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Daisaku Ikeda

President, Soka Gakkai International

TFF associate


January 24, 2003


Published by
Soka Gakkai

No. 5407

Thursday, January 9, 2003

SGI President Ikeda's Essay Series


  • Dr. Jan Øberg, Director of the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research (TFF)

"We live in crazy times, we are crazy," said a young Muslim mother in Sarajevo.(1) Ten million land mines were planted in the former Yugoslavia. Some of them were designed to resemble chocolate eggs or ice creams. Why? To tempt children to pick them up. One little girl was instantly killed by a bomb planted in a teddy bear.

Who deployed such weapons? Who built them? Who profited by selling them? Why can't we stop them? What can we do?


Interview after Interview

According to Scandinavian peace researcher Dr. Jan Øberg, cofounder and director of the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research (TFF), the important thing is not to leave the area of conflict, but to stick close to the ground and listen to the voices of ordinary citizens, and to then make those voices heard around the world. This is the only way, he is firmly convinced, that peace can be achieved.

Dr. Øberg and his colleagues carried out extensive surveys throughout the war-torn former Yugoslavia, where violence first erupted in 1991. When I met him in December 1995, he had been there more than 20 times and interviewed some 1,200 people. A peace researcher who does not get involved at the scene of conflict resolution is like a doctor, he said, who treats patients without examining them.

This is not only true of peace researchers. The same applies to decision makers. Dr. Øberg points out that we don't allow those who have not received stringent medical training to perform surgery, yet without any training at all, politicians, presidents, and diplomats carry out "surgery" in troubled regions of the world. It's no wonder that the patient called "Yugoslavia" died. The international community, he says, did many things in response to the crisis in the former Yugoslavia, but their actions reminded Dr. Øberg of a doctor who, without examining the cause of the patient's illness, erroneously amputates a perfectly healthy leg.

Nichiren Daishonin compared the methods for attaining peace to the art of medicine, severely warning those in power that the wrong treatment would never bring peace. "If you try to treat someone's illness without knowing its cause," he declared, "you will only make the person sicker than before" (WND, 774). Similarly, Dr. Øberg advocates "conflict medicine" and "conflict doctors" to treat the sickness of conflict. Namely, "scientists" and "technicians" who work for the "health" of humanity-in other words, for peace and reconciliation.

The first step is proper diagnosis. Dr. Øberg and his team talked with a wide range of people, from heads of state to refugees. They spoke with mothers who had lost their sons to war, as well as with soldiers, journalists, farmers, clergy, teachers, civil servants, and shop owners. The more they listened to the voices of the people, the clearer it became that the message being broadcast around the world was incredibly distorted.

One example was the lie that the conflict in the former Yugoslavia was the result of long-standing hatred among the region's various ethnic groups. One young woman they spoke to in Zagreb said:

Up till just a couple of months ago, I hardly knew who of my friends were Serbs and who were Croats. But that has changed. Now there are companies who ask their employees to write their names on lists on which you must indicate your "nationality." During the recent census, the citizens of Croatia were asked to mention whether they were Croats or belonged to the Serbians or other minorities. In situations like that I come to think of what I have heard about the ways Jews were treated in the Third "Reich" under Hitler. (2)

Before the outbreak of violence, members of different ethnic groups coexisted peacefully within the same communities and workplaces, and also intermarried. However, there emerged political leaders who incited nationalistic fervor, deliberately stressing ethnic consciousness and dividing the population on ethnic lines.

An 11-year-old girl in Sarajevo saw through this ploy:

Among my girlfriends, among our friends, in our family, there are Serbs and Croats, and Muslims. It's a mixed group and I never knew who was a Serb, a Croat, or a Muslim. Now politics has started meddling around. It has put an "S" on Serbs, an "M" on Muslims, and a "C" on Croats, it wants to separate them. . . . Why is politics making us unhappy, separating us, when we ourselves know who is good and who isn't? We mix with the good, not with the bad. And among the good there are Serbs and Croats and Muslims, just as there are among the bad. I simply don't understand it. Of course, I'm "young," and politics are conducted by "grown-ups." But I think we "young" would do it better. We certainly wouldn't have chosen war. (3)

But the adults did choose war. Alik, a 13-year-old refugee, recounts:

The soldiers ordered us out of our house and then burned it down. After that, they took us to the train, where they ordered all the men to lie down on the ground. From the group, they chose the ones they were going to kill. They picked my uncle and a neighbor! Then they machine-gunned them to death. (4)

When someone is reported killed by the Serbs, all Serbs are denounced. In this way, ethnic hatred is manufactured. A journalist commented: "Ethnic tensions and conflicts do not arise spontaneously; they are incited, aggravated, and organized until they take the form of conflict." (5)

While the key representatives of each of the distinct ethnic groups in a conflict are invited to participate in peace negotiations, there are no representatives invited from the vast majority of ordinary citizens who wish to live harmoniously regardless of ethnicity. How can we expect negotiations to be fruitful when the only participants are politicians who advocate ethnic nationalism?

