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Working for democracy is working for peace

Democracy is a very difficult and frustrating way to govern, but it is by far the best option we have. Last summer I was travelling in the Western Balkans and I realized how greatly the local youth appreciates their right to express themselves freely and take part in politics. For instance, in Albania the transformation has been enormous as many parents and grandparents of these youths lives through the socialist dictatorship of Enver Hoxha.

We live in a time of big conflicts. Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Mali, The Central African Republic, Venezuela…The list is long, not to mention all those countries that are peaceful in principle but heading towards unsustainable development paths from the human rights perspective. One example is the persecution of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar.

The resources of humanitarian actors are under enormous pressure worldwide. The amount of humanitarian aid given is bigger than ever before, but it is also important to point out that there are exceptionally many ongoing conflicts around the world. This is very clear just by looking at the number of refugees in the world.

The fact that many UN organizations – especially the UNRWA helping Palestinian refugees – face a crisis of funding doesn’t make the situation any easier. The global order that we created around the UN after the Second World War is staggering.

The significance of governance and elections needs to be taken into consideration in conflicts that are close to resolution. The precondition for free elections is that people have the chance to run for candidacy, form parties and take part in political campaigns.

International experts and their know-how in democracy should be a part of peace negotiations

During peace negotiations, I’ve often been asked how to actually take part in campaigns. How to take part in elections, how to take part in government negotiations and how to act if you win the elections? And what to do if you lose the elections – isn’t that reason enough to take up arms again?

Here in Finland we have a long experience in democracy and also in women’s suffrage and participation in decision-making. We also have experience in multiparty governments where parties are required to cooperate. All of these experiences are valuable.

People tend to think it must be easy to be a Finnish negotiator in conflict zones, because Finland has always been a stable and peaceful country. But this is a false assumption that needs to be corrected. We had a bitter and bloody civil war in 1918 and in 1939 our mighty neighbour attacked us.

After explaining Finland’s road to peace people ask how we survived all of this as a nation. How can people in Finland tolerate each other after all that has happened?

These are good questions. However, we do not have definitive answers to them.  Yet, our background both with conflicts and with democracy has given us the ability to discuss these matters.

Peace negotiators are often diplomats. But if the negations include issues of disarmament and border control the presence of military forces and police is sometimes needed. Questions of security are extremely important.

However, there is not enough discussion about how international experts who have experience in politics could contribute to peace negotiations. They have the ability to explain how democratic decision-making works in practice. They can also explain how to find candidates for elections, how to train these candidates, how to plan campaigns and how to take part in the campaigns. Moreover, they are able to explain the significance of government negotiations, and how the government and opposition function in the parliament.

This is the precise know-how that Demo – together with Finnish parliamentary parties – can share. There is more and more demand for this type of know-how around the world.

Pekka Haavisto
MP, Chairman of the Greens in Finland
President of the European Institute of Peace

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