Balkan Reconciliation Initative

The European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation together with German Foundations the Bertelsmann Stiftung and the Robert Bosch Stiftung have organized a concerted effort to foster the process of reconciliation in the Western Balkans.

It came out from our deep conviction, that truth and understanding, and the development of cultures of commemoration and tolerance in Southeast Europe are the basis for further democratization and reconciliation. The crucial factor is interethnic and crossborder dialogue. In an enlarging Europe, this dialogue is not only a moral duty, it is a political necessity. Therefore the ECTR with partners have organized a large international gathering entitled “Towards Reconciliation – Experiences, Techniques and Opportunities for Europe” in Dubrovnik, Croatia, October 24-25th, 2010. As a follow up to this Balkan Reconciliation Initiative, the ECTR has organized a series of additional meetings, seminars and discussions.

The final accord of this Initiative was the decoration of President of Croatia Ivo Josipović and the former President Boris Tadić with the ECTR European Medal of Tolerance, in October 2012, 2 years after the beginnings in Dubrovnik.

The main goal of the Balkan reconciliation Initiative was to debate on the role of politics, culture, media, religion and civic society in the process of promoting tolerance in societies and dealing with conflicts from the past. During the launch I Dubrovnik, over 160 representatives from societies, which share a (post)-conflict experience, inspired a mutually advantageous comparative debate across regions, disciplines and generations. Initiative was dedicated to further foster the development of commemorative cultures in Southeast Europe on the basis of European and international experiences (Poland, Germany, Israel, Ukraine, Russia, Nigeria, Republic of South Africa).

Participants and speakers of the conference included:

• President of Croatia Ivo Josipović
• President of Montenegro Filip Vujanović
• President of Bosnia and Herzegovina Bakir Izetbegović
• Fmr President of Poland Aleksander Kwasniewski
• President of the European Jewish Congress Viatcheslav Moshe Kantor
• Fmr President of Cyprus George Vassiliou
• Fmr President of Albania Alfred Moisiu
• Vice Prime Minister of Croatia Slobodan Uzelac
• Fmr Prime Minister of Norway Kjell Magne Bondevik
• Fmr Prime Minister of Poland Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz
• Fmr Prime Minister of Italy Giuliano Amato
• Fmr Federal Chancellor of Austria Wolfgang Schüssel

Less than a week after the ECTR Conference in Dubrovnik, President of Serbia Boris Tadic has become the first Serbian leader to pay his respects to Croatian victims of a notorious 1991 massacre. During a visit to a memorial to 260 people murdered at Vukovar, Mr Tadic gave a statement expressing his "apology and regret". Mr Tadic said he had come to bow down before the victims to open the way for forgiveness and reconciliation. "I came here to share words of apology; to express our sympathy; to create the possibility for Serbs and Croats, Serbia and Croatia, to turn a new page in history," he said. The Croatian president promised that no crimes committed at the time would go unpunished. "We will finish this process of reconciliation and Serbia and Croatia will be two friendly, neighboring countries," he added.

The discussants of the ECTR conference in Dubrovnik came to the following conclusions:

1. Tolerance as the key feature for social stability and peaceful coexistence of various nations and religions.

In a growing multiethnic Europe, with rising internal and external migrations, building a “culture of tolerance” becomes a political necessity. Multiethnic societies have to develop an active virtue of tolerance, which requires not only to tolerate each other, but to collaborate and build social ties with the other. Societies build on the principle of active tolerance go beyond the principle of nation-states and turn out to be more stable and progressive in the new, globalized world.

2. Role of political leadership and education.

To build societies based on tolerance requires two main drivers: education and political leadership. Education on tolerance has to start on from the childhood and include not only formal lessons and lectures, but also practical experiences in interacting with individuals and groups of different origin. Special emphasis should be also put on educating social leaders, journalists and future policy-makers through education in “Universities of Tolerance.” Political leadership is needed to make social change and progress, to give positive example and inspire legal solutions and administrative measures to promote tolerance.

3. Role of legal solutions.

Tolerance is a fragile social creation and can be easily damaged by right-wing extremism, terrorism, xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism. To safeguard tolerance every state and single international organizations have to create laws on promoting and preserving Tolerance and fighting every form of intolerance. This is a special responsibility of the legislative branch of the state – Parliaments and Heads of State in a presidential system. Efforts should be made by the international community to make the political leaders aware of these needs and contemporary challenges.