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'Put peace before victory'

Susanne Urban
Susanne Urban
Leader of the International Women's League for Peace and Fertility (IKFF-Bergen).
MEMORIAL WORDS / Johan Galtung. Could the 21st century see the abolition of war – just as slavery was abolished in the 19th century and colonialism in the 20th?


(Galtung. Photo: Truls Lie)

The world's first professor of peace research, Johan Galtung is dead, aged 93. Thus, Norway and the world have lost a person completely out of the ordinary. Galtung has been active, optimistic, creative and positive peace worker for over 70 years. Already at the age of 24, he wrote his first book, Gandhi's Political Ethics. At the time he was in prison for refusing to join the military. No one had systematized Gandhis non-violent strategies before Galtung and his mentor the ecosophist Arne Ness took over.

The UN's main purpose is to protect future generations from the scourge of war. Few, if any, have contributed as much as Johan Galtung to demonstrate the possibilities for peacebuilding.

Terms like positive peace and negative peace; direct violence, structural violence and cultural violence; or conflict resolution in three stages: mapping, legitimation and bridge-building.

Compromise or peace? Johan was a troublemaker for peace. He has always advocated non-traditional and partly controversial opinions in lectures, lectures and in around 160 books on the many facets of peace. More than 40 of the books have been translated into other languages. The book Transcend and Transform is available in 25 different languages. Galtung has published more than 1700 articles and book chapters and for many years has written weekly contributions for Transcend Media Service-TMS, a website for solution-oriented peace journalism. Johan was one of the driving forces behind the creation of PRIO: , Peace Research Institute Oslo. He has been a visiting professor at around fifty universities, has 10 honorary doctorates and has received several honorary professorships between 1975 and 2017. He was awarded the alternative Nobel Prize Right Livelihood Award in 1987, and has received numerous awards, including in Norway, Spain, the USA, China and India.

Resolving a target collision

It is not conflict which is dangerous, but if we try to solve one target collision with violence. People are different, they have different goals. That goals collide is natural. Like the good pedagogue he was, Johan drew simple figures on flipchart sheets during lectures and lectures. The result? Terms like positive peace and negative peace; direct violence, structural violence and cultural violence; or conflict resolution in three steps: mapping, legitimation and bridge-building – are no longer concepts only for those with a special interest. Johan Galtung has given the world a whole set of concepts to create a culture of peace. Galtung's method of peace involves transcending a conflict in a creative way: Bringing in a new element, a joint project, which can lead to a win-win situation for all parties.

Alternatives to military thinking is created with words and concepts that can be compared to strategic thinking from war schools around the world. Galtung's life's work gives us access to a set of theories that show how conflicts can be transformed without the use of violence.

The Art of Peace

Galtung was grateful for everything he learned from his collaborator and spouse – the Japanese Fumi. Not least the recognition that our Western 'either/or mindset' – 'Either you are with us or you are against us' is a dangerous limitation. After all, there is also 'neither' and not least: both-and. Both-and rather than either or has been Galtung's basic teaching, both as a teacher and as a mediator in many conflict situations around the world.

Many important people have received great recognition only after their death. May it happen to Galtung and his method. May PEACE be put on the school timetable!

He himself formulates the future for peace practice thus, in the afterword to the book The Art of Peace (2017):
To improve, compete with yourself, not with others. Don't contribute to a society of winners and losers.
Focus on the positive. The focus, positive or negative, is your choice.
Use dialogue for the joint search for sustainable solutions. Ask: what does the family, school, country, region look like that you want to be a part of? Was it better before? Where did it go wrong? What is the worst thing that has happened? The worst that could happen?

Conflict hygiene

With conflict hygiene we can go far. Doctors have shared knowledge about washing hands and brushing teeth as hygiene; the time is ripe for conflict hygiene. Teaching people to take care of their own health has brought us further than advanced drugs and surgical procedures.

A long life devoted to unceasing work for peace by peaceful means is over. Galtung's efforts have contributed to the achievement of interim targets. People all over the world have been inspired by the peace professor's thoughts, and not least actions.

The 21st century may see war abolished – just as slavery was abolished in the 19th century and colonialism in the 20th. Although elements of slavery and colonialism still exist in the world, they are no longer accepted social institutions.

May Johan Galtung, the founder of the academic discipline 'peace studies', be right! There are many of us who are determined to keep alive the spark of peace he ignited in us.

Johan, we shine PEACE over your memory.


Urban is the author of the book Galtung's method for peace – the peace researcher's life, theories and influence. She is a council member of the Hardanger Academy for Peace, Development and the Environment.

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