Tag: Conflicts

Thanks to the valuable support of “Documenta – Centre for Dealing with the Past”, the project team of “Human Faces of Conflicts” had the opportunity to meet and interview Ms Ana Kvesic, a Zagreb-based Croatian storyteller. Ana is originally from Vukovar, a city on the Danube in Eastern Croatia that, in pre-war period, was a prosperous centre with a mixed community of Croatians, Serbs and other ethnic groups. At the beginning of the 1990s, Vukovar was severely damaged during the siege and the fall of the city and it suffered heavy civilian and military casualties. As a result of the conflict, an ethnic divide exists between the Croat and Serb populations. In early 1990s Ana found herself as an internally displaced person (IDP), hosted in a hotel in Zagreb where she lived until 2002. Afterwards, Ana decided to buy a flat opposite to the hotel in Zagreb, while keeping her properties in Vukovar.

The volunteer of “Human Faces of Conflicts”, Sonia Angiolin, met Ana in May 2017 and conducted the interview exactly behind the hotel in Zagreb where our storyteller lived as an IDP. In the recorded video Ana tells the stories of everyday life during the war in Vukovar, of how some people interrupted contacts with their neighbours and friends because of their nationalities and how some others tried to help each other despite national belonging. She also described her life as an IDP in the hotel in Zagreb, where living conditions were initially harsh, but they were soon mitigated. Thanks to the support and the training of international organisations, Ana started the process of conflict elaboration and understood that it is not possible to classify a person based on his/her nationality or ethnic belonging. She also mentioned that during the 1990s, the parts involved in the conflicts used to point at scapegoats for atrocities and that propaganda and the political exploitation of the conflict still exerts influence on the memory of the war. Therefore, this leaves little space for the part of civil society involved in peace building efforts that is  advocating for reconciliation. At present times, Ana told us that often initiatives in Vukovar, such as conferences, exhibitions and commemorations, are mostly targeted to a small audience at the political level and are not capable of involving citizens and the civil society on the whole.

We thank once more Ms Ana Kvesic for having participated in “Human Faces of Conflicts” and shared her story in our online platform.

Note on the video. To facilitate the viewing of the video “Human touch / Ljudski dodir”, the English subtitles include comments and notes in square brackets. Alike, fictitious names were assigned to some of the characters mentioned by the storyteller.

Disclaimer: “Human Faces of Conflicts” shares stories focusing on people who helped others on the “other side” of the conflicts”, without any intentional direct or indirect reference to political, economic, cultural, identity, religious information that may be related to a conflict or to specific actors and parties involved in a conflict. The views and opinions expressed in the story are those of the author and do not reflect the opinion of the project “Human Faces of Conflicts”. Neither the project team nor its volunteers and contributors may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.

As Transdniestrians celebrate Victory Day with a military parade – complete with Soviet-era tank – Russian [and Transnistrian] flags line the streets of Tiraspol. Photo by Thomas Vanden Driessche, Institute, in Zuckerman C. “The Country that Doesn’t Exist”, Picture Stories, National Geographic, 23/03/2017.

The small Republic of Moldova is one of the post-Soviet states facing a conflict on its territory over the unrecognized self-proclaimed region of Transnistria, officially known as Pridnestrovian Moldovan Republic. Located between Romania and Ukraine, Moldova declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and it is since then undergoing a transition both in the sphere of politics, economics and within its society.

The river Dniester separates the state into two parts, which differ in their history and attitude, but were amalgamated into the Moldovan Soviet Socialistic Republic in 1940. The Transnistrian part situated on the Eastern side of the river was harbouring the industrial economic sector and was inhabited mainly by Soviet, Russian-speaking elites, while the Western part of the country was an agricultural hub with cultural and linguistic ties to Romania. The way to independence was accompanied by an emancipation movement which strove to break with Soviet and Russian predominance over Moldova. The Soviet elites in Transnistria opposed this development to safeguard the Soviet and Russian ascendancy in the political and cultural spheres and feared discrimination. At the same time, they refused to accept any subordination to Chisinau and yearned to keep a direct and privileged connection to Moscow. They also refused a reunification with Romania, which parts of the Moldovan population aspired to achieve.  

