The regional ALTERNATIVE workshop ‘Dealing with interethnic conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and the place of restorative justice: experiences and challenges’ took place in Belgrade (Serbia) on 30 October 2014 organised by VDS.
The main aim of the workshop was to exchange experience with the participants on activities and research about dealing with past and present interethnic conflicts in the countries of the former Yugoslavia and the place of restorative justice. Therefore, each participant had the chance to talk about their own respective fields of work and expertise in dealing with interethnic conflicts. Participants were representatives of civil society organisations from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina that are dealing with interethnic conflicts, truth and reconciliation, non-violent conflict resolution, including war veterans’ and victims’ organisations, as well as some individual experts. Participants from Croatia and Kosovo were invited and accepted invitation, but due to unexpected circumstances they were not able to come.
After introduction, presentation of participants and formulation of the working rules, which also included basic rules of restorative two-way communication that is optimal for solving and preventing conflicts, project ALTERNATIVE and the VDS research Fostering victim-oriented dialogue in a multi-ethnic society were introduced to the participants.
Through presentation and film about local research sites participants were introduced to the research conducted by the Victimology Society of Serbia on state’s and civil society’s dealing with interethnic and related political and intercultural conflicts in Serbia and on the interethnic relations, existing conflicts and ways of dealing with them by citizens in multi-ethnic communities in Serbia. Particular focus was on the key findings of the empirical research on conflicts that have been evolving during and after the wars in the former Yugoslavia between members of different ethnic groups in three multi-ethnic communities in Serbia, ranging from insults and threats, to different forms of violence, forced leaving of the place of residence and murders of family members, and the way people have been solving them, which was conducted in 2013. This was followed by the work in small groups, moderated on predefined questions in which participants’ discussion was based on the selected results of the empirical research on the feeling of security and the mechanisms suitable to achieve justice in cases of interethnic victimisation. The aim of the discussion was to see in which way participants explain certain findings, what is their knowledge and experience on the issues of security and justice related to multi-ethnic relations and what is the situation like in their local communities.
In the second part of the workshop, the ongoing action research of the Victimology Society of Serbia, which was implemented during 2014 in the form of participative seminars ‘From the conflict toward the peaceful life in the community’ was presented. This was an introduction to the exchange of participants’ experiences about their previous activities related to dealing with interethnic conflicts and the use of restorative dialogue or other restorative justice approaches in their local or wider community, and discussion about further work on developing and promoting restorative approaches for conflict transformation in multi-ethnic communities. What came into fore was the fact that almost all participants implemented restorative approaches in their work, particularly emphasising importance of encounters and restorative dialogue in different settings and situations (e.g. inter- and intra-ethnic conflicts, encounters of war veterans, trainings on peaceful and non-violent conflict resolution for members of different ethnic groups etc.), but they were not aware that what they did was actually restorative justice. For instance, an Albanian from South Serbia gave several interesting examples of using restorative dialogue in order to reconcile families in his local community in different situations: e.g. to stop, at least for a certain period of time, a threat from the blood revenge, or to achieve reconciliation and prevent new conflicts in the aftermath of the fight between Serbian and Albanian youngsters.
During the final part, participants shared ideas on possible forms of future cooperation. Thus, the workshop was a good way to disseminate the research results, but also to work on further networking with civil society organisations and individuals from Serbia and former Yugoslavia with the goal to promote restorative approaches in solving and preventing conflicts in multi-ethnic communities.