Rights and wrongs in post-conflict reconstruction

James Gow, Professor of International Peace and Security at King’s College London, is delivering the 2014 Chris Cviić Memorial Lecture titled "Following Chris Cviić: Ethics and Reconstruction from 'the Balkans' to Ukraine" at our headquarters on June 26th.

Here Professor Gow gives ebrd.com a preview of what he is going to say. These are, of course, his personal opinions and do not represent those of the EBRD or any of its shareholders.

What are the main similarities between the current events in Ukraine and the Balkans in the 1990s?

The Ukraine conflict shows how the same issues of political community and especially of finding out the balance of right and wrong are problematic - in particular, in situations where one has historical legacies, issues of international law and of course, the rights and wrongs of the ways in which things are done by one party to another.

What are the particular challenges to the reconstruction processes in post-conflict countries?

It is clear that whenever the armed conflict in Ukraine comes to an end, hopefully sooner rather than later, the same kinds of issues as those that arose after the armed conflicts in the Yugoslav lands and the Western Balkans in the 1990s, will have to be addressed.

What are the parallels on the ethical level? You mentioned rights and wrongs that need addressing.

First, both conflicts come from the dissolution of a communist federation in which sovereign states, defined as such in the constitutions, joined together under the banner of communism. There are differences. The Soviet constitutions were a fiction. The Yugoslav ones had more underpinnings in the legitimacy of the Second World War efforts by the communist-led partisans. But it still creates the same kind of framework.

That has repercussions on the second level for international law because the basis of any international law is mutual respect between sovereign states. Once you have states, designated as being sovereign, then the normal thing is to respect borders, not to interfere in internal affairs, and certainly not to use armed force as a way of seeking to change those borders or to change internal political working structures of state.

The third parallel is the nature of inter-communal conflicts. Atrocities are committed in such way that putting communities back together becomes very difficult.

When it comes to the reconstruction of the political sphere, one needs to recognise the importance of an ethical approach which seeks to do justice in a fair way.

It means allowing societies to reconstruct and rebuild and, one day, to prosper. Of course, given the complexities of the conflict and given the necessities of justice, this is not something that can be achieved with a snap of the fingers.

Chris Cviić had lengthy experience of dealing with these complexities. What was his take on them?

One of the great things about Chris Cviić was that he was a Croat who favoured Croatian independence but never allowed that preference to obscure his judgement or his sense of what was right or wrong. His was an analysis that came from a strong sense of personal ethics. He was a devoted Catholic Christian. He knew that it was important to judge what was wrong and what was right. So he could be equally critical of the Croatian government. And Chris was always looking to do the right thing, by protecting victims where atrocities were being committed. Finally and most importantly, in terms of his later work, he contributed through his analysis to the political and ethical reconstruction of the region.

The Chris Cviić Memorial Lecture is an annual event honouring Chris Cviić (1930-2010), who had a long and distinguished career as a writer, broadcaster and political analyst. Born in Croatia, he moved to the UK in 1954 and subsequently worked in various institutions, including the BBC, the Economist and Chatham House. From 1999-2007 he was Senior Political Counsellor for central and south-eastern Europe at the EBRD.