Speaker: Tibi Galis, Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation


In our view at the Auschwitz Institute, genocide is not only the moment when people are killed; it's also the moment, if we take, for example, the Holocaust, when people had to wear a star to identify them as being Jewish. That has already set in place the dynamics that were necessary for achieving the killing at a later stage.

We cannot make abstraction of the preparation to commit the act of genocide if we want to prevent it. That, according to Stanton, would be the phase of symbolization, one that comes very early within the process.

From these two illustrations, you will see we really hold the view that prevention is not simply stopping killing. It needs to come a lot earlier.

Genocide prevention most often is equated, especially where we are, in the United States, with military intervention in situations that seem unsolvable in any other way. What we argue is that the work needs to come a lot earlier than that, and genocide prevention is a story that is a lot longer than that.

It's like talking about preventing alcoholism, talking about it as going into the bars and knocking out people's drinks while they are there. It's not necessarily an effective way of preventing alcoholism. In a similar manner, going and putting in the military where a regime is already killing people comes at a very late stage.

Just to continue the analogy with preventing alcoholism, you might have seen a television show called Intervention, where concerned family members, concerned friends, come and confront an individual about his or her problem. Ultimately, it results in that person going into rehab and a process of trying to come to terms with the problem. Nonetheless, we don't even see that on the show, because finding out whether there has been a relapse or not, finding out the history of alcoholism before, is not very interesting as a show, it's not a sexy topic.

In a similar way, genocide prevention is not one of those issues that is very interesting. Many times genocide prevention is dealing with good governance, issues that have to do with making a society work on a daily basis, government offering services and dealing with conflicts that arise from very basic social interaction.

That is why we believe that somehow the whole long-term prevention perspective has not gotten too much of a focus, because it is not easy to capture and because, just like in the case of an alcoholic where the actual solution has to come from that individual staying on track, similarly the long-term solutions to preventing genocide have to come from within the society where the risk is high.

Intervention sometimes adds to the risk of things happening in the futureā€”if not managed the right way, mind you. This is a disclaimer. I'm not talking here against intervention. Of course that's a last resort. But from our perspective, as genocide prevention work, that is a very, very sad last resort. It means we have failed in our job beforehand to prevent mass atrocities from happening.

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