Chapter 9


Attitudes Towards Justice and Social Reconstruction

in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia

Miklos Biro, Dean Ajdukovic, Dinka Corkalo, Dino Djipa, Petar Milin,

and Harvey M. Weinstein


In this chapter, we examine the factors that may contribute to or prevent the rebuilding of war-torn societies based on two surveys of attitudes and beliefs of the inhabitants of three cities - Vukovar, Mostar and Prijedor - in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2000 and 2001.[1] Prior to the war, these three cities were integrated societies where different nationalities had intermarried and lived together in relative harmony for centuries. Since the end of hostilities in 1995, the cities have remained fairly peaceful, although conflicts between national and civic identity still continue among the three principal national groups. While the war experience of these cities may have been unique in its ferocity, it also is true that the manifestations of enmity that persist can be found in similar towns and villages throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia.

The principal goals of our survey were: to investigate some of the underlying attitudes and beliefs of the population of Mostar, Prijedor, and Vukovar towards the (re)building of community; to investigate attitudes towards reconciliation and members of other national groups; and finally, to investigate attitudes toward war crimes, war crimes trials and, specifically, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).


Psychological and Social Origins

The 1991-1995 wars in the former Yugoslavia will be remembered for their cruelty, including widespread war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. From the perspective of social psychology and the practice of social reconstruction, these wars raise two important questions: first, was the horrendous violence a spontaneous expression of "centuries-long hatred among peoples," as claimed by warlords, some writers and diplomats, or were the wars a result of manipulation by political leaders with nationalist agendas? This disagreement about the origins of the violence then raises an additional question - is reconciliation possible and if so, how can it be achieved?

The thesis that the war among Yugoslav national groups was a natural sequence of historical conflicts is supported by the assertion that these same national groups (and the Albanians) fought bloody conflicts during the Second World War - violence that also was characterized by monstrous crimes and ethnic cleansing. That these passions calmed down following World War II can be attributed largely to the authoritarian government of Josip Tito, which repressed, but did not eliminate, nationalist tensions. As a result, significant rebellious movements emerged even during Tito’s rule and the immediate post-Tito era (in Croatia during the 1970s and in Kosovo in the 1980s) demanding more extensive national rights.

However, the rise in nationalist movements does not tell the whole story. Psychological research on ethnic distance[2] conducted in 1989-1990 in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, on the eve of the most recent conflict, indicates there was actually little "ethnic distance" in the region.[3] Indeed, in Bosnia and Croatia there was almost no ethnic distance among Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks. These results may reflect the socially and politically desirable answers expected in the communist era under Tito’s program of "Brotherhood and Unity." The high number of ethnically mixed marriages in the region, however, bolsters these findings.[4] According to 1991 census data, as many as 36 per cent of marriages in Bosnia and Herzegovina crossed national group lines.[5]

How then do we make sense of the often-extreme xenophobia and nationalist rhetoric that developed in the two decades following Tito’s death in 1980?

Part of the answer lies in the breakdown of communist ideology in the former Yugoslavia that left a void in the value system of the society. Since political and ideological transitions are usually characterized by social uncertainty, it was not surprising, as Realistic Conflict theory[6] suggests, that national groups in the region would look for safety and security within a group of people who shared common concerns. Such similarities were easiest to find in one’s own nationality, and consequently, nationalism was the most direct pathway toward security. As a result, a revitalized ideology based on ethnocentrism emerged to replace the societal values imposed under communist rule. Moreover, the distributive economy of the socialist system meant that a greater share in the distribution process required proximity to the ruling elite and/or membership in the dominant social group (party, clan, nationality). When the dominant group, the communist party, began to disintegrate, ordinary citizens looked for a new group to join. Once identified as a member, fighting for the dominance of that group became inevitable.

Another part of the answer lies in authoritarianism. Patriarchal tradition, followed by fifty years of communist rule stifled the development of ideas that were not in accordance with official ideology. Yugoslav society became increasingly authoritarian. For example, studies in the 1970’s using the F scale[7], a measure of authoritarianism, found scores that were among the highest in the world. In such a society, an authoritarian perspective is accompanied by profound passivity as the rank and file awaits instructions on acceptable thinking and behavior prescribed by the powerful elite. In the 1980s, communist leaders, fully aware that the system was collapsing, donned neo-nationalist clothing, and commanding complete control of the media, took advantage of a population that was ready to obey authority without reserve or criticism. This kind of authoritarian rigidity in ex-Yugoslavia coupled with a view of the world as either "black or white" contributed to the speed with which division into opposing groups occurred[8], while authoritarian aggression facilitated the strength and cruelty of the conflict. Threat of conflict and the conflict itself[9] accelerated the partition of people into safely homogenized environments.

