ICTY and Grassroots Mobilization for Justice: Insights from Bosnia and Herzegovina
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Reconciliation is frequently put forward as the most desirable, or even necessary, goal for societies attempting to democratize after periods of civil conflict or repressive rule. It is generally agreed that the process of reconciliation is extremely complicated and scholars continue to actively debate various transitional justice mechanisms most suited to achieve it. While the scope of research investigating reconciliation and its causes grows, the consensus on what is reconciliation and what elements constitute it is still hard to come by (Renner, 2014; Eastmond & Stefansson, 2010; Hoogenboom & Vieille, 2010; Skaar, 2013; Subotić, 2015; Strupinskiene, 2017). In addition, many believe, that the evidence from research on transitional justice impact on reconciliation is contradictory and still too preliminary to offer conclusive results (Stover & Weinstein, 2004; Thoms, Ron, & Paris, 2010; Vinjamuri & Snyder, 2015). Thus, the important analytical groundwork conducted and theoretical hypotheses formulated in previous studies should be further investigated. Rather than posing generic questions about when on average we can expect positive results, new studies should focus on the fine-grained differences, as the effects of transitional justice mechanisms are highly dependent on contextual factors (Backer, 2009; Thoms et al., 2010; Vinjamuri & Snyder, 2015). This paper proposes to address the above-mentioned problem by conducting a process-tracing study of a selected community in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), the town of Prijedor, trying to understand how a specific instrument of transitional justice (The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia) contributed to reconciliation. It is comprised of three parts: theoretical, methodological, and empirical. The theoretical part assesses the existent studies of the relationship between justice and reconciliation, trying to piece together the things we already know about ICTY impact into a coherent theoretical causal mechanism for further testing. The methodological part explains why process-tracing is an appropriate methodology for such analysis, presents its core assumptions, logics of causation and limitations. The empirical part presents the data from the field testing the theoretical mechanism of grassroots mobilization for justice. Drawing on 67 interviews conducted in and around Prijedor, participant observation, analysis of the archival material of local newspapers, ICTY material, international organizations’ reports and other secondary sources it concludes that the ICTY contributed to reconciliation on the ground by creating a strong pressure for accountability talk (with the help from the international community), which affected how the local politicians behaved and talked in public. Afraid of losing financial support or humanitarian aid, they pragmatically adapted and thus created a window of opportunity for victims and activists to openly discuss the past. Various grassroots initiatives started springing up, that contributed to the feeling of safety of the returnees, countered denial of crimes, allowed for their peaceful existence in town, inter-ethnic reconciliation started to develop. However, the level of reconciliation remains thin to mid and has not yet moved to thick. This is due to still too few instances of official acknowledgement of crimes committed and lack of a shared understanding of the past events as well as national memorization policies.