Dr. Øberg told me that when one is actually at the scene of the conflict, it is practically useless to attempt to understand the reality of the situation by either categorizing it as an ethnic conflict or trying to explain its causes from that perspective. Though he spoke in a gentle tone, his words were scathing and filled with quiet anger. According to his analysis, the conflict in the former Yugoslavia was neither simply an ethnic or religious conflict nor was it the inevitable result of the collapse of communism in that country. Dr. Øberg explained that the crisis of the breakup of the Yugoslav socialist republic, occurring amidst deteriorating economic conditions, was exploited by the world's most powerful countries, which wished to insure that the post-Cold War world order would be restructured in a way favorable to their own interests. This resulted in the broadening of the scope of the tragedy. In addition, he said, local political leaders, exploiting nationalism for their own ends, fanned nationalist sentiments and triggered ethnic clashes.


Oversimplification Is Dangerous

The former Yugoslavia has been described as a nation with seven borders, six republics, five ethnic groups, four languages, three religions, two alphabets, and one name. According to Dr. Øberg, what is called "the conflict in the former Yugoslavia" is actually at least 30 different conflicts. The causes and histories of these disputes are extremely complex and intricately interrelated.

Nevertheless, the media and decision makers showed a strong tendency to oversimplify the situation. Their most dangerous oversimplification was viewing the conflict in stark, black and white, Manichean terms. Consequently, the international community, which should function as a fair and impartial mediator, ended up reducing the civil war in the former Yugoslavia to a struggle between good and evil.

Almost without exception, the Serbs were portrayed as "evil," while the other groups were depicted as the victims. This was the story and image that was broadcast around the world. Once this story was established, any facts that didn't fit were discarded, and those that did fit were played up and disseminated widely. Though brutal massacres were taking place on all sides, only those carried out by the Serbs were extensively reported. As one researcher noted: "The mass media aren't really interested in the truth. They only want to confirm their preconceived notions. As a result, they don't look at realties that don't fit their beliefs. That is frightening." (6)

Nor was this an accident. It has been pointed out that in fact a public relations firm hired by one of the groups fighting against the Serbs played an active role in creating this slant. (7) Serbia, regarded as a pariah by the international community, felt that the whole world was against it. Naturally, objective and fruitful peace negotiations were impossible, and the struggle dragged on.

You cannot conduct impartial mediation, Dr. Øberg points out, while strongly criticizing one side. There can be no peace while someone is being trampled on.

Oversimplification of the conflict, with its vilification of one side, easily opened the way for a scenario of military intervention to "punish" evil. In short, one side was demonized precisely in order to justify the use of military force.

Over 70 years ago, British diplomat Lord Arthur Ponsonby (1871-1946) wrote in his book Falsehood in Wartime about the perennial propaganda claims of wartime leaders. Belgian historian Anne Morelli has recently shed fresh light on Ponsonby's analysis, distilling his findings on wartime propaganda into 10 principles as follows:

1. We do not want war;

2. The other side is solely responsible for the war;

3. The enemy has the face of the devil;

4. It is a noble cause that we defend and not particular interests;

5. The enemy commits atrocities knowingly; if we make unfortunate mistakes, it is involuntary;

6. The enemy uses unauthorized weapons;

7. We suffer very few losses, while the losses of the enemy are enormous;

8. Artists and intellectuals support our cause;

9. Our cause has a sacred nature;

10. Those who question our statements are traitors. (8)

Lies and prejudices promote war, and war in turn promotes lies and prejudices.

Dr. Øberg warns that in many countries the media is actually more of a governmental organization than a nongovernmental one. The political decisions and actions taken regarding the former Yugoslavia, he notes, were not based on reality but on reality as presented by the media. What is the value of a "realistic" strategy for achieving peace when it is premised on a distorted vision of reality?


