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The Black Hole


By Rutagengwa Claude Shema

Regional Coordinator

Great Lakes Peace Initiative (GLPI)



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 By Dr.Claude Shema-Rutagengwa
 When Johan Galtung, who is widely recognized as the founder of
the academic discipline of peace studies, founded the first
International Peace Research Institute in Oslo in 1959, he and his
colleagues sent copies of their working papers regularly to about
400 social science institutes around the world, including the
Institute for World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO)   in
Moscow. They received thank you notes and sometimes other working
papers from many places, but never heard anything from IMEMO. It
was as if the papers sent there had disappeared into a black hole,
leaving no trace. Despite this lack of feedback, the members of
the Oslo team persistently kept sending their papers on alternative
approaches to peace, security, democracy, human rights and
development to IMEMO throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
     In 1979, Johan Galtung attended a conference at IMEMO. During
a break, the librarian took him to the basement in the library,
opened a locked room, unlocked cabinet inside the room, and
showed him a pile of papers. Here was the entire collection of
papers that Johan Galtung and his friends had been sending over the years.
This was the "black hole." Surprisingly, the papers were worn out
from having passed through many hands, edges bent and torn, with
portions underlined and numerous notes in the margins.
     In 1991, Vladimir Petrovsky, the Soviet Deputy Foreign
Minister, came to see Johan Galtung in Oslo and said, "I really
wanted to tell you once how grateful we were for all the papers
you kept sending us, even though for political reasons we
could not write back to you. During the Brezhnev era, I was part of
a group of young scholars at IMEMO who met frequently to discuss
new ideas, and we studied your books and papers intensively, among
others. We knew that our system needed reform, and that the time
for change was coming. You provided us with valuable new concepts
and concrete ideas on how to proceed."
     The end of the Cold War had many sources, but new ideas
developed by Western peace movements - on human rights, economic and
political participation, nonviolent conflict resolution, security
based on mutual cooperation instead of threats and confrontation,
conversion of military industries to civilian use, and nonoffensive
defense - all of which seeped into the former Soviet Union through various
discrete channels and apparently found receptive ears - have played
an important role.
     Can individuals make a difference for the course of history,
or are their efforts insignificant compared to major trends, like
the movement of a single molecule in the wind?   It is clear that, if
a situation is not ripe for change, if nobody wants to hear new
proposals, one individual can make little difference. But if people
are unhappy with their present conditions and search for new ways,
a good idea, persuasively argued, can go a long way. Yet even when
an opportunity for major change arises, someone must seize it or it
may be missed. Similarly, if one plants a fruit tree in the desert, 

it will die. But even in the most fertile soil, under the best, 
climatic conditions, only weeds may grow unless we plant fruits or
flowers. And we never know for sure whether an apparent desert may
not hide fertile ground just below the surface, in which one seed
can over time give rise to a whole forest. Even if we do not see
the results of our efforts for peace immediately, we must not give
up, because they may bear fruit some day in unexpected ways.