On Monday (Oct. 8) at Documentation Center Kosovo in Prishtina, K2.0 hosted an open and inclusive discussion where, as a continuation of the publication of our latest monograph, “The Past, Now”, transitional justice was the subject on the agenda.
On the panel was; Ardian Arifaj, political advisor to President Hashim Thaçi, Sofija Todorović, Program Coordinator for Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR) Serbia, Linda Gusia, a sociologist and academic, Nidžara Ahmetašević, K2.0’s regional editor, and Saranda Bogujevci, a Member of the Kosovo Assembly’s Committee on Human Rights, Gender Equality, Missing Persons and Petitions.
The discussion was opened by moderator and editor-in-chief of K2.0, Besa Luci, who in her introductory speech said that this topic raises a series of unresolved issues and unaddressed problems that have affected the problematic relations between the countries and societies of the region.
“It is part of institutions’ responsibility to contribute in this direction,” said Luci. “While the consequences of wars in the region remain unresolved, there are conflicting and polarizing narratives that do not help a cooperative future, especially for new generations,” she added, citing how K2.0’s monograph aimed to contribute to the debate on this issue.
Ardian Arifaj, said that the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is a complex enterprise, so initially only the TRC’s Preparatory Team has been formed. The Preparatory Team, set up in May this year, has 18 months to complete the establishment of technical and legal infrastructure for the TRC, while its composition consists of 5 civil society representatives and 4 representatives of the institutions: 2 from the Office of the President, 1 from the Government and 1 from the Assembly.
“We have received support from OSCE, but also from several embassies in Prishtina, such as the US Embassy, Switzerland, Norway, etc.,” Arifaj said, adding that the TRC will not handle the right to justice, since other bodies, from the ICTY to the Specialist Chambers, have dealt with court cases.
He also stated that the TRC would not replace the national strategy for dealing with the past, nor address reconciliation between Kosovo and Serbia or facilitate the dialogue between the two countries. Instead the TRC would focus on reconciliation between communities in Kosovo. “The TRC will be an independent commission, although it has been initiated by the President, and the TRC’s goal is to reconcile contradictory narratives,” Arifaj said.
Saranda Bogujevci, a Vetëvendosje deputy and a member of the Kosovo Assembly Committee on Human Rights, Gender Equality, Missing Persons and Petitions, said that it is impossible for her to speak only as a deputy, or as a member of the aforementioned Committee without mentioning her personal experience. In March 1999, Škorpioni (Scorpions), a Serbian police unit famed for participating in the Srebrenica massacre, carried out a massacre on the Albanian civilian population in the town of Podujevo.
“I lost a huge part of my family in this massacre,” Bogujevci told the audience. “Of the 21 members of the family, only 5 of us survived. From the victims, all were children, except 2 men. I was in England for rehabilitation, and then as a family we pursued justice, and I have personally testified in two trials in Belgrade (the first in 2003), as well as at Milosević’s trial in The Hague.”
She objected to Arifaj’s vision of the TRC, calling his claim that the TRC should perform internal reconciliation an insult to the families of those killed in and missing from the Kosovo war. “We do not have an internal problem,” Bogujevci stated. “We have no problem with the Serb community in Kosovo, the conflict was between Kosovo and Serbia, and Serbia has committed crimes in Kosovo as a state.”
She also expressed dissatisfaction with his claims about reparations, pointing out that no reparations can be made without court verdicts. Bogujevci then criticized Kosovo’s institutions for failing to document war crimes (a process which instead has been carried out by different NGOs), as well as their lack of representation in regional meetings dealing with transitional justice.
Nidžara Ahmetašević, regional editor of K2.0, explained how the situation around this issue in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is more complex than in Kosovo, where domestic politics is complicated by the existence of three levels of government, three presidents and three different narratives within a state.
“Politicians want to manipulate the pain and the past,” Ahmetašević said. “Every time someone wants to remove these politicians, they would mention Srebrenica and play the victimization card. Look at the elections held yesterday [Sunday, Oct. 7] where a politician who still denies war crimes won, and they are getting richer and richer, and gain endless power by using the past.”
She expressed her conviction that the answer must come from people who find a way to deal with the past and their pain that makes them unable to be manipulated by others. Among other things, Ahmetašević criticized some parts of civil society, which are led only by donations. She insisted that this problem should be resolved by a civic society, which should first be understood as a concept and then built.
Talking about how BiH has faced the past, she explained that women and society are still fighting for the truth even when it comes to sexual violence. “By law there is compensation, but not yet reparations. Patriarchy is another problem, since there is still a stigma to talk freely about this topic,” Ahmetašević said, adding that in BiH, until now, 120 trials — whether at local or international level — have been conducted that tried defendants for sexual violence during the war.
Sociologist Linda Gusia had much criticism for Kosovo’s TRC, saying that through the Commission, President Thaçi is aiming to seize the truth. “It’s bizarre that the president is invading this territory and is showing which is the unique truth,” she said. “In Kosovo, the only narrative of war is how we fought, how we have heroes, but the war has multiple and non-dominant narratives. [If that narrative becomes dominant], the voices of different victims will be silenced.”
Among other things, Gusia also explained that in the last two years in Kosovo there have been more discussions about survivors of sexual violence, after the pressure of women’s NGOs, but also with the help of former President Atifete Jahjaga. Since March, 570 women have filed requests for compensation, though she is critical of the practice of granting pensions as compensation for a lack of justice.
Sofija Todorović from YIHR Serbia stated the need for people across borders to get to know each other, raising concerns over how, when compared to our parents’ generation, young people today lack the curiosity to meet one another.
She also highlighted her organization’s commitment to trying to remove those involved in the crimes of the past from present institutions. “The Serbian state has a responsibility for what has happened in the past, and YIHR is committed that people convicted of war crimes should not be part of institutions, as we believe that their election in institutions is a bad message for the whole region,” she said.
Todorović explained that YIHR has been careful that each of its branches make actions according to the context and mentality of that respective country but insists that any action without a regional approach is meaningless.
“It is very important to know each other through programs like the Regional Exchange Program. It is difficult to break what the children have learned in school about the narrative of the war, but we are working to explain to them that there was a war, and explain to them the crimes committed,” she said, concluding the discussion with hopes that “there will be a day when I would not be ashamed as a Serb to come here among 20 Albanians.”
The discussion ended with many questions from the audience to the panel, in which a great deal of criticism was directed at Arifaj, the President’s advisor. Questions were raised over the uncertainty about the composition of the TRC’s Preparatory Team and the retreat of President Thaçi from his proclaimed plans to sue the Serbian state for genocide.
Arifaj insisted that TRC’s Preparatory Team was selected by civil society, which was invited by email, however, he failed to clarify whether these emails were sent to all or just to some civil society representatives. Regarding the lawsuit, Arifaj initially claimed that Kosovo would press ahead with suing Serbia, though later insisted he should not be misinterpreted and that he did not say that Kosovo would sue Serbia.K
Feature image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0