By Christina Spannar & Jan Oberg, TFF founders
TFF was established on September 12, 1985. We think that it’s 30th Anniversary is a fitting occasion to reflect on what has happened in the big world and in our lives with the foundation.
It is also a piece of Lund’s research history in general and of peace research and education in particular.
The 1980s was a decade of gross changes in Europe, the struggle against nuclear weapons in particular.
Lund University was predominantly about education and single research projects – while TFF could be more of an experimental playground. We wanted to do truly free research and not negotiate with higher levels at, say, the university what to do where, in which countries to work and what to say to the media.
Peace has always been controversial and there were – and remain – enough examples of places that become ‘mainstream’ and routine – rather than experimental and radically ’alternative.’
What we did not know back in 1985 was that Lund University wanted to get rid of all inter-disciplinary academic endeavours – women, environmental, human rights and peace studies – and closed down the Lund University Peace Research Institute of which Jan had been the director since 1983, in November 1989.
Being a private undertaking
The HQ is the first floor of a two-family house in a villa area of Lund. Visitors, board members etc. have held seminars there, eaten and often stayed with us. Board members were colleagues and personal friends and new board members were recruited from Associates who were also personal friends, like-minded colleagues or mentors one way or the other.
Our children and other friends were often involved in the things TFF did – including printing newsletters in the basement, gathering them, putting them in envelopes and fix address labels.
The permanent top priority has been to promote the UN Charter norm that ‘peace shall be created by peaceful means’ (Article 1).
This was promoted through traditional book-based research and later field work – i.e. conflict analyses and mediation and peace plans – in conflict zones, but also through intense public outreach/education such as newsletters, media participation, press releases – and, from 1997, the Internet and then social media.
Secondly, we wanted to integrate theory and practice. While it is good to do basic research in the laboratory, what is peace research really worth if it is never applied to real life’s tough situations?
The first five years we did book projects like everybody else in the trade. But in September 1991 TFF went on its first peace mission to former Yugoslavia. It is safe to say that we were among the first to embark on that in-the-field philosophy and practice it – with all the problems and risks that it entailed.
Foundation and management
The word ‘foundation’ does not mean that we had an endowment to start out with – and funding has been a constant problem every day and year ever since. And getting worse over time.
But it meant flexibility and – being and remaining small – quickly adapting to a changing world.
Being our own and not part of Lund University was another advantage – and a drawback in terms of finding funds. TFF had to build its own reputation from scratch rather than piggyback on that of the university’s. It was quite tough but also more rewarding in the long run.
A legally registered foundation is autonomous. We did not want democracy in the sense of having members who at a general assembly would vote on what TFF should do and who to run it.
We wanted to do our thing and ”to do it my way.” Again, it has advantages and disadvantages. In practical terms, peace is controversial and so is the interpretation of international affairs. Highly politicised.
We, the founders, had a vision and built it with people we knew we could trust and doing virtually all the practical things every day in our own place, we naturally did not want to run the risk that somebody else could hijack the idea and turn it into something completely different.
Did we as founders have the power to decide everything? Not at all. There was an internal democracy.
The board has always had that power to decide what TFF should be and do.
Christina was never a member of the Board and the board members were always numerous enough to stop an idea that one or both of the founders had in case they did not like it.
This is essentially important in terms of avoiding sectarianism over the years and also keep checks and balances. People coming in and moving out of the Board have always meant that new ideas, world views and experiences could stream through our work. It’s been dialogue and consensus. Not one decision has been made by voting.
Major projects and fields of interest
• Conflict-mitigation in Yugoslavia – all parts
• Georgia fact-finding
• UN reforms
• Nuclear abolition
• Peace-building in theory and practise
• Consultancy and commissioned analyses
• Peace education
• Iraq (before the occupation)
• Predictions of conflict
• Nonviolence as alternative to direct, structural and cultural violent methods
• Teaching and training conflict-resolution in conflict zones
• University courses
• Media work
• Criticism of wars and interventions
• Alternatives to mainstream media perspectives
• Public education and opinion formation via books, reports, lectures, Internet and social media.
Changing Zeitgeist and trends since 1985
What has changed over these 30 years? And where are we heading in terms of peace
When you are in the middle of the process, it is always difficult to see the larger trends of which you are but a small player. And 30 years is an extremely short period from a macro-historical perspective.
