the region are not ready to accept the facts and reconciliation?

Duvnjak: The power of this initiative is precisely in the fact that it is not imposed by someone from above or from outside. RECOM is a local response, "bottom up", of mature social awareness in the face of a need to confront the past.

It is a kind of searching for a solution or model, which would benefit all victims and future generations who believe they are entitled to a better and more peaceful life.

Politicians have a strong intuition in recognising good initiative and supporting it, if they assess it can bring them political benefit. Also, social pressure must be imposed on political elites, since it is the least they owe to their citizen voters.

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Presidents Josipovic (foreground) and Tadic were quick to back the concept. [Reuters]

The presidents of Serbia and Croatia, Boris Tadic and Ivo Josipovic, were among the first who give their support to this initiative. The parliament of Montenegro also gave great support. So far, we have no reaction that would signal the mood of our government towards the initiative, especially from Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.

SETimes: What will be RECOM's principal task?

Duvnjak: The process of forming RECOM should start from the moment when all the signatory countries, in their parliaments, adopt the draft statute that regulates the work of the RECOM commission. That document should have the strength of an international agreement, because it will be obligatory for all parties.

The mandate of this independent commission and the selection of its members should give strong legitimacy to this body. The commission, comprised of 20 members and with three year mandate -- with the possibility of a six month extension -- will be based in Sarajevo.

All seven countries will open national offices, [providing] a kind of logistics for RECOM. This extrajudicial body will conduct public hearings of the victims [and] all who need to testify about anything related to the conflicts. RECOM will create a registry of all victims, whether civilian or from the warring parties.

SETimes: You already had several meetings in several regional countries and are now collecting signatures. Does the public know about RECOM?

Duvnjak: A survey, which Ipsos agency conducted for RECOM from February 17th to March 20th in Croatia, BiH, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo, showed interesting results.

The biggest number of respondents from the post-Yugoslav countries is aware of the importance of normalising relations among the Balkan states. No matter which country they come from, all overwhelmingly support the processing of war crimes and determining the number and names of victims. They think it is necessary to come to an apology and reconciliation. Unfortunately, most of the citizens have heard little or nothing about the initiative.

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The initiative is mostly known in Montenegro and BiH and somewhat less in Croatia. Since the late inclusion of Macedonia in this process, the results are encouraging, especially because the number of supporters and people who realise the importance of this initiative is growing.

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The petition drive "One million signatures for RECOM" ends on June 6th. [Bedrana Kaletovic/SETimes]

SETimes: What results do you expect from this regional initiative? Will it help bring to justice those who committed war crimes between 1991 and 2001?

Duvnjak: The power of this initiative is in its regional approach, which should pave the way for exchanges of information, because the facts established at the national level hardly have been accepted throughout the whole region. A regional approach should avoid different interpretations of the same events where each side in the conflict has its own truth.

I want to emphasise that RECOM has no ambition or legitimacy to be an alternative to The Hague war crimes tribunal and domestic courts. It is an exclusively extrajudicial body, which will focus on the victims and establish the facts and circumstances under which some war crimes or serious violations of human rights and freedoms occurred. RECOM is not entitled to go beyond this range, nor does it require doing so.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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