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Council for European Studies at Columbia University, Date: 2014/03/14 - 2014/03/16

Publication date: 2014-03


Vermeersch, Peter
Touquet, Heleen


In this paper we examine reconciliation as a category of political practice through the lens of current developments in the former Yugoslavia. Existing literature about the former Yugoslavia often starts from the assumption there is complete clarity as to what constitutes reconciliation and what is needed to achieve it. Our basic assertion, however, is that reconciliation is a dynamic idea that encapsulates a wide range of different theoretical as well as political interpretations. Although the literature on the theoretical complexity of reconciliation is growing, there is an important gap in empirical research on the various ways in which reconciliation is understood in various legal, social and political fields. This paper investigates conflicting frames of reconciliation in the former Yugoslavia through an analysis of discourses in three related fields of political discussion: (1) transitional justice (in particular the arena of discursive interaction surrounding the completion of the activities of the ICTY), (2) the human rights and enlargement agenda of the EU, and (3) civil society initiatives urging for the establishment of a mechanism for truth-telling and reconciliation (in particular discussions surrounding the RECOM initiative, the region’s most ambitious attempt at establishing a truth and reconciliation commission). On the basis of an analysis of public statements by politicians and activists, as well as interviews with key actors in these three fields, we show that reconciliation is mobilized in varying ways. The frame variation is to be explained as an outcome of discursive dynamics within each field.