One Step at a Time

  Can We Create a Utopia?    By Jolene Hansell
Published by the International Peace and Collaborative Network 13 June 2013
Recently, I pulled a childhood book off my shelf – The Giver by Lois Lowry. The book is one of my favorites, and since I hadn’t read it since the seventh grade, I decide to re-read it. In the context of my studies now, the book took on a whole different meaning for me which had me asking: What does post-conflict reconstruction look like? Should democracy always be the goal? Or put more simply, is there such a thing as a utopic society

The aftermath of war, be it civil or international, is almost as bad as the fighting itself. Yes, the violence may have stopped – the result of a victorious party, a peace agreement, or an international intervention – but the battle has not yet been won. The conflict is frozen, balancing on the edge of a knife; a sudden movement in either direction could cause the process to unravel. It is at the moment, when a country is most vulnerable, that post-conflict reconstruction begins. The goal is to rebuild the country from the ground up, putting in place the necessary infrastructure and institutions, with all the checks and balances to hopefully ensure that such violent conflict does not reoccur. The traditional formula has been the institutionalization of democracy, but is this the most viable option? Can this create an enduring peace in and of itself?

There are two characteristics of democracy that are pertinent to this discussion: competition and choice. Democracy is competitive by its very nature. An election is a competition between competing parties for control of the government. Sounds simple, civil; people go to the ballots, cast their vote, one party wins, and there you have it, a new government. And in a developed democratic system this might be the case, but in a newly formed, or rather forming, democracy, the situation is quite different.

Imagine this: the multiple competing fractions in a civil war have managed to come to a peace agreement, by way of an international intervention, have agreed to participate in national elections to determine the next legitimate government. In preparation for these elections, the former conflict fractions each form their own political party. As, resources are scare and corruption is high, the only way to ensure one’s interests is to control the access and distribution of both resources and power. Thus, the elections have become a power struggle between the former competing fractions. In support of this claim, Soth Plai Ngram, an expert on peacebuilding in Cambodia wrote in his M.A. Dissertation, “democracy is a competing terrain for political parties to win their power by controlling military forces, money and resources, rather than by winning the hearts of the people by improving their lives” (p.53). Consequently, rather than foster peace, democracy could actually create another means by which these parties continue to fight, pushing the fragile peace off the edge of the knife and sending it back into the chaos of violence.

Democracy is also characterized by choice; the capacity of each individual to have a voice in the process, to make their choice, and to cast their vote. But choices also create differences. They distinguish us from one another. The creation of differences between people, can be the source of future violence is a fragile state if these differences are not addressed or if there are not mechanisms in place for the reconciliation of such difference without resorting to violence. The construction of an identity based on differences is one of the foremost sources of conflict. Take, for example, the Rwanda genocide (rooted in construction of Hutu/Tutsi identities), the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (rooted in different religious identities), or the conflict between the two Sudans (rooted in a conflict between Arab/African identities). Democracy helps to facilitate the capacity of choice, but could it be possible for this capability to actually be detrimental to post-conflict reconstruction? How do we reconcile this? If not by democracy, then what?

There is a quote from The Giver that fits perfectly here, and attempts to define an alternative to democracy:

We don’t let people make choice of their own…We really have to protect people from wrong choices…It’s safer” – Jonas to the Giver (Lowry p. 99)

The community in the giver is supposed to amply a utopic society; however, it is anything but a democracy and is rather more akin to a dictatorship. There is no suffering or pain, no bloodshed or tear, but there also is not choice or freedom. The society has a prescribed set of rules to which its citizen must adhere and the citizens are constantly monitored by camera to ensure compliance. The society has a predetermined number of births and deaths (referred to as ‘releases’) per year and each family unit has two children (one male and one female). A Committee of Elders matches husbands and wives, children to their parents, and jobs to the children at the age of 12 based on their individual characteristics and personal attributes. There are not differences. There is no colour, only shades of grey, emotions are suppressed with medicine, and there is an emphasis on uniformity and conformity. This system is functional and it seems to works, at least in the short term. The problem here is that it is like a teeter-totter; it can be a stepping-stone to something greater or a system needing just the right straw to entirely collapse.

