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Terms of reference for the peace prize of the city of Ieper

In search of lasting peace

Sooner or later, even the longest war finally comes to an end. Sadly, such wars are not always followed by a lasting peace. Sometimes peace treaties are little more than a starting point in the preparations for still further and greater conflicts. The most dramatic example of this is undoubtedly the Treaty of Versailles. The victorious Allies so humiliated the defeated German nation that the seeds for the Second World War were irrevocably sown. In short, the creation of a lasting peace requires something more than the simple cessation of hostilities on the battlefield.

In its continuing search for lasting peace, mankind has followed many different paths. Some of these paths run parallel to each other, whilst others cross. All are designed to lead to a situation where the use of large-scale, organised force becomes unthinkable and where there is common respect for basic standards of human dignity. In broad terms, it is possible to identify four separate methods by which the peacemakers have sought to achieve these goals. These methods are the banishing of war as an instrument of policy in international politics, the organised destruction of the weapons of war, the removal of the causes of war and the creation of conditions for peace.

Every individual and every organisation that has made an outstanding contribution in one or more of these fields is eligible for consideration for the award of the Peace Prize of the City of Ieper - the city that suffered so tragically during the terrible years of the First World War.

War on war

The First World War was fought by the Allies - at least according to the famous words of H.G.Wells in August 1914 - as "a war to end all wars". Yet even in this "war on war" countless soldiers on both sides were senselessly mutilated or killed. Not far from Ieper, in the German military cemetery at Vladslo, there stands a beautiful and deeply moving work of art: The Grieving Parents by Käthe Kollwitz. Kollwitz sculpted these statues in memory of her son, Peter, who was killed as a volunteer during the Battle of the Ijzer (Yser) in October 1914. Later, in 1924, she would go on to design the famous Nie wieder Krieg poster, which gave powerful expression to the feelings of many ordinary people during the post-war years: "Never again!" Based on these widespread feelings and in reaction to the massacre of the trenches, the 1920's saw the growth of peace movements throughout Europe, whose common rallying cry was "No more war!"

This peace movement reached its zenith with the signing of the Kellogg-Briand Pact in 1928. Under the terms of this pact, a considerable number of nations agreed to renounce war as an instrument of policy in international politics. The weakness of the pact lay not in the idealism of its authors, but rather in the refusal of certain nations - who were still bent on revenge, territorial expansion or ideological domination - to sign. The Second World War showed all too clearly that the unilateral renunciation of war simply exposed the peace-loving lands to the conscious aggression of their frequently less peace-loving neighbours. Peace obviously requires something more than the simple rejection of war by the peoples and nations of good will.

After 1945, the prohibition of international aggression was enshrined in the United Nations Charter. Article 51 of the Charter embodies the ideal of a system of collective security. Under this system the international community guarantees the security - and therefore the peace - of every country that becomes the victim of aggression, by undertaking to come to the immediate aid of that country, even to the extent of using armed force, if necessary. The more credible that this guarantee can be made, the greater the likelihood that potential aggressors will be frightened off and that the chances of war will be reduced. But to make this guarantee credible, there are a number of essential prerequisites.

First and foremost, world peace must be seen as a single entity, something that is indivisible.

The pursuit of peace has to be regarded as a global responsibility, which extends beyond national boundaries and regional interests. Only the development of this kind of global responsibility can lead to a greater willingness on the part of nations to intervene in conflicts which often seem remote and where at first glance they seem to have little to gain and much to lose. When the peoples and nations of good will fail to act against aggression, by refusing to take part in a United Nations' peacekeeping operation, the cause of peace is dealt a serious blow and the aggressors are given a free hand. Clearly, the desire for the abolition of war will present us with a series of hard moral dilemmas.