To understand the ethnically based disintegration of the country requires that we consider to two social-psychological theories-- Social Identity Theory[10] and Self-Categorization Theory[11]. As described in the introductory chapter of this volume, these theories conceptualize how specific social situations, often in the face of perceived threat accelerate both group cohesion and differentiation–attributes that reinforce the perception that "we" are better than "them." The process serves to enhance the positive identity of the members of the group with a resultant increase in self-regard. This phenomenon has been demonstrated repeatedly over the years in the laboratories of social psychologists and offers some insight into the rapidity with which a relatively well-functioning but vulnerable multicultural nation can disintegrate under political manipulation.

Factors that promoted division

Much has been written about the role of the media during the recent wars in the former Yugoslavia.[12] Both print and broadcast media promoted ethnic homogenization in the months leading up to the outbreak of war in June 1991, and then went on to play the role of warmongers. The media not only rekindled the memories of past crimes committed during the Second World War, they also misinformed the public in order to spread fear of the "enemy" nationality.[13]

Along with media, the communist-nationalist leadership promoted activities that were designed to turn abstract fear into major threat. In Slobodan Milosevic’s trial before the ICTY[14] evidence was presented of numerous actions of the Serbian secret police (most often disguised as "paramilitary formations") aimed at provoking interethnic conflicts. For example, in March 1992, local authorities in Sarajevo arrested an armed group of Serbs supplied with symbols of all three ethnicities. They were distributing flyers warning each of the three ethnic groups of the "danger from the other two" groups, and calling on them to take up arms to defend themselves.[15]

Tone Bringa, a Norwegian anthropologist who studied ethnic customs in central Bosnia in the early 1990s, describes how outside forces, such as the media or nationalist parties, were able to instigate conflict in otherwise harmonious communities:

Even when bombshells fell on their house door, this was still something done by someone unknown, someone they could call THAT ONE… .For these locals, war was something created outside. They closed ranks and said: if THEY come here, we will fight them together… .But, when someone from your family is hurt or wounded, both sorrow and anger pour out on the ones around you. Now this is not someone from outside, now it is US.[16]

This process took place in thousands of towns and villages throughout Croatia and Bosnia in the early 1990s. "Any one of us," Bringa says, "could undergo such metamorphosis in just a few weeks, with a little help of mad nationalistic war and chaos mongers."

Prospects for reconciliation

The factors that contributed to the onset of a vicious war must be attended to for reconciliation to occur. We do not believe that the war’s onset reflected an ingrained hostility towards other ethnic groups; if that were so, then the process of reconciliation would be a formidable task indeed. Rather, the society was vulnerable to political manipulation. Historic remembrance of past conflicts was of significance only because it was backed up by a current danger, the continuous threat from other ethnic groups. We believe that the more proximal the cause of a war, the more reconciliation is a reasonable possibility. With this framework in mind, we designed our survey to look at the interrelationship of these factors with the likelihood of reconciliation.


The total sample of the survey consisted of 1624 participants: 404 subjects from Vukovar, 412 from Prijedor, and 808 subjects from Mostar[17], divided equally among national groups in each city. The survey sample was randomly selected using a three-stage cluster procedure: the first stage unit was the part of the city inhabited predominantly by one of the nationalities, the second stage unit were households (using the "Random Walk Technique") and the third stage unit were members of the households (whose birthday was closest to the date of the interview).

The questionnaire consisted of 68 items and contained three scales (Ethnic Distance Scale, Stereotype Scale and Authoritarian Scale) and questions about attitudes towards nationalism and xenophobia, other national groups, reconciliation, the ICTY and war crimes, as well as questions about prior experience with members of other national groups, traumatic experiences during the war, and demographic data.

Trained interviewers, using a standardized interview procedure, conducted the survey. The interviewers were of the same nationality as the subjects. The surveys were carried out in June 2000 in Vukovar, in October 2000 in Mostar, and in Prijedor in September 2001. A resurvey of the same sample with a slightly modified questionnaire was done in Vukovar (June 2002) and Prijedor (September 2002) and on a different sample in Mostar (June 2002).

Survey Findings

War Experiences

The people in our sample had experienced a number of traumatic events. With the exception of the Serbs in Prijedor, more than fifty percent of our participants suffered extreme trauma during the war. More than one third of our subjects (both Croats and Serbs) in Vukovar and Bosniaks in Prijedor lost their homes, and 15 per cent of our sample lost a member of their family.

Attitudes and Beliefs

Ethnocentrism and ethnic prejudice

Social psychologists have found that ethnocentrism (and consequently, negative stereotypes about out-groups) once established is difficult to change[18]. And there is no doubt that the conflict itself, especially one with such cruelty, was fertile soil for strengthening nationalistic and xenophobic ideas and creating barriers towards the "opposing" nationality.

