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Bosnian Bones, Spanish Ghosts: 'Transitional Justice' and the Legal Shaping of Memory after Two Modern Conflicts

Final Report Summary - BBSG (Bosnian Bones, Spanish Ghosts: 'Transitional Justice' and the Legal Shaping of Memory after Two Modern Conflicts)

The research undertaken under the auspices of the ERC-funded ‘Bosnian Bones, Spanish Ghosts: Transitional Justice and the Legal Shaping of Memory’ grant entailed a detailed ethnographic study of two contemporary cases of post-conflict reconciliation: one, the Bosnian case, where international intervention ended conflict in a stalemate and went on to instigate a now nearly two decade-long process of transition; and the other, the Spanish case, where a nationally-contrived pact of silence introduced an overnight ‘transition’ immediately after Franco’s death – a pact now being broken some seventy years after the country’s civil war concluded. Both societies witnessed massive violations of international humanitarian law. Both societies are presently exhuming, identifying and re-burying their dead. But their trajectories of ‘transitional justice’ could not have been more different.
The project investigated how the Law in both countries helped to shape cultural memories of wartime atrocity in these two contrasting scenarios. How did criminal prosecutions, constitutional reforms, and the implementation of international rights mechanisms, provide or obfuscate the scales into which histories of violent conflict were framed? Did the systematic re-structuring of legislative and judicial infrastructure, in the shape of electoral reforms, anti-corruption legislation and capacity-building projects, provide a self-referential mode of communication that stifled full recognition of past abuses or create the conditions of possibility through which such pasts could be confronted? How did Law shape or inflect the cultural politics of memory and memorialisation? To what extent could the Law adequately recognise and offer redress for the trauma caused by wartime atrocity? And most importantly, how should legal activity be weighted, prioritised and sequenced with other, extra-legal components of peace-building initiatives?
In the context of these research questions, the project realised an innovative programme of enquiry that comprised a variety of different methods for data collection (ethnographic research, life history work, forensic investigations at mass gravesites, participant observation inside of relevant international, transnational and more local, grassroots organisations, electronic surveying, semi-structured interviews, focus groups, and the collection of quantitative data) together with an equally diverse mix of analytical strategies (actor network theory, social network analysis, social systems theory, user engagement analysis, and most importantly – our own methodological advancement, social scalar analysis). Developing social scalar analysis was always crucial to our team’s research goals. It served as both a potential methodological orientation and a theoretical frame through which to consider these two, temporally distanced and polar opposite, instances of post-conflict transition from a fresh vantage. That vantage allowed us to interrogate the discourse, practices and modus operandi of transitional justice from a wholly vanguard vantage and allowed us to re-think the question of transitional justice’s successes and failures in terms of its ability to accommodate disparate political ontologies.
The work garnered the attention of various international and national bodies, as well as NGOs in both countries from an early stage. It offered a fresh analysis of the current dilemmas both countries were facing, and our team, comprised of up to 20 people at times and working across numerous field-sites in both countries, became active in advocacy and consultancy work throughout the duration of the project. This provided the platform for a further ERC grant (Proof of Concept), which allowed for a year long programme of knowledge-sharing activities across the public sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina, coordinated in collaboration with the UNDP and involving collaboration with numerous government ministries in the country as well as a variety of organisations such as USAID, OSCE, TRIAL etc.
Our work is ongoing and our team unified in its shared research and political commitments in these countries and elsewhere, and we are grateful to the ERC for the extraordinary opportunities opened up to us all through the provision of this grant.