Joel Rosenthal headshot. CREDIT: Anadolu Agency

Joel Rosenthal. CREDIT: Anadolu Agency

Sarajevo is a Symbol: Commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Assassination

May 28, 2014

This article with the Turkish news organization, Anadolu Agency, appeared in Fokus on May 3, 2014, and has been translated from Bosnian. It is posted here with kind permission.

The participation of a special delegation of Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs (CCEIA) in the central commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Sarajevo assassination, from June 24 to 28 in the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, coincides with the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Council, says Joel Rosenthal, president of this powerful American and global institution.

President of the renowned Carnegie Council in New York reveals the reasons behind the Council's upcoming visit to Sarajevo and why its participation in the commemoration of the outbreak of World War I is important.

"Our goal is to promote the basic values of Andrew Carnegie, who recognized the possibility of achieving a more peaceful world," Dr. Rosenthal said in an exclusive interview with the Anadolu Agency (AA). He added that the Council was founded in 1914 to promote the ideal of world peace. Today, its mission is to be a voice for ethics in international relations.

At the eve of the outbreak of World War I, American industrialist Andrew Carnegie—then one of the wealthiest men on the planet, who was sensing a global cataclysm—established Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York. He assembled the leading moral authorities of that era, who were committed to stopping the oncoming world war. Although they failed, their organization remained dedicated to the ideal of a more just and peaceful world. At the same time, Andrew Carnegie funded the construction of many international institutions, one example of which is the palace of the International Court of Justice in The Hague. He also supported the creation of the League of Nations—a predecessor to the United Nations.

"But his greatest merit lay in bolstering the idea that it is possible to build a new, better, and more just world," says Rosenthal.

Today, Carnegie Council is home to those who explore the ethical dilemmas that arise after bloody conflicts and massive human rights violations.

Sarajevo is a Symbol

Asked to further elaborate the reasons for the Council's visit to Sarajevo, Rosenthal says: "We were looking for a symbolic place and a symbolic moment. It seems to me that we are having a great chance, not just for Sarajevo, not only for the Balkans, and not only for Europe, but indeed for the whole world. "

Rosenthal announced that the Carnegie delegation will organize a special symposium in Sarajevo this June.

"There are two things that motivate our stay in Sarajevo. One is insight into the crisis of 1914. We need to understand what it is that we can learn from this crisis on the eve of the First World War. There are many conventional interpretations of the war's outbreak, such as misunderstandings, miscalculations, escalation, emotions, et cetera. But we want to have a moment to reflect on what went wrong and if there are lessons that can be learned to inform our understanding of the present and the future.

The second dimension is that Sarajevo is a symbol of pluralism, multi-ethnicity, and of minority groups who lived together peacefully for centuries. We all remember the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. The event was meant to signify pluralism, multiculturalism, and living with differences in a peaceful manner. Even the horrific tragedy of the 1990s Balkan wars does not negate this ideal or dream. That is why we are coming, to reaffirm these basic values and principles in an optimistic way," says Dr. Rosenthal.

In the description of its program objectives, Carnegie Council states that it focuses on three global themes: ethics, war and peace; global social justice; and religion in politics. Their globally renowned journal Ethics & International Affairs is used by students in universities worldwide.

Asked to comment on the statement by Ahmed Davutoglu, minister of foreign Affairs of Turkey, who is also expected to attend the commemorations in Sarajevo at the end of June, that the Balkans should be a place of peace and prosperity in the next 100 years, Rosenthal says he wholeheartedly welcomes the idea.

"First and foremost, it is important to have that kind of goal, to have a sense of direction. I commend this kind of vision as the goal," says Rosenthal.

"Obviously, a peaceful, stable region of multiethnic and multinational coexistence is the way we are trying to go.That is why it is very important to have leaders who make statements of this kind. These statements should not only be seen as idealistic, but as realistic as well. They can be implemented in the interest of the people."

The Balkan Experience

In light of current events in Ukraine which are already comparable to those which presaged the destruction of the former Yugoslavia or the start of World War I, can we be optimistic that the world really learned lessons from the Balkans?

"What is happening now in Ukraine is an example of the First World War's legacies and is related to the principle of self-determination.The legacy of that time (1914-1918) is that any national group should be able to determine its own destiny," explained this renown American theorist of global events. Dr. Rosenthal added: "But we also have realized that it is not an easy thing to do."

