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Peace Talks Radio Host Paul Ingles Interviewed 2008 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Martti Ahtisaari in April of 2011
Paul Ingles: In commenting on your skills, Tufts University Professor Eileen Babbitt said that “mediation is about sharing the skills with the parties who are in conflict so that they actually have an alternative other than violence to settle their differences.” Could you take us into that a little bit? Elaborate on the idea and maybe share a story in your negotiation history when you felt you were actually teaching a skill to opposing parties that they had never thought about using before.
Martti Ahtisaari: I’ll give you an example of one conflict which was a revolt and where I am still involved because we have to see that things will be done well and it’s over five years now since we made the peace agreement when I was negotiating peace between the Indonesian government and the province of Aceh.
I had never met a single Acehnese in my life when I was asked to mediate between them so I said first of all I would like to see at least some of those who are fighting against the government. They happened to be living – the closest ones actually part of their leadership lived in Sweden. There was a medical doctor and another gentleman there. The leader couldn’t come because he could not have returned to Sweden at that time. Now it has been possible for him to get the permission to do that because I wanted to see them before I even took the assignment.
It was the first meeting. I could speak Swedish to them, so there I was making peace and trying to start a peace process in Aceh talking in Swedish and they had already received Swedish citizens. I had to make it very clear to them, which perhaps helped them when we really started a month later, I said the government of Indonesia does not want to internationalize this issue. That’s why the UN is out. That’s why I have been asked to help and I told him also that if I were you, it doesn’t make any sense to me that you would not listen to what it is that the government is prepared to offer you. Then if you don’t like it you can say no thank you and continue fighting and die in Sweden. Now that wasn’t perhaps the most polite way of starting your acquaintance but during this process that then lasted from the end of January to the 15th of August when we signed the peace agreement, the compliment I got from one of the delegation members was: “At least without this we know where we stand,” and I took that as a compliment though I think he was mainly referring that I spoke very plainly sometimes when it was needed.
The problem very often in negotiations is that, and I say that particularly of peace negotiations, we desperately try to keep the processes going. So we negotiate year after year and I don’t think it does make any sense because you have to see what are the essential issues.
In the end, our peace agreement was only, I think it was seven or eight pages. I have never seen such a short peace agreement, but it contained everything that was needed to create the framework in which people can start a new life because then it has to be like a cover that you know that there is now a possibility for a new beginning. Many things had to be sold before that, but it is a new beginning and it’s a learning process which really starts when you sign the agreement and start afresh because people have very undemocratic experience from the fighting period. It’s the most undemocratic face for the liberation movements as well and it’s not democratic for governments either because they have behaved very often in a manner that in normal circumstances would be totally unacceptable.
I am now planning a trip to Indonesia in May with my colleagues simply to see that what is still from the agreement that hasn’t been done, how could we do that so that the normal relationships between Aceh province and the central government can be established. Then my only hope is, as I have said to the parties, I wouldn’t like to come here except on holidays, but I will not talk anything about the implementation of the peace agreement with you. We will talk about something else then.
Ingles: What I draw from your story is that it sounds like you believe that peace negotiations can be kept simple to some degree as opposed to trying to make them too complex and protracted and that sometimes you can mix empathy with being blunt and have a successful outcome.
Ahtisaari: No, it depended very much also on the participants because the leader of the Indonesian delegation in these negotiations was Hamid Awaludin, the Minister of Legal Affairs and he proposed from the beginning that let’s have as a basis for our talks the dignity for all when we negotiate. He was a younger man compared to the leaders of the Free Aceh Movement and that actually created the spirit in which we discussed. I encouraged them to start talking to each other because previously they had had proximity talks, so somebody else was in between them. I said as quickly as possible, sit together. We were in the same building throughout the day and I encouraged them to speak because they have to be able to live together, not me. I’m still in Finland.
Ingles: Right, so it sounds like it’s very important to have at least one of the sides bring up this issue of mutual respect to get things going at all.
Ahtisaari: Yes. I think it was absolutely vital because the way he treated his elder colleagues on the other side of the table was absolutely vital.
