Johan Galtung (European security), 1993

Johan Galtung in Ankara, December 1993. He tells an interesting story that I did not include in my book about his originating some of the ideas that were adopted after the Velvet Revolution in Prague.
Interviewer — Metta Spencer

METTA: That’s your book.

GALTUNG: Well. Let’s say. Swiss television journalist on television, editor, actually…

METTA: Oh really?

GALTUNG: Who had 150 pages in to it with me.

METTA: I can get it and have somebody read it and translate it for me.


METTA: Okay.

GALTUNG: That one was a bit… I can also give a little bit of the gist of it. That story that Dietrich wrote up is one. There is another story which is in a sense much more important. It came to me as some sort of surprise. I had no idea anything like that was happening at all. So the story, briefly told, is this. There was a meeting in Luxembourg on the first of February this year (1993). About after the Cold War. We got some diplomats and researchers and so on, and the two opening talks were given by Samuel Huntington, from the war movement — very fascist inclination. . Extremely power-oriented, military advisor to the government on the Vietnam war, the author of the strategic hamlets. And the second one was by me in the peace movement. And at the reception a man came up to me and said, ‘Mr. Galtung. I’ve been looking for you in so many places because I have something important to tell you’. And his name was Jaroslav Sidevy, Ambassador for Paris from the Czech Republic and he was the youngest…

METTA: … much better with this [tape recorder] than I do most.

GALTUNG: Why don’t I do it this way? Let me give you a couple of the German books.

METTA: Yeah, but… I’ll be able to transcribe that perfectly.

GALTUNG: I doubt it.

METTA: All right. I’ll send it to you.

GALTUNG: No. I don’t have time for that. The trouble is that if I should give you details and it [the tape recorder] has that quality, and it will only utterly lost, I think.


GALTUNG: Because this is simply a bad machine or a bad tape.

METTA: Well, probably, but I’ll still be able to do it. I promise you.

GALTUNG: Okay. So let us do that quickly. So in 1967, he was an assistant at the Czech Institute of Foreign Affairs. And at that time, I had been working on a project, actually financed by the Council of Europe about future scenarios for Europe And there was one idea that I had developed, which was a security commission for Europe like the U.N. Economic Commission, which is in Geneva, the E.C.E. So I had been trying to construct an S.C.E., actually, not only for Europe, but, corresponding to the Economic Commission network around the world, a security commission network. I had been presenting that in all countries in Eastern Europe and Western Europe. In Western Europe, there was no interest at all. Now, in Eastern Europe, there was interest. And the idea was that in the Security Commission, people could sit and talk together instead of arms racing. And he said that he had been listening to it and everybody agreed that it was a fine idea but the time was not right. Okay.

Then came Prague in 1968. He was a dissident. He was put into the countryside, like Dubcek. Then, come 1989, the fall of the wall, he was called back again to Prague, and they got the Communists out of the foreign office and started the Foreign office with two persons. There was Jiri Dienstbier, and Sidevy. And they had an agenda with one point: to get the Russians out — the soldiers. So, two persons, one point. And so they sent a cable, according to him, to Shevardnadze, admonishing him to pull the soldiers out. And it came back from Shevardnadze, saying no, we are now going to modernize the Warsaw Treaty Organization, and we are not going to dismantle it. So, they were desperate.

METTA: What year was this?

GALTUNG: This was 1989. Just right after the fall of the wall. They were desperate. And we are now going into the early 1990. And then Sidevy said, what about the old Galtung plan, the security commission? So they pulled it up, and they sent an outline of it to Shevardnadze for three reasons:

Point one, they were thinking, ‘now the time has come’. And the plan is good, the time is right. Point two, Shevardnadze would then have to argue against it. And in diplomacy that’s the major thing to get the other guy to argue against it so that you are not in an ‘argued against’ position. And the third point was that maybe Prague could get the Secretariat. Shevardnadze said, “Excellent. I am coming. We’ll discuss it.” And that became the basis of the Czech-U.S.S.R. agreement.[ [MS: I think he is referring to some aspect of the OSCE agreement. The Peace of Paris took place in November 1990, and was the occasion where the CSCE structures — arising from the Helsinki conference in 1975—were transformed into the OSCE. I don’t know th particulars of this “commission.”]

Now, it then became, that should it be added, the basis of actually the Peace of Paris agreement in November of 1990. And I remember that when I read a communique from that one. I was thinking how compatible this was with what I had been saying all of the time. And I had not the slightest idea of what had happened. Not the slightest idea. And of course, there were others who had been thinking in that direction, so don’t think that I put this. You understand. Peace is the question of the work of millions of persons. And it’s never a question of just of some states put at the end or signing a document.

