Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Editors' Foreword

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Editors' Foreword

Article excerpt

Processes of reconciliation evoke humanity's highest peaks and darkest depths. As former warriors embrace magnanimity over conquest and victims opt for redress over vengeance, we marvel at how enlightened visions of the future could triumph over hatreds of the past. Still, the notion that a society will never reach lasting peace unless it seeks an expansive dialogue with its external enemies or confronts its internal demons holds powerful appeal. Such processes are being actively engaged throughout the world. As one author notes in this issue, twenty-seven countries today have launched reconciliation commissions. Rare is a peacebuilding strategy that does not advocate for some mechanism of inter-group reconciliation. Yet reconciliation remains a work-in-progress in many conflicts and a feat still to be imagined in others. Divergent interpretations of events from decades and centuries past continue to shape contemporary international relations in Japan, Turkey, Eastern Europe and Timor-Leste, to name but a few. Peace negotiations from Northern Ireland to Israel/Palestine have hinged upon questions of recognition and redress as much, if not more, than the delineation of power-sharing rules and borders. Societies emerging from civil war or ethnic conflict wrestle over how, and to what degree, peace and justice must be traded off against one another or combined.

This issue of the Journal of International Affairs takes a closer look at the concept of historical reconciliation. The scholars, practitioners and participants featured in the following pages offer insights into how reconciliation has unfolded, why it has occasionally failed and where efforts at reconciliation have left some behind. Taken together, these articles, book reviews and interviews leave one with the sense that historical reconciliation is never simple--nor is it a chimera. As humans, we are custodians of our past, not its prisoners; shadows of massacres, persecution and resentment need not shape a world of permanent antagonisms.

We asked Elazar Barkan to provide an overview of the field. Drawing on his many years of scholarship and experience in peacebuilding, reconciliation and human rights, he asks, "How do local conditions and the agency of the individuals (or groups) involved, influence the dynamics of rights?" Through this and other questions, he maps key examples of historical reconciliation and identifies a novel conception of redress that is at once expansive and concrete.

Alexander L. Boraine examines what it means to be a country in transition. He notes that while criminal justice is important, it does not obviate the need for other models. Retributive justice must be balanced with restorative justice in order to achieve a peaceful and just society. He articulates five pillars that support a holistic vision of transitional justice: accountability, truth recovery, reconciliation, institutional reform and reparations. While every conflict is unique, Boraine offers a model that can be widely applied.

A culture of reconciliation is at the center of Roland Bleiker's book, Divided Korea, reviewed by Aleksandr Ilitchev. Ilitchev discusses Bleiker's proposal to pursue the active engagement of cultural identity on the Korean peninsula, as opposed to more traditional political approaches, in order to promote mutual acceptance. Another approach, one based on the rule of international law, is taken up by Jeremy Goldberg in his review of Tim Allen's Trial Justice, which considers the challenges faced by the International Criminal Court and the potential trade-offs between justice and peace within the context of northern Uganda.

The Second World War is a central point of departure for several of our contributors as they investigate the role of cultural and historical memory in developing mechanisms for peace. Alexander M. Karn provides a case-by-case analysis of Polish-Jewish and Czech-German experiences following the war and applies the lessons of these examples to contemporary efforts at Catholic-Jewish reconciliation. …

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