If there is one thing in the world that really terrifies me, it is war. My entire generation grew up in Poland between the official communist propaganda, showing the Second World War as a combination of the country’s heroism and martyrdom, and rare personal accounts of traumatic, near-death war experiences from family members. I remember walking with my father at the seaside one evening. I asked him to turn around and look at an incredibly beautiful red sunset. He replied: “I don’t want to see it; it reminds me of the screams and smells of a burning city as we were led, like cattle, to a train ramp after the fall of the Warsaw uprising.” When that happened, he was four years old – and we had this conversation some 40 years later.
We, humans, are really good at commemorating wars and martyrdom. We have built statues to remember wars and their heroes and to honor the fallen and the victims. We have created commemorative gardens, eternal flames, urban plazas and parks. We hold historical reenactments of battles. We even have entire buildings, often holding museums, that are dedicated to wars. In just one country in Europe, there are more than 100,000 such monuments. They are supposed to allow us to remember the innocent who were killed, and all those who died fighting for their country. They are supposed to remind us of our past, so we do not make the same mistakes again.
The problem begins when they become a part of glorifying wars. Because wars are never glorious. They bring a bloody reality of violence, brutality, pain, death and destruction. They break men and women down because they are about killing and destroying, not about ethos and inspiration.
We need to remember the past and learn from it. But my dream is that we will get better at commemorating and celebrating peace. Not just “negative peace” – the absence of war – but the positive peace from the dreams of Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and others.
Peace that isn’t just talked about but is what we believe in and are ready to work for.
Peace where there is justice and rule of law, and „an environment in which all can flourish regardless of race, color, religion, gender, class or any other social markers of difference”.
Peace that is filled with positive content: human relations that accept the rights of others and are based on respectful dialogue; social systems that serve the needs of the entire population; and the constructive resolution of conflicts, with due attention to the legitimate needs of all concerned.
I have learned that the distance between a dream and reality is called action. It is my deepest personal commitment to never stop acting for the positive peace in the world.