With military support of the Soviet and later Russian 14th army, stationed near Tiraspol, the Transnistrians gained control of the area eastward of the Dniester as well as of the city of Bender, which is located on the Western bank of the river. The attempt by Chisinau to win back Bender led to a short war in 1992, with several hundred casualties and around 100.000 people fleeing the region.[1] On behalf of the Transnistrian Moldovan Republic (TMR), Russia reached a ceasefire agreement with Moldova, which included a trilateral border regime and cemented the separation of the Transnistrian area. Since then, all attempts to reintegrate the TMR into Moldova have failed. In 1994 the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) tried to reach a consensus involving not only Moldova and Transnistria but also Russia and Ukraine. In 2003 Russia proposed the so-called “Kozak-Memorandum” which suggested a reunification, while at the same time granting strong autonomy to Transnistria. Moldova refused the proposal, fearing that a veto right for Transnistria would block any decision from Chisinau and secure the influence of Moscow, which has kept its military presence in the breakaway region up to date. In 2005, the so-called “5+2” negotiation format was established between the sides, Moldova and TMR, as well as the OSCE, Russia, Ukraine, the European Union and the United States. However, also this format has failed to make any progress regarding the disputed status of the TMR. The EU further intensified its engagement by launching a European Boarder Assistance Mission in Moldova and Ukraine to strengthen the control of movements across the border from and to the TMR.

Since 1992, the TMR has built up a de facto statehood and it has strived for integration with Russia. In 2006 the majority of its inhabitants voted for an incorporation with Russia. Up to date, Russia has neither recognized the TMR as a state nor it has showed willingness to incorporate the TMR into the Russian Federation. The annexation of Crimea in 2014 raised hopes regarding a Russian change of mind, however, the developments in neighbouring Ukraine have actually worsened the situation of the small unrecognized Republic for two reasons. Firstly, the TMR is highly dependent on financial aid and loans for energy supply from Moscow, which it in fact does not pay back. This support is endangered by the costs of the economic crisis and the conflict in Ukraine for Russia. Secondly, since the founding of the TMR, the economy of Transnistria and its elites profited from a flourishing trade over the Transnistrian-Ukrainian border, which also included illegal trading. Since the 2014 annexation of Crimea to the Russian Federation, Kiev is much more willing to prevent these trade flows, because it views the TMR, with its Russian military presence, as a threat to its security and the stability in the region around Odessa.

For the time being there is no settlement in sight for the disputed Transnistria region due to various reasons. The Transnistrian elites oppose reunification because the de facto statehood of the TMR is at the basis of their influence and economic privileges. For Chisinau, a reintegration of Transnistria would be costly with respect to political will, economic and  financial resources. The political conflict over the diverging foreign policy orientations deepen these cleavages. While the TMR opts for integration with Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union, Moldova seeks rapprochement with the EU, regardless of shrinking public support for this course. On the Moldovan side there is no will to strive for reunification and people on both sides of the Dniester have come to accept the division of the country.  As a matter of fact, in 2015 just 9% of Moldovans believed that reintegration was among the three most important questions regarding the future of the country.[2]


[1] Vahl, Marius; Emerson, Michael: Moldova and the Transnistrian conflict. In: JEMIE – Journal on Ethno-politics and Minority Issues in Europe (2004), 1, 29 pages. URN: http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0168-ssoar-61961.

[2] Institutul de Politici Publice: Barometer of Public Opinion. November 2015.

URN: http://www.ipp.md/public/files/Barometru/Brosura_BOP_11.2015_first_part_


Sunset on the Danube river in Vukovar (Croatia), Photo by Dmitry Okuntsev

Sunset on the Danube river in Vukovar (Croatia), Photo by Dmitry Okuntsev

The dissolution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia led to the independence of seven new states throughout a process marked by a series of conflicts which lasted more than a decade. The perpetration of war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity sparked considerable international debate on controversial issues such as the role of the neighbouring European Union and the deployment of humanitarian armed intervention.

