P r e s s I n f o # 39

We need a Notion of Reconciliation Policies

"Many people, particularly in politics and the media, seem to believe that peace will unfold when conflicting parties stop fighting and sign a ceasefire or peace agreement. Nothing could be more wrong. It is sad enough to see wars raging, but for professionals in conflict-resolution it is almost as sad to see how limited the understanding, the philosophy and the general capacity is for overall postwar peacebuilding," says TFF director Jan Oberg.

"Postwar trust- and peacebuilding has at least two dimensions: 1) Former enemies seek to clarify what happened and why, to find out what it meant to themselves and the others and learn to live with the harm and pain. In short, not forgetting or concealing but living on with memories, forgiveness and reconciliation. This is basically an individual process.

2) To develop normal relations, partly re-constructing the past (e.g. infrastructure and houses) but also building something new for the future; it is about securing that the old conflict will not return. In short, violence-prevention and sustainable peaceful development. This is basically a societal or collective process.

We should seek to help people remember what happened and not suppress the hurt, harm and mourning processes. People who fought wars against each other will naturally remember both what was done to them and what they did themselves to others. To live a healthy postwar life, they will have to forgive the other and, in some cases, be forgiven.

Former enemies must be assisted in dealing with the past, with objective as well as subjective truth(s) - even with the fact that there can be more than one truth. They face the choice of hating more or less intensely forever; but we become what we hate, and over tim hate is self-destructive. They can also liberate themselves from that and grow - grow even together with those they have hated. Human beings can choose to forgive and thus open the door to reconciliation, trust and genuine peace. When they do, they in fact also apologize to younger generations and say - 'learn from our mistakes and be happier than we were.'

Much will have to be individual choices and processes. But new social institutions, initiatives and policies can play a decisive role during such difficult times. Enlightened governments and governance based on a vision beyond hate, i.e. on forgiveness, generosity and trust rather than triumphalism, is essential.

Leaders with compassion and empathy can decide to apologize to people - often minorities - for their own wrongdoings or that of their colleagues. They can choose to change from hate speech to reconciliation speech. But admittedly it requires great courage and is particularly difficult if wartime leaders continue as postwar leaders.

Thus, the international community needs to introduce the notion of forgiveness and reconciliation policies, it needs educated people to assist individuals, civil societies and governments in healing their wounds. Many believe that legal processes such as tribunals, courts and various types of punishment coupled with some humanitarian assistance is all that is needed to heal war-torn societies. This view is indicative, I am afraid, of very shallow understanding and could well fuel the dark forces of revenge and perpetuated hate," says Dr. Oberg.

This and future TFF PressInfos will offer some proposals for civil society-based initiatives which can help to bring about a notion of truth to live by, forgiveness and reconciliation and - ultimately - peacebuilding together.

They are presented with the deep conviction that each of us, nations as well as the so-called international community, has a long way to go to understand and implement these processes. Forthcoming PressInfos will focus on history commissions, schoolbook production and on the need for educating citizens in the art and science of human rights, democratic citizenship, conflict-understanding and reconciliation. They stem from our reflection of what we have come to see as urgent needs while working in ex-Yugoslavia - but they hold a potential value in any other conflict," concludes Jan Oberg.

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Dr. Jan Oberg
Director, head of the TFF Conflict-Mitigation team
to the Balkans and Georgia


Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research
Vegagatan 25, S - 224 57 Lund, Sweden
Phone +46-46-145909 (0900-1100)
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