Sarajevo, 22. 07. 2011. Transcript – Focus group 1 – Citizens Introduction

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Sarajevo, 22.07.2011. Transcript – Focus group 1 – Citizens


Dear Sirs and Madams,

Welcome and thank you for taking the time to participate in this focus group, which is being held as part of scientific research project "Bosnian bones, Spanish ghosts: Transition of justice and the legal shaping of memory after two modern conflicts” conducted by Goldsmiths, University of London and sponsored by European Research Council. As you can see from the project title, it deals with investigation of transitional justice processes in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Spain after wars which these two countries faced. I will be able to provide more details on the project after this session; I will also answer all questions you may have then. However, I kindly ask you to wait with your questions so that these information would not influence your answers, and hence the objectivity of our research. Alongside your town, we have held or will hold focus groups throughout B&H, in Banja Luka, Bihać, Bratunac, Brčko, Jajce, Mostar, Omarska, Prijedor, Sarajevo, Srebrenica, Stolac, Široki Brijeg, Travnik and Trebinje. My name is XZ, these are XZ, a camera operator and professor Sari Wastell, lead investigator and project manager, who would like to greet you all.

The aim of our group is to discuss your attitudes, opinions and experience regarding transitional justice in B&H, process of normalization of social relations and reconciliation and the role of the international community in B&H. There will be some questions regarding your attitude towards activities of foreigner researchers in B&H, their role and manner of conducting research. If you are interested, later on we can explain in what way our discussion fits in the research as a whole.

What is essential for this group discussion is that we create a relaxed and quite informal atmosphere, allowing an exchange of opinions and feelings regarding the subject matter. During the discussion, I will ask various questions. There are no right or wrong answers, only different points of view. Everything you say and do not say is very important to us. Of course, it is up to you what you will or will not say and how you will say it. You should not think about what you are expected to say, whether you strictly keep to the subject and you should not worry whether everybody in the group will agree with one opinion at any price. In this regard, let us please not argue or try to convince others in what you believe. We only ask you to allow others to speak and to try not to talk at the same time or interrupt others. It is of special importance that each of you take active participation it the discussion, so that all opinions would be heard. Please do not hold back if your attitude differs from someone else's or even everybody's. Such attitudes are especially appreciated, so please express them freely; everything said in this focus group today will be recorded and it will be treated anonymously.

Namely, your names will not be included in the material or published anywhere else. However, you will need to sign the list of participants and a consent form for participation in focus group, both required for a cost justification to the University; these forms will be available only to financial managers of the project and used to contact you later on regarding possible changes of material posted on our website. As you can see, we have a camera and voice recorder, because we would like to record this conversation so that we would not miss out on some of your comments and so that we would be able to analyze the focus group later on. We need your permission in order to record this and that is why we need you to sign this form. You should know that our research would not be possible without taped material. I would like to reiterate that everything you say remains anonymous and confidential and that imaginary names will be used in all possible publications. Material recorded at this focus group will be edited and our cameraman will abridge it to the best 10 minutes for the website. After posting of the recording on the website (by the way, you names will not be mentioned anywhere on the website), I will send you an e-mail asking you the check it; if, at any moment, you would want something you said to be removed from sight, you have a right to react, send me an e-mail or call me and it will be removed.

Our conversation will last for an hour, maybe a bit longer. During the discussion we would like to hear from each of you. If you have questions about the research, please save them for the end; however, feel free to ask questions regarding the subject matter being discussed.

I would like to start by introducing ourselves to others. Kindly introduce yourself, tell us your name, age, profession/occupation...


I would like to start with a question: What is transitional justice? How would you define that notion? Is there anybody who would like to break the ice?

It is a special form of justice, which has not existed anywhere else up until now. It is a kind of justice that is adapted to the developing countries which... if we focus now on Bosnia and Herzegovina, transition from a conflict to a post-conflict period. It also includes transition from autocracy or communism to democracy, and transition of common, social ownership to private ownership.

