In Memoriam, Johan Galtung: ‘Put Peace before Victory’


Susanne Urban – TRANSCEND Media Service

Johan teaching at the Peace Symposium 2015 at the Hardanger Academy in Jondal, Norway
by Susanne Urban

17 Feb 2024 – The world’s first professor of peace research, Norwegian born Johan Galtung, has died, aged 93. Thus, Norway and the world have lost a person completely out of the ordinary. Johan Galtung has been an active, optimistic, creative and positive peace worker for over 70 years. Already at the age of 24, he wrote his first book, Gandhi’s political Ethics. At the time he was in prison as conscientious objector. No one had systematized Gandhi’s non-violent strategies before Galtung and his mentor the eco-sopher Arne Ness did so.

The main purpose of the United Nations is to protect future generations from the scourge of war. Few, if any, have contributed as much as Johan Galtung to demonstrating the possibilities for peace building.

Compromise or peace? Johan was a troublemaker for peace. He has always advocated non-traditional and even controversial opinions in lectures and in more than 150 books on the many faces of peace. More than 40 of the books have been translated into other languages. ‘Transcend and Transform’ is available in 25. Galtung has published more than 1,700 articles and book chapters and for many years has written weekly contributions for Transcend Media Service-TMS, a website for solution-oriented peace journalism. Johan was one of the driving forces behind the creation of PRIO, the Peace Research Institute Oslo. He has been a visiting professor at around fifty universities, has 10 honorary doctorates and several honorary professorships received between 1975 and 2017. He was awarded the alternative Nobel Prize Right Livelihood Award in 1987, and has received multiple awards in many different fields, among others in Norway, Spain, the USA, China and India. In Norway, the Hardanger Academy for Peace, Development and the Environment is the closest we can get to a Galtungsenter.

Conflict is not the problem. What is dangerous is if we try to resolve incompatible goals goals with violence. People are different, they have different goals. That goals collide is natural. Like the good pedagogue he was, Johan drew simple figures on flipchart sheets during his lectures. The result? Terms like positive peace and negative peace; direct violence, structural violence and cultural violence; or conflict resolution in three steps: mapping, legitimation and bridge-building – are no longer notions only for those with a special interest. Johan Galtung has given the world a whole set of concepts to create a culture of peace. Galtung’s method for peace involves transcending a conflict in a creative way: Bringing in a new element, a joint project, can lead to a win-win situation for all parties.

Alternatives to military thinking are created with words and concepts that can be set up against strategic thinking from war schools around the world. Johan Galtung’s life’s work gives us access to a set of theories – ‘tested in conflict’ that show how conflicts can be transformed without the use of violence.

Johan was grateful for everything he learned from his partner and spouse Japanese Fumi. Not least the recognition that our Western ‘either/or mindset’ – ‘Either you are with us or you are against us’ is a dangerous limitation. After all, there is also neither/ or’ and not least: both-and. Both-and rather than either/ or has been Galtung’s basic guide-line, both as a teacher and as a mediator in many conflict situations around the world.

Many important people have received great recognition only after their death. May it happen to Johan Galtung and his method. May PEACE be put on the school timetable at all levels!

Johan himself formulates the future of peace practice as follows, in the afterword to the book The Art of Peace (2017):

To improve, compete with yourself, not with others. Don’t contribute to a society of winners and losers.

Focus on the positive. The focus, positive or negative, is your choice.

Use dialogue for the joint search for sustainable solutions. Ask: what does the family, school, country, region look like that you want to be a part of? Was it better before? Where did it go wrong? What is the worst thing that has happened? The worst that can happen?

Be constructive, creative, concrete.

With conflict-hygiene we can go a long way. Doctors have shared knowledge about washing hands and brushing teeth as hygiene; the time is ripe for conflict-hygiene. Teaching people to take care of their own health has brought us further than advanced drugs and surgical procedures.

A long life devoted to relentless work for peace by peaceful means is over. Johan Galtung’s efforts have contributed to step-stones being reached. People all over the world have been inspired by the peace professor’s thoughts, and not least actions.

The 21st century may see the abolition of war – just as slavery was abolished in the 19th century and colonialism in the 20th. Although elements of slavery and colonialism still exist in the world, they are no longer accepted social institutions.”

May Johan Galtung, the founder of the academic discipline ‘peace studies’ be proved right! We are many determined to keep alive the spark of peace he ignited in us.

Johan, we shine PEACE over your memory.


Susanne Urban is the author of Galtung’s Method for Peace: The Peace Researcher’s Life, Theories and Impact

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 26 Feb 2024.

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One Response to “In Memoriam, Johan Galtung: ‘Put Peace before Victory’”

  1. Per-Stian says:

    Thank you for a wonderful article, Susanne :)

    Let us all hope that Johan Galtung will receive the recognition he deserves, even in Norway and the West more generally. And not least, that his teachings will gain even more foothold – again, principally in Norway and the West where it is most urgently needed.

    Imagine the alternative world we could have lived in if somebody of Galtung’s type was in charge of NATO, USA or Israel, instead of the hawks of all hawks that are currently there?

    It’s a sad thought. But also a positive one. Something mankind can strive for. To transcend our current immoral and corrupt system.

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