Then, very often I hear that the mediator has to be a neutral person and I don’t buy that argument at all because there are issues, very often, that are important for one party and they are less important for the other. They may have their own issues that they absolutely need. So it’s not a question very often in the negotiations that you try to find a compromise solution. You are trying to convince both sides that this is important for you. I’ll give you an example. For the Free Aceh Movement it was important that the Indonesia military did have nothing to do, after the peace agreement had been signed, with the law and order issues as they used to have when the fighting was going on. They were all over the place. We succeeded finally to get that. It was important that we didn’t discuss independence. That was not on the agenda and that we could maintain. So it was important for the Indonesian government that GAM forces were disarmed and their arms destroyed, which happened.
So there are important issues for both sides and slowly, when you get these things done, how do you deal with the past injustices? That is one of the most difficult issues in the negotiations. I have been recently in Finland attending a number of meetings where this issue was discussed. I say that the difficult issue that the mediator has to decide is what is more important, to serve all the injustices that had taken places over, let’s say a 30 year period or make peace? Sometimes it’s as tough as that. You may be able to form a human rights court and have a truth and reconciliation commission, but I find that it’s a most difficult issue to actually get solution to atrocities and particularly those, very often it’s women, who have been suffering at the hands of the military. It’s a sort of eternal fight because I would rather make peace and make a new beginning so that nothing wrong that has happened in the past could be repeated and have mechanisms that would prevent that rather than try desperately to put those guilty parties in the court and not have peace at all. I don’t like to be put into that situation but unfortunately I have very often been there.
Ingles: I’ve heard you say that this work was your most important undertaking in part because you believe it had that impact on the end of apartheid in South Africa.
Ingles: Explain how Nelson Mandela’s story continues to inspire you.
Ahtisaari: I say every time when this question is asked that I learned to know him well before he became President when he was released from Robben Island. I think he comes close to a saint. Many people say that one should not say this, but I do say it because if you are kept in prison for 26 years and you come out without any bitterness towards those who had put you there and you might have think that it was totally unfairly that you were put to jail or Robben Island for that matter. He realized that was the only way how you could start building a new South Africa. It also shows how important the role of one single human being is in these processes, particularly not the mediator so much, but on the side of the parties who have to make an agreement.
Therefore in 2009 when I was asked to join The Elders group with Mandela and Archbishop Tutu, I wrote to Archbishop Tutu that this is one of the requests that I can’t say no. In my office I have only two paintings. They are both presents from President Mandela to me and my wife and I will not allow any other paintings on my walls. I have also a piece of rock from Robben Island, the rock that he gave to me when I was visiting him and he was President. That reminds me every day that there is not a single problem in the world that cannot be solved.
Ingles: When budgets at home in countries around the world are stretched so thin, how do governments outside of conflicting nations make a convincing case for interventions? You’ve called on the international community to be so much more involved. Sometimes those interventions are extremely costly to their own economies. How do you make that case?
Ahtisaari: If we solve the conflicts, we save money because the prolongation of these conflicts are the ones that cost the money. If you look at the Middle East and look at the last few tens of years and look at the whole region. It has cost much more than the recent financial crisis in the world. So we have to be, sometimes we have to be tough with our friends as well because these issues have to be solved because if you let these problems simmer, and I take the Middle East crisis particularly, we will never have the Western democracies and the other world. We will never have a natural relationship.
Secondly, I am afraid that when we don’t solve these problems, no one can guarantee the security of anybody in the region in the long run. So I think we have to be honest in analyzing these things and I very strongly believe that, for instance, a Middle East majority on both sides wants peace. So we have to be better. Now lately we have had I think very encouraging developments. If I look, for instance North Africa and what has been happening in Tunis, in Egypt for instance, and even in Libya, but it’s much more complicated, those in the streets of these countries, they have proven now finally to the whole world that the values they have been demanding for themselves are universal values. They are not Western values. Freedom to speak, all the human rights, they are universal values as many of us have been arguing all along.
Ingles: You’ve been very gracious with your time and I have just one final question that goes back to this notion of personal peacemaking. I know it’s maybe a little hard to make this bridge, but if you had to pick some tips from your work as a mediator to summarize that our listeners might actually be able to apply to solving their own conflicts, what would you say?
Ahtisaari: Be honest. You have to be an honest broker, not neutral. You have to be an honest broker that you really have to study the problem carefully. I emphasize that you have to find the time to study what are the real issues and you have to be very candidly listening to the parties, but then you have to start talking candidly also. Sometimes we want to be so nice in these processes, as I said that we are not moving these things. Whether it’s a private conflict or a conflict within states or between states, I think you have to address very candidly both parties and be able to make them think that some of their positions are totally unjustified and do it also in a manner that people are not feeling offended.