Would anybody like to add something to this? Do you agree? Would you like to amend to this?

I think, as our colleague says, we had a different societal setup, a communist society. Different kinds of rules were in place then. So even today, transition in all countries is linked to corruption, withdrawal of some association and organization. Before we start talking about transitional justice we have to explain the notion of international community and its does not exist today although this notion is very much in use. But generally it does not have a definition in legal spheres or in international relations. There is no definition on what this notion is and there is no explanation for it. For example, in the field of sociology, does not matter where else, we have 15-10 authors on law and we know what it is. But, there is no definition on the notion of international community, at least to approximate its meaning. I see a big problem there. If we talk about justice for example, about UN sanctions and other things which are related to us, we can see the international community, we see the countries of the West, such as USA and its partners or simply USA itself, sometimes we can see China, Russia who impose sanctions. Then we can have a look at their bodies who are implementing justice here in BiH, and we see that there is a contradiction that USA itself is not a signee of the Rome Institute from 1990. It means that its citizens are not a subject to its implementation. It has been signed in 1999 in Rome and it has not been implemented in USA. And later we will talk about: organization, states, accreditations and business conduction when we move further on with its implementation.

I see transitional justice mainly as a kind of unnecessary, pardon, necessary, that’s what I wanted to say (laugh), necessary mechanism which would enable a community which had a conflict to transit into another period of development and progress, so that it could follow all these things and move on. What I see as the biggest problem there is the will of people and lack of reasons why they would deal with it as among them they all know some kind of their own truth and they have already moved on with those truths. The biggest problem in my opinion is that people see no reason to sit together at one table and start looking for a new truth unless they have some kind of personal reason coming from external influences or material reasons.

Is there anybody else who would like to add something to this?

Maybe we should partially view it from the economic aspect, because this transition happens in many aspects, to the market economy and in people’s mentality. In which way should the new rules of the game and new form of justice be accepted? Earlier we had a collective responsibility, social responsibility, a system of self-management, and we functioned in that way. We had one kind of rules of the game. Now we have, or we have to accept the other kind. And the additional problem is that many managers and people who are leading some organization, people who are leaders in our economy have been educated in the previous system. Their mindset has been formed in one way, and they have to adapt to the other, to absolutely comprehend the transitional rules of the game. How much responsibility can one undertake? What is one responsible for and in which way should one behave? We used to have a controlled economy and now we have a market economy. In which way can we survive? As our colleague already mentioned, living becomes related to corruption and other things. How will one sign a contract and how will one position oneself in the market? There are many issues? Who is responsible? It is easiest to say: we are all responsible! Why did the system of self-management fail? Because one did not know who was responsible for which activity.

I think that the economic element plays an important role because the economy is something that divides people and connects them as well. With full respect, I doubt that if we had a gross national income of Switzerland, we would have had this kind of war, ever! Now, after the war, we have the so called international community. For me the international community is fictional, something that is a conventional wisdom (widely accepted), something that we all use and media uses it as well. And nobody knows what it is indeed. It gets on my nerves. Is it a certain country, or organization or something that can be manifested so that we can point out at it exactly on who it is? These are some kind of balloons... For us who live and work in a certain area and should have understood it, we can not reach the meaning of it, let alone expecting it from ordinary people. I think that lots of time has passed since the end of the war, and it is still unfortunately being manipulated, so that the following can be hidden: that we live what we are living, that we have corruption, that we have government or we do not have it, we are indifferent. It is all very open. This all reminds me of my student days when I studied about anarchy. What we have here is exactly how I used to imagine anarchy. If the international community wanted to take care of us and wanted to create stability in any context, then we would have been improving our economy. All that money, billions that they mention, has not been invested where it should have been invested. There is no responsibility still. I agree with you. We still behave like we used to in the previous system. Capitalism has not arrived here and who knows when it will arrive. But unfortunately, our Constitution does not allow us to make significant changes and you can not get anything better in this kind of constellation. You can not make any improvement because the Constitution prevents you to do so. The Constitution says that we are governed by the three constitutional people. Nobody understands that monstrous phrase. I thing that it has not existed before and that they invented it especially for us, and the others are the others. It is tragic that I always declare myself a Bosnian, and if I were from Herzegovina I would declare myself as Herzegovinian, and I would belong to others. I think that we are the only country in the globe that is named as such, and when you say what you are, you are considered the other. This is being a difficult period. The transitional period is very painful and tormenting, not only here but it continues to be even in the countries of the Eastern Block which did not have war. Besides what we mentioned, we have also some kind of internal problems. And I do not see any change unless this Constitution we have here is changed, at least the way we conduct elections. At least some aspects of it, so that somebody in Republic Srpska does not have to have ten per cent of votes from here and vice versa.

