"True Peace – is something bigger than just absence of violence" – theses by the experts on the peacebuilding experience in the Northern Ireland.

2021-12-28 17:15

The well-known representatives of various Christina Churches and theologians suggested the lessons for reconciliation for Ukraine during the webinar “Ecumenism and Peacebuilding: the Experience of the Northern Ireland for Ukraine”. The webinar was organized by the Institute of Ecumenical Studies in partnership with Konrad-Adenauer Stiftung in Ukraine.

"The Northern Ireland is rather interesting, because this case helps us to understand how the dispute on power can have religious colours to it, and how some political conflicts and disputes can be at the same time religious ones", – Dr. Pavlo Smytsnyuk, a director of the Institute of Ecumenical Studies explains it in such a way.

"Еспресо.Захід" collected several theses, that force us to rethink the Ukrainian realities and start looking for ways of building a just peace.

Rev. Tom Layden, Superior of Jesuit Community in Belfast:

1. The conflict in the Northern Ireland (1968-98) was mainly ethnonationalist, but it had also significant religious overtones. This conflict was more about identity and political power than religion. But the reality was that those who were self-identified as British and wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom were largely protestant. And those who were self-identified as Irish and desired the United Ireland, were largely catholic. The fact that political inspiration coincides with the religious identity, brought a religious dimension to the situation, that might not otherwise happened there.

2. How did the Churches act in this situation? Some say they could do a lot more to promote peace. While others acknowledge that the Churches played a significant role in bringing together some of the opposing protagonists. The truth I believe is that the Churches really did a great deal more. They were opposed to violence and they encouraged their members to pursue their political aspirations to peaceful methods. At the same time the Churches knew that the true peace have to be more than just an absence of violence. The true peace had to be built on justice, equity, full civil rights for all. The individual clergy revealed the wish to meet behind the scenes and try to hold negotiations with military groups.

3. Although the Churches have found ways of supporting peacebuilding in the years of conflict and during the “peace” years, there is always the danger of shifting to the negative direction, and not engaging in the denominational self-criticism. This is sectarianism and division have been “pandemic” in the Northern Ireland for generations.

4. There is always a temptation to see the others as more responsible for sectarian attitude and actions. Of course, each tradition may have hidden elements of sectarianism and division. If we always stay only among our own, another part of the community will feel that for us they are invisible.

5. For the churches to continue to support peacebuilding on all the levels, they have to be willing to learn to listen and to ask themselves how the Churches might be contributing to solving the problems in the society – through their own institutions and religious practices. If we are willing to keep on learning, the Churches will be able to engage in dialogue and mediation.

6. If we do not foster this humility in ourselves , then we will not be able to make a helping contribution. All the time we have to be saying that we are part of the problem. How do we need to change to become part of the solution.

Dr. Tetiana Kyselyova, Department of International Relations Director, Mediation and Dialogue Research Center, National University “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy”:

1.Within the recent years in Ukraine we see the emergence of separate actor in peacebuilding – religious actors, this sphere is emerging. These are the initiatives of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

2. The military conflict in Ukraine, the Ukrainian-Russian war is so unique that it is really hard to find similarities with other countries. One of the common features is that Churches in the Northern Ireland truly felt themselves as the part of the problem, as also responsible for the violence and for the conflict. The Churches have overcome this feeling of guilt and moved to active contribution to resolution of this conflict.

3. Regarding the disputes between politics and religion, and Churches can not stay away from the politics because they are part of society. Also there should be certain balance, because when the Church becomes fully surrendered to the state (as we see it on the example of Russia) and becomes the tool for the state without its own agency, without independence, without its position on certain issues. The Church looses the agency and seizes to participate in the dialogue.

4. Whatever happens, communication is important. Churches are capable to keep this daily contact between people much better than other participants of the process.

5. Working towards common identity – that is obviously a way-out. If we move towrds common identity, which for Ukrainian case is the identity of a political nation, this requires certain openness on behalf of the conservative Church. It is significant for Churches to acknowledge variety.

6. We are at different stages of the conflict. For Ukraine a lot of lessons from the British-Irish war are not applicable. The political settlement of the conflict is not possible simply because the Russian-Ukrainian war is a hybrid conflict. We lack the other side, we lack the legitimate subject of the other side, that would recognize itself as the part of the conflict. Until this problem is resolved, any work at high level would be merely impossible. What remains actually for Churches is small steps, working in their own communities, in own parishes, and trying to understand that peace starts in our hearts. Until this work is done, any big political settlements will not give fruits.