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A European Museum for Peace[1]


1. The Vision

In times of historic upheaval, constructive schemes and projects for the future are of especial importance. At the close of the twentieth century, which displays numerous signs of being a period of critical transition, there is a lack in this regard. The present absence of vision is a handicap to both the theory and practice of peace, since it means that the signposts and paths to a more peaceful future remain obscured. There is a widespread assumption that the age of utopias is over. And one or two voices assert that we have arrived at `the end of history', because the collapse of `real existing socialism' means there is now no longer an alternative to the `triumphant model' of Western civilizations. The pace at which (world) society is changing and historic upheavals are taking place is indeed accelerating, not least because of the eruption of (age-)old conflicts. And one point on which the `end of history' assessments are correct is that the age of the great utopias and na
*ve doctrines of salvation is over, at least for the time being.

The fading or decay of utopias of the classic kind is due to a number of factors. With the implosion of the Soviet Union, Marxist-Leninist state ideology has become obsolete as a utopian blueprint. But the ongoing crisis of the modern age is also casting doubt on the original progress-based ideals of the Enlightenment: because of the direct negative consequences and the cumulation of unplanned negative (side-)effects, these ideals are coming under increasing pressure to justify themselves. Against a background of structurally determined mass unemployment, of tendencies to social disorganization, of polarizing forces within society, and of the ecological destruction of the bases of human existence, the reality of many people's daily lives is coming to accord less and less with the ideals and values which the model of civilization adopted by the modern age (in its Western permutation) propounds for all citizens.

The overall effect of these developments, and of the assessment of them by public opinion and politics, is an aversion--ranging from scepticism to rejection--to classic utopias in their capacities as blueprints for a `better society', a `more peaceful future', or 'good' human beings. But the general shift away from grand utopias does not mean that political action and human aspirations can do away with visions entirely. The failure of the great doctrines of salvation makes practicable visions all the more important as a means of developing peace and shaping the future.

What is meant by visions of peace is a set of concrete notions as to practicable options for bringing about lasting peace and future conditions of life in which violence does not pose a threat to existence. Visions are what Georg Picht terms 'enlightened utopia': 'that anticipation of the future that precedes any kind of action aimed at bringing about a particular objective'. In other words, they are a 'potential reality' that can be brought into being by properly directed action. Visions of peace are important as a means of ascertaining the gap between the (violent) conditions diagnosed in the present and the (peaceful) conditions projected for the future. Without visions of peace, it is not possible to develop political strategies or concrete programmes of action for reducing violence and shaping peace. This kind of forward-looking quality is to be found in the vision of the creation of a European Museum for Peace at Burg Schlaining (Burgenland, Austria). This idea, which originated with the founder and president of the ...sterreichisches Studienzentrum für Frieden und Konfliktl[sinvcircumflex]sung (...SFK: Austrian Study Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution), Dr Gerald Mader, has existed since the ...SFK was launched in 1983, and is now to be made a reality.

2. The Theory

Besides a general idea and a forward-looking vision, the planned creation of a European Museum for Peace at Burg Schlaining (to be opened on 8 May 2000) has to have some theory of peace underlying it. This is indispensable as a basis on which to develop a viable and systematic museum-concept. The critical-reflective theory of civilization provides just such a basis: it is an open and flexible theoretical edifice that can accommodate all the major approaches in modern research into peace, conflict, and violence. The theory was developed within the framework of the ÖSFK research-programme `Zivilmacht Europa', and the first volume in the `ÖSFK-Forschungsreihe' series is devoted to the question `Peace through Civilization?' In it, the notion of civilization is subjected to critical debate, is reformulated in line with critical-reflective research into peace, conflict, and violence, and has its essential characteristics precisely defined.

The complex notion of civilization refers to the intricate web of conditions and developments which, in terms of the kinds of competencies, qualities, and trends that foster peace, are instrumental in: 1) minimizing and, where possible, eliminating violence in all its forms; 2) developing and ensuring the implementation of practicable procedures and mechanisms of non-military conflict resolution involving minimal violence or no violence at all; and 3) creating and optimizing conditions, systems, and institutions that help to create a stable, just, and lasting peace. The critical-reflective approach of `civilization' is tied to three central concepts that need to be more precisely defined: peace, conflict, and violence.

