DSF Project „‚Screening‘ Transitional Justice in Serbia“


31. July 2021

“Screening” Transitional Justice in Serbia. ICTY Representations and the Memory of War Crimes in Serb Television“

Full DSF Reasearch Report for be found here

Funding Organisation: German Foundation for Peace Research (DSF)

Principal Investigator: Prof Dr Anna Geis, Institute for International Politics, Helmut Schmidt University Hamburg

Project Researcher: Dr Katarina Ristić, in cooperation with Dr Vladmir Petrović (Institute for Contemporary History in Belgrade)

Time frame: 13 months (Februar 2015 – March 2016)

Volume: 93.000 Euro


Topic and research questions

The International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), established in 1993, has been a central but very controversial element in the transitional justice processes in former Yugoslavia. In particular in Serbia the legitimacy of the ICTY is highly disputed.  The project focuses on the public representation of the Tribunal in Serb television media. The investigation of the ICTY’s media representation will cover a number of much debated trials and probe the following questions: How are different persons acting in the court represented in footage? Are defendants described as actors representing the nation or as individual culprits standing outside of the respective community? To what extent do media sources represent the ICTY as an illegitimate institution or as a reliable source of judicial and historical “evidence”?

Relevance for peace and conflict research and originality of project

Analyzing the impact and perceived legitimacy of transitional justice mechanisms is an important part of peace and conflict research. Media representations that frame the ICTY as an illegitimate or an anti-Serb institution undermine the authority and the ability of the ICTY to promote the societal engagement with the past and to establish the historical “truth” about the wars of the 1990s. There is no systematic research on the reception of ICTY trials by audio-visual media outlets. In general, there is a striking lack of research on visual material in Peace and Conflict Studies that is not warranted given the prominent debate about the “power of images” in a digital age.

Theoretical and methodological approach

The project is located within transitional justice approaches. Scholarly debates on the ICTY revolve around the notion of impact and the conceptualization of impact. Of primary interest for this project is the public ‘educational’ role that the international institution may fulfill. The theoretical framework will thus also draw on studies that analyze the dynamic discursive processes of constructing collective memory in a society.

The research team will employ multimodal discourse analytical approaches in order to examine textual and audio-visual material. Since such approaches are scarce in Peace and Conflict Studies, the research team will further explore such an encompassing analysis of the discursive construction of the ICTY’s (il)legitimacy. It investigates news coverage and additional footage on ICTY trials of three Serb TV channels that attract the highest share of spectators: Radio-Televizija Serbia (RTS), RTV Pink and B92.

Research process

The data corpus for the project is very extensive so that the collection, selection and further reduction of data will be the first step of the empirical research. The data will be processed and transcribed so that a software based discourse analysis can be conducted. A detailed qualitative analysis of selected audio-visual elements and a comparison of data will follow these steps. In order to complement and validate the results of the discourse analysis, the researchers will conduct semi-structured expert interviews with representatives of the ICTY, of the Serb media and civil society organizations. In addition, focus group interviews with students in Serbia are expected to provide tentative insights into the perceptions of the media consumers.

Expected results and practical relevance

The goals of the project are:

  • to assess the perceived legitimacy of the ICTY in selected mass media of the Serb public;
  • to analyze discursive (persistent or changing) patterns of representations of the past;
  • to advance the analysis of visual media in Peace and Conflict Studies;
  • to establish cooperative relations with human rights activists and journalists in Serbia and to disseminate the research results to activists in the field.

List of project-related publications

Anna Geis/Katarina Ristić 2020: Umstrittene Legitimität. Das Internationale Straftribunal für Ex-Jugoslawien (ICTY) als „Stimme der Menschheit“ und als „politisches Gericht“, in: Gabi Schlag/Axel Heck (Hg.): Visualität und Weltpolitik. Praktiken des Zeigens und Sehens in den Internationalen Beziehungen, Wiesbaden: Springer VS, S. 89-120.

Katarina Ristić 2019: Accused War Criminals qua Perpetrators: Visual Signification of Criminal Guilt, in: Journal of Perpetrator Research, 2:2, 156-179.

Vladimir Petrović: The ICTY Library: War Criminals as Authors, Their Works as Sources, International Criminal Justice Review, 28:4, 2018, 333–348.

Vladimir Petrović: Power(lessness) of Atrocity Images: Bijeljina Photos between Perpetration and Prosecution of War Crimes in the Former Yugoslavia, International Journal of Transitional Justice, 9:3, 2015, 367–385.

Katarina Ristić: Re-Enacting the Past in TV News on War Crime Trials: A Method for Analysis of Visual Narratives in Archival Footage, Media, War & Conflict, 2019, 1-20 (online first).