So from this, I drew three conclusion. Number one: Make proposals. Make proposals, but see to it that they are good proposals. Conclusion number two: It takes time, which is not strange because the world is a complex organism. So if you believe that it comes back immediately, then you are rather naive. Point three: Where it is picked up is almost impossible to predict. Almost impossible. I remember that when I did that in 1967, I was at that time so young, only 36 years old. I was so utterly naive that I thought the [?West — democracy, freedom, and things of that kind, can never …to be interested in such things, not the slightest, nothing.?]

METTA: You thought what? I didn’t hear you.

GALTUNG: That the West would interested in such things.

METTA: Oh, I see.

GALTUNG: I was so naive that I believed that North America and Western Europe stood for peace and freedom and things. I apologize for having been that naive. I am sorry about that. They were of course, not interested in such things because the Security Commission has to do with equality and they were never interested in equality. And they still are not, that that’s the reason why this is now being sabotaged by the West. But it served a function in releasing, let us say, the tension of the Cold war, by finding a formula.

So it was picked up by Czechoslovakia. And it was picked up, and it would not have happened hadn’t it been for the fact that I had been to Eastern Europe and talked to them. So if I had been, like all these people in the West, who say you should not travel to Eastern Europe. You should boycott them and so on — it would not had happened if that’s what I did. Could I add a point four? You should never expect that you will ever hear about what happens to your ideas. You should never expect that. And, so, there I am standing in a cocktail party with bad champagne, and bad peanuts, and suddenly a man comes and says that…


GALTUNG: Now, that of course, was, I liked it, because I enjoyed it, needless to say. But you should never expect that. I think that, generally speaking, we who are in the peace activist movement, research specialist process, we should more regard ourselves as Catholic nuns in the middle ages where the idea is that you act. You are not seen and you are not heard. And if it does comes out, fine, but you should not expect that it comes back to you. So there you have one story.

METTA: Wonderful. Thank you.

GALTUNG: Which is a major study.

METTA: Indeed. Yes.

GALTUNG: (re Dietrich’s story for Peace Magazine) … because he and I had been working together so much, that I may make a transatlantic call when it happened because I knew it would please him. And he said, “Johan. I have to write it.”

METTA: What he didn’t write, I think, was the name of the person at the end.

GALTUNG: Petrovsky.

METTA: Was it Petrovsky?

GALTUNG: And of course I was not the only one who impressed him. There were many others who did.

METTA: I have interviewed him. I have also interviewed Dienstbier also several times.

GALTUNG: And Petrovsky says things of this kind. Dienstbier and Petrovsky. Petrovsky more important, not only because he was in the Soviet Union but of course, because has was, if you will, at an early period. I mean, with Petrovsky, we are talking about the end of the 70s, the early 80s, in essence. So let us say that over a period of ten years, he has had a moralist, receptive attitude to these things.


GALTUNG: And what Petrovsky told me was that they were a group of young people who were very very much concerned and feeling that a new thinking had come about, that the regime was coming to an end. And it was their task to prepare everything.

METTA: That’s when HE was young.

GALTUNG: Yes. [Pause]

METTA: … young people, like Petrovsky was.

GALTUNG: Well, he was one of the assistants and graduate students at IMEMO. And IMEMO, no doubt, played a role. I think, another person who was very important on the Soviet side, was the old Arbatov, for whom I have the highest respect. He’s, of course, a person who has a great survival capacity. There is no doubt about that. And I am not going to discuss his morals or whatever. But I am going to say that he’s an extremely talented, very deeply reflecting man. And I think that his basic point, because we had a long discussion of the end of the Cold War on Swiss television — a one and a half hour program with Arbatov and the American undersecretary secretary at the time, Helmut Sonnenberg, and I myself. His basic point was that the military machines on both sides were exhausting their own energies and that of their own societies. And my basic point, to which he agreed, although he didn’t quite formulate it that way, was that somebody has to point that out. And that was what the peace movement did. The peace movement said, ‘this is running both of our societies into disaster.’ Now, he agreed with that, but he saw it more that it was sort of an anonymous kind of force. Now, my view is that, so-called anonymous kinds of forces had to be articulated. It was what Marx did about Capitalism. I mean, capitalism was working exactly the same way before and after Marx wrote his book. It is only that after he had written his book, people knew what was happening. And I think the peace movement had some of the same function, in pointing this out.

And, if I should summarize that, I would say, demoralization. Now, that is a theme which I could take very far, because the major impact that we had on both sides was to make the leaders no longer believe in what they were doing. Because we pointed out insistently, again and again and again, over years over years over years, that you are not going to get peace through armament. We are not going to get disarmament through armament. What you are going to do can be undone, but the condition is asymmetric disarmament. Now, here I think the person who played absolutely major role, not directly, but indirectly, was Charles Osgoode and GRIT.