So where does this leave us in terms of post-conflict reconstruction? What I have just described represents the two chasms between which peace balances: democracy, by nature of choice and competition, resulting in reoccurring conflict at one extreme, and dictatorship resulting in conflict when its authority is shaken or threatened at the other extreme. And in between we have a peace, fragile and fleeting, but nevertheless struggling to exist. The goal of post-conflict reconstruction should be neither democracy nor dictatorship, but rather the expansion of the space in which peace can be created; a widening of the tightrope to a more manageable size. It should begin with dialogue among the parties involved, but should not move too quickly towards any particular goal. A strong foundation needs to be built otherwise the system will collapse once more. If democracy is the answer, then the progress towards it needs to be slow. It needs to be built up brick by brick, not thrown together with fingers crossed hoping that it works. A democracy in a post-conflict situation needs to be continuous supported – one election does not create a democracy. It is a process. It may come with initial elements of dictatorship – highly centralized power, lacking in rights and freedoms – but these elements do not spring up overnight. Yes, the ultimate goal should be an open, democratic society, but this takes time.

So, can we create a utopia? Is a post-conflict situation the opportunity to sculpt a utopia society? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive towards it. If we are taking utopia to be synonymous with peace, reconciliation, the absence of violence, human rights, sustainable development, and the dignity of human beings, then it is a goal that we must continue to work towards. However, it is a project that never ends. There is no perfect system, no perfect democracy, no perfect society; it can constantly be improved. Although utopia will never be reached, striving towards it is what helps to create a lasting peace, one step at a time.


'Utopic' does not exist said…
There is no such word as 'utopic'. It is unlisted in both Websters and Oxford. The adjective is 'utopian'. So have kicked off with sloppy thinking? Utopia is unachievable. An ideal which resides only in the imagination. Democracy requires choice. A working democracy also requires intelligent, informed choice and a full understanding of the consequences of exercising poor, uninformed choice. This also requires imagination. Imposing regulation which admits of no creativity nor imagination in enterprise stifles innovation and kills employment. The same applies to the political process and any student of political science knows this. Anyone who has participated in a variety of political processes also knows this. It is 'a given'. So why are we using adjectives which are redundant to describe a process which requires very astute, very relevant, considered choices? Choice is indicative of liberty. The 'sine qua non' of a mature, functioning democracy is Liberty.
Anonymous said…
What utter crap!
Anonymous said…
Well thought out article. challenges conventional wisdom. raises some pertinent questions. well grounded in reality. broadens the horizons. provides food for thought.
Anonymous said…
So it really is about who has the most human rights abusing thugs with the biggest guns? Not sustainable and has never worked.
Anonymous said…
It's about realising democracy is a process – most times a painful one – rather than an overnight miracle.
Anonymous said…
It is certainly a painful process for the women and men bashed and abused by the poorly led Fiji military cowards. If this is the path to 'democracy' for Fiji take it back to the middle east or Pakistan where it belongs.
The Duty to Protect said…
Home invasions, whatever we choose to term them, have not gone away. They are omnipresent especially in the Western Division. A family, traumatised, terrorised still waiting for a protective outcome. How many more traumatised people with children are we to expect? How many more suicides, attempted suicides or disappearances? This is not within the framework of normalcy/normality. Whichever term applies. We were saddled with these nuanced alternatives in 2000/2001: even in 2002. The population can only stand so much. Who is to counsel and advise? Those who are aleady traumatised themselves? How many of us are left to counsel those attacked, their privacy violated by armed assailants? Tell us, please. Before you ask for our votes, we demand protection for women, children and families living in fear. The politicians have failed in their Duty to Protect their constituents. They have failed through their egregious silence on this issue. Has a single one spoken out in any address to any community? Their inability to isolate the number one concern of voters renders them ineligible for the responsibility of office.
Anonymous said…
Anon 4:18:00:

It a painful process for everyone, on way or another. But this is not the first coup, it is the fourth one, even if people pretend otherwise. Some people are selective when its comes to coups, applauding one, condemning another. They seem unmoved when violence is committed against one section od the community, as if they are somehow lesser beings. One allegedly bashed woman supported the 2000 coup and held parties at her place to celebrate it. Her husband sheltered a dangerous coup perpetrator. After the Qarase government fell, the gravy train disappeared. She became a democrat overnight. Stating these facts does not mean justifying them, but too many self-serving so-called democrats in Fiji on both sides. That's why democracy cannot survive. Democracy is not the silver bullet either. Like it or not, coups have been part of Fiji since 1987. So the comparison with Pakistan is not that far off. For a country of our size, we can stand our ground when it comes to coups.
Anonymous said…
Nothing can change the fact that Fiji is ruled by a human rights abusing dictator.
All dictatorships are wrong said…
Does this Jolene Hansell and this ICTR Office support this human rights abusing illegal regime run by the deranged dictator or is Walsh just deceitfully trying to use her name? If she supports jumping on pregnant women and bashing hog tied defenceless men, then perhaps she and her organisation need closer scrutiny?
Anonymous said…
What a bigoted response to an author who is clearly an expert and experienced in her field. Her message was totally lost on some prejudiced and closed-minded people. It should be clear, even to an imbecile, that the author is not referring to Fiji.
Anonymous said…
very well stated!! it is amazing how many recent democrats in Fiji have supported previous coups and not just individual but organisations like the Methodist Church as well..
Anonymous said…
what are your thoughts on racist governments which discriminate against other races? are they just fine because it is Democratic.
Ian Simpson, Taveuni said…
I held that the 1997 Constitution was null and void on the basis that the representative system in place was undemocratic, and unless the representative system became democratic it would remain so, according to its first and foremost edict. tut tut.

By the same token , I hold that the whole constitutional making process of 2012 and 2013 null and void, due to the fact that the populace has not been given the choice of alternative representative systems. The populace have been denied a Peoples Constitution chosen by them by referendum.

Westminster system by default, a system that has failed us completely and utterly, was a decreed non negotiable.

I would like to see a debate, a national debate. Lets see how the Westminster system stands up to competition, with its track record in Fiji.

Westminster, Presidential, One Party State.
Dictatorship, by all counts, seems to be quite popular, even being proposed by some as a permanent system. By some counts better than the Westminster system. How do we account for that?

One page does not make a masters dissertation, so Croz, it would be nice to see more of this ladies work and others, if possible.

Local academia is rather barren to non existent and needs a nudge.

In my opinion, as contained in my submission to the CC,is that the Westminster system being imposed by default is a disaster for Fiji, so I think and believe that having elections under this system will only produce grief, its only consistent constant.
Fark Fanning said…
Nothing amazing about that !!

Theses grubs talk about democracy when it suits them.
Anonymous said…
"Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and
epochs, it is the rule." - Friederich Nietzsche
Gatekeeper said…
Interesting that Friedrich Nietzsche has stepped into this conversation. He certainly merits an outing. He seems to be telling us that folly, pushed to extremes, rules and that history is not an assuager of a consistent repetition of mistakes in governance. We seem never to learn from past error? Nietzsche was the proponent of the 'Ubermensch' (Superman). He described woman as "God's second blunder". Animals were the first: 'Man didn't find the animals amusing-he dominated them and didn't even want to be an 'animal'." (Der Antichrist 1888 - aphorism 48).

He had a profound influence on the Nazis in the Rise of the Third Reich. His view of the role of the philosopher was: "A terrible explosive in the presence of which everything is in danger". (Ecce Homo 1908 'Die Unzeitgemassen' Sec 3). In view of what transpired in Germany from 1930 onwards, he seems to have got something right? The systematic murder of millions through racism and genocide.

If ever there was a need to be vigilant and consistently and constantly 'on guard', it is now. Competition and Choice: yes, they require liberty in which to breathe. Jolene's website describes her as 'neophytepeacebuilder' which is fair enough. 'Utopic' aside, she seems to make much sense and the alternative may well be this:

"He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you". (Jenseits von Gut und Bose : 1886 ch 4 157).

