Riflessioni sul Perdono, sulla Dignità e sulla Riconciliazione

Valentina Cherevatenko

Dear colleagues,

The search for answers to your questions made me look again at my over 15 year long peace building work, think again of the reasons why started this work and of the results of my practical work in the zones of conflict, – in short, contemplate the long way a whole life long. And this is what I offer you.

1) The modern world is fragile and unstable; and for the most part, in my strong opinion, it is the result of deficient negotiation technologies when negotiations focus only on the political and economic dimensions and ignore in-depth changes caused in mass perceptions by conflicts. For example:

  • When conflicts are deeply rooted in history and occur regularly, many people may experience what professionals call “chosen trauma” with a due attitude on the part of the community. The “chosen trauma” can become any moment a consolidating condition in the hands of some sort of leaders and enhance the risk of a new conflict;
  • Children of survived (after national tragedies) parents more intensively identify themselves with them; adults can “enclose” their traumatized image in the forming personality of their children. The “enclosed images”, as a rule, are associated with the same traumatic event. For all that, common feelings, like humiliation, insult, and offence may be seemingly absent from mass perceptions; but only seemingly because they keep recurring every time the offender is mentioned. Admittedly, they recur in “displaced” or “modified” forms, for example, when humiliation or cruel treatment were experienced in the past or, anyway, not in front of the children. In traditional patriarchal cultures fathers try to distance themselves from painful recollections, even to disclaim then in order to conceal disgrace and avoid experiencing again humiliation and shame. The offender is always, whenever possible, characterized by the community as a bad, unreliable, despicable, criminal, etc. person. As a result, though fathers keep their experiences a secret, children become aware of what had happened to their fathers and negative stereotypes, which further leads to new conflicts;
  • Mechanism of transfer of traumatic memory to next generations is ignored.

This is why I am convinced that negotiation process relating to conflict settlement should be a many-component one, one component being the work with conflict-related mass trauma. Otherwise any passing agreements will or may be violated under the pressure of some events and circumstances.
If the processes of conflict settlement and peace treaty conclusion do not take into account how much the community is traumatized, how to translate the trauma information to the next generation and how to respond to it, this peace treaty may turn out to be a delayed-action mine which will go off sooner or later.

2) The conditions requisite to establish a peace process centered on a sense of fairness and dignity are:

  • Fundamental understanding of the essence and connection of modern problems to their historical causes;
  • All specialists involved in social work on reconciliation should be deeply aware of the people’s history, customs and traditions, mythology, creative and scientific (especially relating to history) work as well as be familiar with social and political processes preceding the latest conflict;
  • Specially organized social therapy work with the population, including organization and holding of psycho-political dialogues in basic groups of 25-30 representatives of parties to conflict (at first separately) ; there must be several groups different in social status and age (from children to the elderly). The main areas of work of these groups include: examining ethnic sentiments (including those of the researchers), studying traditions and symbolic rituals of mourning and responding to conflict (trauma) consequences, including revenge, discussion and differentiation of negative expectations and enemy perceptions, and finally, realistic assessment and vision of peace prospects;
  • Expert negotiators experienced in conducting psycho-political dialogues in groups of 25-30 participants should not belong to the conflict environment.
  • Analysis of the information obtained during the psycho-political dialogues and using it during negotiations and signing the treaty documentation will contribute to the atmosphere of trust and sense of fairness and dignity.

3) In my opinion, forgiveness and reconciliation are conditioned and dependent on each other processes, they can result one from the other. However, reconciliation like forgiveness can be reached only after conducting a few stages of work without which they are doubtful, if not impossible. I am referring to response. The essence of response consists in holding the conflict (or trauma) in remembrance, mourning for the losses, suffering the humiliation or taking revenge. This response can get various forms and be realized in the forms of certain social and economic achievements: mourning for the victims in combination with admitting one’s ethnic guilt or mourning in combination with mass creative work. It is this kind of mourning and symbolic response that makes possible reconciliation and even joint actions like wreath-laying to cenotaph ceremony. In the opinion of some experts, if the generation following the traumatized generation fails to fulfill the “common cause” (mourning, response and in this way relieve oneself of the guilt and shame for the past) it commonly is passed to the third generation. Moreover, this “common cause” can transform from generation to generation.

There are principles in the Christian culture that are dear to my heart.
According to the Bible wisdom “Blessed be peacemekers for they will be called the sons of God” – these words are said when we speak of people who prefer to settle questions peacefully appealing to everybody to live in accord, because Christianity believes PEACE and QUIET to be greatest values.

A popular Caucasus saying: The good and the evil thrown back will land in a cart carrying future generations which can roughly correspond to “You will reap as you will sow

Russian popular proverbs (translated literally to reveal their full meaning; English idioms are added where possible) :

  • Bad peace is better than good quarrel (battle) (Bad corn promise is better than a good lawsuit; Better a lean peace than a fat victory; A lean compromise is better than a fat lawsuit)
  • Who will mention the past, will get his eye out; who will forget it, will get both eyes out. (Let bygones be bygones)
  • Fault confessed is half redressed
  • Confession is the first step to repentance
  • It is better to forgive 10 guilty persons than put to death one innocent
  • He feels miserable/wretched/unhappy who remembers the evil/wrong (done to him)
  • There was guilt but it is forgiven

4) In different situations of conflict, this process can take different forms. Sometimes forgiveness requires some kind of conditions, sometimes it is unconditional. It does not follow an established scenario. There are conflicts whose parties deny the possibility of concessions, reconciliation, and forgiveness. Accordingly, very much, if not all, depends on the skill of third party to establish a peace process centered on a sense of fairness and dignity.
I would suggest the following structure and activities for a universal council on reconciliation:
The council must have executive officers, a panel of independent councilors, members experienced in conducting negotiations centered on the sense of fairness and dignity.


  • Continuous search for and involvement in the Council work of those experienced in conducting negotiations centered on the sense of fairness and dignity
  • Sharing and exchange of experience between the Council members and independent negotiators
  • Continuous search for and studying of new technologies of conducting negotiations centered on the sense of fairness and dignity
  • Formation and organization of mobile teams of negotiators to conduct psycho-political dialogues, continuous analysis and monitoring of results


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