Ex-Yugoslav states should work together to make sure memorials and commemorations for 1990s conflict victims support reconciliation, experts told a Sarajevo conference.
The International Commission on Missing Persons, ICMP, said that the participants at the conference on Thursday, which brought together associations representing families of the wartime missing from all over the region, would now work together on a ‘road map’ to improve memorialisation activities to prevent them entrenching divisions rather than promoting reconciliation.
ICMP coordinator Matthew Holliday said they would also lobby authorities to make records of those who still haven’t been found since the 1990s wars and to organise commemorations which crossed ethnic and religious divides.
“We don’t want the ICMP to lead the way, but for locals to take over,” said Holliday.
The ICMP last year published a report on memorialisation practices in the western Balkans which proposed the creation of a comprehensive list of all missing persons which could serve as a ‘virtual memorial’.
Another proposal was to create collective memorials to wartime victims in several places across the region.
“We should commemorate all victims in the former Yugoslavia. We want memorials in all capital cities without signs which would offend one group or religion. In that way, we would have a deterring effect and memorials with a universal character,” said Olgica Bozanic, secretary of the Association of Kidnapped and Missing Persons in Kosovo.
Holliday suggested that youth activists could play a key role in the memorialisation and reconciliation process in the future.
“While the victims’ groups are potentially quite tired from leading this process for many years, it’s important the youth step up, and they have a skill set that older people don’t have, and they can lead this process forward, which is important for the future of the region,” Holliday said.
One of the conference participants, Sven Milekic from the Youth Initiative for Human Rights in Zagreb, told BIRN that the young generation should make sure the region in the future is comprised of “countries and societies which do not tolerate and forget war crimes and horrors”.
“The states should solve memorialisation issues and society should monitor that process... We are part of our states, young people, and we have an obligation to deal with these issues, to make sure our kids will not have to deal with them,” explained Milekic.
One of the experts who spoke at the conference, Gunter Schlusche, who worked on memorials for the Holocaust and the Berlin Wall in Germany, said that the memorialisation process is at the core of facing up to the past, but that it does not have “fixed solutions”.
“We can discuss controversies and overcome them. Finally that will bring a result and a solution,” said Schlusche.