By Bojana Barlovac
Hundreds of people froze for a minute in Belgrade’s Republic Square on Tuesday as part of a regional “Defrosting” action carried out in seven other cities: Zagreb, Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Ljubljana, Pristina, Skopje and Podgorica.
A coalition of NGOs in the Balkans, known as RECOM, backed the “regional defrosting” – part of its drive to gather a million signatures over the next six weeks, which will be submitted to the parliaments of all former Yugoslav countries in June.
The petition will demand the prompt establishment of a regional commission tasked with determining the facts about the victims of the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
“The symbolic start of the action sends a message towards the future, which we can only reach after knowing what happened in the past,” Natasa Kandic, director of the Humanitarian Law Centre and initiator of RECOM, said.
Eleven years after armed conflicts in former Yugoslavia ended, not one successor state had completed a list of those killed or missing in the wars, she noted.
According to RECOM, victims of war remained marginalised, their voices are rarely heard in public, and the number of those killed is often manipulated for political purposes.
Kandic says that the RECOM coalition, founded in 1998, has faced various obstacles from the beginning, especially from the region’s governments.
Unlike the states, civil society groups in the former Yugoslavia had long understood the necessity of dealing with the past. “Now is the time for the states to do the same,” Kandic said. “This is why our June goal represents a special challenge for us.”
Although she is aware that politicians in the region will want to take their time, Kandic says her group will be persistent in seeking lasting reconciliation in the region. “I believe that RECOM is our [Balkan] way out of the past,” Kandic said.
The recent verdict in The Hague on two Croatian wartime generals had again demonstrated the need in all ex-Yugoslav countries for a comprehensive, factual truth to be established and accepted, she added.