The post-WWII unitary experience of Yugoslavia had kept together 6 republics (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia) and 2 autonomous provinces (Kosovo and Vojvodina) in a multi-national Federation for more than 40 years. Following the death of the President Josip Broz Tito in May 1980, the Federation experienced rising economic crisis, institutional stalemate and political challenges.[1] Internal animosities within Yugoslavia were further increased as a new international scenario emerged following the end of the Cold War and the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe. With the emergence of nationalist discourses in the elections held across the republics in 1990, ethnic tensions rose fuelled by inflamed propaganda spread by political leaders and complacent media.[2]

In 1991, Slovenia and Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia, leading to the “Ten Days War” in Slovenia and to the Croatian War of Independence that lasted until summer 1995. Fightings in Croatia affected particularly the border regions of the new state through the battle of Vukovar, followed by the Ovcara massacre in November 1991, and the siege of Dubrovnik. With two controversial military operations marked by war crimes and crimes against humanity,[3] in mid-1995 Croatia restored control over the territories until then occupied by the Republic of Serbian Kraijna, a para-state under control of the Serb minority, provoking the mass displacement of Serbian minority from those regions.

Following a referendum on independence, held in Bosnia and Herzegovina in April 1992, conflict erupted also in the most multi-ethnic of the republics of Yugoslavia. The Bosnian war, lasting from 1992 to 1995, caused more than 100,000 victims, over 2 million refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), the return of concentration camps and of the crime of genocide in Europe.[4] The war in Bosnia has been extensively reported in its most dramatic traits, including the Siege of Sarajevo, genocide in Srebrenica and the unprecedented targeting of civilians through the deployment of ethnic cleansing. In 1995, the Dayton Peace Agreement put an end to the conflict, providing the country with a Constitution that ratified internal division and power sharing among the different national groups.[5] Until today, the demands for constitutional reform remain unsolved.

In those same years, in the autonomous province of Kosovo increasing tension between the two main ethnic groups in the area, on the issue of autonomy cancelled by President Milosevic of Serbia in 1989, led to the escalation of violence against the Albanian community of Kosovo. After a few attempts at diplomatic solution in 1999, in March NATO initiated a bombing campaign targeting Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo. With the Yugoslav army’s withdrawal from the territory of Kosovo, an international protectorate was established that would last until 2008, when Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence from Serbia.

The displacement of refugees from Kosovo, most of which headed to the neighbouring Republic of Macedonia led to the destabilization of this country, independent since 1992. The demands for more rights from the side of the Albanian minority lead to escalation and clashes in 2001. After a few months of war, the international community urged the parties to sign an agreement which put an end to the conflict by envisaging proportional representation for the Albanian and Macedonian national groups.

In 2006, Montenegro broke away from Serbia with a peaceful referendum brokered by the European Union. The smallest state among those emerged from the dissolution of Yugoslavia is currently leading the path towards EU integration along with Serbia. At the beginning of 2017, the countries have managed to open 26 and 8 negotiation chapters respectively. The other countries in the region lag behind in the position of “candidate” (Macedonia and Albania) and “potential candidate” (Bosnia Herzegovina and Kosovo). For all of them, the fight against corruption and organized crime, as well as the full implementation of rule of law remain substantial challenges.

Fifteen years of conflicts and the subsequent institutional arrangements have seriously damaged the multi-ethnic relations in the region and impacted on political, social and economic characters of the newly established state entities, labelled as ethno-political systems.[6] The characters of the conflict, that resulted in at least at least 150 thousand casualties on the territory of Bosnia Herzegovina alone, and which prompted the escape of millions refugees, entailed the destruction of social ties, infrastructures and urban spaces. The return of displaced minorities and the full respect of the rights of returnees still constitute an open issue.[7] In such a complex scenario, post-conflict transition and reconciliation represent vital challenges for the future of this area.

