Civil Society Forum of the Western Balkans Summit Series
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Source: European Western Balkans

Reconciliation, Berlin Process and the Civil Society Forums: A Review

05.07.2018

The Berlin Process has brought new vigour to official regional cooperation and has given strong incentives for forwarding the EU accession process. Civil society actors have, nevertheless, since its beginning warned of the lack of progress made in the areas of regional reconciliation. Unsolved issues pertaining to reconciliation leave an open space for dangerous populist narratives and security deterioration.

The Berlin Process was, shortly after its conceiving, enriched with the official Civil Society Forum, which has provided decision makers with valuable input. This input was necessary for including the citizens living in the Western Balkans and for selection of the most important issues for them as well as for the Europeanization process.

CSOs have, for years now, warned that the states in the region fail to recognize reconciliation as one of the main prerequisites of cooperation, which would put a stop to the practice of manipulation for short-term political gains, and which would, if institutionalized, better the prosecution of cases of war crimes.

One of the main problems is that European institutions offer new instruments for the acceleration of reconciliation, but do not offer indicators for monitoring its progress. Actually, CSOs have discussed this issue extensively and have offered their ideas during each of the Summits held within the Berlin Process.

Civil Society Forum Vienna’s (April 2018) Working Groups’ Recommendations for the reconciliation in the Western Balkans were, first and foremost, aimed at the creation of the Regional commission for the establishment  of  facts  and  other  serious  violations  of  human  rights  committed  in  the  former Yugoslavia between 1991 and 2001 (RECOM).

Secondly, institutions responsible for education were urged to improve their respective curriculums, in order to alleviate the heavily politicized burden of the past. In February 2018, European Commission has launched their six flagship initiatives, one of which directly tasked Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO), a regional initiative which promotes youth exchange and the needs of the youth, with the specific mission of combating nationalistic narratives through the educational system.

In Paris in 2016, it was recognized that “CSOs are part of the process of resolving bilateral disputes, because they can offer expertise, raise awareness and promote reconciliation”. This direct call to action was crystallized during the next meeting on the margins of Berlin Process.

During the Trieste Summit in 2017, reconciliation was also further operationalized, as it was recognized as one of the best ways to counter the rising populism, prevalent in European societies as well.

The civil society insists on the fact that “traumas caused by war events will not disappear, and the reconciliation will not be achieved by ignoring and forgetting what happened. This stance is based upon the belief that the transitional justice is linked with the reconciliation process”.

Civil society actors have communicated nearly in unison that the establishment of RECOM would be the most direct way of initiating regional cooperation on the issue of reconciliation, that this would be a great indicator of progress in this area, and that “truth and reconciliation commissions  have  a  specific  and  limited mandate, both in time period in which they operate and investigate, and in regards  to  examining  certain  types  of  human  rights  violations” .

Because of the new momentum to the enlargement process through the Berlin Process, the representatives of the coalition for RECOM have stated “that the agreement on establishment of this commission should be signed at the London Summit of the Berlin Process to be held next week”.

In order to advance the process of regional reconciliation, which is a necessary precondition for cooperation and security in the Western Balkans and the EU accession, “the successors of the former Yugoslavia should conclude the Agreement on the Establishment of RECOM”, concludes the Initiative for RECOM.

The London Summit of the Berlin Process will be held on 9 and 10 July 2018, with participation of civil society and youth representatives.