GALTUNG: In a sense, it’s very, very… So, to my mind, by far the best, the most important peace researcher on the North American continent, with no comparison. Because I don’t think peace research is just simply a question of bright, intellectual models or concepts with no concrete suggestions. So, by presenting the image of asymmetric disarmament — you cut down 10%, and then you wait for the other party to follow suit — you get something between the idea of balanced disarmament (which never came about because nobody would ever agree what is balanced. Because you would never agree. Now we are equal, and now we should let it up) and the stupid position of the unilateralists in the peace movement who said, we abolish all nuclear weapons immediately right now, unilaterally. Stupid, for a simple reason. The world doesn’t move that way. It simply doesn’t move in jumps of that type. Now, the Osgoode approach, I think, was put forward by many of us, by myself for instance. And meant enormously much in giving Gorbachev the basic tool of the INF. And the basic tool of the INF was essentially to say if you don’t agree with this, I am going to do it anyhow. And then, have the Western side say, “this is a bluff”, Gorbachev said, “Okay, I’ll cut even more,” until the point came that the Western side discovered that it had the whole public opinion against itself. So the cooperation there between peace research, a statesman in the Soviet Union, and world public opinion was a triangle of supreme significance, if you will.

METTA: Early on, I have noticed something at a meeting with some Soviet people. Sergei Plekhanov of the USA Institute was one who used the word GRIT, in a dialogue with Mient Jan Faber, and I thought, there are very few people in Western political science who would know the word GRIT. Somebody’s reading something.

GALTUNG: Western political science you can simply disregard. I am thinking of peace activists.

METTA: No, but what I mean is that I was surprised that… I mean I think of it as a term that only peace researchers can be counted on to know, GRIT.

GALTUNG: Yeah. But then I have to insert a footnote that only shows the irrelevance, in general, of Western Political science and little do they know.

METTA: I know. That’s true. But it made me believe that the peace movement or peace research was having an impact there which it didn’t have in the West.

GALTUNG: Oh, there’s no doubt about it. But you see, one has to see a little bit, the context. Everything that was said by us in the West, namely to the effect that the West should take an initiative was seen as an anti-American, pro-Soviet. And the media, 95 percent of them, followed suit on that one.

Now, how was this kind of thing perceived in the Soviet Union? I think it is difficult to say, actually. The point being that when we said, “nuclear disarmament on both sides,” they couldn’t agree to that because to them, the Western atomic weapon was an imperialist weapon. Whatever, they had started, (which they had) with Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Moreover, they were the ones who had superiority. So, what they wanted was actually a kind of parity. They didn’t want superiority — they wanted parity. But it was not important for them that that parity was at a high level. It would be much better if it could be at a low level. And I think to them GRIT was seen as some method, as a practical method by means of which they could come down to a lower level. However, I am rather convinced, that’s my experience, from 25 trips to the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and discussions and so on — (The first, actually, was in March of ’53, when I was a young student, and the week Stalin died. We were in Tibilisi in [?Gruisiv]). Now, my experience is that they felt that GRIT is something that the West should initiate, the West should do it, and then they should follow suit. But since the West was superior, they were the ones who should have come down first. So, from that point of view, I think one could see GRIT in the phase before INF as something they saw as a way in which the West could have brought to reduce its nuclear arsenal. However, if you now come to 1987 and to the INF period, what were the intellectual ideas that were available to the Gorbachev inner circuit. One was GRIT. Another one, was later on, if I may say so, was the security commission. I mean the idea of an institutional framework in Europe which is not confrontational but which is cooperative. In connection with this, of course the Palme Commission idea of common security.

Now, there was another point which was terribly important, absolutely of supreme importance and that was defensive defence, non-provocative defence. Now that came out of our western peace research. Dietrich Fischer and I, we made our part of it, and I am sure Dietrich has told you how he found himself quoted and I remember I delivered my book on it in German to the editor of Pravda and that was back in ’83.

METTA: Who was that?

GALTUNG: No, what was the name again? Not Plekhanov, but something similar. [I think maybe he means Yury Zhukov.] Just a second. That will also come. But it came at an early stage in ’83 or ’84, through various circles into the [?] start there. I think personally that terribly important in all of that was the Swiss model. The Swiss, stupidly enough, never made use of it themselves, and I had asked one of the Swiss presidents why that was the case. And he sort of told me that from his point of view, Switzerland was also as known as a special case. There was nothing ever about Switzerland that could generalize to other countries, which is a kind of Swiss slightly neurotic way of thinking of themselves.

Now, there was a fourth element, and that was non- governmental organizations. I had been doing quite a lot of writing on that, and whenever I came to the Soviet Union, I found myself introduced as the great thinker about the non- territorial continent, the non-governmental organizations, which to me was rather a sort of a sideline to what I was doing.

