Once a conflict has ended, the focus turns to creating peace. Typically, the goal is not just to create a peace that is the absence of violence, but one that creates a lasting culture of peace. There are several different ways to promote the development of lasting peace, one of which is through culture, as cultural identity is often considered inextricably linked to how societies interact. Additionally, cultural heritage is often targeted during conflict because of its importance to different ethnic groups; as such, its utilization is crucial to the reconciliation process. When it comes to creating peace, there are several different ways that cultural identity can be utilized. Art, for instance, is a common element of culture that is used to create peace. This is especially true as art allows people to have conversations and resolve conflict through different mediums, whether that is painting, storytelling, or theater, among other things. Language is another easily convertible aspect of culture that can be used to create lasting peace. Especially when language is shared between the groups of a conflict - the reminder of something in common between the two helps to rebuild the relationships in the community. Even things that might not automatically be connected to culture can be used to achieve this goal. An example would be through fostering cooperation through sports. For several years, the United Nations did this through the UN Office on Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSDP). Although the office is no longer active, its main purpose was to promote peace through the use of sports and bringing together diverse individuals, especially in the face of conflict. This approach still lives on in various different peace development initiatives.
Following the 2016 peace agreement between the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) approved a project under its Intangible Cultural Heritage Fund. The project, entitled “Intangible Cultural Heritage as a Basis for Resilience, Reconciliation, and Construction of Peace Environments in Colombia’s Post-Agreements,” was created to help integrate former combatants back into society using culture and memory as the basis. The project covered three main areas: strengthening capacities to manage intangible cultural heritage, inventorying the heritage on a community level, and reconstructing the territory’s historical memory. Overall, the project was considered a success in helping former combatants create connections in their society. The former combatants were able to create a dialogue with their community, and by extension, build forgiveness through the existence of common ideals. Its results are considered crucial to understanding the link between culture and creating a lasting peace.
The UNESCO project in Colombia is far from the only example of this. Pakistan, for instance, has faced violence and conflict for decades due to a lack of concrete national identity. This has created different narratives within the country, many of which go on to further violence. In order to counter this, groups have created programs that emphasize the role of art and culture in creating dialogues and countering the influence of extremist ideals. The Ajoka Theatre, for example, performs plays that are meant to counter prevalent national narratives like patriotism, religious fundamentalism, and extremism, with the goal of creating an open dialogue about these issues in order to achieve a lasting peace. In this sense, the relationship between art and different cultural values allows a conversation to take place that might not have been possible otherwise. Similarly, in Afghanistan, the country’s long history of oral storytelling was combined with theatrical techniques in order to promote healing. Although the short term goal in this instance was the immediate healing of the survivors, the sessions allowed them to discover their similarities, as opposed to focusing on their differences; ultimately, this resulted in a group of survivors using their art and their stories to advocate for justice for all victims.
Shared culture is absolutely crucial to creating lasting peace in a region. It allows for common ground to be explored and creates an environment where communication can occur. But more than that, a focus on culture in peacebuilding acknowledges that states are more than just their government institutions; they are a mix of the different cultures and identities of the people living there. It is only by acknowledging the relationship between both of these aspects, and the necessity of them, that a lasting peace can be created.
1.“The Role of Culture for Resilience, Peace and Security: a New International Agenda Promoted by UNESCO,” UNESCO, October 27, 2017, https://en.unesco.org/The-role-of-culture-for-resilience-peace-and-security.
2. Juneau Gary and Neal S. Rubin, “The Olympic Truce: Sport Promoting Peace, Development and International Cooperation,” American Psychological Association, October 2012, https://www.apa.org/international/pi/2012/10/un-matters.
3. “Colombia Bets on Intangible Cultural Heritage for Peacebuilding,” UNESCO, April 22, 2020, https://ich.unesco.org/en/news/colombia-bets-on-intangible-cultural-heritage-for-peacebuilding-00307.
5. Ereshnee Naidu-Silverman, “Contribution of Art and Culture in Peace and Reconciliation Processes,” Contribution of Art and Culture in Peace and Reconciliation Processes § (2015), https://europa.eu/capacity4dev/file/28720/download?token=_aKhmgzl.
9. Jaimie Grant, “Cultural Peacebuilding,” Peace Insight, February 17, 2012, https://www.peaceinsight.org/en/articles/cultural-peacebuilding/?location=&theme=culture-media-advocacy.