Speaking of the legacy of World War I and the right to self-determination, he remarked: "This principle remains the bedrock of international law and ethics.Of course, Great Powers have their own interests in their spheres of influence.This is a reality of geopolitics that one would be foolish to ignore."

Dr. Rosenthal further explained: "You are right, therefore, when you say that what we are seeing now in Ukraine, we have already seen it before. But I also think that we have found a way to use self-determination toward a peaceful coexistence. Self-determination does not always lead to conflict. It should not be a conflict. So it's a question of skills of political leadership."

When asked whether this means that "good fences make good neighbors," Rosenthal replied: "Yes. That is my personal opinion. One of the problems that I come across in discussions like this is that when people talk about reconciliation, in certain contexts they look at it very idealistically. You know, when dreamers talk about how all become friends, hugging and kissing. But I often want to remind people of what the English word 'reconciliation' actually means."

The Culture of Remembrance

When it comes to the culture of remembrance, should you ask victims to forget, despite the danger of recurrence, and is forgetting a precondition of forgiveness?

"The power of remembrance must not be underestimated. It lives with us. It affects how we think, how we judge what is right and what is not when it comes to ethics. One component of remembrance is your personal memory, and another is the collective memory of your community. I think we have to be aware of this. And we must be aware of the memories of others," said Rosenthal.

He pointed to a "large cluster of questions when it comes to memory, such as how it is shaped, how the story is constructed and told to our kids."

"My view is that it is impossible to forget. It is perhaps even unethical to do so," said Rosenthal.

In his interpretation, "history must be understood."

"But when I say this, I also think it is a tragic mistake to be trapped in the past and think only of the past," he explained.

Rosenthal claims that one of the biggest obstacles to understanding the past is "competing narratives of victimhood."

"We could spend the rest of our lives and the lives of our children retelling these stories. But, if these stories are told, then we need to be careful that we are not drawn into a circle of competition of suffering. This is a dead-end, not the way forward."

He added that the story of suffering and our own victims, of course, needs to be told, and the facts gathered in one place in order to understand all the dimensions of victimhood. "We need to have the recognition of different narratives, if you will. But we also need to honor memory by pointing toward a positive future."

Responsibility of Big Powers

Rosenthal says that Carnegie Council still aspires to the ideals that motivated its founding, but it also tends towards realism.

Asked why the Balkans still lags behind in the process of full reconciliation and why the region is still waiting for a true Balkan Willy Brandt, Rosenthal replied: "That's a very good question, because it leads to the idea of leadership and its importance. My understanding of the situation is that the Balkan region is suffering because it is in the border zone. Looking from a realist perspective, the great powers have an enormous responsibility to help the idea and the establishment of the right leadership."

Turkey as a Regional Power

Given the responsibilities of the great powers to help small nations get out of the vicious circle, Dr. Joel Rosenthal explored the potential role of Turkey in the Balkans.

"I think it's a great opportunity for Turkey to project its influence in a benevolent way," says Rosenthal.

He believes that in the 21st century, the world will be dominated by mixed communities of people, who must get along in the small places where they live.

"In order for Turkey to be able to play a role in support of this peaceful co-existence," says Rosenthal, "this large Muslim country has to use this opportunity in the right way, to the extent that it can."

On the question of whether Turkey, from an American perspective, is more a regional or global power, Rosenthal replied that his understanding remains "more traditional."

"Great powers have regional responsibilities. That's what makes you a great power. But you also have a global responsibility. So it's a mix of both."

In an interview for the Anadolu Agency, Rosenthal said that he does not belong to the proponents of "world or global government."

"I am even sometimes skeptical of some global institutions," he noted.

Asked whether he referred to the United Nations, Rosenthal replied that the UN "has a role to play."

"For me, the United Nations is a functional agency, which can help to coordinate the various aspects of an interconnected world, so in that sense it has a fundamental role."

He recalled that Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General from 1997 to 2006, is remembered by his statement that "if the UN did not exist, it would have to be invented."

Rosenthal pointed out that a "more peaceful world would depend on regional and major powers seeking ways to co-operate to realize shared values and common interests."

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