Katarina Ristić: Freed by the Court: The Role of Images Between Remembrance and Oblivion of War Crimes, Pólemos, 13:1, 2019, 91-108.

Katarina Ristić: The Media Negotiations of War Criminals and Their Memoirs: The Emergence of the “ICTY Celebrity”’, International Criminal Justice Review, 28:4, 2018, 391–405.

Katarina Ristić/Anna Geis/Vladimir Petrović: Caught between The Hague and Brussels: Millennials in Serbia on ICTY War Crimes Trials, in: Zeitgeschichte, 44:14, 2017, 49–65.

Katarina Ristić: Our Court, Our Justice – Domestic War Crime Trials in Serbia, in: Heike Karge, Ulf Brunnbauer, Claudia Weber (eds.): Erfahrungs- und Handlungsräume.  Gesellschaftlicher Wandel in Südosteuropa seit dem 19. Jahrhundert zwischen dem Lokalen und dem Globalen, Oldenburg: De Gruyter, 2017, 165-185.

Conference papers and talks

Vladimir Petrović, “ICTY and the Balkans”, presented at the Association for Studies of Nationalism (ASN) Annual Convention, organized at Columbia University in April 2015.

Vladimir Petrović, “Powerlessness of Atrocity Images”, presented at the Digital Testimonies on War and Trauma, organized by Erasmus University Rotterdam in June 2015.

Katarina Ristić and Anna Geis, “Generation Y’s perception of ICTY trials in Serb media”, presented at the workshop “Generation On The Move – Children Of The 1990s in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo and Serbia”, in Rijeka, 9-10 October 2015.

Katarina Ristić, “Trials Stories vs. Media Stories in the Balkans”, presented at the Annual Convention of the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies, Philadelphia, 19-22 November 2015.

Anna Geis, “Können internationale Strafgerichtshöfe zur Versöhnung beitragen? Das Beispiel des Strafgerichtshofs zu Ex-Jugoslawien“, presented at the Colloquium of the Department of Political Science, University of Leipzig, 5 January 2016.

Vladimir Petrović, “Balkan Rashomon: The Yugoslav Conflict in International and National Prosecution”, presented at the colloquium “Mass Violence and Human Rights: The Global Politics of Truth and Justice” at the University of Massachusetts, Armherst, 5 February 2016.

Katarina Ristić, “War Crime Trials and Nationalism in the Balkans”, presented at the conference “Prime Time Nationalism: The Role of Television Broadcast/Archives in the Aftermath of the Yugoslav Wars”, Open Society Archives, Budapest, 13-14 May 2016.

Katarina Ristić, “Alleged War Criminals in TV – Visuals and Emotions”, presented at the conference “Representing Perpetrators of Mass Violence”, Utrecht, 31 August – 3 September 2016.

Katarina Ristić, “Legal ambiguity: Perpetrators in national and international war crime trials”, presented at the conference “On Collective Violence. Actions, Roles, Perceptions”, Centre for Conflict Studies of the Philipps University Marburg, 20-22 October 2016.

Vladimir Petrović, “Hubris of Themis: ICTY and the Balkans two decades after”, presented at the Central European University, Budapest, November 2016.

Katarina Ristić, “Narrating the self in (post-)ICTY diary writing – between nationalism, Yugoslavism and war crimes” and Vladimir Petrović “ICTY Library: War Criminals as Authors, their Writings as Sources”, both papers presented at the Sixth Annual Conference of the Historical Dialogues, Justice and Memory Network in Amsterdam (NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust, and Genocide Studies, 1-3 December 2016).

Anna Geis/Katarina Ristić, “Können internationale Strafgerichtshöfe zur Versöhnung beitragen? Das Beispiel des Strafgerichtshofs zu Ex-Jugoslawien“, presented at the Colloquium of the Institute for Theology and Peace (ITHF), Hamburg, 27 April 2017.

Katarina Ristić, “Introduction to Multimodality – Social Semiotics. Copernican Turn in Semiotics under the Global Condition, presentet at the Workshop of the DFG Network “Visuality and Global Politics”, University of Kiel, 17-19 Mai 2017.

Katarina Ristić “Re-enacting the Past in the News  – A Method for Analysing Archive Footage on Television”, presented at the 11th Pan-European Conference on International Relations, EISA, Barcelona, 12-15 September 2017.

Anna Geis “Der ICTY ein illegitimes Tribunal? Die Aufarbeitung der Vergangenheit in Serbien aus Sicht der jungen Generation“, presented at the Fifth Open Section Conference of the Section ”International Relations” of the German Political Science Association (DVPW), University of Bremen, 4-6 October 2017.

Vladimir Petrović, “Dual Nature of Wartime Visuals”, presented at Salem State University Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies conference held in October 2017.