The changes in ethnic distance among warring nationalities of the former Yugoslavia[19] are a good example of the consequences of war on inter-ethnic relationships. After the war erupted, ethnic distance among Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks dramatically increased. By the end of the war it began to decrease, slowly but constantly. Unfortunately, it remains significantly higher than pre-war. By the late 1990’s, in answer to the question from Bogardus’ Social Distance Scale[20]: "Would you accept a member of.....nationality to be your son or daughter in law?", only 21 per cent of Croats from Croatia would accept such a relationship with Serbs, and 23 per cent with Bosniaks[21]. Bosniaks from BIH would accept such a "blood" relationship with Serbs in 20.5 per cent and with Croats in 25.1 per cent[22]. This readiness was somewhat higher for Serbs in Serbia - 49 per cent would accept a familial relationship with Croats, and 36 per cent with Bosniaks[23], but it was much lower in Serbs in BIH — only 13.9 per cent would accept such a relationship with Bosniaks and 15.9 per cent with Croats[24].

As one possible measure of ethnocentrism, we took the average score on the Ethnic Distance Scale (readiness to accept different nationalities, as: citizens of "my" state, neighbors, friends, collaborators, or close relatives) for four "neutral" nationalities - Hungarians, Macedonians, Slovenians and Roma. In all previous studies[25] the score toward "neutral" nations showed high reliability — contrary to the score for nationalities

in conflict that is radically changeable.

As shown in Figure 1, ethnocentrism in the larger sense remains a significant problem in Prijedor and Mostar. Bosniaks in Mostar expressed the highest ethnic distance[26] toward four "neutral" ethnic groups), followed by Croats in Mostar and Serbs in Prijedor. It was significantly lowest for the Serbs in Vukovar. Bosniaks in Prijedor showed low ethnocentrism in the first investigation, but were significantly higher in the resurvey.

As shown in Figure 2, Serbs in Vukovar and Bosniaks in Prijedor were most open to a "blood" relationship, or intermarriage, with the "opposing" nationality. While the

Serbs in Prijedor showed more openness to intermarriage with Bosniaks, especially in the 2001 resurvey in which a slight majority indicated a willingness to support these relationships, the results in Mostar[27] did not suggest much openness to "the other" among either the Bosniaks or the Croats.

Figure 2: Readiness for "blood" relationship with the "opposing" nationality

Figure 3 represents the results of one illustrative item from the set of the

questions on nationalistic and xenophobic attitudes.[28] Serbs in Prijedor, Croats in both cities and Bosniaks in both cities expressed high levels of suspicion about the "other" groups; we interpret this to suggest more nationalistic attitudes. However, on this item, the Bosniaks in Mostar reported significantly more openness to other ethnic groups in the resurvey. On the other hand, Serbs in Vukovar were significantly less nationalistic in the original survey and remained so two years later.



Figures 1,2 and 3 illustrate different dimensions of the relationships between ethnic groups in the three cities. These data suggest that changes occur in the groups differentially and over time. The Serbs in Vukovar are the most consistent with the least ethnocentrism, more openness to intermarriage, and while expressing suspicion towards other ethnic groups, they consistently are the lowest. The Bosniaks in Prijedor, while quite open to intermarriage, reported higher ethnocentrism in the resurvey and showed no change in their high level of caution towards the opposing groups on the resurvey. The Serbs in Vukovar and the Bosniaks in the "Republika Srpska"[29] appear quite different from the other ethnic groups. How do we explain this?

Both Serbs in Vukovar and Bosniaks in Prijedor are minority nationalities in their surroundings (Vukovar Serbs are a recognized minority in Croatia and Bosniaks have returned to the Serb "entity" of BIH). These minority groups have chosen to live in areas where they likely will always be a minority but which they rightfully consider to be their home. It also may be that these people are less nationalistic and less concerned about the national symbols, habits, and even nationalistic attitudes of the majority group. However, there also is a possibility that, as minorities, they may have been more cautious in their answers: they may have answered what they thought was expected, rather than what they believed. The fact that Bosniaks in Prijedor expressed higher ethnocentric attitudes in the resurvey along with great suspicion of the opposing groups could be a sign that they felt more secure after one year. But it is also possible that the previous answers did not represent their true beliefs and values. One final explanation for the shift may be that the realities of life in a difficult situation may have led to more cynicism in the Prijedor Bosniaks despite the initial joy of homecoming. There is another interesting change in Prijedor where the Serb population reports more openness to intermarriage in the resurvey despite high levels of ethnocentrism and caution. As we shall see, this also may reflect more positive experiences with members of the opposing group.

