Participating inthe panel (Re)creating Memories as part of the Sarajevo Film Festival

Zagreb, 23.8.2021.

On Wednesday, August 18th, 2021, the program assistant for justice and reconciliation at the Youth Initiative for Human Rights – Croatia, Ana Gvozdić, participated in the panel “(Re)creating Memories”, held as part of the program “In Youth Eyes” within the “Dealing with the past” program of the Sarajevo Film Festival, which took place between August 13th and August 20th this year.

The panel was attended by 25 young people from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, North Macedonia, and Albania who participated in the “In Youth Eyes” program. The program is organized by the Regional Youth Cooperation Office, ForumZFD, and USAID peace project “Pro-budućnost”. During the six-day-long program, young people shared their perspectives, watched films from the “Dealing with the Past” program, and, alongside activists, researchers, and film professionals, discussed history and its role in reconciliation and the construction of a better future.

The panelists for (Re)creating Memory were also Najwa Najjar, director of “Between Heaven and Earth”, which was screened at the Sarajevo Film Festival, and dr. sc. Senadin Musabegović, essayist, author, and professor of history of arts at the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Sarajevo. The talk was moderated by Lejla Gačanica, a legal advisor and independent researcher.

Reflecting on the contexts of Israel and Palestine, as well as the former Yugoslav countries, we talked about suppressed memories and the role of state politics in developing dominant narratives related to the past and their influence on the development of national identities. Furthermore, we highlighted the role of art in emphasizing the human experiences of conflict, while our assistant Ana pointed out the work of civil society organizations in the field of nonformal youth education and advocacy work directed at local and state authorities.

We thank the panelists and the moderator for the interesting conversation, the organizers for the invitation to participate in this important event, and the young people for their active participation.

 

YIHR held a panel discussion “26th Anniversary of the Operation Storm: Challenges and Obstacles for Reconciliation”

Zagreb, August 6th, 2021

On Wednesday, August 4th, 2021, the Youth Initiative for Human Rights Croatia organized a panel “26th Anniversary of the Operation Storm: Challenges and Obstacles for Reconciliation”. The panelists were Sven Milekić, a Ph.D. candidate at the Maynooth University in Ireland and dr. sc. Jelena Đureinović, a historian and coordinator of the research platform “Transformations and Eastern Europe at the University of Vienna. The panel was moderated by Branka Vierda, the coordinator for justice and reconciliation programs at the Youth Initiative.

The aim of the panel was to reflect on the last year’s anniversary and comment on the expectations from this year’s anniversary in the context of contributions to reconciliation politics, to problematize the fragmented approaches regarding the realization of transitional justice mechanisms with regards to the wars of the 1990s, to comparatively analyze the politics of memory and history in Croatia and Serbia regarding the celebration and commemoration of the Operation Storm, and to question the possibilities of civil society organizations to contribute through advocacy to better relations among the aforementioned states.

Aware of the fact that the public spaces in Croatia and Serbia are filled with opposing narratives regarding what had happened during and after Operation Storm, we aimed to include the questions from the audience as well, evaluate the progress alongside our panelists, and identify the obstacles to and opportunities for an anti-nationalist and multiperspective, but also inclusive, approach to memorialization and explain exactly why such an approach is important.

 

In the beginning, we reflected on last year’s anniversary of Operation Storm when the public space was filled with messages of reconciliation, dialogue, the importance of facts, and mourning of victims of war crimes committed by the Croatian side. Sven noted certain positive shifts within the commemoration of Operation Storm in 2020, but also noted how such gestures are easily forgotten. Jelena pointed out that Serbian officials condemned the decision of Boris Milošević, the Deputy Prime Minister of Croatia in charge of social affairs and human and minority rights, to attend last year’s celebration of Operation Storm.