But here we take the risk and offer a subjective list of points that we see as particularly important to our field and work:
Wars have become more acceptable to more people, quick fixes and the eradication of alternatives to violence in most state bureaucracies and state financed research institutes. In spite of that, there is more focus on one’s own country/national affairs than global affairs, not the least in Denmark and Sweden where we operate. Warfare and nuclear weapons in particular engage people less than before – although there has, over these three decades, been almost endless war, 30-40 around the world more or less constantly and huge intervention fiascos such as Iraq, Libya and Syria. TFF’s core mission in support of making peace by peaceful means is therefore unchanged.
We are intimately connected and mutually dependent on each other across the world. The Internet has changed the way TFF works – both as research outfit and as citizens. TFF makes extensive use of the latest technologies.
3. Peace has lost much of its attraction and activism
People’s engagement has switched rather much from violence/peace to the environment. The green, the left, human rights people and even parts of the peace movement have all moved in the direction of endorsing violence – not the least thanks to the policy of and propaganda about ‘humanitarian intervention’. TFF has not been good enough at making peace interesting…
4. Peace research
The Scandinavian tradition or ‘school’ that we started out with can be said to have gone mainstream in proportion to state-financing. Secondly, younger people with revolutionary ideas often lose a bit of passion and radicalism when becoming professors and when their institutes succeed themselves to death in funding terms. The good story is that Scandinavian peace research’s mainstream path is well off-set by a proliferation and diversification of studies, courses and programs around the world – now both in, say, China and the Muslim world as well as in the informal educational sphere of society such as people’s colleges, NGOs and peace foundations. Soon much will be online learning and TFF may well go in that direction in years to come.
5. Much more the ”me” generation than generous ”us” and human solidarity.
Neo-liberalism is a social and economic phenomenon but leaves deep traces in human attitudes.
More focus on body and entertainment, gender and identity today than back then. TFF will be there when people return to the most fundamental issue of all (as we allow ourselves to see it): Human survival, co-existence, trust and peace. There isn’t much point in working for the environment, human and minority rights or economic change, if nuclear weapons will one day make our beautiful Earth partly or completely uninhabitable.
6. Knowledge has become less important
Knowledge has, to a large extent, been substituted by ‘infotainment’ and marketing companies propagating a paid truth. People may have tons of information – but information only becomes knowledge if there is a way to organise it (that’s where theory and clear concepts come into the picture). And information and knowledge are only stepping stones to the less definable called wisdom – of which there isn’t much in international affairs.
7. Images rather than text
People acquaint themselves with the world more through pictures/film than ever before. They read less academic literature to understand their world. We have, therefore, increasingly used more but shorter articles, like TFF PressInfo, and employed videos and images – and video-streaming for the first time at our 30th Anniversary Benefit Event.
8. Traditional media as power rather than the criticism of it
Compared with 30 years ago, there is much more political correctness and much less diversity and critical attitudes in our mainstream media and in the traditional mainstream community (as we allow ourselves to see it).
In spite of globalisation, there is a more narrow focus on local and national issues (and sports and other entertainment) today.
But then there is also the famous other side of the coin: A tremendous proliferation of new media and channels such as social media, smart phone filming and sharing, the Internet, citizens’ journalism, peace journalism, etc. And a fascinating diversity that has disappeared in the ‘old’ media, dailies, radio and TV.
9. The Cold War atmosphere is back
Regrettably, it seems so at the time of writing where the relations between the US/NATO world and Russia are getting colder by the day, although the shape of this new Cold War may be quite different. There is no feeling of ‘common security’ anymore. And it is particularly sad because the world could have become a much better place over the last 25 years.
The main reason it didn’t was the West’s triumphalist shortsightedness, repeated warfare and interventionism (beginning with the Gulf War and then Yugoslavia’s dissolution) and, from 1994, the arrogant, insensitive NATO expansion where the real opportunities for a new European security and peace structure could have been realised and one step would have been NATO’s disappearance as a response to the demise of its alleged raison d’etre: the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact.
