Project Germany: The past, the present, and peace

Germans differ in approach to building peace

by Rita Forbes and Valerie German

Germany’s extensive commitment to peace is not limited to its own geographical boundaries. It also recognizes the importance of promoting peace in other nations. But exactly how to go about doing this is problematic. Many Germans are wary of becoming engaged in conflict, no matter how commendable the purpose is.

Dr. Sven Chojnacki’s involvement with this issue began in the 1980s. At the age of 13, he became involved in the peace movement, participating in protests against the deployment of Pershing II nuclear missiles at American military bases in Germany.

“That was the starting point for my engagement in peace issues,” he said, “and later during school and in the first years of my studies at the university, it became entirely clear that I wanted to become a peace researcher or a conflict researcher.”

Conflict and peace may be contradictory concepts, but one is necessary to the understanding of the other.

“In the first place I want to study the dynamics, courses, and processes of conflict, in order to get some ideas on how to build peace,” Chojnacki explained. “That is my idea of peace research.”

Chojnacki taught International Peace and Security Policy at the Free University of Berlin until September 2008. Today, he is a professor of International Policy and Society at the Christian Albrecht University in Kiel, as well as director of its Schleswig-Holstein Institute for Peace Research.

Chojnacki’s work relates more to peacebuilding in an international context than it does to peace issues within Germany. “I probably have many more ideas about sub-Saharan Africa than the new German states in Brandenburg or elsewhere,” he said. Nevertheless, his knowledge of foreign policy provides important insight into the German desire for peace.

“German society is split into two factions [regarding foreign policy],” Chojnacki said.

The conservative faction believes Germany should support the United States in missions such as Iraq. The other 50% of society, however, is convinced that Germany should not be involved in wartime activities of any kind, instead participating only in peacebuilding missions.

“But I think that’s really a point which has changed,” Chojnacki said. “The Greens and the Social Democratic Party have moved towards understanding that sometimes, it may be a good idea to be part of such missions, in order to be part of the decision and not to just pay the bill afterwards. And so there’s a cultural change... not to promote a radical pacifism, but a more reflective pacifism.”

Events in Kosovo and Bosnia in the 1990s sparked new debates on how Germany should be involved in cases of major human rights violations and genocide. “In these situations, it becomes necessary to become involved and to use a gun,” Chojnacki said.

Views on foreign policy may differ according to age.

“I think the older generation is still promoting the radical pacifism, especially in respect to their experiences in the Second World War,” Chojnacki explained. “But I think the younger generation is more on the reflective side, and tries to change policies and to find new options for German policies.”

Chojnacki also spoke of joint ventures between the public and private sector. Both the government and multinational firms are eager to help other nations attain peace. Cooperation among various groups is crucial to promoting peace and building local forms of government in war-torn regions throughout the world.

“Many different people will be involved, like humanitarian non-governmental organizations, big firms, and peacekeepers as well,” Chojnacki said. “Nowadays, it’s a more complex view on peacebuilding and on statebuilding.”

Policies and public opinion may evolve and grow. But the underlying groundwork remains the same. Each new development is meant to work towards the same goal.

“To become involved, and to develop these concepts of peace, and probably to pay for these concepts, but not to fight for these concepts – that is a good description of the German soul,” Chojnacki said.