by, Tina Svalina, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Dr. Valerie Rosoux opened our minds and touched our hearts through her presentation  about memory, reconciliation and memorialization. She was able to incorporate all of our ideas  into a structured discussion about the meaning, scope and limit of memory and reconciliation.  Dr. Rosoux began by addressing the two views of reconciliation–the pragmatic and the ethical. She noted that, although reconciliation may be considered the type of thing that “you know it  when you see it,” it is still important to have a working definition. As a senior fellow at USIP she  was tasked with uncovering the limits to reconciliation. Her initial response to the assignment  was that there are no limits to reconciliation. As the discussion went on it became more evident  what exactly she meant by that. The pragmatic approach of reconciliation addresses when  reconciliation is appropriate and effective to use and when it is not, while the ethical focuses  on respect for the survivors and the irreversible character of violence. Sometimes there is no  adequate answer or response for the survivors, but that doesn’t mean that reconciliation stops.  It may just mean that there is a priority to live again, rather than immediately reconcile. Among  the exhaustive list of transitional justice, peace building, and reconciliation terms we compiled,  one stood out in particular. Somewhere between acceptance, trust, memory, compromise, inclusivity, causes, circumstances, and violations stood the word respect. The previous terms,  among others were just as vital to our definition, however the term respect opened the door  to another room that we have been in before. As we look around in this room there are things  coming from the top and the bottom, as the ceiling and the floor close in on the pluralities or  perception.

Dr. Rosoux described reconciliation as a dynamic system that goes from top to bottom  and from bottom to the top, but is also influenced by outside factors. Going back to the room  analogy, the outside factor can be compared to things being pushed in through the door. Reconciliation, as noted by Dr. Rosoux can’t come solely from the outside. Things need to
grow organically within the community, and if there is resistance there can be no reconciliation for the time being no matter how many NGOs try to fit through that door and into that room. Imposing our own view of justice or need for reconciliation on a community is unfair because the humiliation experienced, wounds inflicted and futures ruined are not our own. There are legitimate reasons for resisting reconciliation.

To help us further dissect reconciliation Dr. Rosoux provided analytical tools. The three categories she provided were the structural, psychosocial and spiritual. The structural aspect includes the pragmatic and legal inter-group relationships of the conflict, the psychosocial component includes the people to people programs, and the spiritual part is the collective healing that includes the victims, perpetrators and those who lie somewhere in between. She placed the interpretations on a spectrum ranging from minimalist to maximalist, the minimalist view being synonymous with conflict management. The maximalist view is more spiritual it, is not an end goal, and becomes the being.

Next she discussed the scope of reconciliation. Respect was again mentioned, as she explained that each individual victim will have their own pace, ability and desire toward a healing process. Respect requires that each situation be addressed not only in a pragmatic way in achieving security, setting up institutions, economic partnerships, and reparation initiatives, it is also about being aware of the context that these things are happening in. In her concluding remarks Dr. Rosoux exclaimed that there is no adequate, brief or rapid answer when it comes to reconciliation. The key, she said, is to find a balance and strike when the timing is decisive. She clarified that balance doesn’t entail addressing all things equally, rather it is addressing them all effectively. The duration of reconciliation is also an important consideration because emotions, attitudes and beliefs take a long time and the perceptions of the population also evolve over time. For all of those reasons reconciliation is an open-ended process, or business that is yet to
be finished.