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South Slavic: May 18, 2000

18 May 2000, Volume 2, Number 19

Reconciliation In The Former Yugoslavia? Part II

In today's Radio Most (Bridge), we are going to discuss how to possibly achieve reconciliation in the region of former Yugoslavia. Our participants are Ivan Zvonimir Cicak from Zagreb, who is a member of the Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, and Mladen Lazic, a sociology professor of the Belgrade Faculty of Philosophy. Part I appeared on 11 May.

Ivan Zvonimir Cicak: I think, for example, that [Montenegrin President Milo] Djukanovic should apologize [to Croatia for war crimes in 1991]. The only problem is that he does not intend to do it, because he is convinced that he is the one just now to be the Messiah of the Montenegrin people and that he is doing the right things. But in reality he is the one who made people go to attack Dubrovnik [in 1991]. He actually said in an interview: "The question is who should apologize to whom." I find it ridiculous.

Omer Karabeg: But you have just said that no one should apologize and now you say that Djukanovic should.

Ivan Zvonimir Cicak: I do not say that he should apologize, I am just reminding you of what he is saying now. If someone should apologize, then those responsible for the crimes should do it. Why should Mr. Lazic apologize to me or why should I apologize to him?

Omer Karabeg: I was not talking about you. When one talks about apologizing, it means that politicians, representatives of a people, prime ministers, or presidents should do it.

Mladen Lazic: If those people intend to do something, then, I think, they should initiate parliamentary and judicial procedures in order to determine who did commit those crimes. Their best possible contribution to reconciliation would be if they started punishing their own criminals, but I must admit that I do not believe it will happen....

Ivan Zvonimir Cicak: The Hague Tribunal is the best possible institution of apology. Those responsible for the crimes should be sentenced....

As far as punishing one's own criminals is concerned, I follow this parliamentary discussion in Croatia regarding this new co-operation with the Hague Tribunal. Now, what is new about it? The new thing is that this new Croatian government, Racan's government, wants the Hague Tribunal to cede some of the investigations previously carried out by the Tribunal to Croatia, so that the trials can be organized here.

The Croatian government could carry out thousands of other investigations, but it does not want to. It wants to take those already initiated by the Hague Tribunal in order to neutralize them. Let me be clear about that, since we are talking about criminal offences committed while the laws of former Yugoslavia were still in effect. Hence, the severest punishment that might be imposed on those criminals is 20 years imprisonment, while in The Hague, they might be sentenced to jail for life.

The other thing is that, if they care about trying criminals, why then do not the judicial organs of the Yugoslav successor states launch proceedings against criminals who are not in the dock in The Hague? Of course they do not do that. What is being done here is that they are trying to neutralize the Hague tribunal. People from The Hague see that very well; they are not fools.

Mladen Lazic: There might be something else. I must say that it has just occurred to me right now, but maybe what lies behind these demands for an apology is an attempt to cover up the most important things. In this case, for instance, Milosevic might apologize instead of being brought to justice. If he apologized, then we would not have to seek to punish him.

Ivan Zvonimir Cicak: Milosevic might apologize as many times as he wants to, but his place remains in The Hague and for life. I do not think that we should discuss that. And there are many others in the same boat as he is.

Mladen Lazic: That makes sense, but apologies do not. Just imagine someone apologizing for tens of thousands of murdered men and women. It really seems cynical to me. Anyway, who is authorized to apologize? I simply think that this issue is a false one and that it is meant to substitute for the real one, which is determining responsibility and punishing the guilty.

Ivan Zvonimir Cicak: It might make sense in some historical situations. The Pope now apologizes for [the killing of] witches, but the witches are now dead. OK, he did it, and it still represents a moral step forward.

But we live with fresh wounds. I am not interested only in the moral dimension of this case, I am also interested in the penal one. A man who committed a crime must be held responsible according to the law, and I do not care whether he killed a Serb, a Croat, Japanese, or a Turk. I want a man who killed another man to be punished according to the law. That is how to deal with the problem.

Omer Karabeg: The international community focused on reconciliation in Bosnia-Herzegovina. However, it seems to me that even the representatives of the international community have concluded that tensions can be somehow calmed only if those unpleasant things are pushed aside.

This is why the history books--by order of the representatives of the international community--do not mention the last war, since it is impossible to determine the truth about that war in a way that is acceptable to all three communities. One people considers that the war was aggression, another calls it a defensive war, while the third claim it was a war of independence. Do you think, Mr. Cicak, that recent history should simply be expelled from history books for the time being?

Ivan Zvonimir Cicak: I think that kids learn from their parents. You can put whatever you want in your history book, but a kid will think that the truth is what he is told at home. That is the real problem.

Mladen Lazic: You are right, but there is something else. What good is it if you purge the last ten years from the history books if you continue teaching the rest of history according to nationalist dogmas? That is simply ridiculous.