War time crimes have been addressed both at the national and international levels, through the work of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Justice and acknowledgement of war crimes suffering still represent open issues, as witnessed by the recent establishment of a Special Tribunal for War Crimes in Kosovo.[8]

Beyond formal justice, much needs to be done at the level of civil society to bring back mutual trust among national communities. Indeed the region is regarded as a permanent laboratory of reconciliation practices nurtured by local civil society, often with the support of foreign donors. Bottom-up initiatives such as REKOM – a regional initiative to establish a commission about war crimes – and the Women’s Court, addressing wartime gendered violence,[9] are only two examples of the many and multifaceted efforts enacted by civil society across the region, which are rooted in the anti-war movement dating back to the 1990s.[10]

Reconciliation and regional cooperation also play a central role in the conditions set forth by the European Union. The newly established countries emerged from the dissolution of Yugoslavia are getting closer to membership in the European Union – with Slovenia and Croatia having joined in 2004 and 2013 respectively – and the other getting closer at different paces. Since the Thessaloniki European Council of 2003, the process of Europeanization represents a significant transformative factor for the region, but the genuine commitment from the side of local political elites is wavering and other poles of attraction continue to exert their influences on politics and public opinions across the post-Yugoslav space.

[1] Bringa Tone, The Peaceful death of Tito and the Violent end of Yugoslavia, in John Borneman (ed.): Death of the father: An anthropology of the end in political authority. New York: Berghahn Books pp. 63-103.
[2] Boro Kontic, Years eaten by lions, documentary film, 2010.
[3] Oluja crimes, a test for Croatian justice, Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso, 10 december 2012
[4] Al Jazeera, http://srebrenica360.com/
[5] Andrea Rossini, Bosnia Herzegovina at a stalemate?, ISPI online, 30 May 2014
[6] Asim Mujkić, “We the citizens of ethnopolis”, Constellation – International Journal of critical and democratic theory, Volume 14, Issue 1, March 2007, pp. 112–128.
[7] Andrea Rossini, The road home: Bosnians’ returns http://newpol.org/content/road-home-bosnians%E2%80%99-return
[8] See the dossier curated by BIRN http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/page/Kosovo-special-court
[9] Official website of the Women’s Court initiative http://www.zenskisud.org/en/
[10] See for instance the work by Bojan Bilic and Vesna Jankovic, Resisting the evil: (Post)-Yugoslav anti war contention, Baden-Baden, Nomos, 2012.

Carpathian Mountains near Kolochava, Zakarpatska Oblast, Ukraine. Photo by Volodymyr Zinchenko, National Geographic

Ukraine gained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. As a post-communist country in transition, Ukraine started to undergo major political and economic changes that have severely affected  the population with high social costs. Standing at the crossroads between east and west, the country has veered between seeking closer integration with western European countries and being drawn into the orbit of Russia, with which it shares historical ties. This ambivalence embodies Ukraine’s political, economic, cultural, social and linguistic spheres, including the question of identity – i.e. western regions seek more independence from Russia while eastern areas, where a large Russian minority lives, are prone to call on closer integration with Russia. Ukraine has faced significant challenges, including pressing need for changes and reforms, political instability and a vulnerable economy with endemic corruption and energy dependency from Russia.

