Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Contention as realistic goal rather than false harmony

While Bernard Conlon in Belfast is currently working on a film about peace, I read a most interesting book written by Lily Gardner Feldmann. She deals with what has become Germany's key foreign policy tool after Second World War, namely redemption and reconciliation. This policy was applied in particular with France, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Israel (interestingly enough Greece has been omitted with no peace treaty in place to date). Reading this book, I think that it can add something to the dispute about what is happening in the name of Kids' Guernica, and which constitutes in turn the  Guernica Youth related discussion.

Last year (2011) when a dispute with Takuya Kaneda as coordinator of Kids Guernica erupted, Tom Anderson admonished Hatto Fischer for being too contentious. He did so by invoking a term of peace as if this would have to mean absolute harmony.  On the contrary, Lily Gardner Feldman writes in her book that "contention is a more realistic goal that perfect peace." She adds that "friendship, trust, and community - the ultimate expressions of reconciliation and the opposite of the enmity that separated the parties - result from grinding efforts."

I would like to underline this term 'grinding efforts'. Rightly so Feldman concludes that "authentication of reconciliation thus emerges from challenge, not harmony, from the mutual acceptance of persistent differences and disagreements and the perpetual quest for mutual accommodation."

Generally said if redemption and reconciliation is really desired, then in all cases the victim must have the last voice. At the same time, no victim when telling his or her story should become or even imitate the perpetrator. Likewise a perpretator should not masked himself as if a victim.

There are different approaches to reconciliation. They should be taken into consideration for they follow different principles:


Looking back over the past eight years of Kids' Guernica (2005 - 2013), I have never heard a differentiated viewpoint being articulated as to what would qualify as a substantial contribution to a peace process. 

Various interpretations have guided our different actions. For instance, the moralistic position with regards to 'war and peace' departs usually from the maxime that the past must be dealt with. It has led, for instance, in Germany to a special kind of 'memory culture' based on the slogan 'never to forget the Holocaust' with legal punishment institutionalized for anyone denying the Holocaust.

Israel has a very strong memory culture as well.

However, what is often not learned when it comes to face the present, with all its uncertainties and divergent viewpoints, is how to verify political steps needed to secure a peaceful future. Since most Kids' Guernica and Guernica Youth related actions are initiated by NGOs, artists and those working within the school environment, care has to be taken that the process should remain an informal one. It is like letting children and youth play in the street, that is free from often restrictive rules imposed by institution like the family or the schools. The difference is not only the degree of freedom in which children learn to set their own rules very much like Piaget showed when examining how children play marbles. There is as well a need to see what it means to enter institutionalized relationships e.g. to the teacher and fellow class mates. To be free to experience friendship at local level means also to step outside the usual indoctrinations as to who is good, who is not. Brendan Kennelly in 'Judas' points out that from day one children are taught at school the traitor. This is done so long until they no longer notice that they have betrayed as well their own dreams by growing up to hate the other i.e. Judas.

To experience freedom of expression while sharing resources with others is what really matters. Not hate but love is what gives a child or youth when growing up such impulses which let them make friends for life. Over and again friendship is what ensures international openess.

In other words, friendship since Aristotles is getting to know in which direction we should direct our impulses, and that can mean to what extent do we take into consideration the opinion and advise of others before acting out some specific action. This can range from 'don't do it' to 'do it', yet both can be wrong for listening or not depends what one should not do and yet where the friends might want to convince you to have the courage to smash the window of the car and to steal something. Entanglement in wrong things can very quickly silence the inner voice linked to human conscience. The latter requires more than a strong character for such political and social situations can prevail which are able to coerce the bewildered child or youth into confirmity.

What is needed to change at political level to ensure the freedom of conscience, so that the individual acts out of his or her own free will? For instance, a country at war will impose such framework conditions that resistance to war service will be made most difficult not only from the formal side, since conscious war objectors can easily be called 'traitors'. The father of a friend in England was such an objector, but every time he left the factory where he was working, he found the tires of his bicycle punctured.

Thus in relation to the United Nations and other institutional gurantees as the Geneva Code during war, the question is what measures can provide a more stable environment for peace efforts? In other words, what needs to be installed, in order to realize more permanent relationships which allow the working together in peace. Linked to that are the various efforts to ensure a peaceful transition from an unjust regime to a more democratic government, as exemplified by South Africa which installed a truth commission to ensure justice is served but no one taking revenge out of free will.

One such measures could also be working on story books given to children and youth as to whether or not they show ways to resolve conflicts peacefully and how to learn more about the history of other countries. Naturally in an age of Internet, children and youth have an almost unlimited range to get themselves in contact with others living not around the corner but on the other side of the globe.

Peace murals painted by children and youth in another country can become an entry point for children and youth in Europe to learn about the conditions children at their age have to face in Afghanistan or Lebanon. Becoming aware under what conditions others live, such intercultural learning would mean to share common experiences while noting the real differences.

For example, I am still thinking about the discussion I had with the professor in South Korea whose students did a mural when North Korea attacked an island with fishing rights under contention. He described his students as being really afraid of a pending war. Today we hear a lot in the news about the war threats from North Korea but have we learned from this one experience anything further? We did not stay in contact, but it would be interesting to learn whether or not the students looked differently at the North-South Korea divide and conflict after having painted together this mural.

To come back to the book on reconciliation by Lily Gardner Feldman, one statement stands: history is not a force similar to fate! Rather she concludes that social movements and institutions, but also individual actors and social groups can make a difference in how various societies view their politicians in interaction with other countries and how their populations view the conduct of their politicians. This is not merely a matter of trust but also of appreciating how many small steps are needed to be undertaken before a symbolic gesture like Willy Brandt kneeling in Warszawa in front of the monument dedicate to the Warzsawa ghetto could signal the beginning of new relationships between West Germany and Poland.

There are many other efforts to bring together children and youth. For instance, the Mentoring Society in Malta organized an exchange of school children: a class of Italian children came to join a similar class in Malta. Together they played, learned and interacted despite neither side having the language of the other. That was for the responsible people a dream come true. This experience reminds me of what became the common language when we brought Greek and Turkish children together in Izmir in 2007. Neither side spoke the language of the other, but then they discovered they had one common language, namely that of the paints.

hatto fischer

Athens 29.4.2013


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