(a) The Concept of Peace

The concept of peace underlying the critical-reflective approach is a comprehensive one. Broad and nuanced, it is not confined to the idea of preventing military violence or `only' ensuring an absence of war; it is seen primarily as a consciously directed process. In this sense, peace is an as yet only partially realized vision--in other words, a desirable and conceivable possibility. In order to move towards this goal, we need to identify and create the conditions for structural peace. Peace therefore needs to be viewed as a process during which these structural conditions are brought into being with the aid of various peace strategies. During this process, we need to check the state of actual peace as a product compared with ideal peace as a principle. This means that peace is defined from three points of view: (1) as a principle; (2) as a process; and (3) as a product of successful 'civilization'. All three aspects must be taken into account if we are to produce nuanced analyses of peace, and it therefore makes no sense to play the individual aspects of the concept off against one another. To make a synthesis of them in line with the particular set of problems and configuration of facts, on the other hand, is an intelligent course of action and one that enhances our insight into the situation. Hence the way in which the museum is conceived is based on a notion of peace that is both broad-based and concrete, offering possible points of linkage for integrating diverse kinds of knowledge gathered by peace research.

(b) The Concept of Conflict

Conflicts occur in very different domains and forms. The crucial question, as far as the theory and practice of peace is concerned, is whether they happen in a constructive (peaceful) or destructive (violent) way. The aim is for them be overcome in as constructive and creative a way as possible. As inherent features of human co-existence, they are a normal occurrence of everyday life. Where they are not conducted in a violent or unfair manner, they fulfil a number of positive functions. Conflicts are the life-blood of dynamic democracies: they clarify positions, present alternative options, generate ideas, and make it possible for people, societies, organizations, and programmes of action to be adjusted in line with changes. Hence the object is not to do away with conflicts; it is to find a way of dealing with them constructively and, above all, non-violently. Culture serves the function of socializing people and of getting them to internalize peace-related skills that will enable them to live a peaceful life and settle conflicts by non-violent means. This goal can only be achieved if the conditions and processes of socialization are extended to include aspects that foster peace. These include a systematic bar on all forms of cultural violence, particularly violence in the media.

One important component of the concept of `civilization' as defined in peace theory is low-violence, civilian conflict resolution. Accordingly, strategies of prevention, mediation, intervention, settlement, and conciliation must be developed. Conflicts are a normal part of human existence and can also fulfil positive functions. In order to prevent the working-out of a conflict from ending in violent confrontation, certain important principles, experiences, and insights must--in line with communications psychology--be taken as precepts for actors involved in processes of communication or conflict.

(c) The Concept of Violence

In order to get a proper grasp, in terms of peace and conflict theory, on the not-easily-assimilable phenomenon of violence, some clear definition of concepts is indispensable in this area too. Following Johan Galtung's approach, a distinction can be drawn between direct (personal) violence, structural violence, and cultural violence. Whereas direct violence involves individuals engaged in concrete action, structural violence is a product of the negative effects of social, political, and economic conditions and relations that prevent possibilities from being realized. Cultural violence means the symbolic and conscious self-inculcation of violence and its utilization as dictated by socialization. The core of all concepts of violence is the intention to inflict damage or the consequences of inflicting such. These latter can be unintentional or deliberate, direct or indirect, potential or actual, physical or psychological. In addition, it is important to distinguish between intra- and inter-state violence, because the conditions and dynamics of these two forms of violence differ. That said, there is also a degree of interdependence between them: both

intra- and inter-state violence result from long-term, structurally determined, and sometimes individually directed processes.

The term `violence' should be taken to mean such actions, situations, and/or eruptions as endanger, damage, or destroy the existence, identity, or integrity of property or life through the threatened or actual use of (violent) physical or psychological means. Violence is a complex, multi-faceted phenomenon that does not admit of simple analysis. A discriminating attitude is therefore indicated on the following points: (1) violence occurs in many forms and domains and with varying intensity; (2) violence is a prime example of mimicry in the zoological sense--it has many, constantly changing faces and a fluctuating nature; (3) violence is used from the most diverse motives and with the most diverse means; (4) violence is encountered to differing degrees of intensity in almost every area of life; (5) violence is triggered by many different factors and causes; (6) violence takes a variety of forms, ranging from the enforcement of state power to the enactment of aggressive feelings such as jealousy.

It is doubtful whether violence has actually been driven back or diminished in the course of present-day civilization. Possibly all that has happened is that its more open forms have been contained within society, whilst its more subtle, covert, sublimated forms (e.g. harassment in the workplace, permanent stress) have gained in strength and turned outwards (e.g. as colonialism). The various forms of violence are made up of a mixture of kinds of violent excesses, including both a return to `old' barbarities and an outbreak of new ones. Accordingly, the European Museum for Peace will present many different forms, causes, and consequences of violence for consideration. Special attention will be devoted to the violence of war, because organized mass violence, with its huge destructive potential, constitutes a particular threat to the survival of human beings, cultures, and civilizations. To this extent, the peace museum will also be an anti-war museum, pledged to bring about the abolition of the institution of war and replace it with civilian methods of resolving conflict and shaping political life.

