If Hank Green hasn’t used ‘having a hankering for _____’ as a pun the world is a dark place.
How do we get to ‘peace’?
The WARM Festival has come to a close, and while the planes bearing participants and presenters homes to France and Libya and everywhere in between, the roles of films have stopped turning at Meeting Point, and fewer people slow as they pass the Cartooning for Peace banners along the river, my thoughts are still marked by the work I did, the people I met, and the things I saw. I study conflict. War. Genocide. Identity turned into armor and knives. How the scars of grandparents mar the baby smooth flesh of new generations. And I study how to stop conflict. How to heal. How to remember and when to forget. This conference positioned me at the precipice of great opportunity for working on these issues in this field and has strengthened my resolve in doing this work, but sitting through a film that had experienced war journalists and photographers leaving mid-screening for respite is bound to leave it marks. So while I can’t imagine dedicating my life to anything less than addressing this unbearable suffering borne by millions every day, I am also left with great sorrow for all our failures to actually succeed in doing so.
The mission of PCRC is to cultivate an environment for sustainable peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the greater Balkans region using creative multimedia projects that foster tolerance, moral courage, mutual understanding, and positive change. Wonderful. Works with local and international groups and actors, including journalists, photographers, researchers, filmmakers, non-governmental organizations, and educational institutions to contribute to a brighter future for this country and the region? Excellent. Empowers Bosnia-Herzegovina’s internal resources for peacebuilding while helping to maximize contributions made by the international community? Inspired. But to understand the broader problem that PCRC works to address requires first a discussion of a number of crucial definitions.
First, what does it mean to be ‘post-conflict’? According to Junne and Verokren, post-conflict is a “conflict situation in which open warfare has come to an end. Such situations remain tense for years or decades and can easily relapse into large-scale violence.” Essentially, and as I have heard numerous times in reference to the present situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in post-conflict areas there is an absence of war, but not essentially real peace. Lakhdar Brahimi states that “the end of fighting does propose an opportunity to work towards lasting peace, but that requires the establishment of sustainable institutions, capable of ensuring long-term security.” It is within this window of opportunity that PCRC is working to rebuild Bosnian society and communal relations towards a true and lasting peace.
But then what is peace? The limitation holding back the efforts at reconstruction and reconciliation in Bosnia and other post-conflict states is often the extended use of a negative rather than positive definition of peace. Negative peace is at its most basic refers to the absence of outright violence and conflict, such as the peace established with the signing of a ceasefire agreement. It is called ‘negative’ because it is used to describe the absence of something, such as extrajudicial killings, oppression, censorship, political incarceration, etc. Positive peace, however, is used to describe the presence of something, such as restoration of relationships, the creation of social systems that serve the needs of the whole population and the constructive resolution of conflict. State institutions in Bosnia have failed to implement changes that would build towards a sustainable positive peace, such as supporting the full range of transitional justice mechanisms to redress the legacies of massive human rights abuses, including criminal prosecutions, truth commissions, reparations programs, and various kinds of institutional reforms.
All of the concerns of modern Bosnia-Herzegovina are inherently the concerns of a post-conflict state and are therefore of interest to PCRC as they engage in efforts for peacebuilding, reconciliation, transformation, and justice. This mission—building sustainable peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the broader Balkan region—is as ambitious as it is important, and it could certainly be extended beyond these borders as conflicts rage and states struggle to recover from their aftermath around the world. While I’ve been struggling with my own questions of what can and should I do to address these problems, it is more important to ask what can PCRC and organizations like it do. First, they have to work together—there must be cooperation with other individuals, NGOs, international and local actors, etc. Second, raising awareness and educating the public is among the most important actions they can take. It is crucial to teach younger generations so that they can move beyond divisions and hatreds to support change and peace. But it’s not just the youth that need to be educated, to have the reality of life in countries such as Syria revealed to them. I can’t imagine that anyone would remain passive and voiceless to the plight of the citizens of Aleppo or Homs after viewing Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait. Which connects to a third action PCRC and similar organizations can do to bring meaningful change—lobby governments to take action either on the national or international level. Demand intervention into the Syrian conflict, demand religion be removed from state schools, demand that national minorities be allowed to hold high political offices.
But these are just examples of some of the things NGOs can do to impart change. Broader changes in general and globally need to take place for the positive peace to be effectively and truly established. The first and most important is a change in the way individuals think about themselves, their communities, their countries, and the world. Suffering is allowed to persist when we allow our universe of moral obligation to be shrunk by lack of understanding, manipulation of politicians, or simply fear, when we can only sympathize with the pain of people of our country, region, ethnicity, religion, or class. You can’t support a war when you can imagine and feel responsible to a family who might die because of it. Other broad social, technological, and cultural developments need to take place as well. Strides must be taken to move from a negative to a positive conception of peace, utilizing the previously discussed distinction. There must be greater collaboration and cooperation between the government and civil society. There must be universal respect and protection of human rights and freedoms. And there must be disarmament. Essentially, there is still quite a bit of work that needs to take place before PCRC and organizations like it will be rendered obsolete, and there is still a lot of growth and change that we need to go through. Let’s hope that this change will happen soon.