The moderator invited the panelists to comment on last year’s statement by Saša Milošević, the Secretary-General of the Serb National Council, which describes the Operation Storm as “legal, although many of its segments were criminal; it is an act of liberating the state, but also an act of ethnic cleansing”. Commenting on this statement, Jelena explained how such a multi-perspective approach is not present within the state-led commemorations of Operation Storm in Serbia where there is no acknowledgment of the war events that occurred prior to Operation Storm nor any conversation about the forced mobilization of refugees from Serbia. Sven agreed that in the Croatian context too, such a multiperspective approach is lacking. Without this approach, the crimes during and after Operation Storm are depicted as merely individual, isolated incidents which have nothing to do with the state politics of the time.

We additionally discussed the paradoxical insistence on the “Serbian victim” during and after Operation Storm in Serbia as a state which has not recognized the status for these victims yet. Jelena named this approach a misuse of victims for political purposes. She also clarified that in order to be recognized as a civil war victim in Serbia, it is necessary to prove one’s Serbian citizenship as well as that the victims incurred physical injuries from the enemy on the territory of the Republic of Serbia, which effectively excludes the civil victims of Operation Storm.

We also commented on the Law on the civilian Homeland War victims which was recently passed in the Croatian parliament. The Prime Minister of Croatia, Andrej Plenković, announced this law during this speech in Knin in 2020. Learning from the experiences related to the Act on the Rights of Victims of Sexual Violence during the Military Aggression against Republic of Croatia in the Homeland War, Sven pointed out that it is important to wait and monitor the implementation of the law. In response to the question about the potential discriminatory implementation of the law, Milekić emphasized that the victims may also seek to exercise their rights through the European Court of Human Rights if, having exhausted the legal channels in the Republic of Croatia, their rights are not recognized. Furthermore, he explained how there are various challenges related to the implementation of the law that go beyond just the ethnicity of the victims. 

Apart from reparations for victims, we spoke about the importance of prosecuting war crimes, especially in the context of last year’s anniversary when those in the highest positions of power publicly and unequivocally recognized that the crimes had happened. Sven pointed out the lack of interest and will to prosecute war criminals, while Jelena emphasized how even when the domestic courts prosecute war crimes, the public is insufficiently familiar with the judgments and the established facts.

We also spoke about the expectations of this year’s anniversary of Operation Storm in Croatia and Serbia in the context of the steps announced by the senior state officials. The moderator asked the panelists to comment on the intention of the Croatian president Zoran Milanović to hand medals of honor to the units which supported Operation Storm, just as he did last year, without discussing the role that these units played in the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In the end, we reflected on the positive examples of solidarity after the devastating earthquake in Banija in the form of aid which came from all over Croatia, but also the region entirely freed from the national and ethnic differences. We emphasized the importance of peacebuilding on the level of local mutual aid, while also taking into account the need for achieving socio-economic justice for the civil war victims.

You may find the recording of the entire panel on our Facebook page via the following link: https://www.facebook.com/YIHRCroatia/videos/1481001195583653


 

Campaign 2: Commemorating civil victims of the wars of the 1990s on marked and unmarked sites of casualties is part of the project 4O: Discovery, awareness, empowerment and human rights organization whose total value is 170.147€ out of which 149.922,00€ is funded with the support of Iceland, Lichtenstein, and Norway under EGP and Norwegian grants.

 

 

We remember the civil war victims of Operation Strom in Donji Skrad

Zagreb, August 4th, 2021

Invited by the Serb National Council (SNV), the Youth Initiative for Human Rights – Croatia attended the central commemoration for civil war victims of Operation Storm in the village of Donji Skrad on August 3, 2021. This commemoration takes place at a different site of suffering every year.

Apart from the representatives of the victims’ families and local authorities, the commemoration was attended by Boris Milošević, the Deputy Prime Minister of Croatia in charge of social affairs and human and minority rights, Milorad Pupovac, member of parliament and the president of the SNV, as well as Vesna Teršelič, the director of Documenta – Center for Dealing with the Past.