3. The Concept

On the basis of this broad understanding of peace, as delivered by critical-reflective peace theory, it is possible to establish the principles, criteria, and scope that will underlie the creation of the museum. By drawing a contrast between, for example, 'peace' and 'violence', 'subject' and 'system', 'expectations' and 'actions', 'preservation' and 'movement', we shall plot the opposing poles between which run the lines of tension that characterize the basic structures of reality. In this approach, the inevitable dialectical processes and dilemmas of life that lead to conflict, and not infrequently to violence, are taken as premisses, the aim being to prevent the museum's becoming a `smoothing-over' exercise, an unworldly flight from reality, or a paradisiacal promise of future bliss. We hope in this way to replace the mutually exclusive 'either-or' constructions of binary thinking with the inclusive 'not only-but also' perspectives of analogical thinking. In practical terms, this means taking the following contrasting pairs as reference-points in the design and creation of the museum.

(a) Reality and Possibility

In reviewing and presenting the past history and present reality of (non-)peace, the museum must take into account significant developments and conditions. From the point of view of the study of peace, reality must be documented faithfully, with all its peculiarities and distortions. But for a museum that does not want to confine itself to a positivistic mirroring of reality, but claims to be offering a critical-reflective view and pursuing a political-cum-pragmatic purpose, empirical analysis of the past and future must be complemented by a forward-looking orientation to positive visions of peace. Visions of peace are important as a means of assessing present shortcomings and future possibilities. The museum must allow for this by having sections presenting a 'panorama of realities' and a 'panorama of possibilities'. It is this constructive contrast that will enable visitors to identify openings for active work on peace.

(b) Peace and Violence

In terms of its theme, the exhibition to be opened in 2000 cannot centre only on peace: peace can, in many respects, only be made manifest through confrontation with its opposite--violence and war. In this connection, it must be remembered--following Johan Galtung's line of thoughtÑthat, although the absence of war and violence (negative concept of peace) represents a better state of affairs than its destructive presence, it does not of itself make up a configuration sufficient to constitute positive peace. In addition, peace can ultimately only be attained if research is done into the causes of violence and war as well as into the causes and conditions of peace. In order to give concrete form to these ideas in the museum, it is important to have a section that presents violence as well as one that presents peace.

(c) Structure and Process

So that visitors become acquainted with broad-based notions of peace and are able to distinguish between structural dimensions and process-type chains of events, the museum must deal both with the major conditions that determine war or peace and with the most important stages in the conflictual dynamic that characterizes the process of violence. It must therefore illustrate both the structural conditions and causes of peace and the sequence of events and consequences of conflicts that `go off the rails'. This will be done in the sections depicting violence and peace and the one depicting ways out of violence. Via these distinctions, visitors can gain a deeper understanding of the background causal factors in situations of war and peace, and of the mechanisms and procedures operating in successful and unsuccessful conflictual processes.

(d) Subject and System

To highlight both the micro-social, subject-based perspective as well as the macro-social, system-based perspective, and also the relations between the two, is one of the major organizational principles of the exhibition. From the subject-based perspective, the museum must ask, amongst other things, which developments in society and everyday life result in aggressive potential being contained, and which in its being discharged in the form of violent behaviour. Of crucial relevance in this regard is the question of what opportunities exist for learning peace-skills, and which the best methods are of ensuring this. Another important task in this connection is the presentation of recent findings in research into (anti-)racism. Finally, the museum must also highlight the opportunities which actors have to become involved in the processes of civilized reduction of violence, of conflict regulation, and of the shaping of peace.

As regards the system-related dimensions: the museum must highlight the conditions governing, and developments within, selected societies and their subsystems, with a view to understanding which functions encourage peace and which produce violence. A crucial factor as far as the capacity of the individual subsystems to foster peace is concerned is which principles their strategies of action are geared to (e.g. self-interest or the common good, fair distribution or accumulation of capital).

(e) The World of States and the World of Societies

Peace is a complex process that will ultimately only succeed if the efforts at `peacemaking from above', via official state policy and its (peace-related) regulatory mechanisms, are co-ordinated in a fitting way with the endeavours at `peacemaking from below' undertaken by committed citizens and their (peace) movements in society. The idea of illustrating instances of successful dovetailing between approaches geared to the world of states and those geared to the world of societies, and the linking of state-based regulatory models with social processes of participation, will act as keynotes in the creation of the exhibition.

