TFF PressInfo # 363: Can we give meaning to the destruction of Syria?

By Jan Oberg

Five years ago

In 2011 when it all began, an educated conflict analyst or otherwise conflict competent person would have said about the conflict in Syria that it was a very complex thing, caused by history, environment, traumas, external factors, the economic situation, etc. And that al-Assad and his government was certainly an important reason but far from the only one.

The conflict expert would have warned against at last four ways of thinking:

a) any interpretation that put all the good people on one side and all the bad people on the other – because there are no conflicts in the world with only two such parties;

b) any idea that the conflict could be solved by siding with the presumed good ones and going against the bad one(s);

c) every attempt to ‘weaponise’ the conflict and increase the level of violence, the duration of the conflict and the human suffering;

d) any and every idea that foreigners would know better than the Syrians themselves – government, opposition and citizens in civil society – what should be a solution.


Finally – the professional conflict and peace worker would have maintained that you can’t make peace by asking one person – not even brilliant ones like Kofi Annan or Staffan di Mistura – with a small team around him and some shuttle diplomacy to succeed with facilitation, consultations, brainstorming, proposal-making, mediation and, finally, some kind of negotiations leading to a peace agreement in what is undoubtedly one of the most complex and ‘hard’ conflicts on earth.

Peace-making requires a completely different approach to not just be a pawn in the wider war game – a game that according to Al-Jazeera today encompasses some 900 military groups – add to that government forces and all the political and civil groups that don’t carry weapons: 1500?

Five years later – at least 250.000 dead people, 3 million refugees and 6,5 million internally displaced people, cities, economy, cultural heritage destroyed – anyone can see that no one listened to such simple conflict rules of thumb.

Conflict and peace illiteracy

The self-appointed and completely un-educated, peace-makers of the international community – presidents, prime and foreign ministers of the US, NATO, Russia, etc. – did about everything else.

It seems to not even occur to them or to the media that Read More »

TFF PressInfo # 362: Iran’s elections and the nuclear deal

By Dr. Farhang Jahanpour
TFF Board member

Lund, Sweden, February 24, 2016

Two general elections are to be held in Iran this coming Friday the 26th – to the parliament (Majles) for the next 4 years and to the Assembly of Experts for the next 8 years.

Their results will be of utmost importance for the Iranian society and politics, for its foreign policy and the Middle Eastern region and – in the light of the nuclear deal – for the world too.

We are pleased to send you some links to essential analyses of these issues by Iranian-born scholar Dr. Farhang Jahanpour, Oxford University and TFF Board member.

Elections in Iran – A test for the regime

Is Iran the most stable country in the Mideast 37 years after its revolution?

Iran is leaning neither towards the West nor the East
Interview with Tehran Times also available here.

The nuclear deal implementation day: A win-win agreement

Views split in both Iran and the US on nuclear deal implementation

Iran moves fast: Can the nuclear deal survive elections in Iran and the US?

These articles exemplify one of three project aims TFF has for it’s multi-year engagement in Iran since 2013 – namely to increase the knowledge about Iran and thereby help change the hitherto unreasonably negative image of it in the West.

Simply put, where knowledge and understanding replace stereotypes and enemy images, the chance of confidence and peace-building increases.

The second sub-project is to help establish academic peace and conflict research at Tehran’s University, and the third is to create an art photography book from various parts of Iran.

On NATO S-G Stoltenberg’s wish for dialogue and NATO’s 2015 report

By Jan Oberg

February 9, 2016

Commenting on NATO S-G Jens Stoltenberg’s wish for dialogue with Russia – a bit odd after all the other provocative initiatives he has spearheaded the last good year or so.

I felt like saying something more general about this outdated paradigm – and why it is dangerous for us all – referring also to the Russell-Einstein Manifesto of 1955.

You may also see it as my statement countering the NATO Annual 2015 Report which lacks every intellectualism, theoretical/conceptual clarity, empathy, peace thinking and – naively – equates military build-up with ‘security’.

Syria talks suspended: Open Letter


By Jan Oberg


Open Letter
Sent to the chairman of the Syria Supreme Commission for Negotiations

Dear Dr. Riad Hijab

I’m very sorry to see that that is your decision and conditions as stated in your e-mail to me and at Al-Jazera here.