I think that the international community is making a mistake by imposing on Bosnia what is supposedly a democratic process. Elections are being annulled, there are cases of election rigging as well, but that achieves nothing. That is exactly what was done back in 1945. It was believed then that unpleasant things should be swept under the carpet, and everything would be forgotten. However, nothing will be forgotten unless it is dealt with in a serious manner.

Omer Karabeg: If that is not the right way, what should be done?

Mladen Lazic: There are historians capable of writing the objective truth. I know that there are such people living in Belgrade. There are not too many of them--actually, there are very few of them--but still, there are enough to do the job.

Ivan Zvonimir Cicak: They should first agree about what is a fact in historical terms. For example, that a meeting was held on August 14--and not on September 22--what was said then, and what were the consequences. Or, for example, that Vukovar was attacked by the Yugoslav People's Army and not by the Martians.

Omer Karabeg: Yes, but some would say that the Yugoslav People's Army simply defended itself.

Ivan Zvonimir Cicak: Yes, one could say that some 1,500 defenders of Vukovar attacked an army of one million men. But that can only be seen in a puppet theatre.

Omer Karabeg: This is exactly what I am talking about. How can you expect people to agree when their understandings of facts are totally opposite?

Ivan Zvonimir Cicak: I am not talking about interpretations; I am talking about establishing that some facts truly exist. The fact is, for example, that the war in Vukovar did not start in 1985 but in 1991. At least that can be established.

Omer Karabeg: Some think that only a temporary reconciliation between the peoples of former Yugoslavia can be achieved, but not a permanent one. They refer to the fact that cycles of evil and hatred occur repeatedly in this region.

Ivan Zvonimir Cicak: That is not right. Those cycles started only with World War I....

Mladen Lazic: Of course. Take whatever history book of the Balkans you want and you will see that the myth of cycles of violence does not hold water. For example, I am reading right now Maria Todorova's book "Imagining the Balkans," where I have found out things that I did not know before. For example, we have all read that the English helped the Greeks during their uprising [against the Ottomans]. However, Maria Todorova [who is Bulgarian] shows that there were ten times more Bulgarians on the Greek side than there were English, and that there was a very broad-based solidarity [between Bulgarians and Greeks] at that time. Unfortunately, there are many negative stereotypes about this region [that obscure such facts].

Omer Karabeg: What you mean is that such myths are a product of the 20th century.

Mladen Lazic: Yes, in a certain sense. There were no such things as ethnic groups before the 20th century. What I mean is that society was not understood that way. There were different religions, but there were no fervent religious conflicts between the Catholics and the Orthodox in this region before. The Muslim religion was not proselytizing enough to necessarily cause conflicts. Therefore, the current intolerance seems to be the aberration.

Ivan Zvonimir Cicak: Those who keep saying that animosity exists here from times immemorial simply do not know the facts. They simply repeat what they have come to accept. Well, the Yugoslav idea [that originated in the 19th century in Croatia--ed.] did not appear to be based on animosity. I think that it had to be based on something else.

Therefore, it is clear that this new period of modernity and different ideologies has brought us certain conflicts that ended in war. The question is whether some future generation will ever be strong enough to say "enough" to war.

I think that the Hague tribunal might contribute to that aim simply by punishing those who advocate war. I would like to see anyone dare to advocate the war again knowing that the sword of Damocles will then threaten him.

Omer Karabeg: As far as I understand, Mr. Cicak, you see the Hague tribunal at this moment as the only instrument of reconciliation.

Ivan Zvonimir Cicak: That is not an instrument but a medicine.

Mladen Lazic: It is important that those people are criminally prosecuted, but I do not find the court the only instrument of reconciliation. I think that the reconciliation is rather a gradual process. I have already mentioned the different atmosphere I noticed in Zagreb last year, mostly among the intellectuals. The tone was far more conciliatory than before; those who were die-hard nationalists or even chauvinists in earlier years are now singing different tunes.

Now I can notice the same thing here. For example, we have already mentioned Vuk Draskovic. If we compare his declarations concerning some ethnic issues from 1992 and those from 1999, we will see that they are quite different.

Therefore, life will bring about reconciliation without the Hague Tribunal. But it would be a shame not to help life by determining the responsibility for the crimes and everything else that goes with it.

Omer Karabeg: Finally, Do you think that a true reconciliation is possible at all among the peoples of former Yugoslavia, or you think that all that talk about reconciliation is a futile effort--some would say a diversion for idle, unpatriotic intellectuals?

Ivan Zvonimir Cicak: I am one of these idle, unpatriotic intellectuals. However, if I did not believe in reconciliation I would have already retired from public life.... I believe in reconciliation between peoples. I believe in reconciliation between individuals, groups, and eventually among peoples.

Mladen Lazic: Elements of the reconciliation process are already visible in the regions where the conflicts have stopped. It is a far from satisfactory situation, but things are slowly going in the right direction. I travel to Zagreb with a lot less anxiety than before and I think that people from Zagreb are far readier to come to Belgrade. At least you can see it in show business. Croatian movies are being released here without any scandals. Things are slowly changing. One should only be patient.