Luz Jahnen is German and the producer of this film, a humanist, a researcher and a defender of the need to surpass this violence-based system.
Pressenza: you published a monograph “Revenge, violence and reconciliation” and subsequently you have given and continue to give, workshops on the subject in different countries, and now you have produced this documentary, “Beyond Revenge”. It seems that this subject has been a priority for you…
In one way, yes. In the sense that what mainly concerns me in the short and medium-term is violence. Today’s world and the human horizon seems to be quite obscured by the acts and threats of violence of all kinds. And as the world of political and economic power shows itself incapable of opening paths to surpass violence, I think the initiative of individuals, groups and entire populations to develop new responses to the old and today pressing question, “How can human beings survive and develop a human project beyond violence?” is necessary. Well, this documentary is a contribution to this project. And I am sincerely grateful for having met Álvaro Orus, a friend from Madrid, who, with his experience as a director of several documentaries, his own interest in the film and his way of working, made this film possible.
The premier will take place in Berlin in this Congress whose slogan this year is “Disarm! For a climate of Peace. It doesn’t seem to be an accident that the premier is here.
Yes and no. Since January we have been working with Álvaro on this project – thanks to Álvaro meeting his deadlines, not like me, hahaha – we saw that we could finish it for the dates of the IPB World Congress in Berlin. And it seemed to us an ideal occasion to be able to present it to around a thousand activists and volunteers in the field of peace from around the world. It seemed to be the ideal public to show a documentary to which deals with the overcoming of revenge and violence, personally and socially, etc. And moreover, as this documentary is a production without State or cultural funds, a collaboration of around forty friends who contributed interviews, music, translations, voiceovers and who received us in their houses while we were travelling and researching, it seemed that it goes very well with the attitude of these international activists that in many cases have been work voluntarily and hard for years, fighting to promote a new culture of peace. And as this film really transmits a very hopeful message, despite the difficulty of the subject, we hope to support these tasks with the same strength.
To clarify, that in this same week the film will also be shows in seven other countries and we already have versions in Spanish, English and German… Given that it is an international production, the production process caught the interest of some of those involved in several countries… So it is that it seems that this documentary has found its path.
Some writers and certain movements, etc., say that until a real reconciliation is produced between people and peoples we won’t be able to build a real culture of peace.
Mmmhhh… I think we have to invert something in what you say. A real culture of “inner peace” would be translated as a different treatment of people and peoples. By “inner peace” I mean the capacity to reconcile my wounds, the damage that has been done to me. Where are these acts? And where do they hurt? In my memory! So the call for peace and reconciliation starts – I think – with a very personal attitude and a disposition to deal with conflicts lived through, and my current conflicts, in an intentional, and not instinctive, way. To try to profoundly understand what happened and why. I have no doubt that from here a different treatment of others arises. It will be like putting more attention to a real mental equilibrium. With this I’m not trying to say that we have to stop demanding that the powerful stop the violence with which they produce so much suffering and misery and danger for the future. Not at all! Stronger and louder will have to be the voices of the people who demand peace and the end of violence! But from where do we act to achieve peace and the overcoming of violence? I think, if you ask me, a real culture of peace can start from within us, from better treatment of ourselves and other people!
I also think that – seeing as it is useful for the personal memory – it could be healthy for the collective memory to take a clear look, without guilt, at human history. Here you will find, between the marvels of human learning, many very, very violent acts. So violent that it takes a lot to understand them and integrate them into our history, not forgetting the current genocides and those of recent centuries. So much so that peoples and countries often don’t want to accept them because it stains the collective memory. But I give you an example. How much does it cost us to see, comprehend and accept our cannibal past?! Of course it’s more pleasant and inspiring to listen to a Mozart violin concerto. But if we want to surpass human violence – and this is undisputable and possible – perhaps it wouldn’t be bad to have clear from where we are coming in order to comprehend more clearly that, in front of today’s human coexistence crisis, we can and we have to accelerate the pace and go decidedly towards a nonviolent culture, a culture of reconciliation. Let’s hope that the young generations become interested in this change.
From where does your interest in studying revenge and reconciliation come from?
I was born in a country, from where emerged some 20 to 25 years before I was born, a genocide of millions of human beings: the Holocaust. When I was 15, having grown up in West Germany where families and schools preferred to not talk about the past, I saw images of concentration camps for the first time. Still today I have no words for what I saw. But I can tell you that those images broke the naïve limits of my imagination. That human beings were capable of treating other human beings like that… was much, much more than what I thought was possible. To comprehend human violence and to find paths for its surpassing turned into, from that moment, a profound need to find meaning in life. And of course, it didn’t take me long to find Gandhi and King, reading all of their ideas, trying to apply what I learnt around me. And it wasn’t many years either before I later found Silo, this Argentinian who connected his profound knowledge of human beings with a call for active nonviolence and just resistance in front of all forms of violence and discrimination.
Do you think it’s possible to reconcile with oneself without those to blame facing justice?
Yes, I think that they are two very different things.
To reconcile what has happened to me with myself, is to reconcile myself with my memory. A personal and intimate act. A large part of the documentary deals with this, and I think it explains it well.
Justice for those to blame – if it isn’t to be just a disguise for revenge – can have two functions: to take measures to avoid the responsible party from repeating their actions, and to clarify the memory of the social whole about hidden and denied violent events.
Yes, justice in this sense can help to recognise the violence that the victims faced and the evils committed by those responsible; to compensate partially the impotence experienced as a victim of violence with the fact that “society” is on your side; to remove also the fear that this can be repeated at any time in the future. But this recognition doesn’t necessarily serve as full reconciliation with what happened.
A culture of personal reconciliation and a justice system that isn’t vengeful, given the current situation, are very revolutionary. It doesn’t coincide with the present system which is based on violence.
Why does it help to reconcile really?
On first appearance it is useful, without doubt, that I find inner peace regarding the injuries that “life” has inflicted on me. Instead of living enchained in a compensation for my injuries and pain, to open myself to life’s plenitude and inner freedom; to liberate vital energy.
To abandon insistence on vengeful behaviour and to decide to undertake a reconciliatory treatment with yourself and others means, really, a very different mental orientation, a constructive and positive orientation, for all. It will be a very beneficial contribution for oneself and a great contribution for the development of a new nonviolent human culture. It has a lot of meaning. A very, very inspired path.
Have you been able to achieve peace when irreparable damage has been produced?
I have been able to reconcile with injuries that have hurt very much and have to do with situations and relationships that are very important for me and that couldn’t be re-established again “as if nothing had happened.”
It was very moving how some of the interviewees in the documentary described precisely this question that you are asking.
Going back to the documentary and to some aspects that you’ve described in the process towards reconciliation, some of those interviewed express the failures of their lives, the suffering that certain events generated and the profound need to leave the situation behind…
It seems that we are talking about very personal experiences in which the mechanical responses were not sufficient, they are exhausted because they live in an eternal repetition, very far away from the desired register of learning and growing internally with new comprehensions and interesting and beautiful experiences. I believe that many of us know situations in life that become a flat repetition, almost producing a sensation of imprisonment. To see this finally with clarity ends up being a little hard and it can be experienced as a failure. But as we are talking about something that leads you to comprehend many things and to experience a profound renovation in life, then, failures are welcome! Some of those interviewed have understood it that way. But it’s much better the way they tell it…