On Monday, August 2, 2013, three distinguished speakers including Priscilla Hayner, senior adviser to the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and former Finnish president and Nobel Peace prize winner Marti Ahtisaari, gave short lectures on conflict solving and reconciliation at the first of the Special Lecture Series on “Uniting for the Future: Learning from Each Other’s Experiences” at Plaza Athenee Hotel, Bangkok. The forum was hosted by Devawongse Varopakarn from the Institute of Foreign Affairs and the Institute of Security and International Studies (ISIS) of Chulalongkorn University.
Prime Minister YingluckSinawatra opened the forum by explaining the purpose of this lecture series which is “to provide an open platform for all to participate in sharing experiences and ideas” in order to “learn from each other and to create unity.”
“We care deeply about the importance of unity for achieving long lasting peace and stability. This is because stability provides the basis for all nations to ensure sustainable economic and social development. The challenge for our generation is to build a future that provides our children with the kind of stability where there are fewer conflicts and ensure an environment where all are given equal opportunities to prosper. The key is for us to work towards a future built around a secure foundation of democracy,” said the Prime Minister.
“When I talk about democracy, I do not just mean a system in which the majority is the government and the minority the opposition. I mean a culture in which all citizens respect each other’s views and in which the rule of law is enforced and respected by all,” PM Yingluck added.
Before introducing the keynote speakers, the host of the discussion, Mr. Devawongse Varopakarn denied his organization’s affiliation with the government by maintaining that this lecture series was not sponsored by the government and has nothing to do with the unity forum that was initiated by the PM Yingluck.
“This event was planned last year. It is pure coincidence that it happened to coincide with the government-initiated unity forum,” said Mr. Devawongse.
At the beginning of his speech, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said:
“I am very delighted to be back here in Thailand and particularly honoured to be sharing a platform with Priscilla Hayner, someone with a long track record on issues to do with harmony and reconciliation and with my good friend, former President of Finland, Marti Ahtisaari, who is a Nobel prize winner. He is also someone with deep wisdom and understanding of this issue who has made a huge contribution to world peace over the years and it’s a real pleasure to be with both of you here.”
“Something else we should get out of the way in the very beginning is that in the end, Thailand’s problems will be solved by Thais, not by outsiders. So, we are here not to give lectures but to share experiences. How these problems are resolved is going to be issues that you are going to have to tackle here. But it seems to be very sensible, as we often did by the way, particularly in the process of peace in Northern Ireland, to simply learn from experiences of people around the world,” Mr. Blair added.
After the introduction, Mr. Tony Blair went on and laid down 5 principles that he had learned over the years of being engaged with the processes of peace and reconciliation:
1. Reconciliation happens when the sense of shared opportunity is greater than the separate sense of grievance.
There is always going to be a situation in which the sense of grievance is there, it is the subject matter for the debate for reconciliation, but the context in which reconciliation works is a context which has a sense that there is a tremendous opportunity that the people wanted to share. That shared opportunity becomes more important for people to achieve than to dwell on the past grievances.
Thailand is a country of extraordinary potential. Its economy is growing in an amazing way in these last few decades. It is a world leader in many aspects of industry and services such as automobiles and tourism. In terms of its population, at 68 billion, it is one of the larger countries of the world today. It is a country that is rich in culture and history.
The challenges for Thailand is very obvious such as challenges to do with inequality, rural poverty and challenges all other countries process such as challenges in education system, health care, and the challenge of how the country reaches the next stage of development.
There is no doubt if you analyse the situation in Thailand objectively, it is a country that could and should become a regional and even a global power. The shared sense of opportunity and the potential is extraordinary large. What it needs is a united determination to overcome the strong feeling about the past in order to develop and exploit that shared sense of opportunity.
2. A situation that requires reconciliation necessarily means that there is a deep and profound disagreement, a difference which has to be reconcile. The past can be honestly examined but it can never be judged in a way that is going to be to the satisfaction of everyone.
