Historisk arkiv

Voices of Tomorrow. Reflections of Students and Professionals on Peacebuilding

Historisk arkiv

Publisert under: Regjeringen Stoltenberg II

Utgiver: Utenriksdepartementet

Book project by The International Student Festival in Trondheim 20 February – 1 March 2009

Utenriksminister Jonas Gahr Støre har skrevet dette bidraget til et bokprosjekt i regi av The International Student Festival (ISFiT) i Trondheim.

Chapter 3: We can all make a difference

There are many examples in world history of individuals who have risked their own lives to confront injustice, lack of democracy and lack of freedom. Individuals who have shown extraordinary courage and strength in times of oppression and tyranny. Individuals who have dared to protest against the ruling elite or ruling ideas.

Some acts of protest have been quiet and peaceful, but nevertheless very powerful, such as Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat to make room for a white passenger on a Montgomery bus in 1955. Other actions have been harsher, such as the lone young man standing in the path of a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989.

We remember 20-year-old Jan Palach, who in 1969 committed suicide by setting himself on fire following the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. The words of Nelson Mandela from the opening of the trial in 1964 prior to his imprisonment at Robben Island may serve as a reminder to us all of the determination people fighting against oppression have shown: “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

People continue to face oppression, violence and grave injustice in today’s world. There are still courageous individuals who risk their lives to fight for democracy and peace. And there are far too many oppositional leaders throughout the world who are made to serve long and unjust prison sentences. Their struggle is admirable and we will give them all the support we can.

Fortunately, most of us will never have to stand up against a column of tanks. But there are other ways of contributing to positive change. In this book we have seen how young people are able to make important contributions to peace in various parts of the world.

There are obviously causes worth dying for – but violence is seldom the most effective strategy. My message is that engaging in dialogue with your adversaries is one of the most effective ways of contributing to change. Some people have maintained that dialogue to solve conflicts is an option for those who lack the will, courage or ability to meet resistance with power. I believe they are wrong. Being willing to enter into dialogue is not a sign of weakness. In my opinion, dialogue is the strategy of the brave.

Nelson Mandela would have had every right to pursue a path of confrontation when he was released from prison. He would have received overwhelming support from the oppressed black population. But Mandela asked people to turn their backs on the grave insults that had been committed in the past. He chose the path of dialogue, and by making this choice, he probably saved South Africa from a devastating civil war. He knew that a brave leader chooses a political solution, sooner rather than later. Even in a situation steeped in suspicion, mistrust and internal political strife.

Dialogue and contact represent an opportunity to seize the middle ground, and to challenge the dominance of the extremes. Dialogue opens doors and builds bridges.

It is a sad fact that the parties in most conflicts do not seek dialogue and negotiations before it is too late: too many deaths, too many injuries, too many people who are marked for life by violence and who are unable to make the world a better place for their children.

Norway is involved in peace and reconciliation processes in various parts of the world. One of the lessons we have learned is that ultimately you have to find a political, negotiated solution to conflicts. As a third party, we can support projects aiming to foster understanding. We can provide platforms for people to meet and address their differences. But at the end of the day, the main responsibility for peace rests with the main parties. It is they who will have to muster the courage it takes to choose dialogue as their weapon. There is nothing intrinsically eternal about conflicts, but it takes determination and courage to change a conflict spiral after years of violence and aggression.

Norway’s experience has shown that a third party can play a constructive role in resolving complex armed conflicts if there is a clear will among the parties to find a political solution. We can make a difference, and in my view we also have an ethical duty to get involved.

It is not only political leaders that have a responsibility for issues relating to peace and security. Each and every one of us shares a common responsibility to ensure that we leave behind a more just and peaceful world for the generations to come. Viable peace cannot be built from above. Negotiations and talks at the political level must be supplemented by a broad range of measures to advance security along with political, social and economic development. We need to do more to involve broader segments of society in peace efforts.

Norway considers it important to support dialogue projects that involve young people. For instance, we support an organisation that uses the latest in online technologies to build connections between students in the West and in the Arab world. In Lebanon we support an organisation that uses photography workshops as a means of bringing together young Lebanese and Palestinians. And in Algeria we support a project that promotes young people’s participation in national politics.

Political leaders need to acknowledge the efforts of the younger generation. The International Student Festival in Trondheim (ISFiT) is one example of an event that increases public awareness of students’ and young people’s contributions to peace efforts. I am very pleased to be able to attend this year. The festival and its organisers deserve tremendous credit for putting students’ peace efforts all over the world on the agenda, notably with the award of the Student Peace Prize. I read the story of Charm Tong, winner of the peace prize in 2007, and I admire her accomplishments.

Changes often start with the younger generation. Throughout history, students and young people have been at the forefront of protests against oppression and injustice. Students have been important agents for change, and their contribution to peace and democracy has been remarkable. We have seen many examples in this book.


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