Reconciliation in the Western Balkans and in East Asia

September 9, 2014

German leaders called early this year for a greater German role in international security, with President Gauck noting Germany’s experience already as a crucial actor in international reconciliation. AGI’s workshop, ”Reconciliation in the Western Balkans and in East Asia: The Role of German Governmental and Civil Society Actors and Implications for the United States,” on September 9, 2014, featured remarks by three AGI fellows who considered Germany’s role in reconciliation in the Western Balkans and East Asia both in the past and future.

Coming from different regional and disciplinary backgrounds, the panelists highlighted how difficult the term “reconciliation” is to define. However, it is clear that current research and practice focus too heavily on high-level state actions, downplaying the everyday societal level. In the corporate sector, too, there is a similar divide between the pragmatic risk-analysis approach and academic theories.. Questions of history join these disparate approaches.

The fellows noted a few guiding questions for the workshop.

  • Jelena Obradovic-Wochnik, Harry & Helen Gray Reconciliation Fellow, asked whether it is useful to think of reconciliation in broad terms, including inter-state cooperation and trade agreements, or in narrower terms, such as the truth and forgiveness model?
  • Seiko Mimaki, Harry & Helen Gray Reconciliation Fellow, suggested that too little focus is placed on strategic motives; she asked what other interests East Asian actors have in reconciling?
  • Martina Timmermann, DAAD/AGI Fellow, questioned if the United States’ history and regional interests undermine efforts to create trust and empathy in reconciliation; and suggested it might be more useful to examine what makes a good mediator?

Panel 1: Can Germany Reconcile the Western Balkans? Economic Development, Aid, and German Political Foundations in Bosnia, Serbia, and Kosovo

 The international community has been involved in the region since the beginning of the conflicts in the Western Balkans in the early 1990s. Drawing from her research largely on interviews with former diplomats, Dr. Obradovic-Wochnik emphasized that Germany, more than other states, became closely involved very quickly. Germany’s recognition of  the independence of Slovenia and Croatia was an important action at the time, and also was emblematic of its role in global conflict resolution and reconciliation.

Germany certainly had a greater interest than other Western powers in speedy  resolution of the conflict in the Western Balkans. Many of Dr. Obradovic-Wochnik’s interviewees noted that two of the main driving factors for Germany’s foreign policy during the conflict were the stability of its neighborhood and the refugee crisis, which disproportionately affected Germany. In the long term, all European actors have expressed a crucial interest in preventing Balkans problems from being imported into the European Union by evolving a gradual approach of rendering countries ready (in economic, political and human rights terms) for actual membership. Here, too, Germany and specifically Chancellor Merkel have played an enormous role in normalizing relations between Serbia and Kosovo, including the creation of the 2013 Brussels Agreement. Chancellor Merkel’s pressure on the Serbian government is widely considered to be the core cause of the agreement’s finalization. This type of German diplomatic approach that makes progress on acceptance into the European integration process hinge on resolving key issues separating countries has been accompanied by government economic aid and by the activities of German NGOs, particularly the political foundations, to facilitate dialogue in the region. According to Dr. Obradovic-Wochnik, Germany’s success in helping to resolve the conflict and foster reconciliation can be attributed to its credibility with all parties, in contradistinction to the United States, France, Britain, and other actors who favor one group over others. She ended by noting that the reconciliation process continued to improve, and there were even plans for an official, historic Albanian state visit to Serbia.

Panel 2: Wanted!? German/EU Mediation on Reconciliation in Northeast Asia

Dr. Martina Timmermann pointed out that there is not enough political distance from its two allies – Japan and South Korea – for the United States to be the mediator in the Northeast Asian political gridlock. Thus, a German “outsider” perspective on reconciliation in Northeast Asia can be instructive There is a need for the creation of trust, credibility, and integrity, and the European Union could serve as a mediator, as it is appreciated by all stakeholders for its history of peaceful diplomatic negotiations within the EU  and in the wider world. And, since businesses profit most in an environment of peace and stability, the EU should promote the corporate sector as a key actor. For example, German companies have been writing their corporate history of activities during the Third Reich and WWII, and they could offer an institutional framework to Japanese companies for addressing history issues, such as slave and forced labor practices during the Second World War. It is a costly self-reflective process , but if Japanese corporate efforts were successful they could create a leadership spillover from the corporate to the political sector. The U.S. role could serve as a “guarantor” of regional security rather than as a mediator and could even help facilitate dialogue between German and Japanese companies.

Panel 3: Toward Building Epistemic Communities and Transnational Networks in East Asia: Regional Experience and the Potential for Outside Involvement

Dr. Seiko Mimaki discussed the “Asian paradox” in which deepening economic interdependence coexists with historical and territorial conflicts and mutual suspicion. The way to overcome this paradoxical situation has many layers:

  • Learn from other countries’ experiences, such as Germany. One example of a lesson that they could learn is to create an official combined Northeast Asian history textbook, like Germany has with France and Poland.;
  • Stress more the societal level, and a diversity of civil society actors. Right now there is a preoccupation with historians, but effective dialogue requires the involvement of other types of actors, such as journalists;
  • Focus less on finding the “truth” and more on encouraging reconciliation;
  • Create a transparency of dialogue so that historic dialogues between epistemic elites can be accessible to the rest of the population;
  • Identify a range of experts to build a variety of epistemic communities and transnational networks, in the region that would then be connected to one another, creating a consolidated and institutionalized civil society engagement in reconciliation.

There has been a number of positive advancements in Northeast Asia, including the Asian version of the Erasmus exchange program, and the Georg Eckert Institute’s research and facilitation regarding bilateral textbook dialogues. Prime Minister Hatoyama’s proposal for an East Asian Community was productive, but languished after his short-lived time in office.


Participants included:

Dr. Seiko Mimaki is a Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Postdoctoral Fellow. Her research field is international relations in the Asia-Pacific region with special focus on developments of transnational movements and networks. She received her B.A., M.A., and PhD from the University of Tokyo, and was an academic associate of the Program on US-Japan Relations, Harvard University last year. Her forthcoming book, “The Era of the Outlawry of War Movement” (Japanese, The University of Nagoya Press) highlights advocacy activities to develop new norms regulating the use of force in international relations during the Interwar period.

Dr Jelena Obradovic-Wochnik is a Lecturer in Politics at Aston University, Birmingham, United Kingdom. Her work focuses on transitional justice, reconciliation and post-conflict transitions in Serbia and Kosovo. Her book, “Ethnic Conflict and War Crimes in the Balkans: the Narratives of Denial in Serbia” (IB Tauris, London, 2013) discusses how Serbian society understands and deals with war crimes. Her work has appeared in journals including The International Journal of Transitional JusticeWest European Politics, and East European Politics.

Dr Martina Timmermann joined the Transition and Integration Management Agency (TIMA) as Vice President for International Affairs in 2008. Prior to that she served as Director of Studies on Human Rights and Ethics at the Peace and Governance Department of the United Nations University HQ in Tokyo. She authored and edited (with Jitsuo Tsuchiyama): “Institutionalizing Northeast Asia: Regional Steps Towards Global Governance,” Tokyo: UNU Press 2008/9.

Please contact Ms. Kimberly Frank at with any questions.



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