The German word 'bose' means evil or baleful. Another Nietzschean insight?
Anonymous said…
Nicely put gatekeeper. As for: "He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster." Just go to coup 4.5 and you will understand.
Anonymous said…
It would be interesting to hear Nietzsche's take on the Bainimarama regime
Anonymous said…
In other words, Nietzsche is saying the path to hell is paved with good intentions - Bainimarama's fate, a case of absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Anonymous said…
What is really surprising is that somebody like Bainimarama can still muster support from people like Croz. Green's book out today will accurately describe what his state of mind, his intentions and his crimes really are.
Lai Sadigitaki said…
"Democracy is a foreign flower" - Laisenia Qarase
Goldfish said…
It really is surprising, isn't it. Look to the supporters of Bainimarama and you will find people with long memories. There are very few people with long memories.

"Indo-Fijians are like weeds" - SDL Party (It was actually said by Cabinet Minister Asenaca Caucau, but as she was not even given a slap on the wrist, let alone made to resign, her party leader Qarase obviously agreed with her)

NIGHT said…
Never, never underestimate the memories of survivors. Or those who have spoken with them shortly after 'the event'. Have you read Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize Author,his account of surviving Auschwitz though his father died there? 'NIGHT' - written in French and in translation, he quotes from Nikos Kazantakis' "Zorba The Greek":

"I was once more struck by the truth of the ancient saying: Man's heart is a ditch full of blood. The loved ones who have died throw themselves down on the bank of this ditch to drink the blood and to come to life again; the dearer they are to you, the more of your blood they drink".

Those who have threatened and abused us, no matter who they may be, must needs heed this. For they shall never, never be forgotten. Nor those who assisted them. They shall ever be pursued by The Truth. The Truth endures and it will surface in multi-faceted ways and means. 'Breaking the Bond' is just one example. Our memories are intact and enduring. Perjury and false-witness notwithstanding.
NIGHT 2 said…
Former Cabinet Minister Caucau was observed at close quarters over at least three years. Equine in appearance, she would now do well to contemplate another quotation from Elie Wiesel. She lives in the USA. She will have no trouble finding a copy. This is precisely where we first met, face to face, with survivors of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Two still live within our own, connected family. Survivors who finally got away to Israel and married there.

"The evacuation was postponed to the next day (of Buchenwald Concentration Camp housing surviving children of the dead in Auschwitz).
Hunger was tormenting us; we had not eaten for nearly six days except for a few stalks of grass and some potato peels found on the grounds of the kitchens. At ten 0'clock in the morning, the SS took positions throughout the camp and began to herd the last of us toward the Appelplatz. The resistance movement decided at that point to act. Armed men appeared from everywhere. Bursts of gunshots. Grenades exploding. We, the children, remained flat on the floor of the block.

The battle did not last long. Around noon, everything was calm again. The SS had fled and the resistance had taken charge of the camp. At six o'clock that afternoon the first American tank stood at the gates of Buchenwald."

Lest we forget: the Americans, the British and the Russian armies liberated these Dens of Iniquity. Let the former Cabinet Minister acquaint herself fully and well with this. Should she ever forget, her memory will be refreshed for her.

Anonymous said…
Nothing surprising that so many people, in their desperation, flocked to support Bainimarama, even if to be disappointed later on. Qarase government was an unmitigated disaster. On many levels. Just as mahen chaudhry shares some blame for the 2000 coup, so too the Qarase SDL government. The information is there for anyone who cares to do the research.
Anonymous said…
In Rwanda, the Hutu called the Tutsi 'cockroaches'. Name-calling, as the Rwandan experience showed us, can degenerate into something really nasty unless it is nipped in the bud. Qarase's inaction showed what a weak leader he was. He did not want to upset his ethnic vote base. Asenaca Caucau was among those in the SDL who talked up their Christian credentials from one side of their mouths, and spewed hate from another side. With this calibre of politicians, many welcomed the Banimarama coup, perhaps see it as the lesser evil?.
Boomerang Funding and Banking Blood said…
"German, Jewish, banking blood". Something to be proud of? Or a cover under which to seek immunity? Impunity for a creed of racism and entrenched ethnic cleansing by another means? This must surely resonate because no Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission was ever permitted. Despite a request for one from the former Police Commissioner at the time and numerous others. 'Others' is used in a specific, weighted way. Cast your mind back to the Farewell for the then Australian High Commissioner in 20002. An evening when two consultants reminded us that they had just completed a full ten year stint in the Pacific: consulting far-and-wide. Remunerated by whom and how? Australian taxpayers' boomerang funding? At what opportunity cost?

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