Violence Is the Recourse of Cowards

Sandra, a 10-year-old girl from Vukovar, recalls: "There are so many people who did not ask for this war, or for the black earth that is now over them. Among them are my friends." (9)

Though we can learn to treat diseases, we will never be able to eliminate disease itself. Conflict will never disappear entirely from human society, either. Our choice is whether to respond effectively or ineffectively to such problems when they arise. If we respond effectively, the problem (the illness) can be a springboard for progress and creativity, making us stronger and healthier. Buddhism also teaches of the oneness of health and illness.

On the other hand, if we fail to diagnose and treat the problem correctly, says Dr. Øberg, conflict will escalate into violence and war. As a peace researcher, he has made the following observations:

"War is a sign of failure. It means that we were unable to properly deal with the conflict that led to it."

"Violence is born from the frustration of not being able to effectively resolve the conflict."

"The cowardly and intolerant conclude that armed force is the only option available. In contrast, nonviolence is a constructive belief that other options exist."

"You cannot cure the sick by attacking and punishing them; likewise, conflict cannot be resolved through force, which only aggravates the problem and makes finding a viable long-term solution more difficult."

"Violence does something that can never be repaired; moreover, killing can never be undone."

The bombing of Kosovo in the former Yugoslavia also killed multitudes and turned hundreds of thousands of innocent people into refugees. While some argue in defense that the world could not stand by idly and let the conflict rage on, this stance has been rebutted by Prof. Noam Chomsky: "Suppose you see a crime in the streets, and feel that you can't just stand by silently, so you pick up an assault rifle and kill everyone involved: criminal, victim, bystanders. Are we to understand that to be the rational and moral response?" (10)

Nor can we forget that there were arms dealers and others who profited from the war.


Establish a Culture of Peace

War and peace. These are not distant occurrences; they are here with us now.

A war mentality and a culture of war are evident when, without a serious attempt to listen to and unravel the grievances of both sides, conflicts around the world are "solved" by using military force to punish "the bad guys" and eliminate the problem. This thinking is entrenched not only in global politics but also very close to home. That is why the basis for establishing peace lies in widely fostering in all areas of society a fundamental commitment to resolving conflicts through nonviolent means, and also in education that instills such a culture of peace from childhood.

An educational group in the United States is making an effort to teach children about nonviolence from the preschool level. For example, a frequently recurring conflict at a certain day care center involves cleanup. In order to have the children reflect on this situation, the teachers came up with a puppet show.

The scene opens with three puppets, representing the children, playing with toys. A grown-up puppet enters and says that after five minutes they have to clean up. The three children puppets complain and offer various excuses: "I'm too tired," "I don't feel well," "My leg hurts," "I didn't play with that toy," "I need to go to the bathroom."

The children watching the puppet show burst out laughing in recognition of their own daily behavior acted out by the puppets.

Then the teachers stopped the show and asked the children how the puppets were going to solve the problem. Hearing that the teachers needed some ideas about what to do next in the show, the children began to offer solutions. Here's what the teachers reported:

1) "Teachers should hit the kids for not cleaning up." [Violence as a solution.] We talked about this idea and decided that no one likes to be hit.

2) "Teachers should scream at the kids." [Punishment and sanctions.]
People concluded that no one likes to be screamed at.

3) "No one should clean up. Just leave all the stuff out." [Ignoring and evading the problem.] We talked about that and concluded that sometimes that can work but that things start getting in the way, getting lost, and getting broken.

4) Finally, the solution came. "They should all clean up together, grown-ups and children." We talked about this. "Do we like to clean up?" No. Everybody agreed it was no fun. "Why do it, then?" The discussion continued. (11)

After the discussion, the teachers performed the second half of the play based on the children's solution. Then the children were allowed to play with the puppets and do their own shows. From that time, their cleanup problems were cut in half, the teachers said.

I cannot be the only one who thinks that world leaders have something to learn from this episode.


Peace through Peaceful Means

Dr. Øberg says that when discussing peace, the most frequently overlooked aspect is the human dimension:

How come we so often talk about restoring peace after wars' hurt and harm without paying attention to the human aspects of conflicts in general and that of forgiveness and reconciliation in particular? Take a look at Bosnia and Croatia since 1995, look at Kosovo now, or Somalia, or . . . . Have people really held out their arms or said "I forgive you"? Come together in trust? Have they learnt how to deal with the past, not in order to forget it or blame each other, but to acknowledge what happened and find ways to avoid it ever happening again? Can that even be said about South Africa? (12)

And what about Japan? Have we rectified the mistakes of our past?

