The Stories
Nobel laureate, Lisa Clark, on the front line against wars

Peace must be built, only then can it hold

 La pace va costruita, solo così regge  DCM-002
04 February 2023

It was the Bosnian war that gave Lisa Clark, an international conference interpreter, the mission of peace. She recounts, “I knew Yugoslavia quite well and spoke the language a little. During the very first weeks of the conflict, I got into my car and drove to Croatia, alone. I came back after five or six days, but I hadn’t understood what was happening. Yugoslavia is over, I said, but no, they won’t kill each other, But, instead, that was to be the case. When Blessed are the Peace Builders launched the initiatives for Bosnia, I got involved. I did so because it was close to my heart, that whole country that was Yugoslavia for me.  I cannot forget December 7,1992, the march of 500 to Sarajevo, with bishops Luigi Bettazzi and Don Tonino Bello, in the last weeks of his life”.

Since then, Lisa Clark, an American from Los Angeles based in Florence, has been committed to stand by the side of the populations in the territories devastated by wars. She is convinced that “it is from the perspective of those who receive the bullets that it is best to understand how to commit oneself against war, against the arrogance of the strongest and the denial of the rights of the weak”.

She lived in besieged Sarajevo from 1993 to 1995, and promoted networks and solidarity in the city and between people separated by the fronts.

Then to other areas in Bosnia and Kosovo. She participated in human rights and electoral observation missions in Palestine, Albania and Chiapas. She coordinated the civil society mission for the first democratic elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo and accompanied institutional missions to Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. Lisa Clark is vice-president of Blessed are the Peace Builders, referent for nuclear disarmament of the Italian Network for Peace and Disarmament, Italian representative of ICAN-International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons, with which she received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017, and co-president of the International Peace Bureau, which received the Nobel Prize, in 1910.

Lisa Clark makes a premise, speaking of peace, “I am not prejudicially against the use of weapons or military force. I am completely shocked by the fact that we have allowed the European countries’ institutions to subscribe to a notion that comes from my home country, the United States, that only military force can resolve situations. I just don’t subscribe to it”.

On Ukraine, she says, “I do not condemn the sending of defensive weapons as a mortal sin, rockets that shoot down planes or incoming missiles; I think it is acceptable in this situation”.  However, she adds, “I find so shocking that everything else is missing and that this has affected the public discourse. I find it shocking that the thought goes around, even in Italy, that what should you do against someone who attacks you?! Of course, one defends oneself; there is no doubt about that. However, signs that indicate a willingness to resist even with systems that open up to dialogue should not be ignored”.

For this, and all other wars, we must do “what we have always done: create networks of friendship, build bridges and not walls. It is a path that does not always lead quickly to the solution we would like: war is quicker, more timely, than building peace. Yet, only when peace is built, will peace holds”.

What if it doesn’t hold? We see wars that never end. Lisa Clark is convinced, “It does not hold when you call peace simply the military defeat of one side over another. For me, what we have in Bosnia today is not peace. The mortal sin of the ‘95 agreement in Dayton [which officially ended hostilities, ed] was recognising conquests and borders dictated by arms. When you start from the idea that you have to divide a community, because coexistence is impossible, then peace is also impossible, because peace is coexistence”.

This is the problem with negotiations. How are they conducted? “Not everything”, says Lisa Clark, “has to be decided at the first meeting; and not everything has to be decided now, immediately. On the contrary, we have to give ourselves time, involve all parties, which I experienced in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Having ways of approaching each other is essential in building peace. Between Russia and Ukraine, the prisoner exchanges were signals, the agreement on wheat was a signal. In English, we call them confidence building measures. Nevertheless, the essential element, is to sit at the table, is the ceasefire”.

When ICAN was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Lisa Clark spoke of “a victory for civil society; it is we who can force our states to choose what is ethically and morally acceptable and what is not”. This is that part of the mission at home. “To take action in the midst of the population so that everyone becomes aware, wants to inform themselves and does not resign themselves to the fact that war is a terrible thing but it has always been there. Nevertheless, we also have to be careful. A few of my Congolese friends, for example, rest on the fact that everything depends on the greed that comes from outside, but that’s not exactly the case; there is a lot of corruption in many Countries”.