What is important for the future is that both parties understand each other. We should not keep wrong things in the heart and wish them harm. Having seen the damages, we must realize that both parties have suffered. I think that this is the correct understanding….War is like throwing stones at each other while both parties are staying in glass houses. To the extent we strike, we also get struck.

—From Sri Lanka


INTRODUCTION

Can I ask you what compromise means to you?

Getting together with them in unity and cooperation. And sharing whatever they have with us. Looking at their enterprises and living together. That is what I would think…. We will buy their things. We will sell our things to them. Before the war that was what we were doing.

—From Sri Lanka

 

Do you mean as far as our freedom is concerned? It sounds like selling out, to my mind.

—From South Africa

 

Everybody has to put something on the table.” The thing about it is that it has to be all round. It has to be a plain glass window.

—From Northern Ireland

 

“Accepting standards that are lower than would be desirable for practical reasons…. At times you have to display tolerance and exercise control even towards previous oppressors.”

—From Sri Lanka

 

“Accepting that neither side can win in the short- or medium- or even long-term future without risking the loss of thousands of lives.”

—From South Africa

 

The understanding of compromise as two parties giving something they may not really want to in order to achieve a common end is at the heart of this research. Yet respondents often spoke of compromise mostly in terms of what “their side” has had to concede rather than what both sides may have given up. Unsurprisingly, this “barely tolerable discomfort” is most welcomed among respondents in South Africa, whose peace process has had longer to mature than Northern Ireland’s or Sri Lanka’s. But even in South Africa it is understood to have led to mixed results. Black South African respondents often see the results of compromise as the achievement of political power but little change in their economic fortunes.

Compromise is still understood as necessary and not something that will happen automatically as a result of the trajectory of the peace process; it requires long-term effort – and not just in societies subject to violent conflict. When the word “compromise” itself has been a weapon in the conflict (with “no compromise” used as a popular political slogan in Northern Ireland, for instance), the struggle to portray compromise as something more than a necessary evil is clear. For some, compromise does not have to mean trust, but merely the container in which distant relations can interact with each other because they have to. And even those respondents who champion compromise agree that it may be very difficult to embrace.


1) Compromise was necessary because what alternatives were there? We could have an armed struggle. We could have had a civil war. There are many examples in the world where people fight until there is no infrastructure left. So much damage done that you can’t rebuild. So we were in a situation, objectively, where the compromise was the only option.

—From South Africa

 


2) I think in the beginning it was a good compromise. Because we did not know, we did not understand, because we fought for the freedom of our country and to vote and to be free and to use all the facilities of our country…and I think we, in terms of that particular fight, we won that particular fight, but in terms of economic freedom, we did not receive that.

—From South Africa

 


3) It is useless and it is a waste of time to speak about compromise unless there are some genuine initiatives by the government to solve our problems. So even if we forget and forgive somebody now it won’t be a perfect thing unless there are some real and genuine efforts on the part of the government.

—From Sri Lanka

 


4) Compromise for me is a hardship…. If you are going to make a compromise, you have to truly believe that it is for the best. And definitely the best for the people that you are representing.

—From Northern Ireland

 


5) You take the word compromise and break it down and parse it and analyse it and find out what it means. And you find that in fact people are compromising day in and day out…and this idea that Northern Ireland has poured endless millions of pounds into this whole compromise, middle of the road, we are trying to sort out this industry.

On the other side of that you have the Paisleyites shouting “no surrender.”

ulster no surrender

Which is “no compromise,” actually. So people turned off completely to that. It is the word and not the concept. You don’t surrender the concept of respecting your neighbours or respecting people from different religions, or people from the other side of the road.

You don’t surrender that. But that is an argument for another day perhaps.

How do we replace that, that word? Or how do we address that topic, when at the centre of that very important issue is a word that for many people has been damaged at the very least. That is a wider issue.

—From Northern Ireland

 


6) Compromise means to me that there is no more trouble. People aren’t out on the streets fighting. Although the Protestants still have their faith and the Catholics still have their faith—it is that they are compromising with each other. You have yours as long as it doesn’t come into my territory. To me, you can believe what you want and we can believe what we want in our own communities, but don’t bring it outside your communities now. There is no more trouble. It has to stay in your own communities.

—From Northern Ireland

 

Compromise means that we understand each other. I must come to know who I am. Then I can come to know the other party. If we come to know like that, we can go together. I cannot live with my wife if I do not understand her. If she does not understand me, can she live with me? No. If we take a family, it is also the same; if we take the country, it is also the same. If we take compromise, if we take Sri Lanka, the problem is to understand the other. Yes. To come to that point, it is not enough to come to that point by word…. For compromise there should be visible acts: our behavior, our speech, what we do. Only then can we recognize compromise.

—From Sri Lanka

 


7) Well, let’s agree that we don’t like the term [compromise]! But in a sense [long pause] it will be fair to say that no intimate relationship can succeed without compromise. No family can go forward without compromise, and for those who cannot compromise at the end, the marriage ends. They leave the family…. I think there can be healthy and unhealthy compromise.

—From South Africa

 


8) When you look at what happened if we become too friendly with them, problems might crop up once again. Not everyone is the same. We do not know who they are. We do not know why they want to be friendly with us if they want such friendships. Furthermore, we will not be able to meet everybody [all Tamils]. So better to relate to them but at a distance. That is what I mean by compromise.

—From Sri Lanka

 


9) Compromise for me isn’t as easy as dying. If I am killed in action? Game over. If I make a compromise, I have to live with that every day.

—From Northern Ireland