Daniel Korski

Honouring the righteous

Honouring the righteous
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In Britain, a lot of people think Parliament has either become useless, venal or both. Few would look to it for moral guidance. Not so in Serbia, where the nation’s legislature has condemned the 1995 Srebrenica murder of 8,000 Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina – Europe’s worst atrocity since World War II - for the first time.

In 2004, I was involved in getting the Bosnian Serb authorities to admit their role in the crime. Reluctantly, they admitted that their forces participated in the killings, but many condemned the resolution at the time. So the Serbian move is significant.

But the road to reconciliation in the Balkans is still long. Although some perpetrators have been prosecuted at The Hague Tribunal, former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic remains at large, believed to be either in Serbia or in the Serb part of Bosnia. At the same time, many Serbs believe – incorrectly – that the Hague Tribunal is biased against them and that crimes have been exaggerated.

Building peace requires a careful balancing act between remembering past crimes and eschewing notions of collective guilt. I do not hate Germans for what the Nazis did to my family. Nor should Bosnians hate Serbs, Serbs hate Croats and so on.

But to ask victims and their relatives to adopt such an individualised view of guilt, nations - whose governments, officers and officials committed crimes - need to show remorse, avoid relativising suffering and do their utmost to bring all the perpetrators of crimes to justice. The Serbian legislature has taken a step in that direction. Not the final one, by any means, but an important one.

I hope that all the countries of the Former Yugoslavia come together to create a regional equivalent of Israel’s recognition of the acts of “Righteous Gentiles” - a term describing non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust. Efforts to deal with the crimes of the past tend to focus on evil-doing, on lapses in human morality and judgment. But focusing on people who did their utmost to protect threatened human beings is crucial.

There were “righteous” people in all the Balkan countries who helped their fellow human beings, no matter what their ethnicity and past links. It may be the teacher who helped his students videotape crimes they were forced to commit so that their military commander could later be convicted, or the nurses who sheltered their patients. Some saved one life; some saved many. Their acts should be part of the foundation for tomorrow’s Balkan societies.