“If You Want Peace, Abolish Hunger”


Federica Riccadonna - Nepali Times

Professor Johan Galtung speaks on the importance of federalism in Nepal and how the new constitution should be shaped.

Professor Johan Galtung is an award-winning Norwegian founder of peace studies, generating a unique conceptual toolkit for empirical, critical and constructive inquiry into the study of peace. His ‘transcend’ method tries to go to the roots of conflict by analysing the goals of protagonists and the means they use to achieve those ends. Galtung is visiting Nepal in January [2013] and Federica Riccadonna of the Galtung-Institut caught up with him recently in Grenzach, Germany.

Federica Riccadonna: You say different communities have varying abilities to overcome and transcend conflict which you call the ‘local potential of peace’. How do you assess the Nepali people’s potential for peace?

Johan Galtung: Nepalis have a capacity for negative peace. The 10-year-long conflict was a testament to their potential for excessive violence, while during the 18 days of Jana Andolan II in 2006, they toppled a 240-year-old monarchy without resorting to violence.

Nepalis are specially good at ‘negative’ forms of non-violence like civil disobedience, demonstrations, and non-cooperation, but they struggle when it comes to positive non-violence, like nation building and constructive
actions towards peace.

You have been a strong proponent of federalism in Nepal. But will it be economically viable, and won’t Nepal’s unity be compromised by such a system?

Many people don’t understand the concept of federal states. Federalism helps devolve power and resources from the rich parts to the poorer, deprived sections of the country, but it is by no means a division. The states will have autonomy over resources and the authority to decide on matters like what languages are taught, but they will still function as part of the nation, a country.

But given the deep political cleavages in Nepal, won’t federalism exacerbate the problem by reinforcing these divisions?

Yes, but exactly by doing so federalism would address those cleavages. Federal states are demarcations in terrain, but since one of them is not permitted to infringe on the rights of others, they will be forced to work as parts of the same country.

The Interim Constitution of 2006 included the right to same sex marriage, greater rights for minorites, and abolished the death penalty. Is it better to have a new constitution, or would the best strategy be to work on the existing constitution through amendments, keeping the main draft?

Although the right to same sex marriage has been very important in western countries, I don’t think it was on top of the mind of Nepalis. The right to have a guaranteed meal per day would be more important. The constitution of Nepal, in short, should be more action less constitution.

How can we define legitimate and illegitimate goals in Nepal? For example, is the restoration of monarchy a legitimate goal?

One central task for the ‘transcend’ method is to legitimise the means and ends. The sanctity of life is central, killing is not legitimate. But I face a problem in not forcing this attention to legitimate goals into a pre-judgement. We are not allowed to pre-judge the other’s ‘truths’ or terms of reference, but when we legitimise on the basis of Human Rights,
International Humanitarian Law, Basic Needs and local systems of law, we are already formulating a strong judgement. I do not feel comfortable using outside frameworks, except with the killing-not killing model.

On the monarchy, it totally depends on the monarchy. I will not refer to monarchy as illegitimate, I would say despotism is illegitimate. I make a distinction between monarchs and monarchy. Many Nepalis seem attached to the concept of monarchy, a constitutional monarchy would give you the symbolism of monarchy and the regulation of a constitution. I was once talking to a police chief in Kathmandu during the conflict and he told me it was very difficult for him to crack down on the Maoists when he agreed with 39 of their 40 demands, except the abolition of the monarchy. So maybe the Maoists went outside the common people’s views in that regard.

How can we translate peace to impoverished communities, the whole community, not just to an elite, educated, trained, funded and organised?

You know, Bishop Helder Camara, in Recife in north-eastern Brazil always said that hunger is another word for war. You want peace, abolish hunger. You can’t just have peace only its western sense and victory for institutionalised state military that according to the Westphalia system has the monopoly on ultimate force. Translating peace to impoverished communities is to guarantee basic needs, resolve that and we are on the way to sustainable peace.

How do you assess the role of the media in promoting and maintaining peace?

The media could be a key player, but I find most of them lagging behind. The reason is that the top has an image of what peace looks like and the bottom has a different image, but the media has no image of peace at all. It only has an image of what negatives look like and what battles look like, or what violence looks like because that’s what they are reporting all the time.

Your ‘transcend’ method focuses mainly on goals, how important is culture, or the structure for peace?

You can say goals are part of a culture and it would, almost in all cases, mean some structural rearrangements. And in a situation where all partieswant to impose their goals on the others, we work on resettlement where the goals exist side by side. In other words, we are trying to change the structure.

Which criteria do you look for in people to propagate a culture of peace?

The question is to identify the goals and the tasks to make an image of what the solution would look like. I have not been working on identifying the actors but when the actors come to me and ask for advice, I give it. But I make a core reflection on how effective it will be. There should be a limit to what the media tries to do and how much it should be allowed to interfere. In Nepal I was disappointed that although there were so many people who came forward to engage, there weren’t more people who could take the process forward on the constitution.


Federica Riccadonna is a member of TRANSCEND-A Network for Peace, Development and Environment, a research associate at the Galtung-Institut (Germany), and a technical advisor and visiting researcher at the Asian Study Center for Peace and Conflict Transformation-ASPECT in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Go to Original – nepalitimes.com


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