(f) Expectation and Action

To make the museum relevant to visitors and to people in their capacity as actors, there will be opportunities for those visiting the museum actively to invest their own interests, expectations, and actions. Gearing the museum to expectation and action in this way is intended to get visitors to make a commitment to peace and to the future . The museum will provide them with a range of stimulating opportunities for questioning and searching, for shaping and acting, and for intervening and reflecting. Through the use of multi-media technologies, the displays will be organized as a series of options for interactive participation. They will offer all visitors, especially children and young people, a chance to join in actively.

(g) Time and Space

The Peace Museum is not intended merely to be a place that informs people about the (un)peaceful past and uncovers the often buried collective memory of peace possessed by history, society, and the different cultures. It is also to be a forum where the past can be worked through critically and where the peace-related issues of our time, and the conditions required for peace, can be debated and documented. The aim is for our past, present, and future to be viewed to a greater extent through the prism of peace. The history of peace, which has so far had too little of the spotlight turned on it, is to be brought out of the shadow of the history of war, using the up-to-date resources of a contemporary museum. In this sense, the museum is meant to act as a positive challenge to our present patterns of thought, perception, and action.

Last but not least, one of the functions of the Peace Museum will be to discuss the trends, schemes, and visions of peace in relation to the foreseeable future. Past, present, and future will form a triad that will sensitize visitors to the historical dimensions of the peace process. The museum aims to take visitors on a chronological, spatial, and experiential journey through the historical events and processes of (non-)peace in the various regions of the world, using the most up-to-date presentation-techniques.

(h) Preservation and Movement

A display of a new and stimulating kind will be created. After all, peace and the future need pioneering thinkers and spokespersons, symbols and visions, depth and breadth of view. What is planned is not a peace exhibition, but an exhibition for peace. Peace is not a museum exhibit; it is a process of development fraught with conflict. The European Museum for Peace is therefore not intended primarily as a place of preservation; it is intended as a place where movement is triggered. The preservation and display of relevant experiences and knowledge of successful processes for shaping peace will provide stimuli for the further development of peace.

Peace is not a self-contained thing that can be put on display behind closed walls; it is a process. The museum aims to use history to initiate or fuel discussions about how to develop peace and shape the future. The possibility that, through its exhibits, facilities, and actions, the museum will become embroiled in current debates about the best strategies to adopt and paths to follow to achieve peace, is fully accepted. We want the museum to adopt and present positions on peace that may very well be uncomfortable and shocking. It will not presume to offer visitors `patent remedies' or certainties, nor to link in with particular ideologies. What it will do, rather, is to offer food for thought so that visitors can come to their own well-considered judgements.

(i) Questions and Answers

The exhibits and installations in the museum will be grouped around various major issues (disputes). These will form the focus for consideration of the history, theories, and policies of peace.. The objects and collections will offer possible explanations and interpretations intended to improve understanding of the major task of shaping co-existence in a more peaceful way--in the sense of achieving lasting civilization through a reduction in violence, the regulation of conflict, and the shaping of peace. The fact that the museum cannot provide clear answers to the many questions posed should not be seen as a disadvantage. Questions that are left open will generate the kinds of productive irritations that act as a spur to independent parallel or further reflection.

The concept for the museum was born of the linking-together of these arcs of tension and lines of conflict. The basic angle which it will take on the dilemmas and paradoxes of life is their essential inevitability. Historical experience has taught us that all extremist and totalitarian attempts to overcome such dilemmas and paradoxes unilaterally, and all notions that they should be eliminated on principle, are, by virtue of their structure, futile and bound to fail. The decisive challenge posed by all efforts at civilization therefore does not lie in finding a way to eliminate existing dilemmas and paradoxes once and for all. What has to happen, rather, is that these contradictions must be defused through 'not-only-but-also' balances and inclusive strategies. Although by virtue of its subject-matter, the museum will effectively take sides with peace, it will not seek to disseminate any kind of ideology. Its task will be to encourage visitors to seek non-violent routes to a precautionary prevention of violence, the constructive resolution of conflict, and a peace fashioned in lasting form.

[1] This is a slightly abridged and edited version of the article `Europäisches Museum für Frieden: Vision--Konzeption--Realisation. Ein friedenswissenschaftliches Expos' by Wolfgang R. Vogt in Friedensforum, 11 (1997), 6-7: 5-10.


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