Moreover, the ultimate abolition of war also requires the development of new institutions and mechanisms for peaceful change and conflict resolution. This in turn will involve the development of a new international law, the creation of international systems of jurisprudence and arbitration and the introduction of a mediation process in the event of imminent conflict. The final banishment of war as an instrument of international policy will take something more than fine words and meaningless international treaties. It will require the development of a global consciousness, a willingness to resist aggression collectively wherever it occurs and the creation of machinery for non-violent change and the settlement of international disputes.

All persons and organisations who have distinguished themselves in these fields are eligible for the award of the Ieper Peace Prize.

Die Waffen Nieder (Lay Down Your Arms)

On 22 April 1915, just north of Ieper, the German army made the first large-scale use of poison gas in modern warfare, notwithstanding the fact that the manufacture of this terrible weapon was forbidden by international treaty. This example serves to illustrate the difficulties faced throughout its history by the struggle for disarmament, whether it be unilateral or multilateral, whether it be general or targeted at specific categories of weapons. During the 19th century a sizeable peace movement had already begun to agitate for general disarmament, in part under the impulse of Baroness Bertha von Suttner. Her famous 1889 novel, Die Waffen Nieder, in which she used the reports of military surgeons and Red Cross officials to describe the horrific scenes of the battlefield, was a terrible indictment of all war. According to the Baroness, war as a barbarian institution, which could - and should - be banished from human society by the finer forces of civilisation.

Ever since the First Hague Conference in 1899, this search for wide-scale, multilateral disarmament has been an ever-present feature on the international political agenda. This conference met at the instigation of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. He had been greatly impressed by Jan Bloch's book over the future of war, La Guerre Future, which postulated that the development of modern weapons technology would make the waging of war almost impossible, or, at the very least, suicidal (a prophesy which was to come chillingly true on the killing fields of the Western Front between 1914 and 1918). Inspired by Bloch's vision, Nicholas persuaded the nations of Europe to come together in the Hague to discuss possible weapons reduction. However, his motives were immediately viewed with suspicion by the other major powers. Was the Tsar really in favour of disarmament or was it simply that Russia was unable to keep pace with the arms development of its potential rivals? In short, his desire for disarmament was seen as a political weapon for the furtherance of national interests and not as a contribution towards a more peaceful world. This suspicion continues even today to be the main stumbling block to general disarmament.

By contrast, attempts to outlaw particular weapons systems - such as chemical, bacteriological or nuclear- have tended to be more successful throughout the years. When governments can be convinced that the overall military balance of power is not in jeopardy, they can sometimes be persuaded to give up particular types of weapons. On occasions, public opinion can play a crucial role in forcing this decision, as was the case with the international movement for the abolition of land mines.

Self-evidently, it is easier to reach disarmament agreements during periods of reduced international tension. This helps to explain the proliferation of such agreements during the period immediately following the end of the Cold War. In addition to the 1987 INF Treaty for the decommissioning of medium range nuclear weapons (the so-called cruise missiles), the CFE Treaty of 1990 - which foresaw a drastic reduction in the number of tanks, artillery and aircraft held by Europe's great powers - represented a major step forward in the process of weapons limitation. Thousands of tanks were quite literally thrown onto the scrap heap.

Sadly, throughout the ages mankind has become - and is still becoming - ever more skilled in the development of weapons of mass destruction, so much so that it is now possible for our world to be obliterated in a matter of a few seconds. It is perfectly understandable that public attention should be focused primarily on these terrible (nuclear) weapons. Even so, we must never forget that since 1945 - the last occasion when weapons of mass destruction were used - millions of people have been killed using the more traditional and (in comparison) "primitive" types of armaments. Because the production and sales of these "lesser" weapons - in particular, handguns - has proved notoriously difficult to limit and control, it seems likely that a concerted public campaign, modelled on the recent protest against land mines, will be necessary before any significant progress in this field can be booked. A campaign of this kind would be warmly welcomed by all supporters of peace. To date, the main obstacle to all such campaigns has been the vested economic interest of the weapons industry, often supported by governments fearful for loss of revenue and jobs. Yet we must not only look at the question of weapons supply, but also at the question of weapons demand. It is particularly tragic that in strife-torn Africa, the profession of soldier is one of the few remaining avenues of survival open to many young people. In this context, programmes which involve the exchange of firearms for job training must be seen as a positive move in the right direction.