METTA: Non-territorial?

GALTUNG: Well, the territorial system is the state system. The non- territorial system are what is called NGOs. Non-territorial, meaning transcending borders, being across that — people’s movements and things of that kind. Not only the peace movement, but any kind of movement. And from the mid-70s, actually, it became Soviet policy to join this movement. So as to have Soviet chapters and Soviet representatives at all conferences, and so on. Now in the Union of International Associations in Brussels, we had contacts which relatively top people, one of them being Stalin’s son- in-law, Morozov. And again, it was always the point of trying to establish contact and trying to ease out things by having less confrontation at the state level and more cooperation at the non-state level. Here I found the Soviet thinking far ahead of the U.S. thinking. And this of course was one reason why popular diplomacy gradually became acceptable to them, because the non-territorialism, at a popular level, became to them a part of Party doctrine and an important part of it.

Now, a fifth element was nonviolence. I never found any interest in the Soviet Union on that. Never. Never found any understanding, and being a Gandhi specialist myself, I remember when I was there, there was all this talk that Gandhi was of the merchant caste, and as a bourgeois, he was interested in handling money, and he confused handling money with being nonviolent, and if he had been —

METTA: Really?

GALTUNG: (We laugh.) It was a crazy way…

METTA: A weird version of Marxism!

GALTUNG: Very weird version, both of Marxism and Gandhism, I would say. I never found anything. However, that doesn’t mean it didn’t work, not at all. I will never forget, in 1989, before the wall was falling down, I was in Tartu in Estonia, and met a party secretary, a Russian, because the Russians were more or less running the Party in Estonia, of course, not totally alone, but more or less running it. And the Estonians had practiced nonviolence in a very imaginative way, which was singing. Twenty thousand persons singing 48 hours, of course in shifts, partly.

METTA: I haven’t heard of that.

GALTUNG: Oh, that’s a very famous thing. That was basic to the whole end of the Cold War. They say the singing is an old tradition. Now, in my country you may have 500 persons singing for half an hour.

METTA: Yeah.

GALTUNG: But, now we have twenty thousand, and through the day and night singing old Estonian folk songs, and so he said, “Believe me, Professor Galtung, it is rather demoralizing to have twenty thousand persons singing songs you don’t understand, but you have a vague feeling they are not favourable to you.” (laughing)

METTA: That’s marvelous.

GALTUNG: Now of course, when you know in East Germany, the non- violence really came, especially the 9th of October 1989, in Leipzig. Then, in a sense, they were terribly impressed with it, terribly impressed, and I could give you two quotes. First of all, one quote from a top political man, in 1983, where he said, “You see, Professor Galtung, what impresses us about the new peace movement is that we don’t pay it.”

METTA: [Laughs]

GALTUNG: Because in the old days of course they did pay it. So your excellent question can be twisted a little bit because you see, in the first stage, they were influencing the peace movement. The second stage, they were influenced by the peace movement. But, he said, exactly for that reason it had become so important. And it had become spontaneous. And the second point is of course, when this non-violence started coming, the idea that “My Lord, these people really don’t like our regimes because otherwise they would not take those risks”, and here they go without weapons, without arms and so on, whereas you know that the Hungarian revolution in 1956 was seen as organized by CIA (which of course probably it partly was) and to some extent, more or less an expression of rowdies.


GALTUNG: Take one of these.

METTA: Now if you take. I am more interested in your words than your reports.


METTA: Okay.


GALTUNG: …and the book edited by Lou Kriesburg from Syracuse University on social movements.


GALTUNG: And there is a chapter in that book that had come out last year. Kriesburg. You know Kriesburg?

METTA: Yes. I edited one book of his series for him.

GALTUNG: So it’s the same series. And there is a chapter, which I am amazed hasn’t been picked up anywhere. I don’t see anybody ever referring to it, and the chapter is: Europe, fall of 1989, what happened and why. And there you see much of the things that I am mentioning. Why don’t you take a look at that.

METTA: Yes. It’s by you?

GALTUNG: The chapter is by me, yes. The book is edited by Lou…


GALTUNG: And one more person.

METTA: Okay, I will get it.

GALTUNG: One of the most lazy editors I have ever encountered.

METTA: I’m actually doing the series now for them on Russia and Eastern Europe, so I am just starting that.

GALTUNG: Well, it is this invisible political science that these political scientists never see because they are only interested in what governments do.


GALTUNG: They are so superficial. So bad intellectuals. I mean — to write about politics as though movements didn’t exist, women didn’t exist, children in the Intifada didn’t exist, non violence didn’t exist! They’re just blind people.

METTA: Thank you so much.

Audio file

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The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy, by Metta Spencer, published by Lexington Books