Riflessioni sul Perdono, sulla Dignità e sulla Riconciliazione

Eileen Borris

1. I negoziati di pace, generalmente, sono incentrati sulle dimensioni politica ed economica. Quale è la Sua percezione della necessità di toccare aspetti più profondi e genuini della riconciliazione e come si può ottenere questo?

Peace manifests itself not only by the signing of peace accords and in diplomatic agreements signed by government, but also in the relationships established between societies and peoples. Peace goes beyond ending violence. Negotiations involving protracted conflicts need to focus on transforming relationships between the parties if it is to yield an agreement that sustains peace. One can not ignore the psychological aspects of this process, those things not readily visible but which influences the rudder of the ship which navigates the waters. These influences namely our emotions and our needs are what motivate us. During the time of the negotiations there still will be distrust, bitterness and the demonization of the other. Psychological traumas of the past are still very present. The collective turning from the past, which must underlay the process of reconciliation is not likely to have begun and may indeed begin only after other aspects of the peace produce results that seem to indicate that peace is worthwhile and here to stay. And if fears about the other persist, the tendency to define group identity in terms of hatred of the other side will also persist. To resolve the conflict and begin to build a new relationship requires an agreement that satisfies the fundamental needs of both parties and reassures them that their fundamental fears are no longer warranted. Therefore dealing with emotions becomes critical. To achieve reconciliation at a deeper level there needs to be a willingness of all parties to come together to collectively express their feelings, let go of the past and to apologize.
Reconciliation is the long term goal at the end of any process of conflict resolution. Reconciliation requires subjective and objective changes by both parties. It is possible to negotiate without reconciliation or with very limited reconciliation but the peace that is achieved will most likely be very fragile and possibly collapse into violent conflict once again. Even small steps toward reconciliation may provide important support for the peace process. This is where forgiveness plays an important role. Forgiveness is crucial in terms of ending cycles of violence and retaliation, a forgiveness which then supports a reconciliation process in which both sides see that a wrong has been done, that the transgressor must apologize for his and her actions and offer appropriate compensation, and that the victim will therefore abandon the need for revenge to reestablish a relationship of coexistence. In apologizing, expressing sorrow for a wrongful act and asking for forgiveness, it then becomes possible for individuals and groups to be reintegrated into a new type of community.
There are some things that can be done to facilitate this transition. They are as follows.
Mutual acceptance. Mutual acceptance is the critical first step which needs to take place between former enemies. All parties need to accept each other, not only diplomatically but also psychologically which can even be more difficult. The peace agreement needs to satisfy the fundamental needs and fulfill the national aspirations of both parties. All parties need to have a sense that their basic needs have been met. Otherwise cooperation will be minimal at best.
Secondly, each party needs to accept the identity of the “other.” They need to accept one another as human beings having a right to exist. Each party needs to recognize how they have inserted their own narratives about the other to suit their own needs and strengthen their claims. Each group will have to learn how to acknowledge the others identity in ways that are meaningful to the other without negating who they are.
Along with accepting the “others” identity is respecting the other’s life, welfare and dignity. Very often protracted conflicts are characterized by the dehumanization of the other; lack of empathy for the others suffering and the exclusion of the other from one’s own moral community. New attitudes and beliefs need to develop which include care, respect and concern for the “other. ” These attitudes can be expressed through symbolic gestures, public statements that acknowledge the pain and suffering and shared humanity, and that convey commitment to the other. Reconciliation happens when both parties take responsibility for their own actions and also come to the realization that both sides were victims in their conflict.
Feeling secure with a sense of dignity for all communities. For people to be able to trust one another they need to have a sense of security and be treated with respect and dignity. The way this is achieved is with each side giving mutual reassurances as demonstrated by their words and actions that address the existential fears of each party. These gestures need to communicate to the other their sincere commitment in wanting to rebuild relationships. These factors are essential in developing a working trust necessary for long-term security.
Cooperation between groups. Old patterns of destructive behavior need to become new patterns of cooperative behavior. Working on shared goals can lend itself to more cooperative behavior especially in activities which promote economic growth for both communities, better health care, and environmental protection. Working together on common interests can help to stabilize relationships and create new behaviors which support a more peaceful co-existence. Within a political process, cooperative ventures can gradually overcome the structural obstacles as long as the participants have genuine mutual respect for each other.
Institutionalization of conflict resolution methods. As obvious as this may sound, many people do not have skills in resolving conflict. Because of the emotional charge and the trauma of the conflict situations our rational thinking is in short supply. As people gain more skill, and learn more appropriate methods of resolving conflict they will become more adept in resolving their own conflicts. Methods such as dialogue facilitation, interactive problem solving and multi-track diplomacy can all help support healing and reconciliation processes leading to the resolution of conflict.
In their book, War and Reconciliation, William J. Long and Peter Brecke (2003) systematically analyzed interactions between warring factions in 10 recent civil wars. What emerged from their research was that 7 out of 10 civil was ended with a lasting peace. (Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, El Salvador, Mozambique, South Africa, and Honduras) They concluded that the civil wars that ended in forgiveness, reconciliation or both were characterized by 4 processes.