I think the first compliment I got from Pekka Korpinen. We had become friends. He was an economist with the World Bank working there when I met him and we were economic and humanitarian issues with his President and Minister. He said, “I would like to join you for a year to learn how to say difficult things in a nice manner.” That’s the best compliment I have had in my long career.
Peace Talks Radio Host Paul Ingles Interviewed 2002 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Jimmy Carter in 2002
Paul Ingles: The Center’s efforts to address hunger, poor health and oppression around the world obviously ring true to the humanitarian in each of us, but your books and talks make a connection between these desperate conditions and conflict and war in countries that can ultimately impact everyone on the globe. Could you talk about that a little bit and then offer some examples?
Jimmy Carter: Well, one of the things that I’ve learned in the last 20 years since I left the White House, much more clearly than when I was President, is that there is no way to separate a commitment to justice and peace and freedom and democracy and human rights and environmental quality and the alleviation of suffering. So that’s why we have seen, that in order to maintain peace in the country, you really have to deal with the most abject facets of life because quite often when people have no hope and no self respect and no prospect for a bare existence, they tend to turn to anger and begin a civil war or lash out at their neighbors. So you can’t separate the alleviation of suffering or environmental degradation where they lose their land and lose their streams from their inclination to despise their leaders or even to hate distant success stories like in America. So they’re all interrelated, that’s the basic point.
Ingles: I wonder if you could recount one or two personal moments that are etched in your mind as emblematic of the good that the Carter Center has been able to do over 20 years. Do any faces or encounters kind of stand out?
Carter: Well, a number of them. For instance, guinea worm is one of the most horrible diseases ever known on earth. When we started to eradicate guinea worm, and this has been one of the Carter Center’s projects, we found three and half million cases in 22 countries; about 23,000 villages. We’ve been in every one of those villages and taught the people what caused the disease; drinking filthy water as a matter of fact and how to correct it and now we’ve cut that down from three and half million to about 70,000, which, as you can see, is a 98% reduction. And so to go into a village and see people, maybe two-thirds of the total population unable to walk around, lying on the ground with guinea worms coming out of their bodies and to teach them how to correct it and go back a year later and there will be zero guinea worms, those people, for the rest of their lives will never see another case of guinea worm. So this is a very gratifying thing.
One time I was riding in a big entourage with the leaders of a state in Nigeria and there was a big sign on the side of the road that I will always remember held up by little school children. It said: “Watch out guinea worms, here comes Jimmy Carter.” So that really is a kind of memorable thing that I remember. We’ve done the same thing with other diseases. You’ve heard of river blindness and trachoma that causes blindness and so it’s very gratifying to me to go into those countries and see what a little bit of advice and a tiny bit of help will do to let them overcome their terrible suffering.
Ingles: Well and finally, you and Rosaline as co-directors of the Center talk now about scaling back your active role. Is that a hard process for a couple of action people like you two? What are your hopes for the ongoing future of the Center?
Carter: Well, we’ve been doing that over a period of time anyway. Rose and I used to have to do everything at the Carter Center; personnel, budgets, planning, conferences and everything else. Now other people do that for us. For instance, in this hemisphere we have 35 other Presidents and Prime Ministers who have served like me in top positions who are part of the Carter Center Council and when I can’t go to, say Dominican Republic to help hold an honest election, I’ve got that array of other leaders in this hemisphere that can go and represent the Carter Center there. So it will be a permanent organization and I think winning the Nobel Peace Prize for the work of the Carter Center basically is going to help strengthen that prospect for the future.
Ingles: President Jimmy Carter, thanks for your service to the world and thanks for talking with us today.
Carter: I really enjoyed it. Good luck to you all.
KUNM News Host Elaine Baumgartel Interviewed Frank Meeink in 2010.
Elaine Baumgartel: So when people say we have become a post-racial society, we, in the U.S. have elected a black President and that indicates that racism is no longer a problem, anyone can succeed.
