Law professionals from South-East Europe visit Germany to learn about coming to terms with the past

The Czech constitutional court judge, Dr. Vojtech Simicek (on the right), during his lecture at the IOR in Regensburg with host, Prof. Herbert Küpper (centre)
The Czech constitutional court judge, Dr. Vojtech Simicek (on the right), during his lecture at the IOR in Regensburg with host, Prof. Herbert Küpper (centre)

From 19 to 22 September 2017, Munich, Regensburg and Nuremberg were the venues for a working visit, organised by the IRZ for experts from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Serbia on the subject of “Coming to terms with the past – objectives, difficulties and ways forward”.

All the participating law professionals speak German and had already worked on issues concerning the legal processes for dealing with the past of various authoritarian systems in Germany and/or in their own countries. The focus of the study visit was on exchanging experiences and ideas with experts from the Munich Institute for Eastern European Law (IOR) based in Regensburg.

“The Notary and Aryanisation” event in Munich

To open the event, the President of the German Association of Notaries, Dr. Oliver Vossius, talked about “The Notary and Aryanisation”, a subject on which he had also put together a collection of relevant sources. Vossius explained that the National Socialist system of injustice stretched across three phases:

A revolutionary phase, which began with the seizure of power and ended with the “Röhm-Putsch” (also known as the “Night of the Long Knives”), followed by a phase of semblance of legality (July 1934 to the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941) and then a period of “Removal of legal boundaries” ending in 1945.

Lively exchange of ideas at the IOR in Regensburg

At the Munich Institute for Eastern European Law (IOR) in Regensburg, the South-East European guests met with the regional consultants from the Institute to discuss relevant experiences in the following countries: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary Macedonia, Poland and Serbia.

Overall, the general conclusion was that the process of dealing with the past in most former socialist states has only been - and still is - very hesitant, just like the situation in Germany with regards to National Socialism during the first few years after the war.

When it comes to making the appropriate legal provisions, for example by compensating and rehabilitating victims of previous authoritarian regimes, Hungary has made the most progress.

On the other hand, the former Yugoslavian states remain far behind the former socialist states of Eastern Europe in this matter, as well as in the way this topic is handled by society in general. With regards to the handling of injustice in the socialist system, discussions focussed on one of the possible causes, which is the fact that during the collapse of Yugoslavia, there was no broad social consensus on the ending of the socialist regime, but rather a desire to create several national states.

South-East European projects for dealing with the past

Various projects, for which the first results of the corresponding research in these countries has already been compiled, were also presented. These include a research project led by the IOR, which was introduced by IOR Managing Director Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Herbert Küpper. The results of the project were published in 2010 in a book entitled “Die rechtliche Aufarbeitung der kommunistischen Vergangenheit in Europa” (“Legal review of the communist past in Europe”) by Prof. Dr. Dres. h.c. Friedrich-Christian Schroeder, Academic Director of the IOR, and Prof. Dr. Herbert Küpper.

For former Czechoslovakia, the publication “Communist Law in Czechoslovakia”, which contains more than a thousand pages, was presented during the study visit by the lecturer Dr. Vojtech Simicek, a judge at the Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic and one of the publishers of this work. Much of the content of this publication can be viewed on the website.

Fortunately, some initial approaches have also been made towards coming to terms with the past in the former Yugoslavian region. These range from various events on the subject, which have been carried out with the support of the IRZ, to papers that have already appeared or are currently being prepared. There are also a few publications on this subject.

Particularly worth mentioning here is the journal “Hereticus - a magazine for re-examination of the past” published by a group including two Belgrade university lecturers, Prof. Dr. Jovica Trkulja and Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Vladimir Vodinelic. The journal has been in circulation since 2006 and is therefore the most in-depth and long-lasting project of its kind in South-East European succession states. The journal has published articles on the region’s communist past, for example during the time of the Milosevic regime, as well as on overcoming the Nazi regime in Germany.

During the study visit, Benjamina Londrc from the Faculty of Law in Zenica also presented the publication on the legal situation of the Jewish community in Herzegovina between 1918 and 1945, which is already in its second edition.

Other initiatives relating to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Serbia were also mentioned by Prof. Dr. Zlatan Meskic, also from Zenica, and lecturers Dr. Aleksandar Spasov and Prof. Dr. Slavko Djordjevic from Kragujevac.

The various objectives for dealing with the past

During the course of the discussions, it became clear that there is a fundamental difference between Germany and the former socialist states of South-East Europe when it comes to their objectives for dealing with the past. In Germany, dealing with the past has been about self-critical reflection and studying the wrongdoings of their own people, whilst in the region of former Yugoslavia it is more a case of pointing out the wrongdoings of other ethnic groups, whilst members of their own groups are frequently seen indiscriminately as “heroes” and/or “victims”.

Nuremberg as the last port of call on the study visit

Nuremberg was last on the itinerary and the South-East European guests visited the Documentation Centre at the Nazi Party Rally Grounds and the Nuremberg Trials Memorial. As well as a guided tour and discussions with an expert at the Memorial, Andreas Mix, there was also a lecture by Dr. Sabina Ferhadbegovic from the University of Jena on the punishment of German war crimes in former Yugoslavia.