It’s painful to witness for those of us who know what it could mean for our children and grandchildren because we lived during Cold War 1 – including the 1962 Cuban missile crisis when Christina was 16 and Jan 11. We want none of it back in any form or shape…
10. The second Cold War while the US Empire declines
The global system is in a fundamental system crisis consisting of a multitude of crises in sub-systems. When we were younger, we were more optimistic about life on the other side of the millennium year 2000 than we are today. But why there are short-term dark clouds, one must remember that above them – in the macro perspective – the sky is still blue.
The next few years are likely to be both promising and frightening.
The main trends will be influenced by the successive weakening and demise of the United States’ empire coupled to the ascent of other countries and groups such as BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Others will join and at least one more ”I” is likely to be added by the group: Iran.
All empires go down at some point. The Brits finally lost it in Gandhi’s India. The colonial powers, one by one, lost their colonies.
The Soviet Union lost it due to a series of complicated factors – economic stagnation and inferiority, over-armament, Afghanistan, the upheavals in the near abroad such as the Solidarity movement in Poland. Thanks to its dissidents and their increasing contacts with the West and thanks to new technologies such as the photocopying machine and the fax, information could no longer be centrally controlled. But above all this, a personality of huge historic importance rose the whole way up the system to the top – and then did what very few have ever done, namely demolished that very system that had catapulted him to power. His name was Mikhail Sergeyevitch Gorbachev.
We got glasnost, perestroika and a totally new, fascinating vision of a ”European House” and a world free of fear, freed from nuclear weapons.
Instead of co-operating about that new nuclear-free world order in peace and helping the Eastern bloc to become much freer with a social-democratic profile, the West’s leaders basically chose triumphalism and thought that because the Soviet Union/communism lost, liberal capitalism had automatically won – to the extent that it was the ‘end of history’ and of ideology etc.
Much can be said about that. However, the really frightening question for the next 10-15 years is this: What if the United States is unable to produce someone like Gorbachev who can preside over the fall with a positive vision instead of engaging in new wars or using nuclear weapons to make a statement on the angry recognition that the game is finally lost? And how will BRICS and others react to the demise of the U.S. empire? With wisdom and moderation rather than triumphalism. Or so we hope.
So, TFF has lived to see the old Cold War structures crumble, see the possible visions of a much better world – and seen many aspects on the globe certainly improve – but also seen opportunities lost and been witnesses to historic events, failed wars and terrible human suffering.
11. Increasing number of refugees and racist attitudes
One of our former board chairpersons, human rights lawyer Peter Nobel, once said that ”behind every refugee stands an arms trader.” While it may not be literally true in every case, violent conflict is the far greatest cause of there being today over 60 million forcefully displaced (internal and external) persons worldwide. 51% of the refugees are under 18 years old. While writing this, the majority of those coming to Europe are from Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya. While European media seem to focus on this as a huge new burden, it should be remembered that developing countries host over 86% of the world’s refugees, compared to 70% a decade ago.
This aspect of peace work has hardly been recognised sufficiently. It is also an example of the many horrible consequences of the war and mainstream militarist policies.
12. Dialogue with power has decreased
In the early years one could rather easily get access to, a meeting with, high-level people in government and in the United Nations. Letters would be answered, at least with an acknowledgement of receipt. People in power, e.g. ministers, would feel a need to respond to criticism in the media. None of this applies to the situation of 2015. It’s become much much more difficult to succeed with dialogue across the deepening society-government divide and mutual distrust. An indicator of democracy’s deepening crisis.
Governments’ response to criticism and even constructive ideas is monitoring (e.g. NSA and in Sweden FRA) withdrawal of funds (see the end of this article) and non-response to contact attempts. An example: In the 1980s the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs commissioned the peace researchers at Lund University to produce studies about international affairs. Since the early 1990s there has been no single indication of interest at the Ministry for anything TFF has done in and know about, say, Georgia, all parts of Yugoslavia, Iraq, Iran, Burundi etc. Ministerial funds everywhere nowadays are channelled to marketing efforts rather than intellectual inputs.
13. Dialectics – all the countermoves
It would be lousy social research if we did not recognise that every ”bad” trend at the moment is countered by people at all levels taking action – both critical and constructive. You just don’t see them in the mainstream media: They tell more about the wealthy and powerful and about the war-makers – rather than the millions of people who help make this world a better (or less bad) place.