International Peace Day – a moment for reflection

On the International Day of Peace, 21st September 2022, Indie Peace would like to express our solidarity with all those around the world working for peace, often in the most difficult and seemingly hopeless circumstances.

Today, the post-Soviet space is shaken again, its echo reverberating around the world, way beyond the region itself. All hopes that the smouldering and latent conflicts of the region would dissipate over time amid the dynamics of change and the new political, economic realities and opportunities have not been justified. Moreover, new conflicts are arising, and the ‘old’ ones have mutated and are becoming explosive again.

The war around Karabakh in the autumn of 2020, the Russian-Ukrainian war, and the confrontation between the West and Russia, all show how the post-Soviet societies did not get to grips with the legacy left to them and did not build the world that they had expected or hoped for after the collapse of the Soviet empire.

Expectations will remain just expectations, unless you purposefully and strategically work to bring about the desired, imaginary future, and work to emulate it in the present as close as is possible. But ever since the collapse of the USSR, the desire to achieve a stable and sustainable future for the region has often been accompanied by acts leading to confrontation, constructing and maintaining enemy images, and disrespectful and aggressive rhetoric – thus creating the opposite effect, an increase in the potential for violent conflict. If we could measure the level of unpredictability felt by people in the region, today’s indicators of anxiety at uncertainty are comparable with the situation of the early 1990s, when the Soviet Union was falling apart and the region erupted into armed conflict.

The interconnectedness of the conflicts in the post-Soviet region is clear. The war in Ukraine and its outcome is reflected in and influencing other conflicts in the region, aggravating latent conflicts and spawning new ones. The recent escalation of hostilities between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and the armed clashes on the Tajik-Kyrgyz border are both indicators of the lingering commonalities of this region.  

Who is to blame ? and What is to be done ? [1]

The war in Ukraine has triggered public debate which initially focused on a question traditional in public polemics of the Russian liberal intelligentsia of both the Tsarist and the later Soviet eras – i.e. society wants to know ‘who is to blame’? Public discourse is focused on why the region has found itself in such a crisis and is engaged in identifying the culprit. And the list of culprits is long, including the chessboard of geopolitics, incompetence or even betrayal by national leaders, the enemy’s desire to conquer territories, to destroy national identity, the presence of fifth columns within the societies, and so on.  This is a normal healthy reaction, demonstrating a recognition of the problems, and a debate which traditionally would move onto the next question – ‘what is to be done’? And it is this dramatic stage that brought change – though not always for the better.

The disposition of societies while seeking someone to blame is mainly characterized by either passivity or aggressiveness, both of which involve shifting responsibility to someone else and freeing ourselves of shared responsibility for the unfortunate development of events. Nevertheless, a part of society, which we can define as active civil society takes a different approach, one which is based on the values of shared collective responsibility and therefore they have a different opinion, an alternative perspective.

When our thinking is based on cause-effect relationships and systemic analysis this allows us to get to the roots of a problem, not only the symptoms. This enables us to predict the dynamics of how a particular situation might develop, to foresee future trends and to understand the broader picture of what is happening, as well as understand our own place and role in this context – i.e. to utilise the opportunities and resources which each individual and society possess, to prevent new violent conflicts erupting, or to transform existing ones. Unfortunately, this part of civil society is often marginalized by their own societies, either purposefully or out of ignorance, even anathema.

Today, no one knows where we’ll be in a few months, let alone years. Our group is unique in that we have the potential to anticipate trends, to make recommendations for what should be done, and to work on them, so as not to find ourselves back again where we were in the early 1990s.

Being vulnerable, at risk and not fully understood in their societies, this part of civil society is in constant search of like-minded people, social support, and a platform for group reflection and exchange of their vision of what is happening both inside their societies and abroad, and which is constantly concerned with the question ‘what is to be done’. And Indie Peace has created such an opportunity – a discussion and dialogue platform that functions as a horizontal space and unites both regional and international experts and civil society leaders from across the region who are committed to maintaining stability in the region and are ready to contribute what they can in this regard.

The importance and usefulness of such communication is enormous – it gives a sense of solidarity to participants, provides an opportunity to exchange and enrich expertise, and to compare points of view, especially with those from the other side of the conflict divide.

Bringing together this diverse human resource and leadership potential with rich practical experience into a common space for exchange of information and expertise and dialogue, and examining regional interconnections and trends allows us to broaden the angle from which bilateral conflicts are perceived and open up new opportunities to work with them. And despite disagreements between the participants, and the tendency to seek advantages and winning positions for their societies, nevertheless, the group has much more in common than that which divides it. It is built on trust in one another, on the pursuit of a shared goal – that of peaceful resolution to the conflicts and of placing the inherent value of human life at the heart of all they do.

Bringing together this great resource has significant pragmatic potential in the current context. As one participant put it: “Today, no one knows where we’ll be in a few months, let alone years. Our group is unique in that we have the potential to anticipate trends, to make recommendations for what should be done, and to work on them, so as not to find ourselves back again where we were in the early 1990s.”

Efforts to preserve peace and to prevent conflicts during peace time should be constant and treated as no less important than the search for peaceful resolution in times of war. This International Day of Peace is a mere moment to reflect.

[1] These two questions were popularised by Russian authors of the 1800s. ‘Who is to Blame’ was the the title of a novel by Alexander Herzen, published in 1845, and ‘What is to be Done’, the title of an 1863 novel by Chernyshevsky – a title later borrowed by Lenin in a 1901 political pamphlet.

We are grateful for the seed funding for this largely voluntary initiative from the European Union under the European Union Responsive Resource Fund implemented by the United Nations Development Programme. This initiative is the sole responsibility of Independent Peace Associates and does not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union nor the United Nations Development Programme.