The World Peace Academy in Basel

EDITORIAL, 7 Sep 2009

#78 | Johan Galtung

Ladies and gentlemen:  Today, 4 September 2009, will go down in the history of peace studies as a day to remember: a true world peace academy has been inaugurated, here in Basel, the city straddling three countries, Switzerland, Germany and France.

The WPA, brilliantly conceived and launched by Pierre and Catherine Brunner, has a three-point program: a Master of Advanced Studies in Peace and Conflict Transformation, with ten modules, starting 1 March 2010 with the very experienced Professor Dietrich Fischer as Academic Director; workshops and seminars (, see Events/Workshops) on any theme within peace and conflict, starting next weekend 12-13 September with myself over the theme “Conflict Resolution Instead of War – Is It Possible?” (based on 50 Years: 100 Peace & Conflict Perspectives, TRANSCEND University Press, 2008, (see*); and Peace Education.

All of this in cooperation with TRANSCEND Peace University, online and onsite (

And with accreditation from the University of Basel, and deep cooperation with Professor Ueli Mäder. A Dream Come True.

Why? How? My brief talk this morning will explore this under three headings: Basel, Switzerland, and Peace.

For me Basel is Basis for peace in Switzerland, rivaling the better known Geneva.  To relate very well not only to one but to two foreign countries, without war experiences since the historically first mention of “Basilia” in 374, is already something.  In addition, numerous peace treaties have been concluded in Basel, like in 1499 ending the Schwaben war, and in 1795 the wars between France and Spain, and between France and Prussia, in connection with the French Revolution.

But I would like to draw the attention to some important years in the rich Basel history, with a university founded as early as 1460: 1524, 1541 and 1815-1887.  What happened?

In 1524 Erasmus Rotterdamus, the very learned Catholic priest and much more–author of 150 books–broke with Martin Luther after a long dialogue.  Erasmus saw God as the source of the human free will to choose between good and evil, in his De libero arbitrio, and accused Luther of being too original sin-oriented and too predeterministic.  He also warned Luther against extreme language and behavior in conflict.  Erasmus lived in Basel 1524-29 and 1535-36 when he died, and was buried in the Münster of Protestant Basel.  Erasmus Basileus.

In 1541 an important book was published in Basel: the first printed Latin translation of the Qur’an.  And who had written the foreword? That same Martin Luther, who in his search for a church without priests had come to Islam with its direct, unmediated, individual relation to the Divine; an important link between Protestantism and Islam, lost in the present clash of civilizations.  It happened here, in Basel.

Johan Bachofen, jurist-philologist-sociologist, professor at the University of Basel, was born in 1815, died in 1887.  He coined the term “patriarchy”–a social formation ruled by men–and drew attention to matriarchal formations 5-6,000 years ago, before desertification (Sahara=sand), and scarcity privileged warring over loving values.  He wrote the book The Mother, and opened for a key angle in the study of violence and peace, of conflict and its transformation: gender.

There are rich traditions to build on in this magnificent city, like in Switzerland in general. Let me only draw attention to the years 1798, 1971 and 2008.

In 1798 Napoleon occupied Switzerland favoring unitarian –like France– over federal-cantonal constitutions, or: annexation, into France.  The Swiss ridiculed unitarian formulas with “one and indivisible” in the constitution as “one and invisible”; and the cantons were reborn after Allied liberation in 1814.

In 1971, in the midst of the Cold War, Switzerland launched a doctrine of defensive defense–strong, without offensive, provocative arms–associated with the name of Divisionaire Gustav Dänicker, and known in peace studies through books and articles by Dietrich Fischer.

In 2008 Switzerland withdrew its forces from the war on and in Afghanistan, launched by the USA on 7 October 2001, saying they had been invited into a peacekeeping operation only to discover it was a peace enforcement operation of which they wanted nothing.  Others will follow.  And soon.

Then, peace.  Why?  To decrease human suffering through hatred and war, to increase human fulfillment through love and cooperation. How? Through hard work on structure and culture, for a structure of equity, and a culture of peace.  Reduction of direct violence presupposes reduction of structural and cultural violence.  Of course, under conditions of equity there will still be conflicts, but they can more easily be handled without violence; like in Switzerland, like in the Nordic countries, and like in the European Community-Union.

The key is more easily said than practiced: to avoid violence, transform the underlying conflict.  To do that, create a new reality that can accommodate the legitimate aspirations of all parties.  And to learn how to do that: come to the World Peace Academy!  Thank you, Pierre and Catherine, Dietrich, Ueli and the Basel context–and the best of luck.


(*) The next workshops are:

1) “Foundations of Peace Studies” (in German}, 26-27 September 2009, based on my book 50 Years – 25 Intellectual Landscapes Explored, 2008;

2) “The Fall of the US Empire – And Then What?” (in English), 10-11 October 2009, based on my book by the same title, published in 2009;

3) “Am Frieden verdienen” (in German: Profiting from Peace), 24-25 October 2009, based on Peace Business: Humans and Nature Above Markets and Capital, by Jack Santa Barbara, Fred Dubee and myself, 2009.

All these books are published by TRANSCEND University Press,

For more information and to register for courses/workshops please go directly to the World Peace Academy website


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 7 Sep 2009.

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