Without your participation in Geneva, there will also not be a chance of a better situation for the Syrian people.

There are grave faults and violent actions and killing by all sides who conduct politics by arms and killing.

To request that one side out of some 30-40 shall stop doing something bad as a precondition for participation is, I am sure you recognise, a path to even more destruction and human suffering.

Good old Immanuel Kant would say with his moral imperative: Ask yourself what would happen if all other actors did what I do now? In other words, do our own actions have such a quality that it could be elevated to a general principle practised by all.

And you may see what I mean.

Respectfully yours

Jan Oberg, dr.hc. peace researcher and mediator
Director of TFF
http://www.transnational.org

TFF PressInfo 355: The deeper reason Syria negotiations are doomed

By Jan Oberg

Negotiations were supposed to start in Geneva today, January 25. The media is full of analyses of why it won’t happen and how virtually everybody disagrees with everybody else about who should be there and who should not. That’s all surface, however.

Objectively speaking is it of course hugely difficult. No one would envy chief UN envoy, Italian-Swedish diplomat Staffan de Mistura. That said, a totally different perspective may be helpful:

It has to do with a simple distinction that few still in the international community are able to make – that between the conflict and the violence in the conflict zone. Almost all conflicts can be mitigated or solved – but the more violence infused into the conflict (and the longer it lasts), the more difficult it will be to find a solution – because on top of the original conflict you build anger, sorrow, wish for revenge, traumas and justifications for counter-violence.

It’s a simple as that.

Everybody confuses the two – the underlying conflict that should have been addressed from Day One and the violent means that should not have been delivered from outside in the shape of arms, ammunition and bombings.

However, the world’s decision-makers continue – seemingly unable to learn – to put weapons before peace.

The Syrian conflict had to do with peaceful demonstrations, an authoritarian human rights violating national leadership, an environmental crisis that had made people migrate into cities; it had to do with an immensely complex history, society with many groups and fractions – and with the interests of neighbouring countries. And it came in the wake of failed wars and weaponization/wars of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

And all conflicts have to do with grievances, incomptaible goals and wishes, fears, trauma, economic and other structures as shaped through history – and they have to do with the West’s historical influence – most violent and detrimental – in the region.

All of it is left aside. The focus is on nine other amateurish, superficial matters – see below.

So, yes, turmoil all over the place – but also something somebody somewhere should have learned something from. They did not. They put the outdated military “security and stability” before peace – and lost it all.

The Western world – read US/NATO, Russia joining later – un/anti-intellectually brought it all on the old hopelessly false and counterproductive formula’s 9 elements: Read More »

Dubbelspelet kring Ukraina

Av Ola Friholt
TFF Associate

Med den uttalade avsikten att underminera Vladimir Putins ställning i Ryssland har Natostaterna och övriga EUstater systematiskt förtigit Kievregimens vägran att följa de avtal den själv skrivit under.

Istället har Ryssland anklagats för dubbelspel och erövrarambitioner. Utvecklingen ser ut så här*:

1. Ukraina förhandlar med EU om ekonomiskt samarbete, vilket skulle innebära att bryta samarbetet med Ryssland. När president Janukovitj av sina ekonomer fick veta vad detta skulle kosta landet, avstod han från att underteckna det framförhandlade EU-avtalet.

2. Detta utlöste Maidanprotesterna, från grupper i västra Ukraina, vilka länge velat ansluta landet västerut. Dessutom deltog Janukovitjanhängare. Skottlossning utbröt från hus omkring torget, med okända skyttar. Detta tolkades som Janukovitjs ansvar.

3. Janukovic och Maidanledarna framförhandlade 21 feb 2014, tillsammans med Frankrikes, Tysklands och Polens utrikesministrar och en representant för Ryssland ett avtal, som gick ut på följande: a. Ömsesidig demobilisering av väpnade grupper.
b. Omedelbart arbete med författningsändringar, först för att begränsa presidentens befogenheter (som tidigare hänt efter den orangea revolutionen 2004).
c. Förhandling av ny författning att antas senast i december 2014.
d. Presidentval ska hållas i december genast efter att författningen antagits.
e. En nationell enhetsregering från båda sidor ska verka fram till valet i december 2014.