All persons and organisations who have distinguished themselves in one or more of the above mentioned fields and who have thereby positively contributed towards cause of world disarmament, are eligible for the award of the Ieper Peace Prize.

War or peace as the "Great Illusion"?

On the eve of the First World War, Norman Angell wrote his successful book, The Great Illusion. His central argument was that the idea of a successful or profitable war was a complete fallacy. As a result of the ever-growing economic interdependence between nation states, it was inevitable that a major war would have disastrous financial consequences for all those involved, not simply for the losers. As a 19th century rationalist and optimist, Angell - along with many others - came to the simple conclusion that politicians would be forced to give up war as an instrument of policy.

It is certainly true that in 1914 France and Germany were each other's major trading partner. It is equally true that they were both capitalist countries, linked to each other in a fiscal and monetary network via the Gold Standard. Even so, the First World War still broke out. Clearly, economic interdependence by itself is not an adequate guarantee of peace. In order for economic ties to exercise a positive effect on the prevention of conflict, it is important that they should be supported by a mechanism of political co-operation at an international level. This was precisely the combination so brilliantly devised by Jean Monnet in the famous Schuman Plan of 9 May 1950: a common market for coal and steel, supervised by a supra-national organisation. In short, a basic prototype for the gradual process of European integration.

If we wish peace to be something more than an illusion, it is also important that we should continue to take all necessary measures to remove the causes of war, such as repression and economic inequality. By the same token, we must also do all that we can to create the conditions in which peace can thrive, such as international collaboration and co-operation. Particular attention should be paid to the support of those groups who seek to promote the growth of democracy and respect for elementary human rights. In his "Four Freedoms" speech in January 1941, the American President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, argued that freedom could only triumph if the supremacy of human rights was established throughout the world. He promised support to all those who were prepared to fight for these rights and their preservation. Perhaps the most innovative element in Roosevelt's definition of the Four Freedoms was his combination of classic "freedoms" (freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom from discrimination on grounds of race) with a number of new "freedoms" of a more socio-economic nature (freedom from the fear of poverty and want). Most striking of all was his contention that all men must be free from the fear of violence and war, as an indispensable pre-condition for the full enjoyment of all other human rights and freedoms. This declaration laid the foundations for the common struggle for freedom, human rights and peace, a common struggle which still continues today.

In theory, all the nations of the world have expressed their official support for the idea of human rights. In practice, however, respect for these rights is far from uniform. Across the globe, there are still many brave individuals who through non-violent action seek to compel their governments to honour their empty promises to promote basic human freedoms. It is precisely in this manner, by making peaceful use of their human rights, "by living in truth" (as the Czech dissident and founder of Charta 77, Vaclav Havel, once put it), that men and women of goodwill can bring their governments - the very violators of their rights and freedoms - into serious difficulties. Their shining example shames their fellow citizens, who have often opted for an easy acceptance of the status quo, and brings disgrace on the politicians, who for reasons of power, economic gain or straightforward cowardice refuse to support the human rights activists.

Those who fight for human rights often find themselves in a threefold isolation: threatened by the regime, shunned by their fellow citizens and abandoned by the outside world. Roosevelt's appeal for moral and practical support for all those who take on this difficult task is a call which is equally valid today. This is by no means an easy responsibility. All those who rise to this challenge, as well as all those who strive to create the conditions in which peace can thrive, are eligible for the Ieper Peace Prize

Reconciliation, forgiveness and clemency

Not far from Ieper, in the little town of Mesen, stands the Island of Ireland Peace Park. This park is dedicated to the memory of the Protestant and Catholic Irishmen who advanced side by side against a common enemy on the morning of 7 June 1917, the opening day of the Battle of Messines. In 1998 young Catholics and Protestants again worked side by side, within the framework of the "A Journey of Reconciliation" project, to create this simple but moving park. In their common remembrance of the horrors of the First World War they found the strength to end their own war in Belfast and Derry.

