Reconciliation?

Aleksandar Krzalovski
First Executive Director of MCIC

The word “reconciliation” is heard often these days after Prime Minister Zoran Zaev used it from the parliamentary pulpit with the intention to motivate opposition MPs to vote for the start of the constitutional changes procedure, especially after the eight opposition MPs who actually voted “for” last Friday, they translated it into one of its four demands. This demand reads as follows: “Acceptance of the initiative of the President of the Government of the Republic of Macedonia Zoran Zaev expressed at the 61st session of the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia on October 15, 2018, for forgiveness in connection with the events on 27 April, 2017 in the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia and a comprehensive national reconciliation, with the establishment of a parliamentary body composed of the heads of the parliamentary groups, three MPs and the President of the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia who will draft and propose a plan for national reconciliation to the Parliament.”

The use of the term reconciliation prompted a lot of reactions, with attempts to interpret what this really meant, ie what the Prime Minister wanted to say, and later regarding the MP’s demand – what do they mean by that?

On the very same day, there were many reactions, news articles and columns, as well as social media statuses. Some of the interpretations were religious – in the spirit of the Christian forgiveness for reconciliation (which is the essence of the religious holiday of Forgiveness, for example, or confessions before priests), in which people by seeing their own mistakes, or the violation of some norms and rules, require their forgiveness. On the other hand, most of the comments, or criticisms against the Prime Minister about the stated, implied that the amnesty was hiding under the cloak of reconciliation, especially to MPs who participated in the events of April 27, 2017 (the violent intrusion into the Parliament) and in exchange for vote on constitutional changes. Some of these criticisms were fierce, suggesting that amnesty was absolutely unacceptable and could not lead to national reconciliation.

What both parties and the others (Prime Minister and MPs) really thought were likely to be clarified in the next month, especially after the announcement of that deadline (30 days for the preparation of the national reconciliation plan), the Prime Minister’s reply that MP’s demands are acceptable and there can be a discussion on how to implement them and the announcement that the parliamentary commission on reconciliation, mentioned in the request, could be formed as early as this week.

But the intention of this column is not to speculate on what really was meant by the concept of reconciliation and what will happen on that subject – we will certainly see it soon.

Instead, I wanted to share experiences with the concepts of reconciliation throughout the world that I had the opportunity to learn as part of my job. Here I am primarily referring to South Africa and, in particular, to Northern Ireland, where I personally have been several times on exchange visits to share experiences with various groups in Macedonia (MPs, mayors and municipal administrations, police officers, religious people and of course colleagues from the civic sector).

Namely, when talking about reconciliation, especially “national reconciliation,” there are many examples of such intentions and actions throughout history, especially after fierce violent and bloody clashes and/or wars (civil and other). In the last decades, despite the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the most publicly present were the conflicts in South Africa (apartheid – that is, the rule of the small white minority, using police and military force to suppress any demands for more rights or equality of the black majority , led by Nelson Mandela) and Northern Ireland (the so-called troubles or “problems” that over the course of 30 years, from 1968 to 1998, led to over 3,500 victims in clashes between Catholics and Protestants, and ended up (so to speak) with the famous agreement from Good Friday (Good Friday Agreement), which by the way was the basis for our Ohrid Framework Agreement of 2001.

These two long-standing and difficult conflicts, which are considered finished with appropriate peace agreements (although for example in Northern Ireland now there are more and more so-called “walls of peace”, which physically separate neighborhoods in which families with different religions live ) are also interesting due to the adopted (different) concepts of reconciliation after the conflict. In South Africa, the concept of “Truth – the Road to Reconciliation” was conceived and implemented. The essence of this variant of reconciliation was that through the established Truth and Reconciliation Commission (www.justice.gov.za/trc) perpetrators of crimes (including murder) testify to what they did, and for everything which they will speak publicly before the Commission, will not be subject to punishment, ie they will be pardoned. This approach was important because there were a large number of cases in which families did not know the fate of their loved ones at all and the assumption was that it was more important to find out what happened (and how and where their lives ended) than to punish the perpetrators for what they did. I had the opportunity to see a few videos from the hearings themselves, with cathartic scenes at times when family members learn the truth about their loved ones. The Commission is still working and processing thousands of cases per year (from 1995 onwards).

In the case of Northern Ireland, the concept of “Justice for Peace” is dominant. The basis there was to investigate and disclose all the still unexplained cases of violence and, in particular, murders, by finding and appropriately punishing the perpetrators of the crimes. Given that this approach does not provide amnesty (although with the agreement itself there was a certain level of general amnesty), the number of cases processed is much smaller, the investigations last longer, and there are many who are “stuck” – that is, they cannot determine the perpetrators and / or their guilt in the case. In this case, the established additional institutions, such as the Commission for Victims and Survivors, continue with an uninterrupted intensity to work on the cases and 20 years after the achievement of the Peace Accord.

Of course, these are very simplified representations of these two concepts, and they are violent and long-lasting conflicts with many victims, but I believe that from such descriptions it is clear how complex the question of (national) reconciliation is and how long are those processes.

It was striking for me to compare during one of the study visits to Macedonia, when police officers from Belfast were appalled as only three years after our 2001 conflict, the cooperation between commanders of different ethnicity in the conflict region of Tetovo, seemed normal and they said that there are no problems with security in the region anymore. Visitors from Northern Ireland concluded that our concept of reconciliation seems to be “forget and move on” and maybe it was for the better, at least in the short term. But they also pointed out that a similar concept could have been applied in Yugoslavia after the Second World War, and although there were over one million victims (only 700,000 in the Jasenovac Camp), many of them in mutual conflicts of the nations of the then state or within the same nations or ethnic communities (Chetniks, Ustasha, Balists, Partisans), all this has been forgotten through the years of post-war progress. But perhaps that was the reason why they erupted so forcefully fifty years later, with the bloody disintegration of Yugoslavia, with more than 100,000 victims… that maybe some things could be suppressed, even for a long time, but are probably not forgotten and remain imprinted in the psyche of the traumas, and find the way through the next generations to come to the surface.

I don’t think that the situation in our country is so dramatic as in the previously described conflicts, and it is good that there were no human casualties in the events of the previous year (the 2001 conflict is a different story, but this should be taken into account, even more, in an eventual process of national reconciliation), but it is good to know what is meant when it comes to reconciliation and how to approach this process.

Views expressed in this article are personal views of the author and do not represent the editorial policy of Nezavisen Vesnik