Since winter 2013-14 Ukraine has experienced tensions and hostilities, particularly in its eastern regions.[1] After the decision of former President Yanukovych to abandon the Association Agreement with the EU, tens of thousands protested in Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Kyiv (November 2013), paving the way to the formation of a new government with Yanukovych leaving the country.  As the scope of protests expanded and the unrest turned deadly in many Ukrainian cities, pro-Russian protesters rallied in Crimea against the new Kyiv administration and demanded independence through a referendum (16 March 2014), which rapidly lead to the bloodless annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol to the Russian Federation (21 March). The situation has spiralled into violence in the Donbass region (Eastern Ukraine), where armed groups began to seize buildings and engaged in an ongoing fighting with governmental forces. However, independence was proclaimed in Donetsk and Luhanks referenda (11 May) and separatists’ leaders were elected, developments not recognised by Kyiv and the West. In June 2014 Petro Poroshenko was sworn in as new Ukrainian President and the Verkhovna Rada voted in a new government (2 December) after pro-European parties won parliamentary elections (26 October). The Ukrainian crisis brought to the fore the Kremlin’s strategy to assert its interests in the Eastern Neighbourhood with the use of soft-power tools as well as coercive measures such as trade embargoes, gas price hikes, destabilization of the East including military forces, alleged backing of Donbass separatists, and the annexation of Crimea. Hostilities in Ukraine inflamed international tensions with the EU and the US unanimously condemning Russia’s approach in the crisis. The 2014 international endeavours to de-escalate tensions resulted in the Geneva Joint Statement (17 April), pledging full support for OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, the Berlin Declaration of Foreign Ministers (2 July), sending an OSCE Observer Mission to monitor the Ukraine-Russian border, and the Minsk Protocol (5 September) announcing a cease-fire and a security zone. In February 2015 Ukrainian President Poroshenko, Russian President Putin, German Chancellor Merkel and French President Holland agreed to revive the Protocol with a new package of measures, “Minsk II”, to reduce hostilities in Eastern Ukraine. Nevertheless, at the beginning of 2017 “Minsk II” is still far from being implemented and the truce is being regularly violated from both sides. The numbers of the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine are shocking. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the conflict has caused nearly 10,000 documented casualties, there are an estimated 3.8 million people in need of humanitarian assistance as well as 1.6 million internally displaced persons.

The EU, the USA, together with other countries and international organizations, have imposed sanctions targeted to Russian citizens and companies allegedly involved in the annexation of Crimea and in the backing of separatists in Eastern Ukraine. As a response Russia applied retaliatory sanctions including a ban on food imports from the EU, United States, Norway, Canada and Australia. As a result, these set of measures are carrying severe economic effects and are exacerbating the downturn on both sides.[8] On top of that, the unrelentingly biased and divisive media coverage of several outlets about the Ukrainian crisis have contributed to polarise societies across Europe, either depicting “a monolithic and fictitious picture of Ukraine threatened by fascist hordes” (Russian media), or have “almost routinely […] downplayed the Russian side of the story” (Western media).[2] Indeed, one of the major casualty of the Ukrainian crisis is the relationship between Ukrainians and Russians that is continuously threatened, among other factors, by contrasting opinions about Russia’s role in the crisis. After three years of hostilities and an immense number of casualties and displaced persons, the Ukrainian conflict still represents one of the most significant challenge for the European continent. 



[1] This paragraph is based on the paper Bonato S., “Restoring Dialogue As It Drifts Away. The EU-Russia Civil Society Forum Initiative at the Nadir of EU-Russia Dialogue”, PECOB’s Papers Series, issue 49, February 2015, ISSN: 2038-632X.

[2] The Guardian, “Is western media coverage of the Ukraine crisis anti-Russian?”, New East Network, 4 August 2014.

  1. BBC News Europe, Ukrainian crisis timeline.
  2. Emerson M., “First Anniversary of the Vilnius Summit Or, How Tolstoy might have portrayed the legacies of Yanukovich and Putin”, CEPS Essays, N.18, November 2014.
  3. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, N.135, November 2014.
  4. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, No.137, January 2015.
  5. OCHA, Humanitarian Bulletin Ukraine, issue 15, 31 December 2016, Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.
  6. OSCE Infographic, OSCE Responds to Crisis in & Around Ukraine.
  7. OSCE Resources, Ukraine, Early Parliamentary Elections, Final Report, 19 December 2014.
  8. Tafuro E.,“Fatal attraction? Russia’s Soft Power in its Neighbourhood”, FRIDE Policy Brief N.181, May 2014.
  9. The Guardian, “Russia Reacts to EU Sanctions with Further Western Trade Embargoes”, 11 September 2014.
  10. Zinets N., Prentice A., “Ukraine Parliament votes in new government, fresh ceasefire hopes fade”, Reuters, 2 December 2014.