The Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs Deprives TFF of Its Annual Organisational Grant - and Distributes Millions Without Documentation

PressInfo # 94

 May 26, 2000


For the past nine years, TFF has received an annual organisational grant from the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This year, however, the Ministry has withdrawn this support with immediate effect and without prior consultation or explanation. The aim seems to be to silence an independent, critical voice in the field of international conflict management.

TFF is the only non-governmental centre of peace and security research in Sweden. It is also the only one in the field of research and information whose funding has been cut to zero. Since 1991 TFF has built an internationally respected competence, with particular regard to the Balkans.

In a period when Sweden's engagement in the Balkans is larger than ever, with a Swedish battalion in Kosovo/a and considerable aid programs to that province as well as to Bosnia and the Stability Pact, one would believe that an organisation such as TFF would have its grant increased in order to contribute more effectively with comprehensive analyses and views concerning the fields of peacebuilding and reconciliation.

The organisational support is given to some 15 NGOs in Sweden to secure continuity and a broad debate about international affairs. No strings shall be attached. The annual grant TFF has received hitherto is a small one in the larger scheme of things: a bit more than US$ 30.000. This is a lot, however, for the foundation; it pays rent, copying, telecommunication, paper, website maintenance, library, newsletter and pays helpers on an hourly basis. Some 60 experts and NGO leaders make up TFF's global network.

All funds raised are used directly for activities. The foundation is not-for-profit and runs on considerable idealism as no one associated with it is permanently employed or has a permanent salary. This also applies to the founders, Christina Spännar and Jan Oberg.


Decision-making minutes postdated, "not public document" - a new ministerial scandal?

A Preparatory Committee appointed by the Ministry processes the annual applications and recommends to the minister how to allocate the funds; it shall that no political considerations influence who gets how much. But it is the minister/government which finalises the decision. For the year 2000, some 10 million Swedish kronor (a little more than 1 million US$) was granted to 15 NGOs, movements, institutes and foundations.

As TFF was dropped, its chairman requested a copy of the minutes from the Preparatory Committee meeting at which the fatal recommendation was made. For reply the Ministry sent a "memorandum" (promemoria) dated five weeks after the meeting took place, informing us that the PrepCom recommendations were regarded as personal memory notes, not archived and not considered public documents.

- Indeed, it is a spicy story that the Ministry hands out money without keeping dated records of the official decision making process. Without such documentation, it is impossible to maintain and prove that the PrepCom is independent and that there is no ministerial rule or other political pressure or lobbying, says TFF director Jan Oberg. One hypothesis I have after my conversations with various parties is that someone has told the PrepCom something to the effect: here you have 100 dollars to allocate to 5 organisations, however four shall have 25 dollars each - and TFF is the fifth.

- I have a hard time believing it when high-level ministerial staff tell me that TFF lost its grant because the ministry has to reduce costs. Other NGOs got what they had last year, some even more. The Ministry can convince nobody that the Swedish government which pours out billions of dollars on military security and other research institutes could not find this tiny sum, if it had the slightest respect for or appreciated TFF's work. Punishment for criticism of Sweden's, the European Union's and NATO's policies?

Click the cash register !

- The cut is incomprehensible if you take into account that the foundation works idealistically for the values and principles you find in analyses and policy papers from the Ministry itself: conflict analysis, early warning, violence prevention, negotiations, civil policies and initiatives for civil society, assertion of the rights of small countries, emphasis on international law and respect for the norms and the Charter of the UN.

- But, of course, almost 20 TFF associates around the world voiced criticism of the international community's (and Sweden's) handling of the Yugoslav-Kosovo conflict last year. TFF's network, website and TFF PressInfos served as a leading source of information and debate. CNN and hundreds of media turned to us for comments. We no doubt influenced the views of quite a few people.

- Currently, the Swedish government is aiming for a systematic adaptation to and acquiescence with the European Union as well as with NATO/the US. When many countries are forced to adopt the same foreign and security policy - which is predominantly decided anyhow by the larger players - ruling circles presumably find that independent, alternative analyses and proposals are more or less of a nuisance - also for Sweden's image abroad.

- Be this as it may, we perceive the Ministry's decision as a proof that we have a non-negligible impact in Sweden and abroad to such an extent that the Ministry evidently seeks to stop our activity. That won't happen. If ruling circles are permitted to step-by-step limit pluralism in analyses and debates about these extremely important issues, we will end up in a dangerous silliness called the 'policy of the only way' - which is incompatible with any concept of democracy. There is never only one way to go. So, if governments behave like that, it is the duty of non-governmental organisations to speak up. If they don't they become near-governmental instead, politically correct and part of the problem, not the solution.

- In fact, continues Jan Oberg, there is hardly anything strange about this type of authoritarian rule. If you don't like the message, kill the messenger! We are for non-violence and peace by peaceful means, so is the UN and many others whose influence is reduced these years. Throughout history advocates of nonviolence have been threatened and some - like Gandhi and Luther King - have been eliminated for that commitment.

- Hundreds of billions of dollars are allocated worldwide to violence, to killing and maiming. The sad misproportions between the forces of peace and those of violence are also upheld by Sweden: its battalion in Kosovo costs 3 times more than its contribution to the UNHCR as a whole; it's support for Swedish peace NGOs makes up a 3-4 thousands (0/00) of its national military defence budget. And its development aid as percentage of GNP is falling while its per capita arms export remains very high.


Background to TFF and a positive end note

This Lund-based foundation, established in 1986, has become internationally respected for its work to promote nonviolent conflict-resolution, particularly for its analyses, mitigation and mediation and peace education efforts in all part of former Yugoslavia since 1991.

It has cooperated with governmental and non-governmental organisations including the UN, the European Council, the Swedish International Development Authority (SIDA) as well as with dozens of local and international NGOs and university centres. It has some 60 experts and NGO leaders in its global network.

It's first report about Kosovo was published in 1992, "Preventing War in Kosovo." In 1996 it published the result of four years of mediation between Belgrade and Kosovo. Today it works with the Institute for International Policy and Economics in Belgrade and trains former KLA soldiers in the Kosovo Protection Corps, a UN/KFOR program operated by the International Organisation for Migration.

TFF has conducted some 40 missions, interviewed more than 3000 people in all the conflicts, conducted seminars with ethnically mixed youth, NGO and women's groups in Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia and is supervising a project in Eastern Slavonia, Croatia, initiated by TFF after the departure of the UN from that region.

Last year it developed a peace and reconciliation training plan for the Burundian Ministry of Education, to be implemented as soon as Nelson Mandela has succeeded in mediating a peace agreement.

Over the years it has also conducted analyses in Georgia, Abkhasia and South Ossetia.

Its networkers have published some 60 TFF books and reports and contributed articles to as many and hundreds of articles, among them to the UN 50th Anniversary book, to the World Bank, CNN, the Carter Centre, textbooks, international conferences etc.

- We'll find a way, we have many supporters, says Jan Oberg. We are going to disappoint those who want TFF to close shop. But it is a bit hard to face the fact that not only do genuine peace workers have to struggle hard for peace, we also have to struggle to keep alive and waste time and energy that could have been devoted to those most in need.

- But let's look at the bright side of life: isn't it encouraging that idealism, Gandhianism and nonviolent thinking put together in a shoestring operation like TFF seems to be so frightening in the eyes of ruling elites?



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