Concrete results

  • The working visit provided participants with a number of concrete references on the comparative legal situation and sources relating to this.
  • It brought together a transnational network of experts working on this important, though often unpopular, subject.
  • The presentation of the documentation of the results of projects in publications and on websites provided valuable “technical” support.
  • The IOR and the Faculty of Law in Kragujevac have decided to exchange publications in future.
  • The working visit led to various ideas finding their way into the current activities of the participants.
  • Therefore, the IRZ will continue the transnational handling of the subject of “Coming to terms with the past”.
  • The format of a shared exchange of expertise between IRZ project partners and experts at the IOR has also proved to be successful. This will therefore also be used in future for other suitable subjects.

Towards a more efficient prison system with EU support

Sem Fabrizi, Ambassador, Head of the EU Delegation in Serbia; Nela Kuburović, Minister of Justice of the Republic of Serbia; Catalin Bejan , RTA of the Project; Dr. Wolfgang Brandstetter, Vice-Chancellor of Austria, and Katharina Tegeder, IRZ (from left to right)
The opening ceremony

The Republic of Serbia Ministry of Justice and the European Union launched an eighteen-month Twinning project “Improving capacities and capabilities within the prison system in the Republic of Serbia”, which is being implemented in partnership with Germany and Austria. The project, which is worth 1 million EUR, has the objective to improve the prison system of the Republic of Serbia through a transfer of experiences, expertise and good practices developed in EU member countries.

The opening ceremony marking the start of the project was held on 15 September 2017 at the Palace of Serbia and audiences were addressed by:

  • Sem Fabrizi, Ambassador, Head of the EU Delegation in Serbia
  • Dr. Wolfgang Brandstetter, Vice-Chancellor of Austria
  • Nela Kuburović, Minister of Justice of the Republic of Serbia
  • Dušan Čarkić, Assistant Minister of Finance Contracts and Financing of EU Funded Projects (CFCU) and
  • Katharina Tegeder, Coordinator for EU-projects, IRZ

IRZ as the Lead Member State Partner was entrusted with responsibility to successfully carry out the implementation of the project, supported by the Agency for Economic Cooperation and Development (aed) from Austria as the Junior Member State Partner.

Implementation phase commenced on 04 July 2017 with the arrival of the Resident Twinning Adviser, Catalin Bejan, in Serbia. Our project team is located in the premises of the Centre for Training and Vocational Education of the Administration for Enforcement of Penal Sanctions in Niš from where they will coordinate the implementation.

In accordance with the real need to continue to strengthen the capacities of the prison system in the Republic of Serbia, the Twinning Project is funded by the EU and designed to contribute to the professional development of prison staff through improving the quality of their education and training in order to strengthen the overall capacities of the Administration for Enforcement of Penal Sanctions.

Over the next 18 months, experts from the Germany and Austria will work closely with colleagues from the Administration for Enforcement of Penal Sanctions. A series of analysis, training seminars, workshops, study visits and meetings will be organised in order to improve the employability of convicted persons while also improving the living and working conditions within the prison system in Serbia.

More specifically, project experts will work on the improvement of organisational and technical capacities of the Centre for Training and Vocational Education of the Administration for Enforcement of Penal Sanctions in Niš which will help to prepare and deliver training programmes for the staff employed within the system of enforcement of criminal sanctions. A number of training sessions will be organised for the staff of the security service, treatment service and health service in the institutes for enforcement of criminal sanctions as well as vocational education of female inmates in the Penal Correctional Institute in Požarevac.

The project is principally funded by the EU and co-funded by the Republic of Serbia. The beneficiary of this project is the Administration for Enforcement of Penal Sanctions of the Ministry of Justice, while the contracting authority on behalf of Serbia is the Department for Contracting and Financing of EU Funded Programs.


Funded by the European Union


Judges and journalists discuss the media in Belgrade

On 12 May 2017, the Judges’ Association of Serbia and the IRZ organised a conference on “Justice and the Media” as part of their long-standing cooperation. Law professionals and journalists were invited to attend the event. In fact, the latter made up by far the majority of the speakers. The demands made by the press on the justice system were therefore a focal point of the conference. This led to a lively but harmonious discussion, with both points of view being put across. 

The event was opened with welcome speeches by the Serbian Secretary of State for Justice, Čedomir Backović, and the permanent representative of the German Embassy, Alexander Jung. Snežana Bjelogrlić, President of the Management Committee for the Judges’ Association of Serbia, and Dr. Stefan Pürner from the  IRZ opened the conference on behalf of the event organisers.

The Serbian speakers were

  • Dragana Boljević, President of the Judges’ Association of Serbia,
  • Vojislava Crnjanski Spasojević, a journalist for the Večernje novosti daily newspaper and
  • Bojana Mladjenović from the state broadcasting company, RTV.

Dr. Wolfgang Janisch, a correspondent for the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and Deputy Chairman of the Judicial Press Conference of Karlsruhe shed light on the situation in Germany.

The importance of this event is also underlined by the fact that participants included representatives of the OSCE and the Prosecutional Council, as well as members of the courts and the media. The news agency Tanjug and state broadcasting company RTV reported extensively on the event.

The conference can be summed up by the statement that the justice system and media must work together but that they have different expectations. This requires a constant dialogue to be maintained, to which events such as this one contribute. The media need to take into account the fact that, in today's changing media landscape, staff resources for reporting on justice are constantly being cut. This makes it all the more important for law professionals to  support the media with active press work. Ohterwise is a risk of the activity of the justice system being distorted in public perception.