Paths of Prejudice and Justice

Seminar 'Paths of Prejudice and Justice', maart 2015

Seminar 'Paths of Prejudice and Justice', maart 2015

Prejudice and Justice - op zoek naar rechtvaardigheid
door Paul Seidel

Als je in het woordenboek het woord ‘rechtvaardigheid’ opzoekt, kom je de volgende definitie tegen: ‘beginsel dat ieder als lid van de maatschappij krijgt wat hem toekomt’. De definitie lijkt simpel, maar in de realiteit is het vaak moeilijk terug te vinden. Want wat betekent het überhaupt dat ieder als lid van de maatschappij krijgt wat hem toekomt? En hoe gaan overheden en samenlevingen hiermee om? Kortom, het woord ‘rechtvaardigheid’ roept vele vragen op. Deze vragen zijn nog ingewikkelder als het gaat om de vraag naar rechtvaardigheid in de context van een oorlog. De behoefte om duidelijk te krijgen wat er is gebeurd botst dan met de roep om rechtvaardigheid.

Tijdens het seminar ‘Paths of Prejudice and Justice’, waartoe wij als vrijwilligers van ASF werden uitgenodigd aan deel te nemen, stond dit dilemma centraal. Daarbij richtte het seminar zich niet op de Tweede Wereldoorlog, zoals dit voor ASF wellicht voor de hand zou liggen, maar op de oorlogshandelingen in de landen van het voormalige Joegoslavië gedurende de jaren `90. De seminargroep bestond dan ook niet alleen uit deelnemers uit Duitsland, maar er waren ook jongeren uit Bosnië-Herzegovina, Servië, Kroatië ,Oostenrijks en Nederland. Het seminar werd georganiseerd door de Anne Frank Stichting (Amsterdam) in samenwerking met ASF Nederland.

De eerste dag van het seminar begon met een kennismaking en met bijeenkomsten en discussies over het begrip ‘rechtvaardigheid’. De volgende dag stond de oorlog in voormalig Joegoslavië centraal. Het voelde een beetje alsof ik weer op school zat. Het was een beklemmend gevoel, niet omdat de wijze van kennisoverdracht me afschrikte, maar omdat hetgeen verteld werd zo onbekend voor me was. Dit gevoel van enorme onwetendheid deelde ik met veel Duitse deelnemers. Onze degelijke Duitse schoolopleiding kent wat betreft de oorlog in voormalig Joegoslavië grote hiaten. Niemand van ons beschikte over veel kennis over deze oorlog, terwijl het een oorlog was die kort geleden had plaatsgevonden en geografisch gezien heel nabij was en daarom van grote betekenis zou moeten zijn voor elke Europeaan.

Desondanks bleef het seminar boeien. Dit bewees hoe goed de kennis werd overgedragen. Dit hielp ook de – soms emotionele - verhalen van de deelnemers uit landen van voormalig Joegoslavië beter te kunnen begrijpen. Hoogtepunt van het seminar was het bezoek aan het ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia) in  Den Haag. Hier hadden we de gelegenheid het proces tegen Ratko Mladic bij te wonen. Ratko Mladic was de leider van het Bosnisch-Servische  leger en wordt verantwoordelijk gehouden voor vele oorlogsmisdaden, waaronder de massamoord in Srebrenica.

Daar zat ik plotseling als toeschouwer te luisteren naar het verhoor van een getuige. De getuige – een mij niet bekende soldaat van het Servische leger, beantwoordde de vragen van de aanklager; vragen waarvan mij de samenhang niet geheel duidelijk was. Weliswaar kende ik de gebeurtenissen waar de vragen betrekking op hadden, maar de precieze afloop en de details ontbraken om alles goed te kunnen volgen. Mladic zelf zat haast onberoerd het verhoor te volgen. Een droge, kille blik – een typische misdadiger, zo leek me. Haat en diepe afgronden van de menselijkheid meende ik aan zijn gezicht en houding te kunnen aflezen. Hierdoor kon ik makkelijker mijn emoties met mijn geweten in het reine brengen. Maar toch was daar de vraag naar rechtvaardigheid. Hoeveel en wat voor soort rechtvaardigheid heeft dit strafhof te bieden aan de doden, de gewonden en hun nabestaanden? Mijn gedachten draaiden in een kringetje rond met als conclusie dat rechtvaardigheid een mooi streven is, maar vaak een onbereikbaar doel blijft.

Het seminar sloot af met een beschouwing over het heden en de toekomst van de landen van het voormalig Joegoslavië. Zo discussieerden we over de grote etnische problemen die er nog steeds zijn. Aan de andere kant beseften we dat in deze landen het potentieel en de hoop aanwezig zijn om hun problemen op te lossen. Toen besefte ik ook het belang van het ICTY, omdat dit tribunaal wel degelijk rechtvaardigheid naderbij kan brengen. Rechtvaardigheid kan er misschien nooit echt zijn, maar wel als symbool: een appel om van het verleden te leren om zo hoopvol aan de toekomst te kunnen bouwen.

What is justice and dealing with the past?
Sonja Kusumovic, Prijedor, April 2015

As part of the project Paths of Prejudice and Justice had the opportunity to travel to the Netherlands where I was with the other participants of the seminar. We went through a variety of workshops, lectures, debates and an interesting tour of the Anne Frank House and the ICTY.