It also is striking that the situation in Mostar is less optimistic. Ethnocentrism is high, openness to intermarriage is low, and caution towards the other group is high. However, the Bosniaks in Mostar showed much less caution at the time of the resurvey. It is possible that the positive changes in the city brought about by OHR policies and actions may be helping to reduce suspicion among the group seen as the principal victims of the war in that city. These variations in ethnocentrism, stereotyping, and nationalism among groups illustrate the complexity of reconciliation. We suggest that geography, ethnicity, war experience, exposure to the opposing group, and time all may be important factors in considering how reconciliation between national groups may be supported.

Since we hypothesized that ethnic prejudice and stereotypes could be an obstacle to the process of reconciliation, we used a Stereotype Scale to measure the stereotypes toward the "opposing" nationality. The results showed the general tendency of our subjects to hold stereotypes that could be attributed to the consequences of inter-ethnic war: the most common stereotype among all nationalities is that members of the "opposing" nationality "don’t like other nations" and that they are "perfidious".

In Table 1 we present the most striking stereotypes of the "opposing" nationality among the national groups.


We measured authoritarianism by the adapted and shortened version of the F scale, psychometrically developed on the population of the former Yugoslavia.[30] The 13 items of the scale cover three clusters of attitudes: authoritarian submissiveness, authoritarian aggressiveness and conventionalism, similar to the Altemeyer’s[31] concept of Right-Wing Authoritarianism.

As shown in Figure 4, all national groups had extremely high scores on the Authoritarian Scale. In all groups the mean score is over 7 (out of 13 items), and the distribution of frequencies shows that more than 60 per cent of the sample expressed high Authoritarianism (score >7).

Experiences with the "opposing" nationality

The survey results suggest that experiences with members of the "opposing" nationality and perceptions of discrimination could impact on readiness for reconciliation and the development of a multinational society.

After the war, positive experiences slowly came to predominate over negative ones. However, with the exception of Serbs in Vukovar, in all other groups positive experiences were still reported by a minority of those who participated in the survey. One of the most optimistic findings of our study was that positive experience with the members of the "opposing" nationality increased in almost all groups (Figure 5).

Another optimistic finding was that renewal of friendships also increased. As shown in Figure 6, with the exception of Croats in both cities, in all other groups, the majority of people reported unspoiled friendships with members of the "opposing" nationality. However, even here, Vukovar Croats also showed a pattern of increase.

The results shown in Figure 7, represent attitudes toward the International

Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The results are the mean scores between absolute acceptance (5) and absolute non-acceptance (1).

As Figure 7 illustrates, Bosniaks had the most positive attitudes toward the Tribunal, while the Serbs in Prijedor and the Croats in Mostar showed the greatest resentment toward the ICTY. From the comments attached to the questionnaires, Croats and Serbs were deeply convinced that the ICTY was biased against them. On the other hand, one of the most common comments (especially among Bosniaks) was that the ICTY sentences were too soft.

One possible explanation of the resentment toward the ICTY among Serbs in Prijedor and Croats in Mostar, may lie in the fact that those two groups are least ready to admit the existence of war crimes committed by members of their own nationality. As shown in Figure 8, almost half of Mostar Croats and Prijedor Serbs do not accept the fact of their group’s participation in the commission of war crimes.

These data suggest that recognition and perhaps, a sense of responsibility for commission of war crimes varies with national group and the history of the recent war. The Serbs in Vukovar and the Bosniaks seemed most open to that recognition, while the Croats in Mostar and the Serbs in Prijedor were highly resistant to accepting that their own side might have committed war crimes. While any explanation of these differences would be tentative at best, it is possible that the Croats in Mostar and the Serbs in Prijedor are still trying to attain recognition for their status and need to distance themselves from the horrors that occurred in their name. The Bosniaks are recognized as the principal victims of the war and maintain that any war crimes were committed by rogue elements. The Vukovar Serbs lost their primacy and have chosen to remain in Croatia; they must admit to the existence of war criminals on their side if they wish to remain as accepted citizens of the state.

Further, from a theoretical perspective, numerous experiments in social psychology show that, in the process of formation of a "Group Self", an important role is played by the mechanism of categorizing people as "us" and "them".[32] Here "us" always has positive attributes in order to make a distinction from "them". The stronger this social identity, the less it allows recognition of individual differences; this does not permit the possibility that a part of "us" can be war criminals, nor does it permit the possibility that a part of "them" can be worthy of our respect or empathy. This mechanism suggests why national groups cannot accept that sanctioning one's own war crimes will enable individualization of guilt and lead to removal of collective guilt.[33] When legal theorists debate the value of war crimes trials, what is not factored into the deliberation is the evidence from social psychology; namely, that group identity often leads to a distorted interpretation of the court record.

Readiness for Reconciliation

In contemporary literature, there is no empirically validated definition of the process of reconciliation.[34] According to research in South Africa, the most frequent connotation of the word reconciliation is "forgiveness," followed by "unity".[35] Etymologically, the word reconciliation ("pomirenje") in the Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian languages[36] means reconstitution of peace but in its most common usage, it also means forgiveness and re-cooperation.