  1. Countries that achieve lasting peace succeeded in redefining the affected people’s identity. The way this was achieved was by helping people return to the lives they led before they were drawn into conflict. Examples of how this was done were that plans needed to be implemented to reconstruct people’s homes and the infrastructure of their towns. Soldiers must be reintegrated back into society so that they can resume their former lives. The role of the military needs to shift from enforcer of government policies to protecting people and the nation.
  2. Nations implementing small actions indicating their desire for reconciliation succeeded in establishing new and better relations with each other.
  3. There was a process of public truth telling through which the warring factions can reach consensus about how to understand the injustices they’ve suffered and the harms they’ve perpetrated upon each other. The truth and reconciliation commissions that have been used in South Africa, Cambodia, and elsewhere exemplify what Long and Brecke have in mind here.
  4. Some form of even a partial justice needed to be in place which provided a combination of three ingredients, legal consequences for some perpetrators and losses to their moral standing and reputations, amnesty for other perpetrators and reparations to some victims.

Long and Brecke also comment that people appear to be able to tolerate a substantial amount of injustice by amnesty in the name of social peace. What this implies is that people do not need to have revenge or even a sincere apology. It appears that public shaming, a sincere commitment not to repeat the behavior, and receiving some form of compensation is sufficient and what people are willing to have in order for there to be peace.

2. Quali sono le condizioni nelle quali, al di là dell’assicurare gli interessi della parti in conflitto, può essere stabilito un processo incentrato su un senso di equità e dignità?

