The wise person knows how much harder it is to create than to destroy. One requires vision and courage; the other simply reacts.
As free societies around the world reckon with surging populism and we gaze warily at one another, it’s worth taking a moment to revisit the journey of those societies that didn’t just linger at the precipice, but toppled over it. The twentieth century is all too notorious for its murderous record. After two world wars, Korea, and Vietnam, we watched as countries as distinct as Rwanda and Northern Ireland, Cambodia and Bosnia, Colombia and Lebanon descended into terror and tribal warfare. Man turned on man, neighbour hunted neighbour.
The images screened around the world for each one of these conflicts linger with many of us, and those who captured them in real time are often scarred with unspeakable memories. But, as laws of the heart go, restoration is like a green shoot, undeterred and unquenchable. These countries have and continue to build a different story. Not linear or tidy stories, but hopeful and instructive nonetheless.
What follows is a visual collage of trust’s struggles and rewards as it re-emerges in worlds once torn apart. We are grateful to the VII Foundation for allowing us to share this gallery from their journalistic compilation Imagine: Reflections on Peace, and to Jonathan Powell, chief British government negotiator on Northern Ireland, for his earned wisdom from the trenches. The following captions and excerpts are taken from this compilation.
To make progress towards peace, you have to build trust by going onto the other side’s turf rather than demanding that they come to meet you in grand government buildings. Shared risks can foster a bond.
Experience suggests that two factors need to be in place if peace negotiations are to be successful. The first is what academics call a mutually hurting stalemate—that is, not just a stalemate, but one in which both sides perceive that they are paying a price and want the conflict to stop. . . . The second determining factor is having the right leadership.
Peace is not an event, the signing of an agreement, but a process which takes time. If there is a process in place, people have hope that there will be a settlement. But if the agreement collapses and there is no process, violence soon fills the vacuum. Former Israeli Prime Minister, the late Shimon Peres, used to like to say that the solution to the Middle East conflict was fairly clear in terms for land, of refugees, and even of Jerusalem, but the problem was that there was no process to get there. The good news, he said, was that there was light at the end of the tunnel. The bad news was that there was no tunnel. The job of peacemakers is to build that tunnel.
Keeping a peace process going is not always easy, but it is crucial to do so. It is like riding a bicycle—you have to keep moving or you will fall off. Even if you face political and personal challenges along the path to peace, you have to keep going.
An agreement does not make enemies trust each other. They have a written agreement exactly because they don’t trust each other, and a piece of paper doesn’t make them trust each other either. It is only when both sides begin to do what they have promised to do in that agreement that trust begins to grow.
The following is excerpted from the essay “Building the Tunnel” by Jonathan Powell, former chief of staff to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and chief British government negotiator on Northern Ireland:
A few weeks later, I was surprised to receive a phone call from Martin McGuinness. He asked if I would come incognito to Derry in Northern Ireland and insisted that I not tell the “securocrats,” as republicans called the police and security services. I asked Tony if I should go, and he said that I should. I flew to Belfast and took a taxi to Derry. As I stood on a street corner, per my instructions, feeling mildly foolish, two men with shaved heads appeared and pushed me into the back of a cab, saying, “Martin sent us.” They drove me round and round the city for an hour till I was completely lost and then pushed me out next to a little modern house on the edge of an estate. I knocked on the door and Martin answered on crutches, making a not very funny joke about kneecapping—the IRA’s favoured method of punishment, where they would shoot holes in their victim’s kneecaps and ankles.
The lady of the house had gone out, asking no questions, and had left sandwiches and cups of tea by an open fire. We sat and talked for three hours. We made no breakthroughs, but it came home to me as I travelled back to London that to make progress toward peace, you have to build trust by going onto the other side’s turf rather than demanding that they come to meet you in grand government buildings. Shared risks can foster a bond. I spent the next 10 years in Downing Street regularly crossing the Irish Sea to meet Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness in various safe houses in Belfast and Dublin until we eventually arrived at a lasting peace.