News

RECOM as the Cornerstone of Remembrance of the Past

14.12.2018

Author: Nataša Kandić

Since October 2008, when the Coalition for RECOM was first established, a unique civil society action has been in place to establish an intergovernmental commission to establish the facts on war crimes and compile a register of victims in connection with the wars of 1991-2001 in the territory of the former SFRY.

For three and a half years, within the framework of 128 local and regional meetings and forums, we discussed the goals, tasks, and activities of this regional commission called RECOM. When one member of the victim families’ association said she was surprised that “the fate of the other country’s victims is similar to our country’s victims,” we knew that we were on the right track. The most difficult task was to move the politicians to turn verbal support into concrete actions – by taking part in the deliberations of the Working Group for formulating the Draft Statute of RECOM.

It took two years for the presidents of the countries in the region to appoint their envoys, and then they, as legal and political experts,  came together easily and came up with proposals to do away with any assumptions voiced by some concerned critics that “RECOM aspires to assume court jurisdiction”. In November 2014, the Coalition Assembly adopted the Draft Statute of RECOM without any objections. In a few weeks, the Coalition activists had gathered 550,000 signatures across the former SFRY  in support of establishing RECOM, with the focus on victims. Encouraged by strong public support, we anticipated the start of the transfer of the RECOM process to state institutions. We asked the presidents to initiate procedures for the establishment of RECOM, but  events took a new turn. The Hague Tribunal’s mandate was nearing completion, which encouraged Balkan politicians to announce that they had successfully completed co-operation with the international tribunal and that it was time to turn to the future.

The EU faced the closure of the Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia insufficiently prepared. It launched the Berlin Process, prioritizing regional integration through economic projects. In the summit declarations, documents and statements by the EU representatives, the focus was on the integration of the Western Balkans countries into the EU, emphasizing the importance of overcoming the past, and perceiving reconciliation as an internal issue of the countries of the region, the progress of which would depend on the political maturity of its leaders. The Coalition believed that this approach shied away from the fact that the closing of the International Tribunal had marginalized transitional justice, and that without a strong European strategy, there was no prospect of overcoming the challenging legacy and reaching reconciliation with the  establishment of regional co-operation. Indefatigably, it continued to point out that the moment for RECOM had come, and that politicians should commit themselves to mirroring their verbal support for the naming of victims with actions. In February 2018, the European Commission stepped up its support for reconciliation initiatives, but reiterated that “regional co-operation, good neighbourly relations and reconciliation cannot be imposed from outside, since regional leaders must take full ownership and lead by example.” Nevertheless, in the Communication Annex, dated 6 February 2018, the EC identifies the RECOM Initiative as the leading initiative to encourage reconciliation.

When the Coalition invited leaders from the region to jointly prepare the Declaration for the Establishment of RECOM, which they would sign at the Berlin Process Summit in London in July 2018, the Presidents of Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo and the Bosniak member of the Presidency of BiH responded. It was agreed that the prime ministers of the four countries would sign the Declaration and urge the other prime ministers to do so too at the summit, or join later. Frankly, the summit organizers had other plans and priorities. They prepared three declarations, among which the Declaration on Missing Persons, proposed by the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), was of particular importance to them, because of the Royal Family’s care for the families of the missing, and because of the long-standing cooperation with the ICMP. Another reason the RECOM Declaration was not on the agenda of the summit was the fact that the leaders of Serbia, Kosovo, and Macedonia had failed to align actions with words, so the Coalition was obliged to inform the organizer three days ahead of the summit that it had not managed to obtain a written decision from the governments on the signing of the Declaration.

This does not mean that we have given up or lost a civilisational perspective. There is some good news. The EU has brought the issue of reconciliation and regional cooperation into focus. The elections in BiH have been completed. The support of the new BiH Presidency is more significant than that of the previous one. We can expect Croatia to play a European role in fostering reconciliation based on facts. In addition, the legacy of the ICTY is of great importance for the successful RECOM mandate and for knowledge and the building up of social remembrance.

It should not be forgotten that state institutions, ministries of defence, police, justice and foreign affairs departments, local courts, commissions, documentation centres, media archives, governmental and non-governmental organizations, internet platforms, association records, private archives, and other sources possess hundreds of thousands of documents on the identity and circumstances of the suffering of civilians and members of the armed forces. The Hague Tribunal has established the identities and causes of death of at least 18,000 war crimes victims. The RECOM Coalition has collected about 60,000 documents and established facts about the identity of at least 22,000 victims in connection with the wars. The moment has come for the documents, data and facts to be collected, classified according to a uniform methodology, and entered into the database, and to monitor with trust the work of the official commission dedicated to the victims and the future. The facts established by RECOM will become the cornerstone of our knowledge and social remembrance building.

Originally published in Serbian in Danas on December 10th 2018. Translated by Aleksandar Janković.