Post-war reconciliation – who has got a clue?

By Jan Oberg

October 28, 1997 – TFF PressInfo 28 originally published here.

“It’s easy to militarise societies and start wars. Powerful people know how to do it. The world has accumulated all the needed intellectual and material resources.

Preventing, handling and stopping conflicts and wars is more difficult. We know less about what it requires, and only tiny resources are allocated by governments. The UN – humanity’s leading conflict-management organisation – has been sidetracked, exhausted and denied the minimum funds for peacekeeping. The OSCE has a “conflict prevention centre” so small that it stands no chance to adequately meet the challenges ahead,” says TFF director Jan Oberg.

“In the fields of post-war reconstruction, reconciliation, peacebuilding where human beings and societies move from violence to sustainable peace and development, the global society is virtually without a clue. It lacks adequate research, organisation, professionals, funds, philosophy and strategy. Only a handful of small research centres work with these tremendously complex processes – such as the War-Torn Society Project in Geneva and UNESCO’s Peace Culture programme.

The global system is deplorably immature: it knows how to fight wars within hours but lacks about everything it takes to handle conflicts, to prevent violence, to settle conflicts and reconciliate. Top-level decisionmakers often lack knowledge about social, psychological and cultural dimensions of conflicts – vital for the noble UN norm of creating peace by peaceful means.”

“TFF is a tiny civil society organisation, CSO, devoted to research, field conflict-mitigation and peace work. We know that the commitment of citizens diplomats and civil society to peace and viable solutions to conflicts is essential and that intervening foreigners can only be facilitators, should never steal the conflict or impose their solutions – in contrast to most inter-governmental organisations that don’t seem to be exactly burdened by humility or respect for local people and culture in the conflict areas,” Dr. Oberg continues.

“During the last months TFF has conducted eight “Learning Conflict” courses in both entities in Bosnia, in Croatia, Yugoslavia and Macedonia. We select CSO representatives with mixed backgrounds and work with them on how to understand and analyse conflicts, how to mediate, identify solutions, negotiate, forgive and reconciliate. Through mini-lectures, role play and brainstorms – where the human, social and cultural dimensions are in focus – the participants seem to be empowered. One thing is to build houses of bricks; something else is required to build homes and neighbourhoods on the basis of tolerance, hope and visions of a better future. Small as we are we seek to empower a few among the majority of “good guys” – to counter the minority of “bad guys.”

Yes, it’s an experiment. There are no quick fixes. It takes time, but it has been a success,” says Jan Oberg. “We have learnt that ordinary citizens have a deep wish to be constructive and work for peace and that they often still look for somebody offering them that opportunity.”

TFF now works for the United Nations Transitional Authority for Eastern Slavonia, UNTAES, in Croatia to help bring about reconciliation and mutual understanding in this war-ravaged region. The UN here is a very impressive mission, an untold UN success story. They wanted us to focus on the educational sector, helping headmasters, teachers, pupils and parents to overcome their fears and develop respect and a cooperative spirit.

The foundation also delivers input to three seminars this autumn arranged by the UN and the Council of Europe for Croats and Serbs in the school sector, from ministry level to local schools, on how to get peace and human rights education into the curriculum and the daily running of the schools.

Many CSOs do a fine job for peace in the trouble spots. But silently. Powerful media still promote the illusion that governments are the major agents for reconciliation and peace. You may have begun to see a different reality. This PressInfo just tells you what we do,” Oberg concludes.

 

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