In today’s world, how important is conflict prevention and what exactly is needed?
It is always “better to be safe than sorry”, and this applies at the individual level, as well as at national and international levels.
The number of conflicts that have arisen since the last World War is heartbreaking. Even though Europe, at least until the tragic events in former Yugoslavia, had learned certain lessons from the 1st half of the 20th century and had established a system of constructive and friendly coexistence, the rest of the world has been a stage for a never ending stream of conflicts. Civil wars, genocide, brutal violations of human rights… these conflicts constantly surprise us with their intensity, their cruelty, and the number of victims. The United Nations is often called on to restore and maintain peace, to control the difficult situations that result from these conflicts.
Conflict prevention however, not only spares the potential victims of these conflicts, it also saves vast financial resources that are wasted and destroyed during and after all armed confrontations.
Furthermore, though the conflicts in Rwanda or Burundi for example were “ethnic”; there is often an underlying economic factor. Sierra Leone had its diamond mines; in other African countries, the wealth of natural resources does not benefit the majority of inhabitants.
I believe that negotiation and mediation between concerned parties is the best investment the international community can make to reduce the total amount of suffering in the world.
Why and how did you choose to get involved in the Jury for the Fondation Chirac Prize for Conflict Prevention?
I accepted President Chirac’s invitation to become a member of the Jury for the Fondation’s Prize. In fact, I accepted gladly for several reasons. First of all, I appreciate the Prize’s unique approach to preventing conflicts: offering visibility to the concept of prevention. Secondly, unlike the Nobel Prize for Peace, whose motives and choices are often questioned, the Fondation Chirac Prize defined with great precision its intentions. Finally, on a personal level, I find the exchanges within the Jury particularly enriching.
What has been the role and impact of this Prize since its creation since 2009 ?
A prize, at the beginning, attracts attention by its novelty. Then, to survive, it must prove its value and merit through the quality of its chosen laureates.
From my point of view, necessarily subjective as a member of the Jury, our choices have been exceptionally qualified and confer on the Fondation Chirac Prize for Conflict Prevention stature and weight. However, it will take a certain amount of time before the general public – in France and elsewhere – understands and recognizes the Prize and the work of its laureates.
What are the causes and values you wish to defend by participating in the work of the Fondation Chirac?
I want to defend human rights, legality, and democratic governance.
Does the fact that you were born and presided over Latvia, a country shaken by 20th century history, explain your commitment to conflict prevention?
My childhood was spent in the shadows of the Second World War. My parents were political refugees in Germany, a country destroyed by war. I witnessed what war meant in terms of misery and the loss of everything you hold dear. I saw what happens when force is imposed at the expense of the law, especially when my country, Latvia, sovereign member of the League of Nations, endured the Stalinist occupation and the forced annexation to the Soviet Union. At the time, those who found themselves on the other side of the “Iron Curtain” were particularly disappointed by the international community’s lack of principle, including Churchill and Roosevelt’s concessions to Stalin at the tragically famous Yalta Conference.