Non-violence and Ex-Yugoslavia

By Johan Galtung

Written early 1992

To talk about nonviolence in ex-Yugoslavia may sound like a morbid joke given the atrocities committed by all parties in this process of collective suicide of the Yugoslav peoples, in their search for alternatives they hope will meet their goals. And yet much can be done. To mention only five points:

– Let 1000 conferences blossom all over, there is so much hope and effort, but the focus is only on one conference, right now in Geneva, between those who carry violence rather than peace. How can all such initiatives flow together?

– Start a Helsinki process in Southeast Europe, modeled on the successful Helsinki conference 1972-75 with all participants around the table (including neighboring states) and all issues on the table (including big power interests);

– Educate the media to pay more attention to peace efforts, much of which is carried out by women and hence likely to be under-reported by male journalists;

– City/town/municipality adoption, if at any time twinning of municipalities should make sense it is now, as a show of solidarity and concrete assistance to residents and refugees, for supplies and medical assistance, for reconstruction;

– International peace brigades, unarmed and courageous, as witnesses, partly hostages for peace, dampening the violence, helping establish links between peace-oriented groups and between them and the perpetrators of violence, preparing conferences, bringing the results together (fax and e-mail still function to a large extent), educating the press also by themselves contributing articles and interviews to the media, being the concrete links for city/town/municipality adoption.

There are elements of all of this working today. The peace march to Sarajevo in December was an example. But it is a sad reflection on our world that such initiatives are small, poorly funded, of short duration whereas violence never seems to run short of funds.  Moreover, there is little or no coordination of such obvious points as the five above.

Rather, what we find is a double-track process, and the tracks run parallel, not together. On the one hand there is the state system with its conference in Geneva. Historians will have to sort of to what extent the system not only proved incapable of solving the tangle of conflicts but even helped accelerate some its violent manifestations through recognition of states with heavy minority problems and by distributing the blame and the sanctions too on one part only.

On the other hand there are the citizens’ conferences, with little contact with the state system and the war system, as Tony Borden points out in the excellent WarReport from London (November/December issue).

Nonviolence is not only march and confront. Everything not violent is nonviolence, even the conference in Geneva, but not the measures they seem to contemplate.  Violence breeds violence, as we know only too well.  More violence will not solve anything, probably only lead to escalation.  Time is long overdue to support all the nonviolent efforts, including such peacekeeping efforts as UNPROFOR.

But, could it be that the state system and the war system see more threat from civil society in its nonviolent form than from each other?

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