4. Underskrifterna på detta avtal ratificerades av Majdanrådet men avvisades av de hårdföra högeraktivisterna, som krävde omedelbar (lagstridig) avsättning av presidenten och förbud mot de två politiska partierna i östra Ukraina, d v s eliminering av den östliga politiska eliten.

5. Den 22 februari grep högerextremisterna makten och avsatte Janukovic som flydde till Ryssland.Read More »

TFF PressInfo # 349 – Burundi’s crisis and the world’s inability to prevent violence

By Jan Oberg

Lund, Sweden, November 9, 2015


The big – not great – powers of the world have embassies everywhere, plenty of intelligence services, special forces on the ground and satellites in space. They can even hit and kill individuals they don’t like.

They can intervene here and there and everywhere – particularly if they have economic or strategic interests or their own nationals are in danger.

These very weeks they can squander incredible sums of taxpayers’ money on new nukes and huge paranoia-based military exercises in a Europe – to which over a million refugees come because these big – not great – powers have contributed to the destruction of their houses, villages, life opportunities, whole countries and cultures.

So it’s amazing what the big ones can do. It would be impressive if it wasn’t so destructive and self-defeating. Again and again.

The only things they don’t seem capable of, however, is to:

a) fulfil their self-appointed mission called Responsibility to Protect and prevent violence where they have no interests and to

b) contribute to making life better for all and create genuine peace, justice and development.

Take Burundi.

There is a colonial history as well as a history of genocide, extreme poverty and corruption, ten years of economic and other mismanagement under the ever more authoritarian rule of Pierre Nkurunziza.*

Since April this year, there have been tons of indicators that something really bad could happen. The trained observer cannot fail to see the pattern, the incremental, systematic increase of repression of the people.

It’s all well summarised in this background article. 

And what do the big powerful do over 6 months with this potential crisis, possibly civil war or genocide – knowing full well about it?

Absolutely nothing!Read More »

Our 30 years with peace – And what happened to world peace? Part II

By Christina Spannar and Jan Oberg, TFF founders

Part 1 here

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.

Part 2

Weak aspects of TFF

• Being outside many networks and institutions – it has become more and more difficult to influence the world if you are small, independent and don’t accept governmental and corporate funds.

• A perception that the interest/commitment of TFF is out of sync with the sentiments of times, of the Zeitgeist. In spite of that we maintain the fundamental belief that peace is essential and that we can forget about the rest if major wars or nuclear exchanges take place.

• Too ‘academic’/theoretical to forge deeper, permanent links with public opinion and movements.

• Too ‘radical’ or ‘idealistic’ to be interesting to governments and most mainstream media.

• A constant very hard work load – resting on a small international group and on the founders in Sweden – vulnerability also in the perspective of us having gotten 30 years older.

• The struggle for funds getting more and more tough and we are much more vulnerable than, say, ten years ago. Being all-volunteer, we still have to pay the bills for what enables us to do things: the Internet, computers, travels to conflict areas, insurance, bank fees, fund-raising, phones, sending out mails, using social media, etc. 
The generosity of yesterday has been replaced by a ”stingy” attitude of being entitled to get things free in the affluent Internet-based society. This attitude implies that it is not my responsibility to finance peace, somebody else does (and the somebody else is never me). Few citizens seem to recognise that they are the taxpayers who de facto finance all the weapons and wars. 
The far majority of those who support us are idealists without particular means – while wealthy people for peace a far and few between.

TFF’s stronger sides

• We are still here, operating with amazing TFF Associates around the world who share the commitment to ‘peace by peaceful means’.

• We have remained faithful over all these years to the original ideals, not succumbing to go mainstream/politically correct to achieve more funds or appearing acceptable to the masters of war, i.e. government – neither by the way in Sweden nor Denmark.Read More »

Our 30 years with peace – And what happened to world peace? Part I

By Christina Spannar & Jan Oberg, TFF founders

Part I

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.

Motivation

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.

Goals

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.Read More »