Memories of Judgement: Constructing the ICTY’s Legacies

Document Type


Publication Date

May 2020



First Page



Recent interdisciplinary scholarship helps explain why the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) did not dispel denialism about the nature of, and responsibility for, mass atrocities in Bosnia and elsewhere in the former Yugoslavia. Some studies suggest that efforts to counter denialism might even have a backfire effect, hardening the beliefs of committed nationalists. This research raises the unsettling question whether, at least in some circumstances, efforts to counter denialist narratives could instead lead those who espouse them to turn up the volume of toxic discourses. This article suggests that new social science research can productively be mined to develop effective strategies for persuading people to align their beliefs with facts rather than falsehoods. At the same time, the implications of research identifying a “backfire effect” should not be overstated, as more recent studies suggest this risk has been overstated. In addition, the author argues that, particularly since our understanding of social dynamics surrounding the entrenchment and abatement of denialism remains poor, we do well to honor and support the agency of survivors in identifying worthwhile processes of knowledge production and meaning-making in their societies. The article emphasizes as well that knowledge and memory-making processes are profoundly shaped by the political and social contexts in which they unfold. Accordingly, much of the work necessary to end denialism must be done in the realm of politics.