Symbolic forms of justice and their relevance for BiH

Symbolic forms of transitional justice may constitute a key element of social restoration in BiH. Their potential to acknowledge individuals' suffering as well as to provide them a voice and status, but also to symbolize societal recognition of past wrongdoing is particularly significant, due to the complex social reality characterizing this postwar setting.

Current research on symbolic forms of justice in BiH suggests that justice stakeholders do not constitute a homogeneous group (see Colo Zahirovic’s chapter in this volume). Justice and acknowledgment needs are not only a subject of conflict between ethno-national groups (Barkan and Becirbasic 2015) but are also contested within these groups, due to individuals' affiliations to other meaningful, often war-related social identities (e.g.. urban vs. rural, gender, victim, veteran, refugee, internally displaced, families of the missing, etc.) that are attached to various competing memories of the past. In BiH, wartime experiences and postwar uncertainties crystallize specific moral claims and meaningful war-related identities, which correspond to particular sociocultural categories in competition for resources and recognition (Hronesova 2016). Each group's demands are legitimized by their perceived position within a hierarchical matrix of claims and rights, often upheld by politicians with self-interested agendas (e.g., providing housing opportunities or social benefits to victims from a particular national group) (Grandits 2007). Thus, while the claims of particular groups are recognized, many justice stakeholders are likely to be excluded from the postwar moral community in Bosnia and Herzegovina. (See also Colo Zahirovic’s chapter in this volume).

Thus, BiH constitutes a complex social reality within which various social groups struggle to gain recognition and public visibility for their experiences of the past and for their contingent justice needs. This implies also the existence of contrasting and competing understandings of the past held by different groups, understandings that are often contested and negotiated through symbolic TJ measures. BiH has, for that matter, recently seen a growth in the establishment of symbolic measures aimed at countering denial and acknowledging the harms done to all. Such symbolic measures range from state-implemented official national commemorative practices and cultural or artistic initiatives to small-scale and locally rooted initiatives brought about by local communities. Research on these initiatives (Bozic 2017; Centre for Nonviolent Action 2016; Moll 2013; Subotic 2016) frequently reveals that such symbolic measures constitute sites of diverging (re)interpretations of the past which are often criticized for being one-sided and attached to self-interested political agendas.

In this chapter, we focus particularly on Bosnian and Herzegovinian citizens' perceptions of initiatives which aim for the symbolic recognition and empowerment of individuals and communities affected by a violent past through acknowledgment of suffering and truth-telling. Symbolic justice concerns in BiH have been afforded little empirical attention, compared to judicial measures. While the need for grassroots consultation regarding the different meanings afforded to justice is increasingly recognized, those studies that have carried out comprehensive quantitative surveys of needs and expectations have rarely accounted for perceptions of symbolic forms of justice. Research on symbolic justice measures in BiH has mostly taken the form of ethnographic case studies related to specific initiatives, demonstrating generally their contested and divided nature (e.g., Bougarel, Helms and Duijzings 2007). Yet such research has rarely focused on distinguishing between various forms of symbolic justice and how their relevance may depend on specific concerns, which are in turn likely to be contingent upon particular understandings and experiences of the past. Given these gaps and the current calls for a more in-depth understanding of the nuanced meanings that can be attributed to justice, we have studied support for symbolic forms of justice and assume that perceptions are likely to be heterogeneous and shaped by past experiences and present concerns.

Research aims and questions

This study draws on the analysis of data stemming from a population-based survey developed and conducted by members of the Leuven research team as part of a larger research project in BiH and in Serbia, focusing on mass victimization

Towards social restoration in Bosnia and Herzegovina 173 and restorative justice, supported by the Research Council of the University of Leuven (for more details, see Parmentier, Valinas and Weitekamp 2009; Valinas. Parmentier and Weitekamp 2009). We aim to explore support for symbolic justice initiatives related to acknowledgment of suffering and truth-telling, focusing particularly on how respondents’ assessments may be attached to particular profiles of reported war experiences, beliefs about the conflict and justice and demographic factors. More specifically, we assess: (1) the extent of support for these two forms of symbolic recognition; (2) whether support for one form is always contingent upon support for the other; and (3) how different symbolic justice concerns can be related to particular profiles of respondents. With this objective, we will categorize respondents according to their relative support for both, acknowledgment of suffering (hereafter referred to as acknowledgment) and truth-telling forms of symbolic justice. This allows us to investigate (1) whether and to what extent respondents support these symbolic justice dimensions, as well as (2) whether some respondents may support one dimension and not the other. We then evaluate the role of war experiences, relevant conflict or justice beliefs and demographic factors, with a view to identify the factors that may distinguish different respondent profiles. The assumption guiding these objectives is that acknowledgment of suffering and truth-telling refer to overlapping but not equivalent symbolic justice needs in terms of their meaning for justice claimants. Acknowledgment is more oriented to one-sided justice interactions in which claimants expect a recognition from the outside world and society, while truth-telling is more likely to concern a dialogical form of justice where claimants interact with others to gain a better understanding of their victimization. We argue that whether claimants may perceive these two dimensions as meaningful to them may significantly depend on their experiences and beliefs about the past (i.e., beliefs about the recent conflict in relation to blame and victimhood).

Given these aims, we expect to identify four groups of respondents depending on their attitudes in relation to symbolic justice concerns: (1) those who support acknowledgment and truth-telling; (2) those who support neither dimension; (3) those who support acknowledgment but not truth-telling; and (4) those who support truth-telling but not acknowledgment. Each of these groups is assumed to be attached to distinctive patterns of experiences and understandings of the past and identities.

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