What is ‘reconciliation’ in the eyes of the European Commission?

Cyril Muller, Zoran Zaev, Denis Zvizdić, Johannes Hahn, Ana Brnabić, Edi Rama, Duško Marković and Isa Mustafar; Photo: Tanjug / AP Photo / Hektor Pustina

Western Balkan countries are making slow progress in applying transitional justice mechanisms, such as war crimes prosecutions or dealing with the human rights violations which happened during the wars of the nineties. This has become a deterrent not just to the respective communities across the region, but to their European aspirations as well.

Regional ownership of reconciliation processes is explicitly named in the latest European Commission’s (EC) Strategy as a prerequisite for the credible enlargement process.

“Reconciliation needs strong ownership in the Western Balkans and should be led first and foremost by the countries of the region. Good neighborly relations should continue to be reinforced through regional cooperation initiatives”, the Strategy says.

In this document, it is also stated that the leaders of the region should lead by example, avoid and condemn any statements or actions which would fuel inter-ethnic tension and actively counter nationalist narratives.

“There is no place in the EU for inflammatory rhetoric, let alone for glorification of war criminals from any side… The process of transitional justice is incomplete”, concludes the document.

Regional cooperation is pervasive throughout this official communication, while the support to reconciliation and good neighborly relations also has its own flagship initiative in the Strategy. It should be noted that many of the these initiatives use the same arguments and proposals developed by civil society actors, actively involved in the Berlin Process since 2014.

The grim reality

On the other hand, in the field so to say, in the 2018 EC Reports for most of the countries in the region, lack of progress towards the reconciliation is noted.

According to EC, “Serbia needs to demonstrate firmer commitment at all levels in this area, fostering mutual trust and reconciliation, to establish an atmosphere conducive to meaningful regional cooperation and to effectively address all war-crimes related issues.

EC also acknowledges “statements made by high-level (Serbian) officials and the actions of state bodies (which) could have a significant impact on the creation of such an atmosphere”.

In Kosovo, “Inter-Ministerial Working Group on Dealing with the Past and Reconciliation, established to deal with gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law during Kosovo’s conflict, has failed to develop the strategy on transitional justice and has effectively stopped its work”.

For Montenegro, despite some positive developments in the reporting period, a need to further step up the efforts to fight impunity for war crimes is noted. Besides this, “Montenegro needs to apply a more proactive approach in order to effectively investigate, prosecute, try and punish war crimes in line with international standards”.

Of the remaining post-Yugoslav countries of the WB6, only is Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as Macedonia positively appraised in the area of war crimes prosecution. From this list, Croatia as a member of the EU is, of course, absent, but still remains as an essential actor in creating atmosphere of reconciliation and the completion of this important process. Promotion of European values through the education system is also noted in the aforementioned Reports as one of the best ways for fostering regional acquiescence.

The key initiatives: RYCO and RECOM

The establishment of the Regional Youth Cooperation Ofice (RYCO) is usually named as the most visible and most tangible results of the Berlin Process. RYCO is now a regionally-owned, regionally-financed organization, and its establishment has brought together governmental and non-governmental representatives alike.

RYCO was also during this year acknowledged as a part of the six flagship initiatives, within this aforementioned EC’s initiatives. The EU pointed out that their part in the initiative will include (among other things) “supporting transitional justice, missing persons and increased cooperation in education, culture, youth and sport”.

The establishment of RECOM (Regional commission for the establishment of facts about war crimes and other serious violations of human rights committed in the former Yugoslavia) should be the most important and the most operational of measures for the fulfillment of transitional justice, and the EU sees it as one of the most important indicators for the reconciliation in the Western Balkans. Alas, as the Road-map for RECOM states, that the “postponement in the launching of this unique transitional justice instrument is due to the opportunistic reluctance of a number of post-Yugoslav decision-makers, both incumbent and former”.

This reluctance is exactly what is being addressed by the EC’s Strategy as one of the main problems for the accession of the region to the EU. Initiative for RECOM’s aim is to get four of the Prime Ministers of the WB6 to sign the Declaration for the establishing of RECOM, after which the rest of the officials would join.

This could also be the first time the that the reconciliation is directly named as a cornerstone of future cooperation of the WB6 within the Berlin process. Coalition for RECOM expects that the Declaration on the Establishment of RECOM will be signed by the Presidents of Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro at the forthcoming London Summit.