Who has to be included in transitional justice?

I wanted to say, that we started with the premise that we are all responsible together... nobody is responsible. We have instances here that police arrests somebody and the prosecutor and the judge releases them. And it is neither the police’s responsibility nor of the prosecutor or the judge. That’s how things are, starting from a simple situation where you ask for one document and they ask from you for the other document that nobody wants to issue. Nobody is responsible for that! We do not have somebody here that you can complain to for anything, not even to the court. If they cut your salary or raise the tuition fees without any just reasons.... (unclear) I will finish university only if I... try to push for something through the court...And the other thing, as our colleague participant said: people who are managers nowadays and people that should take on initiatives did not get their education in the capitalist system, and they understood capitalism as anarchy and as something “super” where nobody is controlling them any more and now they can do whatever they want! From the perspective of an ordinary citizen or a worker: why are there people who are still Yugo-nostalgic? Why do we believe that under Tito we lived better? Because people enjoyed some kind of security. Today we have unemployment above forty percent and if you complain about something at work, they say that there will be somebody that will take your position instead of you and you are forced to automatically accept anything. We don’t have anybody to complain to, even about this. This is a closed circle. There is no justice. There is no institution as such which would guarantee any kind of justice at any level. Let’s not mention corruption. Even those who should do their job are not doing it because they have been corrupted.

I will kindly ask you that when you are planning to say something, please try to focus on the question. Who should be included in transitional justice in your opinion?

I would like to add to the first question and answer the second one. I liked the opinion of one of the participants from the Human Right’s Center. If I am right, it is related to transitional justice? Who should be included in transitional justice? I think first of all something should be done on the issue of informing the public, first of all the citizens. We should pay attention not only to the urban population but rural as well. Today, you can as well see that people who are at leading positions, and on decision-making positions, and I have had the opportunity to meet with them, are coming mainly from some rural areas. I don’t have anything against these people. I think that they have to be better informed about everything that is going on in our country so that they could contribute to its progress, because there is no willingness and awareness about it among the leaders is poorly developed. In fact, the majority of them do not know what should be done and what is going on. Believe me, if the war started now they would say: “OK, we have been expecting that, it was just a question of the day.” Nobody is trying to change something, not even the youth. When you say the international community, as our colleague said here, there is not even a definition of the international community. If you make a poll here in the capital and ask any person: who is the international community? - you will collect a small number of correct answers, and even less in smaller cities and communities and among rural population. I don’t know why we always neglect these people. Rarely somebody pays attention to them, as they are totally irrelevant, but they are important as well, I think. The majority of the population lives in rural areas and the majority wants to come and live in the capital. Why? Because of financial opportunities. Because all of us want, in a way, to secure a good existence. What makes me angry is something that the Central Election Committee has not done and there is no such a law, and I would like to see it: there should be some kind of public contest for the leaders to be put on election ballots. It upsets me that we can allow ourselves to have a Minister with high school diploma who comes out on the podium and tells a joke in his introductory speech. That is in my opinion totally unacceptable. But again, who should be blamed for this? Again, citizens. This is what I mean by saying, informing the citizens. But I mean informing all of them! We should specially address those areas where people do not have access to participate in some kind of groups, to hear some things. We still have some areas and cantons where people do not have access to public media services; they do not have a good reception. So they watch more Croatian TV and that is the problem we have in Hercegovina-Neretva Canton. These people are paying monthly subscription to the Radio and TV of Bosnia and Herzegovina but they are not able to see their national TV channels. They do not know what is going on. When you ask them about the situation in Croatia they will tell you all about it but they do not know anything about BiH. I think that we should work more on this. So these groups of people need to be included, I think that they deserve it, that they are equal citizens and participants in the process.

