From a culture of war to a culture of peace

Conflicts and wars never and nowhere happen accidentally, although their motives and justifications might seem sudden, hasty and completely banal. No matter how much peace advocates are appalled by this fact, wars have their internal logic, they are deliberate, even in those cases when we believe that complete psychopaths initiate them. It is important to keep in mind the truth about wars, because wars have been a constant of the whole human history and numerous wars are ongoing even in our time, in spite of the fact that we have outgrown the older generations in terms of humanity and civilisation. Wars are a continuous danger and we always have to watch out for them.

Some modern political scientists claim that past wars were more humane and fair than the wars of today, because they were announced and were fought mostly by soldiers, who remained in the war theatre. While in previous centuries, there were attempts to ”limit wars”, today we are witnesses of a ”non-limitation of the war”, so that its diffuse forms are invading the normalcy and daily life, erasing boundaries between the war and civilisation (H. Maier). Many persons in our region, who have been victims of atrocious abuse, torture, rape and killing, have witnessed the terrifying face of the war. The very knowledge of the nature of modern wars – the impossibility to separate military goals from civilian life – would have to deter persons from war, because anyone can be its subject and object, perpetrator and victim.


Another truth about the war relates to its rationality and intentionality, no matter how senseless and irrational war might seem to some people. In his book War and Myth, the Zagreb-based political scientist Dejan Jović claims that the tragedy of Yugoslav wars consisted in the fact that they were a rational political choice of those that initiated and provoked them. Every party had its ”legitimate” interests and tried to justify them rationally. After having achieved a great political and military power as a result of blackmail, coercion, and even murders, and by seizing the most important institutions of the former state, Slobodan Milošević was of the opinion that he had the right to defend the defined political goal of the Great Serbia also by starting a war – in order for all Serbs to be in a single state. In face of such violent politics and great military power, other political leaders of peoples in Yugoslavia back then believed that they had the right to defend their legitimate interests and that they could be defended only through a war. During a gathering in Zagreb in May 1992, when Croatia became a member of the United Nations, Franjo Tuđman stated that ”there would not have been a war, if we had given up on our goal to create an independent state of Croatia”, and Alija Izetbegović also thought similarly, when in February 1992, he stated that ”he would sacrifice peace for an independent Bosnia, but that he would not sacrifice an independent Bosnia for peace” (according to Jović). The war was justified in a similar way from the Slovenian and Kosovar perspective. The international community, in itself divided and inebriated by the fall of communism, did not know how to resolve the Yugoslav crisis, so that it allowed implicitly that the crisis be resolved through wars. Given the fact that Yugoslavia was falling apart and dying in political terms and given the fact that there was no strong power that would prevent the war or given the fact that the power that was supposed to protect peace (Yugoslav National Army) was the main implementer of wars, this has led to wars. The most terrible one was the ”unfinished one” (I. Lovrenović) in Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to Jović, a political scientist, a war does not happen because most people want it, or because some people in a society are getting armed and applying violence against others, but rather because there is nobody to stop them from initiating a wave of violence towards peaceful citizens or other armed groups. People are generally prone to violence and evil, and in order to preserve peace, a higher force (a functioning state) is needed in order to guarantee peace.

If we apply this observation to Bosnia and Herzegovina, we have to state with concern that there may be no war and that there will be no war in Bosnia and Herzegovina as long as there is no higher power that does not want it or a power that is able to control the regime of Republika Srpska and the Croatian and Bosniak nationalism. Given the fact that there is no such power on the inside due to the fragmentation of the three peoples and their ethnic policies, a non-functioning state, secessionism of Republika Srpska and Herceg-Bosna and Bosniak patriotic nationalism, what will happen when the higher power is no longer interested in preserving and maintaining peace in this region or when the higher power or several high powers (in plural) are interested in a new war for their own political interests!?

If someone thinks that such questions cause an apocalyptic atmosphere among the people in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the Balkans for no reason, they should remember that on the eve of past wars, only rare persons thought that such wars were possible, thinking that most people do not want a war and that the international community would not permit such a war. Peaceful and benevolent persons in this region were deeply disappointed when they understood that there were persons among them that wanted a war and that the international community would not stop it.

A peace that is maintained only or mostly by a power or control from outside cannot survive as soon as such a party is no longer interested in it. Preserving peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina therefore requires an internal anti-war atmosphere and a culture of peace that will not only be a matter of the good will of persons, but will also be protected by the state, European and international peace and stability framework. Its purpose should not, however, only be maintaining the existing state, but rather establishing a functioning rule of law in which all members of the social community will be interested in peace, their own good and the good of the whole society.


All wars of the human kind, including also the most recent ones, were interrupted or ended in some sort of politically agreed truce or peace. Every politically achieved peace was in favour of those parties that were stronger and more powerful in political terms, whereas the weaker parties were left with a deep and strong disappointment and frustrations. The war in Bosnia and Herzegovina ended in the same way, as a result of great and mighty powers, through political pressures and compromises, through forced trade in territory and injustice towards many persons. It was clear since the beginning that such a ”political peace” could not bring peace among persons, so that many persons rightly claim that the Dayton Peace Agreement stopped the war, but has not brought peace.

The Croatian sociologist Željko Mardešić wrote immediately after the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement at the end of 1995 that a political or worldly peace was rarely a fair peace, because it was primarily the consequence of political compromises and rivalry, rather than ethics. A political peace is therefore rarely a fair peace, and Mardešić is sorry that in most religions, peace ceased to be a religious category. According to this sociologist, there is as much worldly peace as there is force and cunningness, and there is as much religious peace as there is faith. However, Mardešić believes that a worldly peace, although it is unfair, weak and achieved as a result of a compromise, is still more efficient than a religious peace, which does not have the same effect.

