Modern Lebanese history is characterised by various violent conflicts which occurred (and still do occur) both between parties inside the country and with other states. One example for this is the civil war between 1975 and 1990 which was threefold: a conflict between different confessional groups, a dispute about differing ideas on the concept of state as well as a proxy war of various states pursuing their own interests. Other examples are the Israeli and Syrian occupations which left an extensive part of the country under Israeli (until 2000) and Syrian (until 2005) control. Since the end of the Civil War, Lebanon faces a fragile state of peace that is repeatedly interrupted by new armed conflicts. Since the beginning of the Civil War in neighbouring Syria (2011), the fear of a “spill-over” into Lebanon is all the more present.
On May 22, the new programme office of Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung, the 21st office abroad, was opened in Beirut, Lebanon. On the day after the official opening with 120 invited guests and welcoming remarks by the Chairwomen of the board of the Stiftung, Dr Dagmar Enkelmann, the Ambassador for Germany in Lebanon, Martin Huth, as well as the Director of the Centre for International Dialogue, Dr Boris Kanzleiter, and Programme Director Miriam Younes, a workshop with activists and representatives of the regional civil society took place. As such, the workshop was the kick-off event for the founding of the Rosa Left Forum. The next years’ focus of the new programme “Dialogue on Positive Peace” will be on conflict/post-conflict and migration in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. The aim of the work is to facilitate a just, emancipatory and solidary social change through networking, studies, public events and the support of progressive voices in the region.
Lebanon has a population of 6 million. In the course of the Syrian civil war, Lebanon received an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees in addition to the roughly 450.000 Palestinian, 40.000 Iraqi and 2.000 Sudanese refugees that are living in the country since decades as well as around 200.000 migrant workers. The high number of refugees and migrants put strain onto Lebanon’s scarce resources and aggravate already existing social and political antagonisms and tensions. This is especially true as the Lebanese state reacted to the old and new non-citizens with a policy of “securization”: borders were closed, processes for residence and work permits became more difficult, access to political and social rights are neglected.
This state of lawlessness applies in a weaker form to the situation of many Lebanese citizens as well. A laissez-faire-state and a neo-liberal economic order, a political system shaped by confessional belonging and corrupt structures deny large parts of the population access to fundamental social rights. A consequence is an atmosphere that has for decades at least partly been dominated by social conflicts and struggles. A positive effect is a strong and politically active civil society that is committed to these struggles and grew even stronger over the last years, due to the fact that many Syrian activists continued their own social and political activism from their Lebanese exile.
The concept of "Positive Peace"
This is what the new programme in Beirut is focussing on: it takes a deeper look at social and political struggles as well as civil society and activist structures and processes as a basis for conflict prevention. The work in the field of conflict management and peace politics is based on Norwegian peace researcher Johan Galtung's concept of “Positive Peace”. The concept focuses on forms of structural violence that have their roots in political, economic and social conditions and are, other than open personal forms of violence of war and terror, going on indirectly. According to Galtung, structural violence occurs wherever people are deprived of or even denied political and social justice through unequal power and dominance relationships, up to suppression, deprivation of rights and exploitation. Accordingly, Positive Peace means to give full effect to social justice and equality as well as political and personal freedom of individuals and social groups, especially minorities, including their participation and development.
The kick-off workshop for the future Rosa Left Forum on „Political Activism in Lebanon and Syria Today: Continuity and Change” that took place in the new office rooms on May 23 followed up exactly on these issues. The workshop aimed at analysing the complex situation of topics and struggles from different perspectives and developing alternative visions for a post-conflict social system based on justice and solidarity. Around 30 participants from critical leftist organisations of the Lebanese civil society and the Syrian exile community discussed political scopes of action for activists in Lebanon and Syria, highlighting concrete examples as art in conflict situations, gender relations, (un)free journalism, historiography, human rights, gentrification and public space. The workshop started with a statement of MP Kathrin Vogler, who stressed the necessity of using civil means for conflict solution and prevention of violence.
The office opening programme was rounded off by excursions to Beirut downtown, Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley. On day one the delegation from Berlin including Dr Dagmar Enkelmann, Dr Boris Kanzleiter, MP Kathrin Vogler, Head of Department for International Politics of the party DIE LINKE Andreas Günther, RLS advisor for peace and security politics Ingar Solty and the project team had the opportunity to get to know and discuss the devastating consequences of the neoliberal sellout of the historical centre of Beirut namely corruption, displacement processes and the shrinking of public space during an extensive alternative guided tour through Beirut downtown.
In Tripoli, Lebanon’s second biggest town, Samer Annous, a Professor for linguistics at Balamand University, guided through the old waterfront al-Mina and pointed out the signs of past revolutionary activities. Talking with young activists from Tripoli it became clear how difficult it is for a traditional Sunni Islam majority in Tripoli to deal with an active leftist scene.
In the Bekaa Valley, two informal tent settlements of Syrian refugees as well as a school for Syrian children were visited. Refugees reported about their difficulties to secure their daily living without state support or donations from international programmes as the World Food Programme.