Reconciliation

Since the mid-1990s, with Nelson Mandela’s extraordinary launch of the groundbreaking South African TRC, ‘reconciliation’ has been a buzzword in peacebuilding parlance. Its meaning is intuitive for many, but for scholarly purposes we need more—we need definitions that enable the systematic study of abstract phenomena to facilitate comparison and accumulated learning. In a previous study, Brouneus conducted a review of the field, synthesizing the scholarly and practical knowledge available, arriving at the following definition of reconciliation:

Reconciliation is a societal process that involves mutual acknowledgment of past suffering and the changing of destructive attitudes and behaviors into constructive relationships toward sustainable peace (2003:3).

This definition specifies the challenging yet central components involved in—and needed for—reconciliation: changes in emotion (mutual acknowledgment of suffering), attitudes, and behavior. It emphasizes that reconciliation is a societal process after armed conflict; that is, reconciliation involves changes within and between former enemy groups with regard to themselves and the other. Finally, reconciliation is a process, not a remote goal to be achieved when war has ended, wherein relationships are rebuilt to enable coexistence and sustainable peace.

In the existing literature, reconciliation and forgiveness are often closely linked. It is posited that in order for reconciliation to take place, the wrongdoer should acknowledge their own responsibility for harm done, thereby enabling the victim to ‘bury the hatchet’ and move on into a more harmonious future. Forgiving, according to Clark (2010), ‘should be seen as a ‘complex act of consciousness’ that overcomes injury in order to restore lost relationships’ (2010: 43). Ultimately, as Quinn states, forgiveness has a positive impact upon social trust and repairing relationships, which is of the utmost importance to reconciliation (Quinn 2011). As Jeffery (this volume) argues, however, forgiveness should not be an expectation, but a conscious choice on behalf of the victim. Pressuring individuals to forgive before they are ready may hinder both healing and reconciliation (Villa-Vicencio 2000; Brouneus 2003; Zehr 1997).

The scientific study of reconciliation will inevitably involve a simplification of reality (Brouneus 2008a), ‘[o]ne of the first and most difficult tasks of research in the social sciences’ (King et al. 1994: 42). Reconciliation is an utterly complex process made up of particulars that will differ in every country, but the attempt must be—as in all social science research—‘to go beyond these particulars to more general knowledge’ and find ‘key features ... from a mass of facts’ (King et al. 1994: 42). In this chapter, we focus on the SI TRC and the experiences of Solomon Islanders; we do so being mindful of the Solomon Islands context. However, we will also make comparisons to other post-conflict countries’ experiences of TRCs, with the aim to contribute to more general knowledge of these intricate processes. Hence, guided by the definition of reconciliation as a process aiming to change destructive emotions, attitudes, and behaviors into being constructive for building peace, we peer into the ‘black box’ of TRC success to untangle whether and, if so, how it has contributed to reconciliation in the Solomon Islands.

 
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