The ecological paradigm and the model of social reconstruction offered in the introductory chapter suggest that reconciliation processes may be conceptualized as part of the wider process of social reconstruction or may, in fact, proceed at their own pace independent of the social reconstruction of communities. While this framework suggests reconciliation is largely a process undertaken between individuals, the social aspects of reconciliation should not be underestimated.[37] The media and political elite (especially in authoritarian societies), for example, can greatly affect the way a group perceives the "enemy" group. Moreover, how the media presents "majority opinion" can have a bearing on the process of reconciliation. Immediately after the fall of Milosevic, Serbian Television began to broadcast a serial on Serbs crimes in Srebrenica, but after "great pressure from the public" this broadcast was terminated after the first episode. At the same time, public opinion polls in Serbia showed that more than 70 per cent of the population was aware of the existence of war crimes committed by their own group.[38] Similarly, after the broadcast of the popular talk show "Latinica" on Croatian Television, which addressed the subject of Croat war crimes, there were so many calls protesting the program, the station broadcast a short film on Serb war crimes in Croatia in order to establish "balance" again. It is obvious that a loud minority can heavily influence the reported sense of "public attitudes". However, when this minority attitude, with the help of the media, is presented as the voice of the majority, then to those who fought on the other side, it sends the message that "they all hate us".

An example of how the behavior of the political elite can influence reconciliation can be seen in the resistance of Serbian and Croatian authorities to deliver their war criminals to the ICTY. Justifying this by saying "there is no public opinion support for this," they send their people the message that "the majority thinks there are no criminals in our nationality" and, at the same time, to the nationality with whom the conflict existed, they send the message that they are unprepared to apologize for crimes committed, nevertheless such an apology may be one of the fundamental preconditions for reconciliation. The recent apologies by President Marovic of Serbia and Montenegro and Mesic of Croatia for the pain and suffering caused by individuals from each national group was a milestone in this regard.[39]

Institutional solutions and administrative acts also may either help or hinder reconciliation. For example, government decisions can be interpreted as messages that "the state" of one people sends to the members of another people. One negative example of this is restrictive visa requirements on the members of a national group; a positive example might be the introduction of uniform license plates that do not identify geographic origin and thus facilitate freedom of movement. The point here is that the elements of reconciliation occur at multiple levels and in a post-war transitional period, there are multiple influences on how readily reconciliation can be accomplished. As an example of how reconciliation is progressing in these towns, we present the results on acceptance of members of the "opposing" nationality in "my" surrounding".

Respondents were asked to indicate "yes" or "no" to whether they would accept members of the opposing groups in eight different situations. Maximum approval for a subject would be indicated by a score of 8. As shown in Figure 9, much openness to the other group is expressed by Serbs in Vukovar, but significantly less by other groups.

Multivariate prediction of Readiness for Reconciliation

To investigate which factors contributed to or prevented the process of reconciliation, we used multivariate statistical procedures — factor and regression analysis.

Since the concept of reconciliation is so complex, for the purposes of this study, we defined reconciliation operationally by three variables:

  1. Readiness to accept the presence of members of the "opposing" nationalities in eight different situations (stores, parks, sporting events, sport teams, concerts, parties, schools/offices and non-governmental organizations) as illustrated in Figure 9.
  2. Readiness to reconcile with the conflicted nationalities.
  3. Readiness to accept inter-state cooperation.

Since those variables have high mutual correlation and form a unique factor, in the multivariate analysis that follows, we formed a composite variable "Readiness for Reconciliation" out of Z scores of the three variables.

Using Principal Component Analysis with the Promax rotation, we have extracted seven factors that explain 54.28% of total variance (variables with the high loading on the factors are presented at the left side of the Figure 10). A second order Factor Analysis produced three interpretable factors, which explain 57.71% of the variance.

Our next step in analyzing the data was to see what complex of variables (factors) predicts readiness for reconciliation. For that purpose, we tested the General Linear Model, using three extracted factors, as predictors, and the variable "Readiness for Reconciliation", as the criterion (dependent) variable.

A Best-Subset Regression Analysis[40] resulted in a highly significant model.

Arrows from factors to criteria in Figure 10, represent regression relationships, with statistically significant beta-coefficients.

The model suggests that certain attitudes and values represented by the factors "Non-Ethnocentric" and "Non-Authoritarian and Non-Nationalistic" are the best predictors of Readiness for Reconciliation. Since the factor "Non-Ethnocentric" also contains the variable on preserving the friendships with members of the "opposing" nationality during the war, being non-ethnocentric allows people to distinguish individuals from their nationality and, consequently, to preserve their friendships despite being from "opposing" nationalities (even during the war). The experiences with these friends (i.e. experiences on a personal level) increase readiness for reconciliation as we have defined it. Inter-group (national) conflict does not affect their inter-individual relationships and their perception of the out-group members.