Thailand has to accept that there are going to remain two sides with their own narrative about the past, that in a way you will never going to get over. However, you can honestly examine the past in a way that allow you to move forward for the future. The hardest thing is to be able to accept that that sense of grievance will never be fully healed but nonetheless to accept that you are going to move forward in any event.
Reconciliation is never going to be about people changing their minds about the past, it is about changing the mind about the future and this is painful to do. You can honestly try to examine and bring out the sense of grievance of both sides but you are going to have to accept that this sense of grievance will remain. The task of reconciliation is not to try and abolish grievance but to try and overcome it because trying to get rid it and excise it from the people’s minds is going to be impossible.
3. If it is impossible to banish the sense of past injustice, in order for there to be reconciliation there has to be a future frame work that people can accept as just.
Whatever argument will carry on about what happened in the past, on who is to blame, the essence of reconciliation is at least to be able to establish a framework for future cooperation that people regard as just and objective where the root causes of the dispute or the conflict can be addressed and dealt with.
4. If the purpose of what is being created as the future framework is to be anchored in democracy, than a genuine democracy is all that works.
A genuine democracy involves both of the substance and the form of democracy together. Countries are often divided by factions, class, religion, race, and by colour. That is why it is common for countries under one territory to a have a deep division of one source or another.
Democracy is not just a way of voting but a way of thinking. Democracy is not just about how the majority takes power. It is crucially about how the majority can relate to the minority. A part of the trouble in other developing democratic countries is when democracy is seen as the kind of winner takes all because then you would get a situation which the majority comes to power and the minority feels that they have been shut out and excluded.
Democracy works only as a concept that is pluralistic in nature. It is not about domination by one party. It is about a sense that you have a majority that comes to power in a democratic system but there is still a shared space in which people cooperate, work together and actually share certain basic values. The idea that democracy is a way of thinking and not just a way of voting is very important because it is the substance of democracy not just the form of it.
Democracy needs to include the rule of law. The rule of law is constantly underestimated in discussions about the society, democracy, economy and a sense that there is a shared space of values. The way for a country to anchor democracy securely is to make sure that the rule of law is independently and impartially administered.
It is important for the society and for the citizens to believe that if they go in front of the court, the court will decide objectively. It is important economically because if people are going to come invest in your country, they need to know that there is a rule of law that would be apply in an objective way. It is also important politically because in any system you are going to get checks and balances and one of the important checks and balances is an independent judicial system.
Politicians have to accept a judge’s decision and their objections, even though they do not agree with it, because that is the rule of law and because the people have given them the right to do so. But, this system only works on the basis that the judicial system is independently and partially administered.
Democracy works and works best as a source of reconciliation when it is clear that it is a genuine democracy that is based on a pluralistic concept of society and the general adherence to the rule of law.
5. Reconciliation is easier to achieve if the politics of a country as a whole is seen to be effective at delivering improvement for the people.
Government has the challenges of honesty, transparency, corruption, and efficacy. Among these challenges, the biggest of all is to be able to deliver to its people. The government can deliver most when they reach out and build bridges in a non-partisan way.
Reconciliation will be easier to achieve if the government itself is operating effectively to deliver change to the people and so they feel that their lives are getting better. Unless the people can feel that the peace process can actually bring benefits though improving living standards and additional prosperity, they are far less inclined to put away their differences and go for reconciliation.
These issues have to do with delivering for the people, change and reform, are of huge importance and sometimes they can help when you reach out beyond the partisan vibe and you start to cooperate in area of policy that is easier for the people to see that it is sensible to cooperate also on the basic process of reconciliation.
“Reconciliation is never easy, sometimes you go through periods of when it just seems that the differences are irreconcilable and that the process of reconciliation is hopeless but the most important thing to do is to never give up on it. In order to have reconciliation, the leaders have to lead but the people have to be behind them and you will never get a reconciliation without that strong popular support pushing and enabling and empowering the leader to lead. Do not give up no matter how difficult it is because there is a huge share of opportunity for Thailand and it would be a shame to waste it. Reconciliation can work and when it works it brings enormous benefits for the people,” former British Prime Minister Tony Blair concluded.