Reaching the ideal of truth is an endless series of accumulated partial truths whose foundations are the identified series of checkable/truthful facts. Gathering and systematisation of facts about the consequences of war is just the first step, the first phase, the easier section of the road towards the deep causes, reasons and motives for the perpetration of crimes. For this part of the work, we need facts, however, this time we are talking about the facts that help us explain the causes for initiating aggression and perpetrating crimes. They will help us to unveil every strata of social circumstances in which aggression and the goals of war are prepared, while, on the other hand, they will prevent open attempts at striking a balance in relation to the war waged in the former Yugoslavia, the attempts to find some kind of a common denominator, an opportunistic and compromise political explanation that would divide responsibility and negate every difference between the protagonists of that war. This would be an attempt to avoid our delving into the multi-faceted structure, causes and consequences of the war for each group.
When considering international legal obligations that arise for all participants of armed or other conflicts that leave massive parts of the population dead, we need to emphasise that one of the most important conventions – the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide – does not stipulate in any of its provisions, nor does it establish an obligation on any national or international body to record the victims of genocide. Furthermore, in the process of proving that genocide has been committed, for which it is important to prove, inter alia, the existence of specific intent to commit genocide, one of the key pieces of evidence is the exact number of killed persons and all the circumstances under which their murders occurred, their frequency and scope, and, particularly, the pattern of killing the genocide victims, since only with this kind of analysis, along with other evidence, can facilitate the establishment of the existence of specific intent, or else the fact that the intent was aimed at destroying, totally or partly, a specific national, ethnic, religious or racial group.
However, irrespective of the shortcomings of this Convention, it seems quite logical that states that are victims of genocide should take action to ensure that all prerequisites for such records and analyses be undertaken as precisely as possible. Bosnia and Herzegovina, which initiated the legal case against Serbia and Montenegro before the International Court of Justice in The Hague for the genocide committed on its territory, unfortunately did not do anything to present this kind of evidence to the Court. The lack of political will to implement the obligations enshrined in the conventions signed by Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the lack of understanding for the importance of the duty to record victims of war can be illustrated by the fact that since the end of the war all the Governments and the Parliaments of Bosnia and Herzegovina have failed to pay any attention to this problem.
When explaining and constructing the multilayered system of social memory, special place is reserved for facts. I would like to draw your attention to a very common fetishization of facts. One outstanding journalist said, “Facts are sacred; opinion is free.” (C. P. Scott). Of course, it is not difficult to agree with freedom of thought. But, it is much more difficult to agree with the statement that facts are sacred. If we declare them as sacred, then facts that have nothing with truth and which are indeed facts, especially those facts seen in isolation and out of context, can produce a completely wrong picture and, what is even more dangerous, wrong conclusions. Facts are important, but only when they are connected with a series of other facts, that is, when partial truths are substantiated with accumulated genuine facts.
For example, the unquestionable fact that someone was murdered is not the complete truth yet, since it lacks a series of new facts that explain the circumstances of the death, the status (soldier v. civilian), and a still other facts that, taken together, compose the truth about the fact that someone was murdered. Therefore, as much as it is true that facts are important, it is even more important how truthful and complete these facts are and, of course, it is important how truth corresponds with facts. And, finally, even if we know the truth about consequences, there are surprises and the eternal question of ‘why?’ Why something happened, in what context, what were the causes or motives for the eruption of violence, what were the goals, in which areas did crimes occur, what is the geography of crimes, and who were the planners and perpetrators, which opens the circle of search for new facts about the cause and the context.
At the most general level, it is not difficult to agree that war as a social phenomenon brings disaster and suffering to all people, but it is unacceptable to say that we are all identical victims, i.e. that causes and consequences of the suffering and pain in Bosnia is the same for all of us. Additionally, it is particularly unacceptable to make comparisons with some other former Yugoslav republics. The difference between them is drastic because the intent and final goals of aggressors and perpetrators are different. It is because of these differences in the nature and characteristics of crimes that it is not possible to seek any common denominator or shared narrative that would explain the war events from a neo-Yugoslav perspective.
Of course, we know that facts, no matter how accurate they may be, will never be fully immune to different connotations, interpretations, and even denial of the events they relate to, nor would awareness of those crimes and the understanding of their abuse be immediately acceptable to all. However, we do hope that the results of extensive research based on documented facts may have a strong effect at least on the “mitigation” of the culture of denial and narrowing down of the space for manipulation with victims.