Prof. Martin Leiner gives a personal statement concerning the wars in Ukraine and in Gaza

The following statement represents a personal communication of the director, not an agreed upon text of the Jena Center for Reconciliation Studies as an institution.


As a German citizen and a researcher of reconciliation processes, I consider the German experience of the nonviolent revolution 1989 and of reconciliation after World War II with countries such as France, Israel, Poland and Czech Republic as maybe the greatest contributions my country could make to peace in the world. Having taken part in that history of reconciliation and inspired by reconciliation processes in South Africa, Northern Ireland and in many other countries, I decided to dedicate myself to the scientific research of reconciliation processes and to give my best to build reconciliation studies as a transdisciplinary research project.

I consider the ongoing terrible wars between Russia and Ukraine and between Israel and Gaza as a result of a lack of serious engagement in reconciliation processes during periods of hope in the 1990s and 2000s. After the Oslo process and after the transformation of communist regimes, the window of opportunities was wide open. All together we missed those opportunities. I promise the publication of a scientific analysis to show step by step that missed opportunities for reconciliation have been decisive for the current crises.

The JCRS always promotes cooperation on reconciliation-related activities with universities as well as (in the case of Russia) with individual researchers on both sides of the wars, even during wars. With Al Azzhar university in Gaza, the JCRS was even building up an MA-program in Reconciliation Studies. A huge part of that university has been destroyed by targeted bombing. Our colleagues and their families are fearing for their survival or even lost their houses and lives already.

With this message I would like to tell our partners and friends on all sides of those wars that JCRS scholars are feeling with your pain and refuse to equate populations with their governments.

In JCRS, we developed the Hölderlin perspective looking for reconciliation in the middle of a violent conflict, finding important resources for peace in persons, groups and institutions who do not share the logic of enmity and indiscriminate demonization of the other side.

Science, religion, arts, culture, sports, free and diverse critical media, peaceful economic exchange, mutual help through medicine and humanitarian aid, peace- and human-rights-activism, are bridges of shared humanity between the people of different nation states, even beyond the fronts of actual wars. They are needed as a basis for reconciliation and peace after a violent conflict. They are needed as well to pave the way to reconciliation in the middle of conflict, when governments and official diplomacy are not doing their job to search pathways to peaceful agreements. The continuous existence of wars in the world is a scandal. It is mainly the result of a lack of reconciliation and chains of wrong decisions made by political leaders.

International law and international organizations such as the UN can be of great support for peace and reconciliation if they are treated with respect. States respecting Human Rights and the search for peace should protect those bridges towards peace. Militarization of the minds, mass production and exportation of weapons, suppression or limitation of free speech, of the freedom of science and of protests for peace, as well as normalization of violence against universities, schools, and hospitals are leading us into a downward spiral which sooner or later will affect everyone on this interconnected planet.

Handicapped and sick civilians, children, women, elderly, poor and other vulnerable people are more and more the ones who are the victims of the kind of wars of our time. Killed and injured civilians are never tolerable collateral damage. But also soldiers often are enrolled by force into wars and slaughters by thousands. Immanuel Kant’s question should be asked everywhere: „Which right has a government against its population to force them into a duty to kill others and to sacrifice their own lives?“ Everybody can come to the conclusion that there is – in a given case or in general - no right to force a person into such an ethically problematic duty. Everywhere in the world everyone should have a right to decline military service. Give reconciliation a chance!

For those who might like to misunderstand my text, I hereby explicitly state that I condemn the attack by Hamas on October 7th 2023.