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Working through the past in Bosnia and Northern Ireland: Truth, reconciliation and the constraints of consociationalism.

McGrattan, Cillian
June 4, 2015

Source: (2012) Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe. 11(4):103-126.

Bosnia and Herzegovina and Northern Ireland represent difficult cases for theories of
conflict resolution: the consociational structures of governance in each case reflect
and, arguably, reproduce the segregation that characterizes everyday life. In each
country, truth recovery and reconciliation processes have been seen as ways of
overcoming the polarizing effect of ethnonational division. This article suggests that
this faith is misplaced on two accounts: firstly, while the intent to reconcile erstwhile
ethnic opponents is laudable and admirable, it ignores obvious and complicated
practicalities – particularly, the lack of consensus over the past. More fundamentally,
however, I argue that the truth and reconciliation paradigm is politically redundant:
insofar as it is constitutive of its own reality, it answers questions contained within its
own logic and defers consideration of alternative concerns. In other words, by
attempting to reconcile ethnonational identities the truth and reconciliation paradigm
starts one step too far ahead of itself and by failing to problematize those identities it
ends by reproducing them. I suggest that “dealing with the past” becomes saturated
with political and social significance. (author’s abstract)


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