In the aftermath of war and armed conflict, societies need to cope with the memory and consequences of past violence. These are profound and manifold: Large groups of the population are traumatized. Formerly opposed groups hold on to contradictory views on past events, which makes it hard for them to live together in peace. Persistent propaganda and conflict-supporting narratives conceal guilt and responsibility by glorifying or victimizing perpetrators. However, if traumatic experience is reproduced, if views and attitudes that have led to the escalation of violence are not reflected upon critically and re-defined in a public manner, there is a high risk that the conflict is kept alive under the surface, ready to escalate anew in the presence of trigger factors.
Learning about the other sides’ grievances and acknowledging injustices, committed by one’s own sides’ representatives are a crucial element of sincere encounters. They can even become stepping stones of reconciliation between former enemies. To achieve sustainable peace, and secure fruitful discussion and reflection about the past between former conflict parties, various methods and approaches have been developed in conflict resolution and peacebuilding. They can be subsumed under the label of “dealing with the past”. These approaches vary profoundly, depending on the conflict analysis as well as target groups, cultural and ideological factors, general circumstances and needs in the conflict region. They range from expert commissions rewriting schoolbooks in a conflict sensitive manner to group therapy for victims to help overcoming trauma.
The Berghof Foundation has been engaging in this context for many years, researching and developing various approaches to dealing with painful pasts in various conflict settings. We are proud to have cooperated with renowned experts. At present, our Caucasus Programme entertains a trilateral process on “Dealing with the Past” in the Georgian-Abkhaz-South Ossetian conflict setting.