Groups of people and leaders of nations have grappled with this question of how to replace violence with a process based in fairness and dignity. Part of the struggle in dealing with these issues has led to trials, tribunals and truth commissions. Certain issues have arisen as a result of these different processes and perhaps there have been more questions raised than answered. Some societies emerging from collective violence such as Argentina and Rwanda have on occasion sought to prosecute those who gave orders to kill and torture, those who enacted those orders, or those who benefited from those orders. Less aggressive responses came from East Germany giving public access to previously secret police files and Czechoslovakia’s screening and removal of officials and civil servants involved in the old regime from public office. These processes satisfied people’s needs both to know what happened and to establish a clear break with the past. Other strategies where developed such as naming names of those who were implicated in human rights violations in Brazil. Eventually processes included creating truth commissions which included the victims sharing their stories and hearing the perpetrators talk about the truth of what happened and at whose hands. As these commissions evolved some countries, the most famous being South Africa began to grant amnesty or immunity from prosecution to those involved in the horrors if they told the truth about their political crimes. The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission illustrates the effort to combine an investigation into what happened, a forum for victim testimony, a process for developing reparations, and a mechanism for granting amnesty for perpetrators who honestly spoke of their role in politically motivated violence.
Survivors of violence often ache for retribution against their perpetrators, and for public acknowledgement of what has happened. Some South Africans for example wanted street justice and punishment for their perpetrators. Where justice was not possible the minimal requirement for forgiveness most insisted was to be told the full, honest and unvarnished truth. Some wanted financial redress; psychological and/or spiritual healing; while others place a higher priority on moving ahead with life building or rebuilding trust across the divide and establishing or strengthening democratic institutions. Some people believe that the entire society needs to support punishing the wrong doers. Others want to just forget the past and move forward as though nothing really has happened. Given the disparities concerning what works and what doesn’t, there have been some things we learned about healing a group of people or a nation.
Developing a process that is centered on a sense of fairness and dignity requires a delicate balance between issues involving transitional justice. The difficulties are that there is a sharp clash between the need to accommodate to end the conflict and the need to punish the guilty which is very important especially for the process of psychological healing. Truth commissions such as the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission have tried to address this delicate balance in the hope that the revelation of the truth combined with amnesty will be a partially effective substitute for the quest for justice and the ensuing dangers of instability. The problem is if there is no retribution victims will continue to demonize perpetrators. Psychologically the victims need to have their losses recognized by the enemy so that their grief is validated and their self-esteem raised. Especially for new democracies and new peace agreements, there is a clear political need to show citizens that things have really changed.
With the advent of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, there have been debates concerning the role of truth telling and if truth is even necessary. Many survivors think they need to know the truth to move forward depending on the people and circumstances. They feel that without disclosure of the truth about what happened to their loved ones the actual suffering and violation of the rights of the relatives of the victims would be perpetuated. Jose Zalaquett, a Chilean lawyer and human rights activist who served on the Chilean Truth and Reconciliation Commission emphasized that official truth-telling is important in order to prevent the military or other groups or institutions responsible for past abuses to escape the judgment of history and insist on exculpatory versions of what happened. There is a need for successor democracies to present to the people a clear and unvarnished picture of the true character of the regime. Following this line of thought, truth telling facilitates national reconciliation. Yet the opposite is also true and/or that reconciliation may be affected by other factors quite apart from knowing or acknowledging the truth about past wrongs. Reconciliation depends on a clear end to the threat of further violence; a reparations program for those injured; attention to structural inequalities and basic material needs of victimized communities; the existence of natural linkages in society that bring formerly opposing parties together; or just the passage of time.“
By listening to victims stories gives victims a public voice and brings their suffering to the awareness of the broader public. This in turn can increase the publics understanding and appreciation of victims needs. For some victims this process may have a cathartic or healing effect. It is also believed that by directly confronting conflicts it is thought that these conflicts will be less likely to explode into severe violence. Yet in some cases truth telling can also increase tension especially when the truth pertains to exposing the culpability of powerful figures.
In a similar vein, many proponents of truth telling assert that forgiveness and reconciliation will result from airing the full truth. The question often asked is how can victims forgive without knowing whom to forgive and what to forgive them for? Some people argue that finding and making public the truth about abuses is an obligation of the state, and that there is an inherent right to truth held by victims and survivors, or by society as a whole. These are some compelling reasons for the undertaking of truth seeking yet because of the sensitivity and complexity of many situations this may not be the best path to follow.
People have asked, “Why reopen wounds that have been closed? ” Horacio Verbitsky, a prominent Argentine journalist answered this by saying “Because they were badly closed. First you have to cure the infection, or they will reopen themselves.” This is the argument given by those who insist on the need for digging up the past.
