Author: Nemanja Stjepanović, The Humanitarian Law Center

Since the end of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, just enough years have passed for children born after the wars to became legal aged and to begin thinking about the world around them. In the meantime, each society in which they grew up has built a narrative of the wars in the past in the former Yugoslavia. Will these young persons’ – just until yesterday merely children – parents, professors, media or politicians teach them that the only, or at least the most numeous, victims of past wars were Croats, Bosniaks, Albanians or Serbs depending solely on the environment in which they were born?

Instead of narratives about the wars of the nineties, in particular if we have in mind the multi-year court processes and the efforts of the civil sector to reach to the truth, being brought together, they were increasingly moving away, because everyone told their own story, ignoring the court established facts, evidence, testimonies, and identified numbers of killed, wounded, raped, expelled. That is why nationalist rhetoric has grown over time and today, at least in terms of prevailing attitudes in the societies of the region, we find ourselves in the pre-war state.

That these societies were not and will not be able to deal with their past, a number of non-governmental organizations from the region were aware even in 2006, when a debate about instruments for the discovery and teling of facts about the past began in the civil sector. Two years later, on 28 October 2008, a Coalition for the establishment of the Regional Commission for the Establishment of Facts on War Crimes and Other Human Rights Violations in the Wars of the nineties – Coalition for RECOM was established in Pristina.

In short, the idea was to get (at least a minimum) of consensus on the war past of the region, based on facts from the commission’s work. Ten years have passed since the founding of the Coalition, but RECOM has still not been established. Where did it go wrong? With the politicians.

RECOM was conceived as an interstate commission, which means that it needs support  (not control) of the authorities of the states that participated in the wars, that is, those created by the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia. This support has been provided and denied within the last few years in countries like an on-off switch, and today we have come to the fact that the switch is in the “off” position in Croatia, even though the former president of that state, Ivo Josipović,  has supported the establishment of RECOM and has recently, once again from the presidential retirement, invited his successor, Kolinda Grabar Kitarović, to do the same. Clicking of the “on” button is also awaitied in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where used to be two-to-one support (Bosnian and Croatian members were for it, Serbian was against) when in the tripartite presidency was changed to one-to-two, because the Croatian member has changed his position, obviously following the position of Croatia.

It seems that from the Croatian side there is a fear of entering into anything „regional“. But the establishment of RECOM is not the establishment of a new Yugoslavia, nor is it advocating for regional integration in the future. This is primarily about the past, about its need to be based on facts, which should be of interest to everyone, because there are victims on all sides and new conflicts would not bring good to anyone. Even if viewed through a strictly national, Croatian prism, it would be of great importance to determine the number of war victims in that country, to record the place of detention for Croats in Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and other facts about crimes committed against the Croatian population.

We came, therefore, to what would be the mandate of the Regional Commission – this out-of-court body should establish allegations of all war crimes and other human rights violations during the 1990s, list all war victims, regardless of their nationality, status , sex or age, and collect all information about places of detention throughout the former Yugoslavia.

It is important to emphasize that this process is already lasting for a long time – the facts about war crimes are already largely visible from the evidence and court conclusions reached before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, but also in domestic courts and in confessions and witness statements given to representatives of civil society, primarily to organizations gathered in the Coalition for RECOM. These organizations have also been collecting and publishing the names of victims and data on their victims for a long time, and a list of all places of detention is in progress, first in BiH, then in other countries.

The Coalition for RECOM is, therefore, preparing and is ready for RECOM. The politicians in power are the awaited ones.

Before us is a crucial period in which we should define whether we are going to determine the facts, determine the minimum of the consensus on the past and create a promise for the peaceful future of the region (and after that, they can integrate or not, whichewer the preferance is) or we will continue to build narratives about the past based on myths and lies, creating a fuel for new conflicts and the repetition of the most arduous pages of common history in the future. One way leads through as-soon-as possible establishment of RECOM, the other through the rejection of the initiative for its establishment.