War releases powerful emotions and conjures up feelings of hate and revenge. Peace presupposes the breaking of this vicious circle of reprisal and retaliation. So long as past injustice is seen as sufficient justification for acting unjustly towards others, mankind will remain trapped in a never-ending cycle of war and violence. Reconciliation between former enemies requires a proper recognition of the many terrible acts carried out during periods of conflict. It also requires a realisation that the only way to overcome the memory of these terrible acts is by working together for a better future. The reconciliation between France and Germany at the end of the Second World War owed much to the decision of Catholic spiritual leaders in both lands to set up the Pax Christi organisation. Such reconciliation also forms the basis for the many grassroots initiatives in the Balkans, which are seeking to re-create a multi-cultural and democratic society out of the ruins left behind by extreme nationalism and ethnic cleansing.

Reconciliation between former enemies is an extremely difficult process, particularly if the conflict is of long standing and has cost many lives. It is only the bravest and most praiseworthy of politicians who dare to follow this thorny road: President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, who travelled to Israel to set the peace process in motion; Chancellor Willy Brandt of West Germany, who in Warsaw knelt at a monument to the victims of the Second World War. In the same manner, anyone who has seen the grim battlefields around Verdun can readily appreciate why precisely this spot was chosen by President Mitterand and Chancellor Kohl for a symbolic meeting of reconciliation, to remember the dead of three destructive wars between the two countries.

Reconciliation between former enemies cannot be based on a total amnesty for war crimes. In this context, international tribunals and national judicial procedures both have an important role to play. However, the prosecution of such crimes must not based on pure revenge, but must aim at the removal of potential obstacles, which may otherwise stand in the way of joint collaboration towards a common future. This is never an easy process but it is even more difficult in cases where oppressors and oppressed (as opposed to straightforward "enemies") are required to work together. The example of South Africa is particularly relevant. When the apartheid regime finally came to an end, it was necessary to find a way to bring the minority white community and the majority black community together. Black reprisals against the white supremacists would have had the opposite effect, as would the denial of state crimes against the coloured population during the apartheid years. The solution lay in the development of the Truth Commission, under the leadership of Bishop Desmond Tutu. All those who were prepared to freely confess their crimes before this commission, were granted immunity from further prosecution and were allowed to help in the rebuilding of a multi-cultural society - the new South Africa. For those who believe that crime must always be followed by punishment, the Truth Commission was an unsatisfactory instrument. However, in lands were the wounds of the past are so deep, perhaps clemency of this kind is the only hope for a brighter and more peaceful future.

Any person or organisation, who has contributed towards the elimination of feelings of hate and revenge between former enemies, or who has sought to lay the foundations for peaceful collaboration between former enemies, based on reconciliation, forgiveness and clemency, is eligible for the Ieper Peace Prize.

The Ieper Peace Prize: living in peace and for peace

Rudyard Kipling, the nationalist poet of the British Empire, who lost his only son at the Battle of Loos in 1915, spoke for millions of other parents when he self-critically wrote:

If any question why we died,
Tell them, because our fathers lied

The old lie that the fathers told was that it was noble and honourable to die for your country. In his great poem, Dulce et decorum est (so beautifully evoked in the In Flanders Fields Museum), Wilfred Owen, who was killed just a week before the Armistice, implores us never again to repeat this monstrous falsehood:

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

May the Ieper Peace Prize help to ensure that our children not only live in peace, but that they also live for peace.

 

Professor Dr.Koen Koch, University of Leiden,
on behalf of the Selection Committee of the Ieper Peace Prize, 2002