The failure of the nations that emerged from the breakup of Yugoslavia to deal with the root causes of the wars of the 1990s is putting peace in the region at risk, warns a new report from the Council of Europe.
The report points to the region's continuous regression in addressing justice and accountability for the brutal conflicts of the 1990s in Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Kosovo, which claimed over 130,000 lives.
Despite initial legal progress post-wars, such as the establishment of a war crimes tribunal in The Hague and the prosecution of political and military leaders, the progress is waning, says the report "Dealing with the Past for a Better Future". Impunity is resurfacing, with the momentum of national courts pursuing thousands of other perpetrators slowing significantly.
“The failure to fully deal with wartime atrocities and the root causes of conflicts in the 1990s continues to have devastating consequences on respect for human rights, the rule of law and social cohesion in the region,” said Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, according to a Council of Europe statement.
“Time is pressing to achieve effective justice, reparations and truth for the victims … The notable backsliding of the processes to deal with the past coincides with negative human rights trends on hate speech, freedom of assembly, media freedom and civic space, and ultimately threatens hard-won peace.”
The report reveals the rise of ethno-nationalists who now wield significant political influence, fostering hate speech and denying historical atrocities like genocide and crimes against humanity.
Mijatovic pointed out that individuals convicted of war crimes return to their communities as heroes after serving their sentences.
“Divisive and hateful narratives and actions have become a generalised political strategy, including around elections and dangerously undermine efforts to prevent the recurrence of violence,” she said.
There are concerns about stability in both Kosovo — where there have been several violent incidents in the predominantly Serb north this year — as well as Bosnia, due to the repeated threats of secession by Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik.
The report warns of the threat from far-right groups. “Right wing extreme nationalist groups are also key drivers of the culture of denial and glorification as well as of violence. They represent a serious risk factor in the region and undermine efforts to prevent a recurrence of conflict,” it says.
It also says that extreme right groups are “generally tolerated and/or enabled by nationalist political leaders”. “Radicalisation is fed through everyday divisive political discourse that creates an atmosphere of suspicion of the ‘other’ groups, a sense of threat and the fear of losing out,” says the report.
Moreover, it warns that Russian support for Serb right wing activists and organisations is “multifaceted and spans from support for online activities to military training”.
However, the threat is not only on the Serb side. The report also comments on Croat right wing extremism that “spills over from neighbouring Croatia to ethnic Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is ripe with glorification of war crimes and promotes historical revisionism about the Second World War and the wars of the 1990s”.