Around 70 people from the Western Balkans, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic attended the “Truths that are denied” regional conference. The conference gathered journalist, activists, CSOs and nonformal movements as well as speakers from the Western Balkan region around the topics of transitional justice, shrinking civic and public space, the spread of propaganda and media freedoms.
The conference was opened with the poems “Born after 1992” and “8372” by the poet Mirjana Narandžić and the panel “Images in our heads and on the walls,” which discussed the role of art in dealing with the past.
Program director of Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR) Sofija Todorović addressed the participants of the conference and presented the results of the “That the truth is no longer late” campaign, which mapped murals and graffiti of the convicted war criminal Ratko Mladić. Todorović shared that more than 120 citizens sent photos of murals and graffiti with the likeness of Ratko Mladić, and that 60% of them are in Belgrade, and about 20% of the murals are on public institutions in Serbia. In addition, Todorović noted that peace is only possible if all countries in the region face their war past.
“We believe peace in the region is impossible until every country in the region gives up nationalism and starts respecting the victims. Now is the moment for our togetherness to erase our differences,” Todorović said.
The panelists also highlighted lack of education about the conflicts as a major barrier to successful transitional justice. Questions about the efficacy of victim memorialization were raised, highlighting both the importance of visibility and the problematic politicization of many memorials.
Marko Milosavljević (YIHR Serbia) presented the most important recommendations from the regional report and manual on commemorative practices that Youth Initiative for Human Rights issued in January 2022. Ethnocentricity, militarization of war events, marginalization of victims and denial are the main characteristics of official commemorations. On the other hand, non formal commemorations carried out by memory activists from the region are under great restrictions, such as the “Day of White Ribbons” in Prijedor. All panels had optimistic but cautious conclusions, with the understanding that while there is much more work to be done, even slow progress is progress, nonetheless.
The conference was organized by our Serbian partner organization, the Youth Initiative for Human Rights, in cooperation with the organizations ForumZFD and the Independent Journalists Association of Vojvodina (NDNV) as part of our project "Reclaim our Civil Space!".
For more information on the region visit YIHR's website: https://www.yihr.rs/en/