Also, a belief in war crimes trials, combined with a readiness for having friends among the "opposing" nationality and with positive experiences with the members of opposing national groups is highly related to readiness for reconciliation. Our findings that previous friendships contribute to readiness for reconciliation are in concordance with the results of Pettigrew’s studies[41] and his conclusion that those findings support the Contact Hypothesis[42].

The factor combining negative experiences with the opposing nationality and experiences of war trauma is also a significant predictor, but against reconciliation. It is interesting that regression analysis using the first order factors has shown that the factor "Traumatized" by itself is not a significant predictor of the variable "Readiness for Reconciliation". It appears that the experience of trauma itself is not sufficient to reject reconciliation.[43] Nevertheless, in combination with the feeling of being discriminated by and/or with a series of negative experiences with the opposing group, trauma becomes an additional obstacle.


Our results suggest that authoritarianism, nationalism and ethnocentrism may be the most important obstacles to the process of reconciliation among national groups in the former Yugoslavia. This raises the question of how prejudice can be changed so that different national groups will recognize their joint interests, remember the advantages offered by a similar language and find a common, "superordinate goal"? Education for democracy, tolerance of differences, and respect for human rights are critical steps to take in order to create a foundation for change. This is a slow, but critical perspective. The schools, the media, civil society and ultimately the politicians have key roles to play in this process.

Is authoritarianism an obstacle for reconciliation? Since people who are prone to authoritarianism will listen to different messages and will obey their political elite when the elite promotes peace, tolerance, and cooperation, obedience to authority could be used to promote democracy, ethnic tolerance, and human rights. Previous studies[44] show that authoritarian personalities tend to support and behave according to rules when they believe that human rights are protected, even when they themselves they do not agree with the rules. Ironically, authoritarianism could be used to reduce ethnic tensions and ease reconciliation in these countries. Over time, with rule of law, political openness and transparency, we might anticipate a lessening of this societal tendency.

The study results also indicate that the war crimes trials in The Hague are viewed through a nationalist lens. Bosniaks, who both themselves and by the international community are seen as the principal victims of the war, feel positively about the ICTY, while the Serbs and Croats feel negatively about the court and believe that the members of their nationality are unfairly selected for prosecution. However, it should be noted that in the resurvey there was a trend for the Croats in Vukovar to express more positive views about the ICTY, although this did not reach statistical significance. In addition, there was increase in positive perceptions of the ICTY by the Prijedor Bosniaks.

The overall survey results suggest that the role of the ICTY in promoting reconciliation in Croatia and BIH is problematic. However, a more vigorous public education campaign about the Tribunal’s impartiality and the facts about its organization and goals could contribute to an increase in positive attitudes towards international war crimes trials and, in general, to the development of a positive image of the ICTY. It goes without saying that international pressure on recalcitrant politicians to cooperate with the ICTY and to send their indicted war criminals to The Hague would have a significant impact on public perceptions as well. Our findings also have implications for the future work of the International Criminal Court as it adjudicates criminal liability across countries and cultures.

We were surprised to find that the level of traumatic experience did not correlate with seeking war crime trials, or with positive attitudes towards the ICTY: "I have nothing out of this belated justice", one of the war victims wrote, "things lost will not be returned to me, nor will this ease my suffering." Another survivor noted: "The best thing is to let everything be forgotten. The greatest justice for me would be to let me live and die in peace there where I was born." And yet, we also heard such comments, as: "Punishing criminals would bring us satisfaction." While it is clear that everyone has an opinion about trials, their relationship to trauma is obviously less straightforward.

Since the international community believes that trials are for the victims and that they promote reconciliation, this finding is very provocative. Further, comments such as these suggest that we need to be very careful about how we define the term "justice." For many survivors, justice may not mean trials but a much more personal sense of what they need to move on with their lives.

One of the most optimistic findings of our research was that prewar positive experience and friendships with members of the opposing national group are associated with the continuation of such friendships and an orientation towards reconciliation. It may be that the experience of individual contacts and friendships allows this group to believe in criminal trials partially because they can differentiate between individual war criminals and collective accountability. Besides contemporary elaboration of the Contact Hypothesis[45] that proposes very slow and delicate use of communication between conflicted groups to achieve cooperation, our findings about the contribution of positive experiences and unspoiled friendships in the process of reconciliation may be an example of the importance and possible influence of relationships across national groups. Positive experiences with a member of the opposing nationality, and especially of help from the other side during the war, might be used to promote the "other nationality’s positive characteristics," as a basis for promoting the process of reconciliation. As Hewstone[46] has suggested, the main limitations of the positive effects of inter-group contacts are the absence of generalization and promotion of positive attitudes that emerge as the result of contact experience. While we are not suggesting a public relations campaign to change the image of a group, we do believe that these kinds of facts could be incorporated into the teaching of history or the literary and media representations of war to offer a more balanced perspective. Balance in this sense does not mean equal accountability, but reflects a picture that considers individual acts untarnished by stereotyped perceptions of the "other."

