Peacebuilding, you will agree, is not a simple process. The process largely depends on many structural and cultural factors. One of the elements of cultural factors refers to the traditionalism as value orientation; more specifically the national exclusivism with its prominence in the societies that used to be part of Yugoslavia. Even today, two decades after the ethnical conflicts, the value proposition that presupposes an attitude of inability of having mutual respect while living together – hinders every step in the process of making and building peace. It is commonly noticed that the national hatred, antipathy, and intolerance are ingredients to the culture of the west Balkan – even more so, some theories propone precisely the thesis that the Balkans has always been an arena of intolerance and strong nationalism, which represent the roots of the conflict and fragile peace of these societies.

At this point, one is advised to read an interesting research study, which is based on the case of Croatia, and presented in the book titled “Vrijednosti i identitet” (“Values and identity”)  (2014) by Dusko Sekulic. The author empirically refutes the theses of the suppressed national hatred theory, showing the results of longitudinal analysis of national exclusivism in the period 1986 – 2010. Namely, in the days just prior to the conflict insurgence (1989), the national exclusivism was significantly lower than in the year after the war (1996) – more specifically on the scale 1 – 5, where 5 represents full acceptance of national exclusivism, the average acceptance was 2.29 and 3.36 in 1986 and 1996, respectively.  Put in words, nationalism cannot be pinpointed as the main reason for the war conflicts; it is rather the consequence or byproduct of the war conflicts. Having this knowledge/understanding is important in several respects – one of them being the fact that nationalism, antipathy, intolerance, and exclusivism as obstacles to peacebuilding are not intrinsic to society but rather prone to mitigation provided that the continuously unquestioned and undisputable will, support, and systemic work are applied. In my opinion, we have witnessed less than a constructive and committed approach to mitigating national animosities and to converting conflicts to normal/peaceful relations. The result is nationalism as value orientation with a significant presence in ex-Yugoslav societies.

How can elements malignant to peace building be minimized or eradicated? One of the possible and indispensable ways of it lies in strengthening the civil society and its stemming social capital. The presumption is association, participation, and cooperation of people focused on achieving society general goals that are equally important for all community members irrespective of their national or any other affiliation. When there is a local-level challenge in a daily life of a community that is recognized and faced by many, pooling and working on the problem makes individuals streamline their efforts and minds to mutual benefits while making trust connections with people with different backgrounds whom they would probably not have met if it were not for resolving the mutual/local challenge. In other words, the cooperation mechanism creates trust step by step and overcomes the national gaps, making it a precious in the peace building process. The social capital is created in the civil society framework because it is the space that opens the door to convergence and cooperation on a level playing field. Civil society organizations enable the contact that is of paramount importance for breaking down prejudice, stereotype, and bias that are often a basis on which exclusivism flourishes.

And surely, we are to be reminded that responsibility for overcoming of national barriers via social capital building is not left merely to the citizens and civil society. The responsibility is also to the great extent on political and social institutions – ranging from political parties on local and national level to the media, school, and religious leaders who ought to step up the awareness of the current situation and who ought to radically redefine their role and be accountable for their acts in the process of peacebuilding.

Author info

Anja Gvozdanović - Graduated in Sociology at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zagreb and received a PhD at the same university, with the thesis “Dimensions of social capital among university students in Croatia”. She is Research associate at the Institute for Social Research in Zagreb in the Center for Youth and Gender Studies. Her research interests involve sociology of youth, social capital, social trust and political culture.

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