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"About Truth and Reconciliation"

Vojislav Kostunica, President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
Beograd, 19. maj 2001

In Andric’s “Faces,” there is a short story, rather a note, about a young teacher in Sarajevo, Danilo Ilić, “whose soul was so much fulfilled and overwhelmed with his desire for justice and freedom that he decided to bear the most difficult of crosses – to be the murderer and the victim, the judge and the martyr, at the same time.” There have been too many such crosses on this soil. And there always have been. It is, or at least was, the curse of the Balkans, Bosnia, Serbia and Yugoslavia. It is high time we acted to be rid of that curse.
It was not so long ago that once again we found ourselves in the maelstrom of large-scale internal political conflicts, inter-ethnic hatreds and animosities that had been suppressed and hidden for half a century, only to break out with their old ferocity as soon as external and internal circumstances permitted. The former state collapsed in bloody civil wars, with not at all insignificant assistance from abroad, and the new one established amidst historic predicaments, which the then politicians, largely (Josip) Broz’s poor copies, could not overcome, but rather magnified. As a people and as a state, we inherited not only economic desolation and legal chaos, but also the bitter feelings of those vanquished in war and estrangement from our neighbours. We inherited sorrow, misfortune that was both our own and that of other people, just like in the aftermath of any war.

Today we face two major challenges, closely interrelated. They are symbolised by two words: truth and reconciliation. We must answer two questions: What really happened and how do we go on? This is the only way to make the past clear to future generations and to explain to them how their predecessors found the way out of the maze. It is our generation that has to make this possible for them. The question is – how? It is this generation that is part of this troubled chapter in history, while we are immediate successors to a series of clashes and wars in which human life was worth no more than a bullet. I wonder sometimes if we are truly able to make this Copernican turn-about in our miserable history. I only know that we must in order to survive.

Therefore we must begin. Seriously, determinedly, believing that we will bring the task to an end. What end? What historic situation? The one in which we will say with pride – people here, our citizens and our neighbours alike, have begun to live decently. To work freely, move unhindered and employ in accordance with their capabilities and qualifications, to feel their well-deserved legal and social safety, to freely advocate their views and practice their religions.

In order to make it happen, we have to revise our near and distant past. We have to face it as a number of objective facts and myrrad subjective observations and experiences stemming from them. This is going to be a very difficult task in a society in which nearly every family has its own tragic story. It is only knowledgeable and highly moral people that can start it. I must say that there are many people in this country, who, in a long and difficult period of time, have demonstrated their humanity and resistance to the mainstream of that painful era. I see them among the youth, the intellectuals, and the professionals. More importantly, I see them among so-called ordinary people. We have to bring together these dispersed elements of our awareness and conscience, to organise ourselves, and begin the process of general moral recovery. Without that recovery, any other will prove impossible.

This was the idea that led me to establish the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. However, it is a mere stone of goodwill thrown into the waters of the present historic predicament. The notion and wish is that the stone produce many concentric rings of activity to be carried out by many associates and activists. The Commission’s task is to band together all those who see truth and reconciliation as the cornerstones of a future resurrected public life.  Whether this historic project will succeed or not depends on all of them and all of us.

Our entire public will be made familiar with the results of the Commission’s work. It will be the guide in an important historic venture, not a group that will pass judgment on what the ultimate truth is, or give us a recipe for reconciliation. It can help us and set us on the right path. And, at the end of the day, each of us will find truth and reconciliation in our own conscience. And understanding. And memory, and, perhaps, even forgiveness.

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