20.09.2021 / Orli Fridman
National calendars, as international ones, are social artifacts that reflect and shape the current political order. Thus, studying the calendars of nation-states (Zerubavel 2003) and national commemorative holidays can be revealing about the social organization of the past; that is, of collective memory. These calendars tend to reflect the collective identities of those who create and use them, including as it relates to conflicts and war. In that way, calendars are a record of decisions about what should be recalled and how, and what must be left out.
International calendars are similarly reflective of the world’s geo-political order, and of major political dynamics and shifts that institutionalize certain discourses. Transnational networks of inclusion and exclusion that extend from the current international political order, as implemented through various policies, can also be traced in international calendars, which consist of “International Days” put forward and officialized by the United Nations General Assembly.
As noted on the UNESCO website, these days are meant to “mark important aspects of human life and history” and offer “the opportunity to organize activities related to the theme of the day.” A comprehensive list of all the days marked by the UN is accessible to all, and changes and evolves over time, but the organization views these days as an important “springboard for awareness-raising actions” involving “governments, civil society, the public and private sectors, schools, universities and, more generally, citizens.”
Established in 1981, the International Day of Peace, marked annually on September 21st, is among the International Days declared by the UN General Assembly and is intended as “a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, through observing 24 hours of non-violence and cease-fire.” Each year, a different theme frames the message and activities of the International Day of Peace. At the height of the global pandemic in 2020, that theme was “Shaping Peace Together”; and this year, it is “Recovering better for an equitable and sustainable world.”
The global pandemic has exposed the failures of some UN Member States to prioritize international peace and security over their own self-interest, and in naming these themes, the UN has asked people around the world to “stand together with the UN against attempts to use the virus to promote discrimination and hatred.” Yet, a current review of world affairs, and particularly of the intensity of local and international conflicts, does not offer considerable hope for the politics of peace. A rise in populism and nationalism, a deepening of ongoing and frozen conflicts, and a crisis of social injustice are just some of the current challenges to peace and stability. And recent images of the withdrawal of US and other forces from Afghanistan have been a stark reminder of the weakness and marginality of anti-war actors who stood against the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan in the early 2000s, and opposed their occupations during the two decades of failed policies that followed.
The gap between the institutionalization of days such as the International Day of Peace and their actual impact on realities on the ground – where conflict, war, and inequality profoundly affect people’s everyday lives – is what the field of peace and conflict studies aims to fill, through critical teaching, curriculum development, research, and policy briefs. Scholars in the field who engage in peace research grapple with the challenges and limitations to peace, mainly through critiques of the liberal peace framework. By putting forth concepts such as “emancipatory peace” and “peace formation” as frameworks for analysis and policy, these scholars have raised important questions about theory and practice, especially when it comes to processes of peacebuilding and reconciliation. How can these become meaningful and relevant to the daily lives of individuals and communities, outside of sterile negotiation rooms, beyond written agreements, and on all the days that are not marked annually on international calendars?
Can the field of peace and conflict studies offer new venues for thinking about the politics of conflicts, frozen conflicts, and peace and justice? In recent years, its critical school has placed the local and the everyday at the heart of its critiques of the liberal peace and discourses of stability. The study of “everyday peace” seeks to recognize the agency and significance of local actors, for example, and emphasizes the importance of the everyday lived experiences of people and communities in the process of transforming violent contexts and building more peaceful, equitable, and just societies. In a world marked by trends of globalization and neoliberalism, which are shaping and intensifying deep-rooted conflict, an “everyday peace” framework highlights the need to look more carefully at local claims of social justice or the “emancipatory politics of justice” that are often excluded from IR discourses and policy making.
In October 2020, the international community marked the 20th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 and two decades of efforts to integrate women and their perspectives into concepts and mechanisms of peace and security. But frameworks of inclusion are yet to be claimed and fully articulated in many places around the world, where war and conflict remain the realities that shape people’s everyday lives. On the occasion of the International Day of Peace, terms such as “peace”, “justice”, and “reconciliation” should be imbued with more meaning, context, and critical perspective, for the sake of scholars, academics, policy makers, and politicians, but especially for people in local communities.
Orli Fridman is an associate professor at the Department of Political Studies at the Faculty of Media and Communications, where she heads the Center for Comparative Conflict Studies (CFCCS). Her interdisciplinary research focuses on Post-Conflict Transformation, Memory Politics and digital memory activism.