Interview 12 Nov 12

Simic: No Peace Without Transitional Strategy

The former Yugoslavia is effectively still at war, and will stay that way until the countries of the region deal with the legacy of the past, claims Goran Simic, a Bosnian Transitional Justice expert.

Denis Dzidic
Goran Simic/Photo by Wikicommons

Goran Simic, a member of an expert group which has drafted Bosnia’s Transitional Justice Strategy, told BIRN that the only way forward for the Western Balkans is greater cooperation over the legacy of the nineties conflict.

Simic believes in the necessity of prosecuting all outstanding war crimes cases. He also believes in reforming state institutions, as a way to regain the trust of citizens, whatever their ethnicity, and that every victim should be given access to reparations.

“Bosnia and Herzegovina is deeply connected to Croatia and Serbia and that is why I believe we must solve all these issues together. If we do not, then we cannot expect economic development and EU membership to solve those issues for us,” claims Simic.

“It’s not just that we are living in the recent past and are always talking about the 1990s. We have not even forgotten who betrayed whom in Kosovo 700 years ago. We are living in a state of war; we may have stopped shooting at each other, but there are different kinds of war”.

Simic argues that every country in the region should come up with their own Transitional Justice Strategy, similar to the one he helped draft for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

He claims that such a document - which offers solutions on a range of sensitive issues, including the establishment of the facts behind war crimes, and a strategy for reparations, memorials for the victims, and institutional reform – should be taken up by every country in the region.

According to Simic, there are thousands, even millions of people suffering from wartime traumas across the region, something which the individual states are not doing enough about.

“Every country of the former Yugoslavia needs to face up to the past. Unfortunately or luckily, we cannot claim that only one side was the victim and that the other one was the perpetrator.”

“Seventeen years after the war we still do not have all the facts about the war and we must make an effort to get them. This is evident when we look at our past and realize that [in this region] we have a war every 50 years and have so far wasted 17 years of peace doing nothing,” says Simic.

He warns that the predominant view of the war veterans associations in Bosnia is that “the next time we will not be caught unprepared and we will not be unarmed”.

“When we hear statements like that we can clearly see that we are all living in the expectation of new conflicts in the future”, explains Simic.

One way to avoid further bloodshed in the former Yugoslavia, says Simic, is for every country to “prosecute and condemn crimes committed by members of their own national group”.

“You cannot tell a child not to smoke if you smoke three packs a day – then your credibility is non-existent. What we see today in Bosnia and the entire region is that people ask every other ethnic group to face up to their own criminal actions, without doing that themselves”, explains Simic.

One of the ways for everyone to admit their part in the past conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Simic feels, is the adoption and full implementation of the State Transitional Justice Strategy.

The draft Strategy has already been presented in both Sarajevo and Banja Luka to civil society organizations, and is expected to come before the State Parliament soon.

However, the draft Strategy has proven to be contentious within Bosnia and Herzegovina, with representatives of several NGOs from Republika Srpska refusing to take part in a round table discussion of the draft earlier this month, claiming that the document is “offensive”.

“I am happy that everybody agrees that our society needs this strategic document, but I am saddened that representatives from Republika Srpska have decided to act in a way that does not offer a constructive solution”, said Simic.

“Not taking part in a round table seems like a childish way of prolonging and dragging out the process of implementing the Strategy, a document which we could have done with long ago,” concludes Simic. 

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