Children in Bosnia are growing up learning that their neighbours are enemies. Civic groups say that a truth commission is the only way to defuse brewing ethnic hatred
When truth commissions were set up in Latin American countries such as Argentina, Chile` and El Salvador, they were justified because the systems of abuse there had been designed to hide the facts. Torture and related abuses were committed largely in secret; crimes like "disappearances" were intended to erase any trace of the victim or the crime. Hence the compelling need to uncover and acknowledge the truth.
In Bosnia, such a commission is not needed because of a hidden truth, but because of multiple "truths," each with a distinct ethnic vein. Nationalists from the three ethnic communities involved in the recent war propagate a history that portrays their group as the one and only victim of mass abuses, depicting the other two as evil perpetrators and monsters. Three separate war crimes commissions, dominated respectively by Bosnian, Croat and Serb perspectives, have focused on the victimization of their own group.
Owing in no small part to the legacy of communism, people in Bosnia Herzegovina have long been accustomed to a "top-down" approach, by which they passively let leadership determine their fate. Shedding this mentality has been a slow process, but citizens are sending out a clear signal that they are ready to con front the past with an eye to shaping a better future. On no other issue is this more obvious than the current effort to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Com mission (TRC).
In January 2000, an extraordinary conference in Sarajevo on the proposed TRC brought together a diverse group of 80 civil society leaders from both the Moslem-Croat Federation and the Serb Republic. Representatives from human rights groups, victims' associations, religious orders, political parties, academia, youth groups and others explained why they thought the TRC was vital to reaching durable peace. Independent media re-broadcast the entire eight-hour discussion. This broad-based grassroots citizens' coalition has now established a National Coordinating Committee for Establishment of the Truth …