“My parents didn’t want me to come”, confesses a 20-year-old from Bosnia and Herzegovina. This statement is illustrative of the taboo that still rests on open dialogue on the conflicts in the Western Balkans in the 1990s.
There are many different formal and informal versions of history of the 1990s wars. Politicians, media, many use manipulations of the past, producing more intolerance, hatred and insecurity for young people and the upcoming generations. The Past Continues initiative, led by our partner the Youth Initiative for Human Rights, offers over 100 people in the Western Balkans the opportunity to make a generational step forward and, together with young people from the region, take part in creating a new look at the past that has separated them so far. The programme puts participants in the position of co-author of the “Shared Narratives” publication and gives them the opportunity to learn through study visits to places in the region, getting to know new people and to discuss with contemporary witnesses as well as prominent regional and world experts on history, dialogue and justice.
We are now in Belgrade for the kick-off, at the Bring Your Own History seminar where over 100 young people from Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Kosovo gather. Everyone brings with them their own knowledge and perspectives on events from the recent past gained through society, the family and the context in which they live. The aim of the seminar is for the participants to present some dominant narratives and gain new knowledge and experience through lectures on historical dialogue in order to critically consider its context and perspective, as well as the perspectives of others.
The seminar opens with a keynote lecture by philosophy professor and human rights defender Žarko Puhovski on the topic of ‘Truth and Justice in Post-War Societies’. Prof. Puhovski contextualized the values of truth and justice and spoke of numerous examples of varying perceptions, and how these can change over time.
Dion van den Berg and Inge Baanders from PAX for Peace delivered a lecture on ‘Civic Contribution to Dealing with the Past’ to underline and explain how civil society actors and individuals can contribute to reconciliation and justice-building in a post-war setting. They relied heavily on examples from their own context – from The Netherlands. This lecture stressed that social and political divisions and challenges arising from past events is neither a local nor a short-time matter.
Throughout the conference, the participants worked in groups under facilitation of Maja Nenadović, an experienced trainer, facilitator and debate coach with extensive experience both in youth work and in dealing with the past projects. In these groups, participants exchanged views and discussed concepts, as well as actual events from recent history. For the last working sessions, the participants chose bilateral groups in which they will be working on research and narratives for the next year. Each of the groups selected several topics that they will be working on, ranging from specific instances of crimes (such as crimes committed in Ahmići and Trusina), continuous criminal campaigns (e.g. siege of Sarajevo, battle of Vukovar or ethnic cleansing around Prijedor) to topics such as anti-war protests. It promises to be an interesting year!
This project was developed through the fellowship program Alliance for Historical Dialogue and Accountability of the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at the Columbia University in the City of New York, USA, and is implemented by the Regional Network of Youth Initiative for Human Rights in collaboration with PAX from the Netherlands with support by the Robert Bosch Foundation from Germany and the European Commission.
More about the Past Continues project.
More information about our work on The Balkans: paxforpeace.nl/the-balkans