I agree with these happenings. When you mention economy, the main argument of the opportunistic powers, powers who would like to break up Bosnia and Herzegovina, is that the only thing that Bosnia and Herzegovina has in common is a common market, and nothing else is connecting it. We urge the international community... for what we call the West Bosnia and Herzegovina; they say that it is the third Entity somewhere in the air. Who is responsible for this? Who needs transitional justice first? We know that the international community does not have within it any obligations, memberships, has no responsibilities and it has no respect. We know that there is a Bush doctrine and Blair doctrine, how they were developed and how the international community has been created and developed. The international community was created by the attack on Iraq and Kuwait, where the international community intervened by having a role of the protector of the international law and international peace. And we have the case of Serbia, where at no point before one could attack the country, unless that country has committed aggression against another country.

Do you believe then that transitional justice serves international community and does not serve citizens?

It does not serve citizens, and I will come to that. How can you fight for transitional justice? It has always been a fight among civil and political society. We have politics here only...researches tell us that civil society does not exist here in our case. I will say, in a derogatory way, that the international community has wasted billions on Bosnia and Herzegovina and no results have been reached. The majority of researches say that these are organizations created to make some individuals richer, and that money is being laundered through international organizations and also that some terrorist came here through the international organizations. The international community is responsible for Bosnia and Herzegovina; all the institutions and bodies of the international community are... the international community exports the biggest credibility from Bosnia and Herzegovina. For example, after the disintegration of Warsaw Pact there was no need for the existence of NATO Pact any more. The NATO pact has survived due to Bosnia and Herzegovina, because the intervention of NATO forces here opened new horizons for NATO. Now we have the international community that is responsible for BiH. The Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina is the Constitution of the international community. We can say that the High Representative is the key person in charge of Bosnia and Herzegovina, he can impeach members, politicians, judges and he can influence everything. That means that this is a country ruled by international community, and that we have weak sovereignty, where the international community is not held responsible for anything and they can do here whatever they want. Some say that many legal officers and political scientists have the opinion that the international community will give up on Bosnia and Herzegovina. It will not give up, I assure you, because I have already repeated it, the international community draws its credibility from Bosnia and Herzegovina, it developed itself primarily based on Bosnia and Herzegovina. Much has been written on our country and how the international community came and stopped the war and created a country for itself that can be called an experimental country. Based on our case, as an experiment, they implemented some kind of system of governance in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the end, there is no chance that the international community will leave Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Who has to be included in transitional justice, who is it created for, whom should it serve?

First of all, the governmental authorities, citizens and the entire society have to be included. A colleague just mentioned at the beginning of his/her argument two heavy words: breaking up of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I would disagree with it; we have to organize our society by ourselves. It is not our fault that the president of the RS can not make agreements with the president of the Federation, or because the president of HDZ national party can not make agreements with somebody from the Federation. Also, it has been believed that this kind of situation suits the international community in order to stay active in this country and that they will not withdraw in the next five to ten years at least. The problem is, and one participant mentioned it here, that we are led by rural people, people coming from rural areas. That is true; the big problem is the ruralization of urban areas. Media is disseminating information, or not disseminating, the majority of them is not disseminating as they should. Citizens have no clue who the international community is, they do not understand what some notions and phrases mean. I am watching the polls, we are more interested in the ones where journalists walk down the main pedestrian street Frehadija and ask questions on the fashion code but not about our country.

