POLICY PAPER: Reconciliation in the Western Balkans: Overcoming the past together

Gentiola Madhi, Jana Juzová, Tomáš Strážay, Adam Balcer, Jelica Minić and Nikolett Garai authored a policy paper on the topic of reconciliation in the Western Balkans.

  • Two decades after the last armed conflict in the Western Balkans, the reconciliation process in the region is still in its embryonic phase. Reconciliation is considered both a determinant for the democratization process of these countries and a precondition for them to join the EU at a later stage. Moreover, a satisfactory degree of reconciliation is also seen as an essential “step which would make European integration a long-term success“. 
  • Today, the political and social dynamics in the region are characterized by high youth unemployment, lack of trust in the governing elites and gloomy prospects of EU membership in the near future, which have affected citizens’ perceptions and level of confidence that the reconciliation process can overcome the present stalling stage. Moreover, the standstill with the enlargement process has allowed the local elites in power to raise the nationalistic rhetoric in their public speeches for short-term political gains, at the expense of the wider regional rapprochement process. 

The ability of the V4 to serve as a positive inspiration, however, might be endangered by some negative developments in the region, including the rise of Islamophobia, widespread anti-Roma sentiments, or maintenance of negative attitudes towards “others”. The relations of some V4 countries with their non-V4 counterparts experienced deterioration particularly because of the clash of interpretations concerning the difficult past. The re-emergence of exclusive and confrontational politics of memory in the region, supported not only by extremist, but sometimes also mainstream politicians, resulted in re-emergence of “old” national stereotypes. These negative developments occurred primarily due to the fact that reconciliation was not sufficiently entrenched in the society through education. Many history textbooks cultivated the old nationalistic paradigm, which, combined with the passivity of the so-called pro-European elites in dealing with the difficult issues of the past, in many cases allowed nationalists to capture the historical narrative. In this particular case, the Western Balkan countries can learn a bitter lesson.

Youth is identified as a distinctive social group of relevant actors in the process of reconciliation and peace building. While having a great potential to help build peace, young people can also be considered vulnerable and prone to becoming involved in violence, besides being manipulated by extremist sentiments if their place is not properly set in the emerging structures of post-conflict environments.

Reconciliation in the Western Balkans is a crucial process that should not be left aside for the better times to come. It is essential that this process becomes endogenous to the parties involved in bilateral disputes and receives the necessary political and societal support by the local stakeholders. The participation of the international actors in restoring peace, stability and initiating the reconciliation process in the region cannot and should not replace the local actors, whose direct participation is deemed fundamental for a long-lasting outcome.

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#Western Balkans #reconciliation process #EU enlargement

Gentiola Madhi
Associate Research Fellow

Expertise: Western Balkans’ European integration process

Jana Juzová
Senior Research Fellow

Expertise: regionalism, Visegrad cooperation, democratization and European integration of the Western Balkan countries, EU enlargement

Eastern Monitor Archív
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Provides updates on the European Neighbourhood Policy agenda of the EU and the integration and enlargement issues.

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