We started the seminar in Anne Frank house where we first dedicated to the Nuremberg Judgement, Declaration of human rights and workshop justice and injustice that is caused by great debate. On the second day Laura Boerhout introduced us participants from Croatian, Serbia, the Netherlands, Germany and Bosnia and Herzegovina with the history of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. Frankly, I was thrilled at the way she told it. I'm very sad that only we, the participants were able to hear this lecture, and I hope one day some similar lessons will be written in our school books.

After this sad introduction to the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, we talked about Srebrenica, memorials, problems of refugees and the ICTY, as well as some of the heroes of the war and post war period.

All this was an excellent introduction to the third day when we went to the ICTY. Frankly, ICTY sounded very strange to me, like it isn’t part of my/our past. The first thing that awakened me were the boxes, which we saw upon entering, and on them were the names of suspects and convicted of some of the greatest war crimes after World War II. Then we went to a conference room where we met with the PR manager Rada Pejic-Sremac and she was available to answer on our questions, and the questions were very interesting direct and provocative. The answers we received were very direct and even a couple of times at our request she brought out her opinions. After the nice debate we went to the room that we were only shared glass of the hall where the judging process led by General Ratko Mladic. I often watched the trial on TV and read a lot about them but I've never seen such a lack of interest of all participants in the process. The most saddest I felt for the family of victims, because I saw how the court discussed about them, like they are just numbers and colors and of course no one remembers them. Absolutely every humanity is lost in the process, from the suspect through witnesses, scorer and judges. All this looks like a big show.

In the end I would like to come back to the first day when a guest came to us, an elderly gentleman, Rolf Kamp, a Jew who had survived World War II and who told us the horrors that he survived during World War II. But I'm back on this first day, because after his story, one girl, whose grandfather was an SS soldier, stood up and thanked Mr. Rolf that has been with us for sharing his story and, without hesitation, she told him who was her grandfather.

I was genuinely fascinated by this that she had said, but later I realized that this process of dealing with the past is a process that has to happen in the minds of our politicians and the generations to come so that they can continue to live in peace.

This is the process of facing the past.

Reflection on “Paths of Prejudice” Seminar
Tobias Traxler, Austrian volunteer at the Anne Frank House

My personal connection to the topic of this seminar stems from my curiosity in how law is applied combined with my interest in modern history. This seminar gave me the opportunity to gain more knowledge about two of the biggest conflicts that took place in the past century and at the same time I got an insight into the different tasks of an international court, such as jurisprudence and providing the public with information.

Before I give a summary and a personal reflection on the program, it is important to mention a question that played a huge role during the seminar and that I was asking myself after most of the workshops: What is justice and what is injustice? In the beginning we all tried to give easy and general answers, but over time everybody realised that it is a philosophical question and that there will probably never be an answer which is valid for everyone.

The historical part of the program started with the Second World War, and Anne Frank’s story as a personal testimony. After visiting the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam we had a workshop on the Nuremberg Trials. The trainers made a connection to the title of the seminar (“Paths of Prejudice”) and to our excursion to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). We spent the second day talking about the conflict in former Yugoslavia in  preparation of the visit to the ICTY. We had the opportunity to learn more about a conflict that is so close but also sometimes seems so far away. Visiting the ICTY was an impressive experience for various reasons. For me personally it was the first visit to an international tribunal, which was a plan that I have had for quite some time. I am convinced that it was especially interesting for me, as my main interests lay in the legal aspects of the seminar. But for the whole group of about 20 people it was important and interesting to see the theory we had learned about during the previous days put into action. The meeting with an employee of the ICTY right before seeing a court session added an extra layer to the visit and made the questioning of the witness more understandable. The visit had a huge emotional impact on all of us. Just to see, the defendant, Ratko Mladić, who is accused of the cruellest of crimes, was impactful. This uncomfortable feeling was made stronger by the fact that four of the participants came from the region and were directly influenced by the events commanded by Mladić.

The program was generally influenced positively by the different backgrounds of the participants, coming from the Western Balkan, the Netherlands, Austria and Germany. Hearing personal testimonies always makes history more alive, especially if the eyewitnesses are peers. Also spending time with people from different countries of the Balkan (two were from Bosnia, one from Croatia, one from Serbia) and seeing them getting along perfectly fine gives some hope while talking about such dark times of the region.

One other part of the seminar I would like to mention is the testimony of one of the guestspeakers, Rolf Kamp. As he is Jewish he could not live normally during the Nazi regime in the Netherlands and was forced to go into hiding. Working at the Anne Frank House I have had the opportunity to meet several survivors of the Nazi persecution. However Rolf’s story was very special for me because of his very clear remembrance of the time and his rather atypical story. He hid in 13 different places throughout the Netherlands, at the age of only ten years. Even though he never stayed in one place for longer than a year he recalls almost all of the hiding places and to a certain extent even details. His story deeply touched me and was a part of the seminar I will never forget.

To end, I would like to thank all the people who made this conference possible. People concerned with the content and the preparation of the seminar as well as everybody involved in financing it, as I know that finding money for events like this cannot be taken for granted. I am convinced that all the participants will benefit from taking part at this seminar in the future.