Dealing with the Past

  • Stari Most, the brigde of Mostar

The following theories of change describe needs and requirements for a more inclusive “culture of remembrance” contributing to a peaceful future in the Western Balkans. They form the basis for development of our goals and our approach to dealing with the past: individual, societal and political recognition and acceptance of responsibility for injustice and violence is a central prerequisite for re-establishing trust, security, willingness for dialogue and cooperation.

With regard to trust-building, a purely law-based approach to dealing with the past – and punishing individual guilt – is inadequate because in a multi-ethnic context, it leads to nationalist instrumentalisation and obstructionist attitudes. The recognition of responsibility instead requires transformative, restorative justice approaches, which are currently missing from the existing approaches to dealing with the past in the countries of former Yugoslavia.

Processes related to the past still affect the future

Events and processes related to the past in one country have an impact on the other countries, as all of the wars – with varying intensity – had and continue to have a cross-border dimension (refugees, missing persons, criminal proceedings). Therefore, a regional approach that includes Croatia is crucial.

In order to deconstruct the nationalist and ethnocentric narratives about the wars, model alternatives must be developed, which adopt a multi-ethnic/regional perspective on the violent past and allow collective victim identities to be transformed and positive future lessons to be drawn from the injustice and suffering.

Regional alliances and regional, mutually compatible initiatives based on shared values and a joint understanding of dealing with the past processes are important.

In the medium term, these model alternatives must take effect on the official/institutional level and develop links. For this reason, key stakeholders in these areas must be involved, as must actors who can serve as multipliers (including the media, religious actors, cultural figures, politicians), whereby their credibility is key to their effectiveness.

The framework of dealing with the past

Within the framework of dealing with the past, forumZFD is pursuing the goal of contributing to responsible, peaceful ways of dealing with the past on an individual, societal and political level.

In particular, it seeks to support processes that:

Create a culture of remembrance that promotes peace and model alternatives to the official politics of memory, nationalist narratives and glorification of war, transforming victim identities, militarised images of masculinity and gender roles in a way that has an effect not only in protected spaces but also in a public (visible) manner;

Strengthen the work of civil society organisations in the Western Balkans, promote regional cooperation and at the same time forge connections between initiatives at the grass-roots and middle levels of society;

Build trust and cooperative relationships with actors who, as those directly affected, are central to processes of dealing with the past but that it has been hard for civil society organisations to reach so far.

Close cooperation with local partners

forumZFD’s DwP approach in the Western Balkans reflects the theories of change and its goals:

Organized in regional working groups, the forumZFD offices in Belgrade, Pristina, Skopje and Sarajevo cooperate to implement projects on the regional level. The situation and context on the national level are naturally also always taken into account.

All projects are implemented in close cooperation with local partners. These projects can be initiated by us or by the partners. In all cases, forumZFD contributes with specialist expertise through its staff and financial means where available.

Local partners are civil society organisations, artists and artist groups, media representatives, relevant academics especially historians, and state institutions such as museums, schools, universities and municipal administrations.

forumZFD works with local partners to improve their fundraising capacities and draft joint proposals to international donors.