Our findings of nationalism and ethnic distance suggest that there is still little demonstrated empathy for the needs and the experience of the opposing national groups in the community. For some groups, such as the Bosniaks, we suggest that the distance grows out of a sense of victimhood as a result of war experience and its effects. For others, such as the Croats in Mostar and the Serbs in Prijedor, distancing emerges from nationalism. Each of these root causes may require unique interventions.

Since this study was done in only three communities, albeit those where formerly opposing groups meet and where vestiges of the conflict remain, our findings cannot be generalized to all citizens of the countries of ex-Yugoslavia. While they do represent the views of the residents of Vukovar, Mostar, and Prijedor, we must express some caution in interpreting the results. Although not definitive, our findings indicate that diplomacy, trials, or economic investment on their own may be insufficient to bring about reconciliation if they are not integrated into a comprehensive plan that takes into account the social and psychological dynamics of the people directly affected by the conflict.


1. BiH in the further text.

2. Ethnic distance is most often studied using the Social Distance Scale (Bogardus, E. S., "Measuring social distance", Journal of Applied Sociology, 9 /1925/: 216-226), the method of studying social distance by checking inclination to accept members of other social group as co-citizens, friends, marital partners, etc.

3. Pantić, D., Jugoslavija na kriznoj prekretnici (Beograd: Institut Dru_tvenih Nauka, 1999).

4. Petrović, R., Etnički me_ani brakovi u Jugoslaviji (Beograd: Institut za sociolo_ka istraživanja Filozofskog fakulteta, 1985); Gagnon, V. P. Jr., "Reaction to the special issue of AEER War among Yugoslavs", The Anthropology of East Europe Review, 12 (1994): 1, 50-51.

5. Contrary to the data on ethnic distance and mixed marriages among Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks, there are data about great ethnic distance between Albanians and all other Yugoslav peoples (and vice versa), as well as less than 2 per cent of mixed marriages between Serbs and Albanians (mostly registered outside of Kosovo), according to 1991 census data.

6. Realistic Interest approaches, that includes Realistic Group Conflict Theory (Bobo, L. D., "Whites opposition to busing: Symbolic racism or realistic group conflict?", Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45 (1983): 1196-1210) suggest that group membership translates into political cohesion when group members have tangible interests in common.

7. The original concept of the authoritarian personality is first presented in: Adorno, T. W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D., Sanford, R. N., The Authoritarian Personality (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1950). It implies a set of attitudes and behaviors: authoritarian submissiveness (blind obedience toward authorities and cruel dominance toward subordinates), aggressiveness (especially toward out-group members), rigidity (ideological dogmatism, "black and white" perception of the world) and conservatism (conventionalism).

8. The role of authoritarianism in the process of group homogenization is emphasized in several social-psychological studies, i.e.: Duckitt, J., "Authoritarianism and group identification: A new view of an old construct", Political Psychology, 10 (1989): 63-84; Perreault, S., Bourhis, R. Y., "Ethnocentrism, social identification, and discrimination", Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25 (1999): 92-103.

9. The role of threat in the process of homogenization is demonstrated in several psychological experiments (see, for example: Levine, R. A. & Campbell, D. T., Ethnocentrism: Theories of Conflict, Ethnic Attitudes and Behavior, New York: Wiley, 1972).

10. Tajfel, H., Turner, J., "An integrative theory of intergroup conflict", in W. Austin & S. Worchel, eds., The social psychology of intergroup relations (Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole, 1979), pp. 33-48; Tajfel, H., Forgas, J. P., "Social categorization: Cognitions, values and groups", in C. Stangor, ed., Stereotypes and Prejudice (Philadelphia: Psychology Press, 2000), pp. 43-63.

11. Turner, J. C., Hogg, M. A., Oakes, P. J., Reicher, S. D., Wetherell, M. S., Rediscovering the Social Group: A Self-Categorization Theory, (Oxford: Blackwell, 1987).

12. See: Walsh, J., "The butcher of the Balkans", Time, 4 January 1993, p.1; Biro, M., Psihologija postkomunizma" (Beograd: Beogradski krug, 1994); Glenny, M., The Fall of Yugoslavia" (London: Misha Glenny, 1996); Thomson, M., Forging War: The Media in Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina (Luton: University of Luton Press, 1996).