Frank Meeink: You know, we are moving forward. We definitely are moving forward. I think that there is always still going to be an “us” and a “them.” What I hear a lot on diversity, when I go to do these diversity weeks, colleges will bring me in, two things I hear. One I hear the diversity program is all the same thing. Let’s teach all the white kids, let’s get all the white kids in here and we’re going to teach them about Martin Luther King and George Washington Carver. So we’re going to jam peanut butter down these kids’ throats and say accept this, accept this. That’s not going to work. They’ve tried it. It’s not going to work.
Baumgartel: So what works?
Meeink: What works is when you get, as an example, groups of males of all different races, you get them in a room and you say, who here has dealt with their family in alcoholism or addiction? You take these little survey, and I’m going to tell you right now that a black guy and white guy whose father, no matter which father it was who drank too many 40 ounces or drank too much scotch, that kid knows that pain of: my dad is going to break a promise, he’s not going to come home tonight. That’s true diversity, us dealing with the same things in our lives. Whose mother has dealt with breast cancer? Who knows that pain? Pain is what brings people together. If I’m out somewhere and I just broke up with my girlfriend and I want to “woe is me,” and all my friends are like, forget her, but a guy, maybe not in the same color says he’s going through the same thing, I’m going to talk to that guy because I want to know what he is doing to stop feeling the same pain that I’m feeling. That’s true diversity.
Then the second thing you hear from people, and you hear this a lot from white people, is when are they going to give up on that slavery thing? I wasn’t even here then. My family wasn’t even here then. Well, I like to say it’s not so much slavery as it was like the ‘50s and the ‘60s when we were spraying fire hoses at people and dogs on each other and you might not have having nothing to do with that, but (and this is sad to say) until that generation dies out that went through that, there’s still going to be this tussle a little and hopefully we’re going to get by that and get through it and people can say hey, we were wrong in this part. Where I went to school, black kids used to beat us up all the time because we went to an almost all black school. Finally one day I ran into a guy I went to school with and he apologized because I was telling him I used to get my butt whooped all the time and he’s like yeah, I know. He’s like, we all did it. Sorry. So until there’s dialogue, that’s when you really going to start having some closure on things and move forward.
Baumgartel: Have you ever had one of those experiences where you ran into somebody that you had beaten up?
Meeink: Yeah. I got to run into, and this was a complete God thing, I was in Saint Louis and while I was there I got to run into the guy that I kidnapped, that I went to prison for. He was just sitting there, out of the blue.
Baumgartel: Where were you?
Meeink: I went into this bar and I think it was called O’Tooles. It’s in downtown Saint Louis and I was trying not to drink at the time so I was drinking O’Doul’s, which doesn’t work by the way if anyone is a recovering alcoholic, don’t try the non-alcoholic beer. Anyway, I was just starting to try and get sober at the time, so I’m drinking these O’Doul’s and I look across and there he is. So I keep looking and I finally got up enough courage, not even alcohol courage, this was just real God-given courage, and I went over and I said, hey, is your name such and such and he said yeah. I looked different at the time so he said yeah, I’m him. I said did you used to be a sharp skinhead? And he kind of pulled away from me and as soon as he did he kind of looked at me and I said, dude, have you ever been kidnapped? And he just said, oh my god, it’s you. He’s like I just seen you because I just did this MTV special like a couple weeks before then and he’s like I seen you on MTV. He’s like great work. And I was like, well first off, before you give me any praise, I need to make an amends right now and I made my amends and he said ah, don’t worry about it. Stuff happens. I just said, any way I can make it right. And she said, nah, just keep doing what you’re doing. And we hung out for maybe six hours in Saint Louis. So I had that moment.
Baumgartel: What did that do for you as you moved forward?
Meeink: It took a weight off my shoulders. With almost all amends that you make towards people or whenever you can admit that you’re wrong, when you know in your heart you’re wrong, like your shoulders just loosen up. The weight the world comes off. Oh, what an experience. You know? Even at the moment when you’re making that amends or making an apology to somebody, you kind of are embarrassed. All of the feelings and emotions that go through with admitting that you’re wrong, but once it’s over, and the person either accepts or doesn’t accept, sometimes I get people that don’t accept my amends, but I know I did my part. When people say well what do you do if someone doesn’t fit that amends and they say go screw yourself anyway? I know that what another person thinks of me is none of my business now. What I think of myself and what I think of that person is all my business and if I can live that way, then I’m okay. I try to believe that. You know?