Unhealed wounds of society and of individual victims may continue to fester long after the fighting stops or at the end of a repressive regime. A country may need to repair torn relationships between ethnic, religious, regional or political groups, between neighbors and between political parties. Many survivors of violent political repression suffer a painful psychological and emotional hell for years. Many argue that an important function of truth commissions is helping victims heal through providing a forum for them to tell their stories. A psychological tenant is that expressing one’s feelings, especially in talking out traumatic experiences is necessary for recovery and for psychological health. Simply by giving victims and witnesses a chance to tell their stories to an official commission – especially one that is respectful, nonconfrontational, and interested in their stories – can help them regain their dignity and begin to recover.
Another psychological tenant states that past traumas do not simply go away with the passage of time. Past traumas can have emotional consequences for an individual. Repressed pain and trauma generally block emotional life, have psychologically adverse consequences and can even lead to physical ailments. Psychological healing can only happen when space is provided for survivors to feel heard and for details of the traumatic event to be re-experienced in a safe environment. Survivors of intense trauma who try to repress their feelings are more likely to experience physical and/or psychological symptoms or damage to their family or social relationships. Judith Herman, a Harvard psychiatrist who has written a great deal about trauma has stated that “remembering and telling the truth about terrible events are prerequisites both for the restoration of the social order and for the healing of individual victims.” By telling one’s story a “conspiracy of silence” that often develops around political violence is broken and the sense of isolation and loneliness begins to diminish.
Unfortunately when we think about telling one’s story as a way of healing, the assumptions that are made do not necessarily hold true for truth commissions. The healing effects happen when victims are given a safe and supportive environment to talk about their suffering. Truth commissions only offer a one-time opportunity to tell their story usually to someone they have never met before nor will they see again. Some anecdotes on the effects of victims giving testimony are very positive while others are very concerning and raise some very serious questions.
Although telling one’s story can have a therapeutic effect, what isn’t so clear is the danger of retraumatization. Victims and witnesses can be retraumatized when telling their stories to the degree that they can experience a multitude of debilitating physical and psychological disturbances which can lead to posttraumatic stress disorder, PTSD. When victims and witnesses are asked to relate the details of their story in one sitting and are not given follow-up support, the emotional and psychological impact can be great.
No one can argue that there is a “right to truth.” However, truth can be painful and exposing the details of the past can be dangerous and destabilizing especially when relationships are fragile as communities begin to rebuild peace. The factor to consider involve the people most directly affected. Are they ready to face the horrors of the past and should they be obligated too? Are there reasons in someone’s history, culture, or religious beliefs that would make truth-seeking very unnerving and difficult? Two such countries, Mozambique and Cambodia both of which have seen horrific violence and both for different reasons have rejected the idea of broad-scale truth telling during their respective political transition. In Mozambique, people did not want to re-enter conflict, hatred and pain. They preferred silence over confrontation. Everyone was turning on everyone which made the conflict very complex and so the people felt to leave well enough alone. The belief in Mozambique was the more that was left alone, the more likely reconciliation could take place. There were virtually no calls on the national level for justice, accountability, punishment or banishment from office. Strangely reconciliation on a basic level of living together without ongoing conflict came quickly to Mozambique.
Although the dynamics were different in Cambodia, they too chose to remain silent instead of reopen wounds and dig up old horrors. The feelings among the Cambodians is that a broad public hearings process might be considered too confrontational or dangerous given that many former Khmer Rough members are still scattered throughout society. It is also unlikely that Cambodians, severely traumatized by unbroken decades of war and mass killings would risk playing an active role in a truth commission. There would be too much to lose and too little to gain.
Priscilla Hayner (2002) speaks of several reasons why countries would consider not getting involved in truth telling.
Fear of negative consequences. In some places violence could increase or a new war started if the past were revisited.
Lack of political interest. There is a lack of interest from those in leadership positions and a lack of support from significant nongovernmental leaders.
Other urgent priorities. Depending on the situation the country finds itself in there may be more important pressing priorities such as survival needs and a lack of basic institutional structures.
Alternative mechanisms or preferences. Mozambique is an example of this where the indigenous national characteristics make truth seeking unnecessary because of the use of traditional healers.
The discussion above indicates that there is no correct answer concerning truth seeking and
telling one’s story. These issues and what to do about them can also be a function of time, allowing countries to get more stable as they develop democratic institutions and as tensions ease. Whatever the case, although some of the circumstances may be similar, each situation has its own uniqueness and therefore people will have to make their own decisions given their situation, history, and culture and what is right for them.
There are other conditions which also lead to a sense of fairness and dignity such as the use of a third party. Third party facilitation provides a measure of justice especially to those who suffered under repressive regimes and can serve as a partial remedy for their injuries. Through the use of third party facilitation tangible facts about past crimes can be established which in turn promotes confidence in the new political arrangements and which improves chances for a transformation of relationships within society.
Other measures include specific reforms in the judiciary, armed forces, and political sector; the removal of perpetrators from active military or police duty, and measures to instill a human rights culture in society including through human rights education and a national commitment to uphold the standard of international human rights norms through ratifying international human rights treaties.