Dr. Øberg comments further:

It is easy to repair houses and infrastructure, it's easy to throw money around and talk about human rights.
But what if people deep down keep on hating each other? Will they ever be happy and at peace with themselves? Will their children? What kind of society will it be if we cannot also, so to speak, repair souls and help create tolerance, coexistence, even cooperation and love?
We need to make forgiveness and reconciliation a central objective. (13)

One cannot produce water from fire. Peace can only be obtained through peaceful means.

Dr. Øberg, together with his wife Dr. Christina Spännar and other peace researchers, has conducted conflict study sessions throughout the former Yugoslavia, with participants who had actually experienced the horrors of the war. When they arrived at the sessions, these participants found before their eyes people from the "enemy" ethnic group-"These people killed my husband, they stole my child!" However, Dr. Øberg's aim was for the participants to speak to each other not as representatives of one ethnic group or another but as individual human beings.

One of the sessions was attended by young Serbian and Croatian children, members of ethnic groups that had become "mortal enemies." The atmosphere was like ice. Dr. Øberg asked each person to tell their story - what had actually happened to them - under the condition that they stick to the facts of their own personal experience and avoid placing blame. It was their first opportunity to talk face-to-face with "the enemy."

What came out finally, in halting speech, was their enormous pain. Talking and listening, they wept. And then they realized that they had all suffered alike, they were all victims of the same tragic errors. Eventually, they moved from weeping together to laughing together. Some even became friends, and others began working together on various projects.

Dr. Øberg called this "one of the most moving experiences in my life."

"Why not have truth and reconciliation committees operating before war?" he asks. (14) "We could learn to fight war and violence as such, not each other." (15) We support Dr. Øberg's passionate cry. We support it with our entire beings. This is true justice!




Dr. Jan Øberg was born in Denmark in 1951. The peace and future researcher holds a PhD in sociology. He has served as the director of the Lund University Peace Research Institute, and also as secretary-general of the Danish Peace Foundation. In 1986, he and his wife Dr. Christina Spännar founded the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research (TFF). In addition to his role as TFF director, Dr. Øberg also serves as the foundation's chairman of the board. The official home page of TFF can be found at

(Translated from the November 10, 2002 issue of the Seikyo Shimbun, the Soka Gakkai daily newspaper)



1. Peter Jarman and Jan Øberg, Learning Conflict and Teaching Peace in Former Yugoslavia: A Course Report (Lund, Sweden: Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, 1998), p. 46.

2. Marta Henricson-Cullberg, Carl-Ulrik Schierup, Sören Sommelius, and Jan Øberg, After Yugoslavia, What?-Report by a Conflict-Mitigation Mission to Croatia, Slovenia, and Serbia, September 1991 (Lund, Sweden: Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, 1991), p. 23.

3. Zlata Filipoviç, Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Sarajevo, translated by Christina Pribichevich-Zoriç (New York: Viking, 1994), pp. 102-103.

4. UNICEF, I Dream of Peace (New York: HarperCollins, 1994) p. 59.

5. Translated from Japanese. Zen Chida, Naze Senso wa Owaranai ka (Why Is There No End to War?) (Tokyo: Misuzu Shobo, 2002).

6. Translated from Japanese. Masayuki Iwata, Yugosurabia Taminzoku Senso no Joho-zo (The Reporting on the Ethnic Conflict in Yugoslavia) (Tokyo: Ochanomizu Shobo, 1999), p. 154.

7. Toru Takagi, Document: Senso Kokoku Dairiten-Joho Sosa to Bosunia Funso (Document: The War Advertising Agency-Information Manipulation in the Bosnian Conflict) (Tokyo: Kodansha, 2002).

8. Translated from French. Anne Morelli, Principes élémentaires de propagande de guerre (Elementary Principles of War Propaganda) (Brussels: Éditions Labor, 2001).

9. I Dream of Peace, p. 56.

10. Noam Chomsky, The New Military Humanism: Lessons from Kosovo (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1999), p. 156.

11. A Manual on Nonviolence and Children, complied and edited by Stephanie Judson (Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1984), p. 43.

12. Jan Øberg, Preventing Peace: Sixty Examples of Conflict Mismanagement in Former Yugoslavia Since 1991 (Lund, Sweden: Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, 1999), p. 54.

13. Ibid.

14. Jan Øberg, The World Needs Reconciliation and Forgiveness Centres (Lund, Sweden: Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, 1999), p. 21.

15. Ibid., p. 11.


© The Soka Gakkai. All rights reserved. For the exclusive use of SGI-related organizational newspapers and periodicals.

© TFF & the author 2003  


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