What can historians do to prevent the abuse of history for political purposes? This was discussed at a conference hosted in Helsinki by former Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland Erkki Tuomioja. The Conference titled 'Historians without Borders - the Use and Abuse of History in Conflicts' which took place on 19-20 May at the University of Helsinki. Professor Ibrahim Gambari was one of the keynote speakers in the event.
What can historians do to prevent the abuse of history for political purposes? This was discussed at a conference hosted in Helsinki by former Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland Erkki Tuomioja. The Conference titled 'Historians without Borders - the Use and Abuse of History in Conflicts' which took place on 19-20 May at the University of Helsinki, gathered 300 historians and peace mediation experts to discuss the use of history in resolving conflicts and its misuse in stoking them. The conference was organised in cooperation with the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, The Finnish Institute of International Affairs, the University of Helsinki and the United Nations Association of Finland. Former President of Finland and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Martti Ahtisaari was among the speakers.
Professor, Ambassador Ibrahim Gambari, Chairman and Founder of Savannah Centre for Diplomacy, Democracy and Development of Nigeria was a keynote speaker at the event. In his keynote speech, Professor Gambari focused on the development of United Nations peacekeeping operations. He emphasised that it is important to always find the root causes of the conflict, and that pausing or freezing a conflict is never enough to actually achieve enduring peace. Professor Gambari also contributed to the issue in a lively panel discussion, together with Professor Helena Ranta and Major General Juha Kilpiä, both with strong field experience on UN peacekeeping operations.
Historians without Borders (HWB) in Finland was founded in June 2015 in Helsinki upon the acknowledgement that in today’s world we should be increasingly concerned about both ignorance and the abuse of history in politics, as well as of the consequences of these to international relations. The initiative came from Erkki Tuomioja who is the former Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland and Doctor of Political History himself.
In his opening remarks at the Conference Dr. Tuomioja illustrated the idea behind the founding of Historians without Borders in Finland by saying that “whether we acknowledge it or not or even if we are not aware of it, history is always present with us, influencing and guiding our actions. Unfortunately we are living in times where ignorance of history is growing rather than diminishing, with less understanding and knowledge of from where and how we have arrived at where we are today”.
At the founding meeting of HWB Finland which took place in June 2015, President Ahtisaari had recalled the numerous times during his career when additional knowledge about history would have aided a conflict-resolution process. According to him, there is a clear need for making such information more visible and easily accessible. In his opening words at the Conference in May President Ahtisaari spoke about his own strong experience as a peace mediator, and noted that impartial and fact oriented analyses about the past are useful tools in conflict prevention.
In addition to Professor Gambari, the Conference’s keynote speeches were given by Bernard Kouchner, founding member of Doctors without Borders, Margaret MacMillan, Professor of International History at the University of Oxford, Professor, Romila Thapar, Professor Emerita of the Jawaharlal Nehru University and Cardinal Peter Turkson, the President of The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
“We always say 'never again' after a war. And then we start again”, Bernard Kouchner emphasised the growing role of understanding history, and its different interpretations, in conflict prevention and welcomed Historians without Borders to “the big family of Sans Frontières”. Margaret MacMillan noted that history does not offer clear answers or models on how to react in changing circumstances, and encouraged historians also to challenge prevalent national myths and narratives.
In his keynote speech Professor Ibrahim Gambari focused on the development of United Nations peacekeeping operations at a session hosted by the UN Association of Finland. Joining Ambassador Gambari in discussion about the history of UN peacekeeping were Professor Helena Ranta and Major General Juha Kilpiä, both of whom have a strong field experience on UN peacekeeping operations. In his keynote speech Ambassador Gambari emphasised that it is important to always find the root causes of the conflict and that pausing or freezing a conflict is never enough to actually achieve enduring peace.
On both conference days the guests also had the opportunity to hear panel discussions in four simultaneous workshops. The topics discussed were both present-day and historical conflicts where the interpretations have varied, and which still influence politics today. The themes of the workshops included the year 1917 in Finnish and Russian historiography, development of societies at the Mediterranean region, Turkey and Armenia’s perceptions of the events of 1915 and common history of Israel and Palestine.
At the closing plenary of the Conference, the historians and peace mediation experts gathered in Helsinki decided to found an international network of Historians without Borders, which the Finnish association will coordinate during the inception period. Immediately 80 conference guests registered themselves as members of the newly founded network by signing a declaration that all the participants formulated and agreed on at the closing plenary.
Historians without Borders in Finland and the International Network of Historians without Borders, founded in May 2016, build upon strong Finnish expertise ixn peace mediation. Finland’s experience in conflicts, and how to overcome them, are important factors as well as the country’s wide-ranging social consensus and political culture that emphasises equality. Historians without Borders will also in the future aspire to bring together Finnish and international expertise to continue the work in conflict prevention.
For more information on the initiative visit the website at www.historianswithoutborders.fi/ . You can also find Historians without Borders in Finland on Facebook and Twitter. All keynote speeches can be listened to at the YouTube channel of Historians without Borders in Finland.
The speech of Professor, Ambassador Ibrahim Gambari can be found from https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B45TBI1za7WsM1pHbXp6dHFfR3c/view?usp=sharing