Baumgartel: So we just recently saw the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. When that happened, do you remember where you were?
Meeink: Oh absolutely.
Baumgartel: Talk to me about how the bombing affected you.
Meeink: I remember where I was. I was in a grocery store in South Phili and the guy behind the counter was watching TV and he wasn’t like paying attention to me so I was like hey, just trying to get his attention, I said what’s going on? And he said a bomb. Someone blew up a building in Oklahoma. At first, like everyone, well terrorists? How? I got my sandwich, I went home and as I was eating I started listening to the news because it was on every news channel at the time. I didn’t have 24 hour news, it was just normal news and it just overwhelmingly came over me. This is the movement. Like I just know it.
Baumgartel: How did you know?
Meeink: Because of the Turner Diaries. The Turner Diaries talks about doing almost the same exact type of thing and I just knew. I don’t know. It was like a spider sense that just said, hey, here’s the movement. And I had been out of the movement now for about a year and so that whole weekend I kept watching the pictures and there was a picture of this little girl in this guy’s arms.
Baumgartel: A very famous photograph.
Meeink: Yeah and she’s dead. And I didn’t see my daughter at the time and so I’m just full of emotions over all of this and this picture and I felt so evil. Even though I was out of it, I just felt evil on the inside and I knew I looked evil on the outside; I still had the swastika on my neck. So on Monday, after Oklahoma City, this whole weekend I’ve gone through it, I went to the FBI and said hey, I need to talk to somebody and they sat and listened to me. I didn’t have any information. I wasn’t there to rat on anyone. I didn’t know Timothy McVeigh, but I knew I wanted to be a Timothy McVeigh when I was in the movement. That’s how hard believed and now I see the end results, so maybe I was a guy on the fence. I don’t know, but I seen the end result of that little girl and I talked for a couple of days with them. Then they said hey, thanks for coming in. I, again, didn’t have anything criminal and they said why don’t you go to a civil rights organization. So I went to the ADL because they had done some work together and the ADL is an information group.
Baumgartel: The Anti-Defamation League.
Meeink: Yep and I went and met with them and met in a little hotel lobby in Center City Phili. It was all cloak and dagger like and I talked to these guys about my life and I did the same thing. What happened was they were testing me. I remember they were asking me about incidents. Was I there when so and so got stabbed in a beating? I was honest. I was like no, I wasn’t there or yes I was there. I think they knew the answers to the questions they were just seeing if I was going to do this - oh, I was there but I didn’t do anything or –
Baumgartel: They were looking to see whether you were owning up to your involvement in years previous.
Meeink: And I think they wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to be all bravo about it – ah, I was always there and I – I was, just hey, I was there or I wasn’t. So it started with that picture and that’s how I started speaking and then to move forward with that, I didn’t want to be the guy who just went around and said, oh, look at me, look how great I am. I don’t do bad things anymore. I wanted to continue to do good things so I started Harmony through Hockey.
Baumgartel: And so harmony through hockey is this program that brings a diverse group of urban kids together through hockey.
Meeink: Yeah. It’s not rocket science on my part. I wasn’t a genius for coming up with this program. It was easy. You make rules and the rules are – the first rule is you can’t laugh at the kids. You can’t laugh at a kid who falls down. And I made up little tasks that they would have to do like go home and do something nice for somebody and don’t tell them you did it. That’s the hardest job. Doing something nice for someone and getting praise for it is great, but when you can’t get that praise, awe, the whole week, every time your grandfather says, I wonder who cleaned up my yard. You want to say I did it, I did it, but you can’t. So they would come back and they would tell me what they did and the good thing is you would hear stuff like my grandfather was cleaning out his gutters and when he went around the back of the house I hurried up and cleaned up the mess. Great job! That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Another kid would say, well, when my mom got home I hurried up and brought in all the groceries. I said, no! You’re supposed to do that. Go home and do something else. So I kind of was giving him this thing like you need to do that.
And then the other tasks were go home and tell someone that lives in your house three reasons why you love them. Just have that moment. So they would come back to practice the next week and I would say, so what did you tell? And they all would come up. I told my sister I love her. She’s funny. I said okay, now go home and ask three reasons why they love you and come back and tell me. So we do little things that kind of help build character I think.