I apologize. I have to answer to the first question. I would define the notion of transitional justice as justice that is adapted to the society in transition, society full of holes for opportune speculation. To all segments of society. My opinion is that nobody has an interest that we live in harmony in any segment of the society starting from politics, economy and education. “Divide et impere” (Divide and rule) in any case. The other thing is that I have nothing against anybody coming from any village, if he knows his job. The biggest impudence of our state is that people are working on positions, on jobs that they have no clue about. You can not come to that person, that does not know his job and ask for some relevant information. If you ask for information from him... “none of your business”. Second, people do not know what democracy is. Demos- people, kratos- govern, coming from the Greek language. It is a Greek notion, based on what I was taught at university. Ask one hundred people today, maybe one will know. People are constantly complaining about what is happening in our country, and they constantly elect the same leaders. The problem is that one Amila will not elect one Zeljko because he is called Zeljko. Very difficult and the other way around. Why is the situation in Republic Srpska like that regarding the government? From our perspective they seem to be united. I wished that the Federation has one individual who everybody will wholeheartedly followed, sincerely speaking, meaning that people are one hundred percent behind that individual. Can you imagine how far we would be by now? But it is not in the interest of the international community, or anybody that we are united. We used to be the forth military power in the World just before ’92, based on the information I have, but I might be ill-informed. Who in this world will have interest in helping us to unite again? There is no justice. Justice, in the sense that I believe it should exist, does not exist. When a thirty-year-old person can not earn two hundred convertible marks, what kind of justice are we talking about? And, a son of somebody important will earn salary of three thousand and will drive a car that somebody can not earn after forty years of working experience.

I would like to add something to this discussion because I believe that in Bosnia and in the world some notions are being mixed. We have an elitist approach to the entire situation. We are mixing justice with equality, equal rights and opportunities. In the end, I thing that all of us are responsible for these equal rights, but not for equal opportunities and access for all. And if these equal opportunities and rights are not pursued, it is our responsibility that we do not complain, that we do not try to make some changes, that we do not offer something new. People tell me that they do not vote on elections. I really do not understand that if one does not like any candidate from the election list, why they do not establish their political party and fight. The other option is to accept the situation and say thank you for everything you provide for me, I do not know better, this is what you gave me and I do not see the reason to complain. And many things pass through my head, but mainly that I do not see our responsibility, and the need that all citizens are informed, that all citizens are educated, that we are all very smart and I believe that we need to pay respect to other people. I always find myself in the situation of representing a huge minority regarding all possible issues, and there is a certain percentage of people in Bosnia and Herzegovina that would like to have justice as such, that kind of life. On the other hand, I started to deeply believe, after visiting these rural areas and listening for the first time what these people had to say, that the majority of them are not dissatisfied indeed. These people are satisfied with what they have and with what they want. Maybe they are unsatisfied because they would like to see the things they have developed and grow. But their dissatisfaction is not related to the question whether they want a multiethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina, and any kind of justice or truth that is not theirs but adopted. It is really difficult to arrive to one area and tell to somebody, you should change something now. It is really a simple task, and maybe you are right. But why would I do it? I absolutely see no need, I have more important things to do, and my life is organized the way I want it to be. And when you have a closer look, that is how the majority thinks. Literally... I have not been doing researches, but in my humble opinion, the majority of people is satisfied with these things. And democracy as such allows these people to govern this country. If you are not capable as a minority, including myself, to overcome this situation, then you can not have any influence over it. I will stop talking now, although I could carry on.

I would like to add something briefly, not to be misunderstood. I really respect and value people coming from rural areas, but regarding their level of education, it is insane, to have a Minister who has only high school education, three years of high school. That is called here vocational schooling, prepares you to be a craftsman. What can one say about this?

And people have elected him.

Yes, people have elected him.

That is right.

This is democracy. When they ask me where I live I say in the democracy of the closed type.

Citizens elect ministers.

That’s right.

That is how it is!

That is shame.

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