Historians and Transitional Justice – Conversation with Vladimir Petrović

The second event of the History as Democracy? project was held online, and moderated by PhD candidate Marko Milošev on 13 December, 2021.

Working through the legacy of the authoritarian regimes became a global promise with the end of the Cold War. From South American military juntas to Eastern European communist nomenclaturas and war criminals of the Yugoslav wars and Rwanda, a number of measures were introduced to such an end, ranging from international and national trials and truth commissions, lustrations for perpetrators and reparations for their victims. Under the umbrella term transitional justice, such a toolkit was promising not only to punish past violations, but also to consolidate democratic order through stabilizing its institutions, fostering rule of law, promoting human rights, putting an end to impunity, and preventing future abuse of power. As we know only too well now, this path proved to be anything but straightforward. Powerful tensions arose between the concepts of justice, truth, peace, and reconciliation. They came to full prominence with global erosion of liberal democratic values and resurfacing of power politics. Against this global backlash, together we will examine its local dynamics, discussing specifically the roles historians did and did not, could have and still can play in this process of massive reexamination of the past.       
Vladimir Petrović researches mass political violence and strategies of confrontation with its legacy. He graduated from Comparative history of Central and Southeastern Europe at the Central European University. His book The Emergence of Historical Forensic Expertise: Clio takes the Stand (Routledge, 2017) examines the role of historians and social scientists as expert witnesses in some of the most dramatic legal encounters of the 20th century. Petrovic was himself working in this intersection between history and law, both in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and in the Serbian War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office. He published extensively on ethnic cleansing in the Balkans and attempts to undo its legacy, as well as on the history of nonalignment during the Cold War. He is a Senior Researcher at the Institute for Contemporary History in Belgrade.

Memory Politics and Democracy: Remembering Civil Wars in Austria, Spain and Greece

The History as Democracy? event series was launched on October 28, 2021 at the CEU campus in Budapest wth the roundtable titled “Memory Politics and Democracy: Remembering Civil Wars in Austria, Spain, and Greece”. Roundtable participants were Julian Casanova (University of Zaragoza, Spain; CEU, Vienna), Kostis Karpzilos (Contemporary Social History Archives (ASKI), Athens) and Florian Wenniger (Institute for Historical Social Research (IHSF), Vienna), while the moderator was Elisabeth Luif (CEU).

Civil Wars have not only significantly shaped the European continent of the 20th century, their complicated legacy also follows us into the 21st century. The question of how to interpret and remember these conflicts remains contested until today. Such controversies are not confined to history in a narrow sense but are connected to present-day political conflicts and reflect different understandings of democracy. In the kick-off event of our public series, we will take a comparative look at the civil wars in Austria (1934), Spain (1936–39), and Greece (1946–49). We have invited three eminent specialists to give a short overview on ongoing public and historiographical debates for each country case. Then, we will discuss together what our role as historians is, not only for investigating the past, but in current debates, and how history as an academic discipline and public discourse may contribute to open and democratic societies.

Julián Casanova is Professor of Contemporary History at the University of Zaragoza and Visiting Professor at the Central European University in Vienna/Budapest. Kostis Karpozilos is the director of the Contemporary Social History Archives (ASKI) in Athens. Florian Wenninger is the Director of the Institute for Historical Social Research (IHSF), Vienna. Elisabeth Luif is a doctoral candidate at the Department of History at Central European University, Vienna/Budapest.