13. For example, during the prime-time news on Serbian TV, prior to any serious conflict, a report indicated that eight Serbs had been killed in the Croatian town of Pakrac — this was a fabrication and no correction was ever presented. TV news: "TV Dnevnik", 16 February 1991.

14. International Criminal Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Territory of the Former Yugoslavia, placed in The Hague.

15. News in: Oslobodjenje, 4 March 1992.

16. Interview reprinted by newspaper Borba, 22 March 1994.

17. For a description of the prewar and postwar political events in Mostar, see Bose, S., Bosnia After Dayton: Nationalist Partition and International Intervention (New York:Oxford University Press, 2002), pp 95-148.

18. See, for example: Fein, S., Spencer, J. C., "Prejudice as self-image maintenance: Affirming the Self through derogating others", in C. Stangor, ed., Stereotypes and Prejudice (Philadelphia: Psychology Press, 2000), pp. 172-190.

19. _iber, I., "War and the Changes in Social Distance toward the Ethnic Minorities in the Republic of Croatia", Politička Misao, 34 (1997): 5, 3-26.

20. Bogardus, "Measuring Social Distance."

21. _iber, "War and the Changes in Social Distance."

22. Puhalo, S., Etnička distanca građana Republike srpske i Federacije BiH prema narodima biv_e SFRJ (Banja Luka: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, 2003).

23. Biro, M., Mihić, V., Milin, P., Logar, S., "Did socio-political changes in Serbia changed the level of authoritarianism and ethnocentrism of citizens?", Psihologija, 35 (2002): 1-2, 37-47.

24. Puhalo, "Etnička distanca."

25. Biro et al. "Socio-political changes in Serbia."

26. The results were scored from 0 (full acceptance) to 4 (full rejection).

27. We did not present the data from the first survey for Bosniaks in Mostar, since there were too much missing data to accept the data for this variable as valid.

28. We were unable create a composite score on "Nationalism" because in some items there was an unacceptable amount of missing data, and in others, the variance was too small.

29. Serb "entity" of BIH.

30. Rot & Havelka, "Nacionalna vezanost"; Popadić, D., Socijalnopsiholo_ka struktura pravne socijalizovanosti na adolescentnom uzrastu (Beograd: Doktorska disertacija na Filozofskom fakultetu, 1992).

31. Altemeyer, B., Authoritarian Specter (Cambridge & London: Harvard University Press, 1996).

32. Turner et al. Rediscovering the Social Group.

33. The tendency to deny the existence of war crimes committed by the members of its own nation is not typical only of the people of the Balkans. After Lieutenant Calley was sentenced for war crimes for his actions in the Vietnam village of My Lai, according to a Gallup poll, some 79% of American citizens were against that sentence and rejected the idea that there were war crimes caused by American soldiers at all (Kelman, H. C., Hamilton, V. L., Crimes of Obedience, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1989).

34. Villa-Vicencio, C., "Reconciliation as metaphor", in L. Holness & R. K. Wustenberg, eds., Theology in Dialogue (Cape Town: David Phillip Publishers, 2002).

35. Lombard, K., Revisiting Reconciliation: The People’s View. Research Report of the "Reconciliation Barometer (Rondebosch: Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, 2003).

36. These languages are similar and mutually understood by all three ethnic groups.

37. See, for example: Hardin, R., One for All: The Logic of Group Conflict (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995).

38. Biro et al. "Sociopolitical Changes in Serbia."

39. Transcript from "The Word Today", Australian BoradcastingCorporation, September 11. 2003 at

40. Neter, J., Wasserman, W., Kutner, M. H., Applied Linear Statistical Models: Regression, Analysis of Variance, and Experimental Designs (Homewood: Irwin, 1985).

41. Pettigrew, T. F., "The contact hypothesis revisited", in M. Hewstone & R. J. Brown, eds., Contact and Conflict in Intergroup Encounters (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), pp. 169-195.

42. The Contact Hypothesis predicts that contact among individuals from conflicted groups could help distinction between group and the individual, and indirectly help the process of reconciliation. It was originally postulated in: Allport, G. W., The Nature of Prejudice (Cambridge, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1954).

43. Similar results on Holocaust survivals achieved Lina Cherfas in her BA thesis (Explaining variation in aversion to Germans and German related activities among Holocaust survivors. Unpublished B.A. thesis at the Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, 2003).

44. Biro, M., Molnar, A., Popadić, D., "Stavovi građana Srbije prema pravnoj državi: relacija sa obrazovanjem, autoritarno_ću i poznavanjem ljudskih prava", Sociologija, 49 (1997): 2, 168-182.

45. See: Hewstone, M., "Contact and categorization: Social Psychological interventions to change intergroup relations", in C. Stangor, ed., Stereotypes and Prejudice (Philadelphia: Psychology Press, 2000), pp. 394-418.

46. Ibid.