3. Quanto il perdono è essenziale alla dimensione della riconciliazione? Alla radice della Sua cultura politica e/o della Sua fede religiosa quali sono i principi che implicano o escludono il perdono? Quali versi o detti che fanno parte del Suo personale patrimonio spirituale possono, nella sua opinione, avere un significato universale

To understand the degree to which forgiveness is an essential dimension of reconciliation, we need to understand what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is a voluntary act in which a person makes a decision – a choice – about how he or she will deal with an event concerning the past. One of these choices may be based on the belief that people can judge events, measure the magnitude of an offense, and decide that receiving an equal amount of retribution somehow balances the account. Another choice is to practice the attitude of forgiveness. This attitude allows us to let go of anger and resentment by deciding to absolve what we perceive as wrongs committed by the other. We recognize how our attitudes and beliefs color the actual situation and that we form our attitudes and beliefs based on our judgments and perceptions. Judgments and perceptions are based on our fears and needs at the time of the event. They are not facts, although we want to interpret them as such. The attitude of forgiveness is founded on the understanding that we screen and create the past through the process of judgment in the same way that we screen and create the present through the process of perception, and that our judgments and perceptions are subjective and unreliable. Therefore, it is through our filters of judgment and perception that we dictate our reality and not our deeper understanding of the actual event.
From its inception, forgiveness involved a process that required a change in perceptions and judgments. Changing perceptions directly effects the healing of anger and hatred. In our willingness to see the situation differently these emotions begin to diffuse to the point that we no longer want to act out revenge. As we face the truths about ourselves making it possible for us to see others differently, we are taking the first steps in becoming more compassionate human beings. This brings us to a point where, because of our own development of compassion, we are willing to help others regardless if there has been acknowledgement from the offender.
Forgiveness is a private process dealing with ones personal inner healing. Reconciliation is about restoring relationships. It is about an outward behavior, not an inward condition. Forgiveness is an internal process of getting over your need for revenge, letting go of your emotional baggage and opening yourself up to the possibility of a renewed positive relationship with the offender. Reconciliation is a restoration of a fractured relationship that happens because the victim has forgiven the offender and because the offender has taken responsibility for his/her actions.
There are some important distinctions to point out. For example, this distinction acknowledges that a seemingly friendly gesture from someone you betrayed last month doesn’t necessarily mean that all has been forgiven. Also people can forgive even if it is ill-advised for them to resume relationships with offenders who haven’t shown any remorse or any desire to change their nasty behavior. This could make reconciliation difficult and perhaps dangerous. Defining forgiveness as something private therefore allows people to be ‘forgiving’ and to release their own emotional pain without having to be in a relationship that is ill-advised.
However, reconciliation and forgiveness have much in common. Getting over your grudge and starting to feel positively again toward someone who harmed you is one of the most important psychological causes of reconciliation. Restoring relationships is probably the most basic social effect of forgiveness. Similarly if a fractured relationship did not return to ‘normal levels of tolerance and cooperation’ most likely forgiveness was the missing ingredient. The main adaptive function of forgiveness seems to be helping individuals preserve their valuable relationships.
Forgiveness is the starting point setting the stage for reconciliation to take place.

4. Il perdono richiede qualche forma di pentimento da parte di coloro a cui il perdono viene offerto? Il perdono ha condizioni o è senza condizioni?

