Facing the Past Still Taboo in Serbia

Twenty years after the end of wars in the Balkans the Serbian society still refuses to face up to the past, a round table discussion concludes.The round table named “ What is transitional justice in Serbia?” was held on Tuesday and it was organised by the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, as a part of their project which aims to encourage debates about transitional justice between different stakeholders.

According to Sonja Biserko, the head of the Helsinki Committed in Serbia, the Serbian society has failed to accept its own responsibility for crimes committed during the 1990s wars, despite the fact that the country, with the fall of the former President Slobodan Milosevic 12 years ago, “went through the so-called democratic changes.”

“I do not believe that the new government will change anything. So far we only saw that their aim is to destabilize the region, especially with their policies towards Bosnia and Kosovo, “ Biserko said.

Biserko added that it is unlikely that the new Serbian government would raise new indictments for war crimes given that the majority of its members were part of the 1990s war machinery.

Zarko Markovic from the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, commented on war crimes trials held before Serbian courts. He said that since 2000, sixty people have been sentenced under the final instance verdict, while 11 were released.

“Currently the biggest problem is gathering evidence from Kosovo. Probably the best cooperation is with the Croatian courts, as the cases for crimes committed in Croatia are the ones with the most success rate, “ Markovic said.

Gordana Igric, the director of Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN, said that media reports about transitional justice reflect current situation in the society.

“Stories about war past are marginalized in the media or covered as trivia or in a tabloid style. This is simply because it is easier to approach something trivially then to admit and face the crimes you did in the past,” Igric said.

Sonja Biserko noted that one of the most important changes necessary to change the current situation would be changes in education, especially changes to the history curriculum.

“In the history text books you have minimal information regarding the 1990s wars and now, as a result, we have frustrated generations who have negative opinions on their neighbours – Croats, Bosniaks or Albanians, “ she concluded.

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