15 January 2004, Volume 6, Number 2
A program of Radio Most (Bridge) by RFE/RL/RL's Omer Karabeg, with Srdjan Dizdarevic, president of the Helsinki Committee of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Srdja Popovic, a well-known human rights lawyer from Belgrade (see "RFE/RL/RL Balkan Report," 8, 15, and 22 February 2001).
Srdja Popovic: We should acknowledge our own crimes for our own good.... We have to do it for ourselves. It is not necessary to link it to any regrets or acknowledgment by the other side that it has also committed crimes.
I do not like [Serbia and Montenegro's President Svetozar] Marovic trying to trade his apology for the withdrawal of genocide charges [in The Hague]. And what I find particularly unacceptable is the misrepresentation of the facts that Mr. Marovic resorts to.
Talking about the genocide charges against Yugoslavia, he implies that the entire nation has actually been accused. He said, "Those responsible should be brought to justice, but an entire people cannot be held responsible." Therefore, the state and people are one, which is unacceptable.... This is a carryover of the communist concept of "crimes against the state and the people."
A state and its people are not the same thing. [Former Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic's state used to rob, beat, and kill Serbs, too. To imply that a state and its people are one -- and one might raise the question of which people we are talking about, since there are Hungarians, Slovaks, Albanians, Croats, and many others living in Serbia -- is simply a ruse to enable the criminals to merge their identity with that of the nation and prevent their crimes from being punished.
RFE/RL: Another word is often used together with apology: forgiveness.... Can we ask the victims of the war in former Yugoslavia to forgive in the name of reconciliation with those who made them suffer?
Srdjan Dizdarevic: That is an individual act, and every person should be left to decide about it on his own.... I think that some will forgive, since people cannot live with such negative feelings [indefinitely], or want to hold onto the evil deep inside them.
Popovic: You asked whether victims can be asked or called on to forgive. Certainly not....
My opinion is that the perpetrators should acknowledge and express their sincere regrets for their own good, and the victims should accept such apologies in order to enable themselves to resume a normal life. However, no one can demand that a victim do it.
RFE/RL: What do you think about the sentence that can often be heard in those situations: "We will forgive, but we will never forget."
Popovic: Life is made up of remembering and forgetting. One cannot live with too much remembering. People tend to forget as times goes by. There are good and bad sides to it.
Dizdarevic: ....We should not forget, and we should make sure that [the atrocities committed in] Jasenovac, Kozara, and Srebrenica will be remembered...to prevent them from happening again....
RFE/RL: Remembering a crime can have two functions. One of them is to prevent it from happening again. However, I am afraid that in our region people remember in order to make sure there will be revenge. Just remember how [the killings of Serbs and others in] Jasenovac [by Croatian pro-Axis forces during World War II] was used to justify the crimes committed in Bosnia and Croatia [against Muslims and Croats by Serbian forces during the 1991-95 conflicts].
Dizdarevic: You are right. My view is that things should be remembered and passed on to the next generation in order to prevent them from happening again. However, we cannot prevent the misuse of history, the falsification of facts, and the manufacture of one-sided interpretations for selfish political ends.
RFE/RL: Is honest reconciliation possible after the latest bloody war, which witnessed Srebrenica and other horrible crimes?
Dizdarevic: I am convinced that this is possible. Without it, it would not make much sense to live in this region. Let me remind you of the example of German and French reconciliation [after World War II].
Why shouldn't we follow the same path? We are not more wicked than other nations. How to do it and how quickly is another matter, but at least there is hope.
Popovic: I think that the process of reconciliation will inevitably be long, painful, and complex, and closely linked to the attainment of justice.
The case of Germany shows that this is possible, since they have become reconciled with the rest of the world, although the scope of Nazi crimes actually exceeded that of those that took place here.
When will reconciliation take place? My opinion is that this will truly be possible only between generations that did not take part in the recent tragic events themselves.