Forgiveness on a personal level is about inner healing. There is a quote from a book called A Course in Miracles which says: “Projection makes perception. The world you see is what you gave it, nothing more than that… It is the witness to your state of mind, the outside picture of an inward condition. As a man thinketh, so does he perceive. Therefore, seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world. Perception is a result and not a cause.
We are the ones that give meaning to the events we experience in our lives. Meaning comes from what is going on inside of ourselves and then looks out. All the meaning that you give the world is a reflection of what is within you. Therefore we are the ones responsible for what we see and we are the ones who choose the feelings we experience giving meaning to what has happened to us. This is why one person who is filled with anger and guilt will see a very threatening world whereas someone who views the world with understanding and compassion will find peace.
Forgiveness is a process that shows us how to heal emotional pain by choosing to see the person who caused the pain differently. As we begin to acknowledge that the problem is our interpretation of the event we begin to change the way we think about ourselves and the way we see the world. This is what makes forgiveness so radical. It changes the way we think. When we practice forgiveness at its deepest and most profound levels forgiveness contradicts the most commonly held beliefs of this troubled world. It is radical because it involves a transformation of our thinking from thoughts which say, “the problem is out there and therefore other people have to change”, to thoughts which say “I am responsible for my emotional reactions and need to understand the situation differently, through the eyes of understanding and compassion.” Forgiveness is an essential part of our healing, enabling us to release our anger, pain, and suffering. As we learn to forgive and heal our emotional pain, we begin to experience the gift of inner peace.
The transformational power of forgiveness moves us from being helpless victims of our circumstances to powerful co-creators of our reality. We learn to see people anew every day in terms of their future potential, not their past deeds. In becoming more loving, compassionate, and understanding human beings, we gain the ability to have a deeper relationship with ourselves and with the significant people in our lives.
When you understand what forgiveness is from this perspective, how can it require repentance? Forgiveness in this respect is all about the one who has been hurt. If the forgiver had to rely on the “readiness” of the perpetrator then the forgiver may never experience peace of mind. What happens if the perpetrator has died? Does this mean that the victim can never be healed and be at peace? And given that forgiveness is about our personal healing and not dependent on someone else’s behavior then how can there be conditions? Forgiveness is about healing our inward condition. It is not about someone’s outward behavior.
Another difficult aspect of forgiveness deals with the issue of apology. Forgiveness is the driving force behind an apology. While forgiveness is the sole province of the offended, an apology belongs entirely to the offender and is a classic confrontation between both. Nicholas Tavuchis (1991) describes the relationship between forgiveness and apology in the following way; “Something happens; something is said or done that is interpreted and judged offensive, improper, or harmful. An apology is called for, someone apologizes and usually accepted, the offender is forgiven and life goes on as if nothing had happened.” The emphasis on the “as if” acknowledges that some tension and lingering antagonism may remain, but on the surface, “the social slate is wiped clean” although the act itself cannot be undone.
Many people believe that it is necessary to receive an apology before they can forgive. If we were dependent on an apology from someone else, we would become trapped in a state of unforgiveness, experiencing prolonged anger and pain. This is where the power of forgiveness lies. Forgiveness is the gift from someone who has been hurt to give when there is a healing. Making the choice to forgive is part of the healing process that only comes from within.
Forgiveness is not about letting someone get away with murderous acts. It is about asking us to look at the totality of who we are, to accept the shortcomings within ourselves, and to embrace that truth with compassion, understanding, and unconditional love. As we face ourselves with courage and acceptance, we get in touch with our humanity and vulnerabilities. This gift of self-acceptance helps us grow in understanding and compassion, which we can then, ideally, extend to others.
Paul Tillich wrote that forgiveness is the divine answer to our existence. It restores our hearts to the innocence that we once knew—an innocence that allows us the freedom to love. It is the means for taking what is broken and making it whole. It is about the struggles and courageous acts of people who chose to demonstrate forgiveness and, ultimately, love in their lives.
Forgiveness at a political level aims at the renewal of a human relationship. Forgiveness in a political context looks different than forgiveness on a personal level. Forgiveness in a political context supports a reconciliation process in that it seeks to repair the fractures of enmity. People grappling with forgiveness politically are doing so with the goal of preparing themselves to begin living with their perpetrator once again on some level of decency. There is intertwining of the personal with the political in the respect that those who forgive will not let the harm that has happened to them continue to intrude into their lives and in terms of a political context are willing to deal with the wrongdoers in order to reestablish some kind of ‘civil’ relationship so that a community can be rebuilt. As noted by Donald Shiver Jr. (1995), “Forgiveness in a political context, then is an act that joins moral truth, forbearance, empathy and commitment to repair a fractured human relation. Such a combination calls for a collective turning from the past that neither ignores past evil nor excuses it, that neither overlooks justice nor reduces justice to revenge, that insists on the humanity of enemies even in their commission of dehumanizing deeds, and that values the justice that restores political community above the justice that destroys it.
When forgiveness is thought about in a political context people not only need to be able to forgive on a personal level, they need to take what is a personal process and expand it to incorporate a reconciliation process. Whereas forgiveness is about our personal inner healing, reconciliation is involves behavioral change. We need to interact with others for reconciliation to take place. Part of a reconciliation process involves the outward healing of relationships. Therefore some form of repentance such as an apology helps to set the stage for reconciliation to take place. Like forgiveness, apologies are a process which involves three steps:

  1. acknowledging the transgression,
  2. feeling and expressing remorse and repentance for the wrongful act and
  3. doing something to restore an injustice.

Reconciliation is impossible if these conditions are not addressed. When there is a reciprocal recognition of the importance of an apology and the need to be forgiven, this sets the stage for the healing of political relationships.

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