It is a fact that peace is primarily maintained in a political manner, but this does not exclude the need and necessity to think about it from a religious perspective (the perspective of a believer). All religions like to claim that they are religions of peace, referring to their holy books or their teaching, but their practice confutes them, because many wars also have religious connotations, just as it was the case with wars on the territory of the former Yugoslavia. The peace between various religions and peace-making, religious obligations, are frequently mentioned in Bosnia and Herzegovina, too, and in spite of many religiously inspired and motivated peace initiatives, the members of various religions are mutually distant and indifferent, even exclusive, which eventually can always be used to deepen the conflict. Although persons are reluctant to admit this due to religious hypocrisy and lack of credibility, the term faith has completely lost its value and become banal, a collective religious and national value, ”vulgar superstition” (M. Krleža), contrary to universal human and ethical values.   

The wars in our region were not religious, but they were in part inspired and justified by religion and God’s name and it therefore makes sense to recall again the frequently quoted sentence of the Swiss Catholic theologian Hans Küng ”that without peace among religions there is no peace among peoples”, which in our Bosnian-Herzegovinian context would mean – without peace among Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims, there is no peace among Croats, Serbs and Bosniaks. Given the historical dependency and intertwined nature of religious and ethnic identities in this region and given the fact that wars in this region were in part also characterised by religious intolerance, these words call even more seriously for vigilance and caution, but also the necessity for building a religious culture of peace.


In a moment when war terminology, images and associations are used in our public space, seemingly more than during previous years, when verbal sabre-rattling is used everywhere in a light-headed, inconsiderate and arrogant manner and national muscles are shown, when even new borders and demarcations are mentioned, be it only for the purpose of pre-election campaigns, it is necessary to seriously call for political, but also religious peace – peace that is advocated based on a believer’s conviction. Given the fact that we still live in a region in which wounds from previous wars have not yet healed, that many persons were victims of atrocious crimes, that it is not easy to forgive the crimes that persons suffered and that many people strive at vengeance, be it even in secret, the fragile and unprotected peace that we have now can be easily endangered – easier than one can sometimes imagine, given one’s too optimistic faith in the sound judgement and goodness of persons.

The history teaches us that the more power a regime or a government wishes to have over persons, the more enemies it needs, who endanger it, and that totalitarian regimes simply cannot survive for a long time without enemies (Leszek Kolakowski). Bosnia and Herzegovina and its neighbours are functioning in a certain sense as small totalitarian regimes, so that the governing politicians are mostly interested in becoming, together with their supporters, ”as unpopular as possible in the eyes of other peoples” (K. Mann), because the culture of war and war rhetoric are the easiest ways to maintain hatred among persons and stay in power.

Pre-election campaigns show the real face of the Bosnian and Herzegovinian society – immoral, irresponsible, violent and arrogant politicians who are followed and supported by misguided and intoxicated masses, whose hysterical howls and facial expressions are spine-chilling. To what extent persons are ready to do evil things is also visible based on social networks, where any opinion that differs from that of most people, especially in case of national and religious issues, is followed by a terrifying outburst of rage and hatred, an incredible quantity of insults and defamations, and even readiness to threaten and publicly lynch.

At the same time, everyone avoids facing the truth, or facing the guilt and responsibility and resorts to the opinion according to which ”everyone is guilty”, which then means that nobody is guilty, or the responsibility is raised to the optional general level that ”we are all responsible” for all people and the whole world, which again means that nobody is responsible for anything and anyone. The awareness of collective responsibility is important in circumstances of fighting and conflicting nations and religions, but nations and religions, in whose name the conflict or war is waged, are not being mentioned, but rather specific persons.  

Monstrous acts are by no means always committed by monstrous individuals, but the virtues we admire – mercy, compassion, justice, kindness – are mostly limited to the private sphere and personal relations (T. Eagleton).

It is therefore of the utmost importance to bring back in the public domain a serious discussion of personal guilt, in theological terms, the awareness of personal sin and repentance for the committed sin. In order to reconcile even small daily insults and fights between persons, the perpetrators must be aware of their guilt and the evil they committed and victim must be willing to forgive. It is neither humane nor fair to always expect the victims to forgive, and at the same time to keep silent about perpetrators and their crimes. When in our societies the crimes of perpetrators are justified by saying that the crime should be judged and not the man, which is a demonic stratagem frequently used by persons from the religious sector, especially when they are defending ”their war criminals”, an environment is created, in which criminals are supported, so that evil persons know in advance that they can count on some sort of public or social forgiveness and oblivion. Such a perverted logic favours criminals, creates an insupportable feeling of injustice in case of victims and promotes a life logic according to which it is good to do evil.

Finally, in spite of the complex ethnic and religious relations in our society burdened by the war, war criminals and post-war injustice, in spite of the demoralising atmosphere of a society in which the loudest and most powerful are those that are steeped in evil, it makes sense to forgive and advocate for reconciliation and peace even when it seems that peace makers are usually losers. In a contrary case, we remain hostages of evil and we are at risk of becoming criminals ourselves. Forgiveness and peacebuilding are the basic requirements for humanity and faith. No matter how little comforting and somewhat utopian it might seem to someone, it makes sense to also recall the Biblical words that are also contained in other religious traditions – Blessed are the peace makers, for they will be called sons of God!