According to the report of the Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, six people lost their lives in Donji Skrad in the period between August 5 and 6, 1995. In the Dmitrović house, Kata Dmitrović, Nikola Dmitrović, Zorka Gazibara, Stanka Končalović, and Smiljana Končalović were killed. The next day, Danica Dmitrović, whose husband was killed the previous day, was captured and raped. Her body was found in the nearby well (pp. 222-223). The perpetrators are not known nor have they been prosecuted – there is no war crime judgement.

At the commemoration, Deputy Prime Minister Boris Milošević told the families of the victims that they are not alone and that the victims are not forgotten. He sent a message of peace and reconciliation.

As emphasized by the Serb National Council, visiting this place expresses “support for the memory of innocent, fellow citizens who stayed at their homes believing in their innocence”. Aneta Vladimirov, the vice president of the Serb National Council, emphasized that “those who remember and know the past do not live in the past”; instead, “those who forget the past, or those who abuse it, are those who live in the past. We come here to learn how to survive today and every other day”. She stated that there are very few who understand this, but emphasized the Youth Initiative for Human Rights as one of the rare ones.

Vesna Teršelič, the director of Documenta – Center for Dealing with the Past, was invited to speak at the commemoration in the name of civil society organizations that cherish the memory of those who are left behind in the process of collective forgetting. She highlighted the solidarity which society showed to those affected by the earthquakes and claimed that “it is important for all of us to support one another in life and in remembrance”.

In hopes that this year’s anniversary of Operation Storm will pass with dignity for all victims, the Youth Initiative will continue advocating for the right to truth, prosecution of all perpetrators of war crimes, and reparations for all victims, as well as against forgetting and denial.

 

Campaign 2: Commemorating civil victims of the wars of the 1990s on marked and unmarked sites of casualties is part of the project 4O: Discovery, awareness, empowerment and human rights organization whose total value is 170.147€ out of which 149.922,00€ is funded with the support of Iceland, Lichtenstein, and Norway under EGP and Norwegian grants.

YIHR held a workshop for teachers “Antiwar and peace initiatives in Croatia during the 1990s”

Zagreb, July 22, 2021

Together with Nikica Torbica (DKolektiv) and Lina Jurjević (Hermes), on Wednesday, July 10th, we held a workshop for history and social science teachers about antiwar and peace initiatives in Croatia during the 1990s, a topic which is marginalized within the collective memory and the educational curriculum. The workshop was attended by 30 teachers from different parts of Croatia, all of whom were interested in expanding their lesson plan by encompassing this topic, particularly as part of 8th-grade elementary education and 4th-grade high school education, as well as within civic education curricula.

We presented the lesson plan on “Peace activism in Croatia and the region in the 1990s”, which was written by dr.sc. Maja Nenadović and edited by Nikica Torbica. The lesson plan includes an introductory reflection regarding key terms relevant to the topic, such as peace, activism, and nonviolence. Then, the lesson plan offers four different activities which allow the students to explore this topic. Three out of four activities rely on the use of learning materials which contain photographs on one side, and text on the other, presenting various people, organizations, key events, and terms related to peace activism in Croatia and the region in the 1990s. One of the activities asks the students to select photographs that they find the most interested, get to know the material, and then present it in a small group, thereby learning from one another. The second activity also creates the space for peer-to-peer learning by making and presenting posters with photographs and information which stood out the most to the students. The third activity utilizes the learning materials in the form of a quiz, while the last activity includes watching video interviews with peace activists. Finally, the lesson plan also offers ideas for homework assignments.

All interested may access the lesson plan here: http://cgo-cce.org/izdavastvo/ljudska-prava-izdavastvo/#.YOxT40kzaUl, and the learning material here:

https://www.sutori.com/story/antiratni-i-mirovni-aktivizam-u-hrvatskoj-i-regiji-1990-ih–XqAKEhAQx8mCcN7Wrp44dGvU

This workshop is part of the project “Different paths – shared values”, which the Youth Initiative for Human Rights – Croatia is implementing in partnership with the Center for civic education (Montenegro), The Association for Modern History (B&H), and German foundations forumZFD and Heinrich Böll  (HBS), with the financial support of the European Union through the program Europe for Citizens.