Duncan Morrow in the US Institute of Peace Insight Newsletter (Fall 2014) noted “Reconciliation,” according to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, means “to make friendly again after an estrangement” and “to make acquiescent or contentedly submissive to something previously disagreeable”….. Classical peacemaking focuses on the first definition, with its emphasis on mutual friendship and the making of new relationships on all sides. Politics … has often seen reconciliation in the second sense, as something the loser in a conflict must do to come to terms with reality.”
There is a view, as outlined by Morrow above, that reconciliation aims at rebuilding fractured relationships after a conflict. This objective is pursued through dialogue, sharing stories, mediation, or other peacebuilding activities that convene individuals, groups, or communities. The purpose of such activity is to foster those deep and lasting connections across the society considered essential to sustainable peace.
It is challenging to think of political entities engaging in such work, as the Morrow quotation indirectly implies. In politics, claims Morrow, reconciliation has a harder edge and reconciliation is more about the loser becoming “contentedly submissive” with the victor after a conflict ends.
Relationships at all levels matter following political conflict, as they determine whether and how the progress to peace and stability will be made. In a divided society, building a new road is never simply a technical task—it invariably requires negotiation and discussion about the benefits for each actor. Inevitably, harms due to past violence, even in the most mundane of policy decisions, will surface during that process.
Reconciliation is not about a simple decision to cooperate, or designing processes so former adversaries can work together with the long-term aspiration that deeper connections will follow. This could result in a forgive-and-forget mentality or, if Morrow is right, an approach akin to getting on with “negative peace” in a resigned manner. This approach is not conducive to long-term stability or what I understand reconciliation to be.
In the short-term, coexistence and cooperation might be all that is possible. However, if lasting peace is to be guaranteed, we cannot avoid addressing relationships in a deliberate and strategic way. Justice, apology, reparations, acknowledgement, and healing are part of this process— issues that are not separate from reconciliation but central to it.
Published by Brandon Hamber in USIP Insight Newsletter (Fall 2014), click the link to also see alerie Rosoux's Response to my comments and other articles on reconciliation in the edition.