“Racial integration is only moving where whites predominantly are. Because you don’t see white children in Coloured and African schools. So why is that? It is a one-way street. And that is the same with anything else in terms of racial integration.”

—From South Africa


“So for me there was not real reconciliation because reconciliation is a two-way road, you see, we meet each other half-way…and that is why people have that attitude to you today. They will tell you to forget about the past.

How can you forget about the past if the past has not been healed?”

—From South Africa



Peace processes mean concessions, and concessions are not easy to give. When two parties agree to make peace, in Northern Ireland, in Sri Lanka, and in South Africa, the balance or reciprocity of those concessions—in perception if not in reality—can become another ground for the conflict to be carried out by other means. “We gave up so much and they gave up so little” is a frequent refrain.

Relationships of all kinds are built through the reciprocal actions of circulation and exchange. When give-and-take is a two-way street, there is a possibility that something new and (hopefully) better will emerge. Several respondents viewed compromise as reciprocal, noting both the difficulty that previously dominant groups face in giving up power and the importance of reciprocity in building stable partnerships between former opponents. Yet a far greater number of respondents indicated that they did not feel the compromises after conflict were reciprocal. Instead, they noted their perception of “the other group” speeding ahead while their own community sacrificed and lost more, sometimes to the extent of feeling altogether excluded from the new dispensation. Left out and left behind sums up the perception of this one-way street toward rights and resources.

The compromises of peace accords and the far longer process of peace-building will often not entail reciprocal sacrifices since a dominant side may be asked to give up some power to a weaker side. One will likely see this as a loss and the other as nothing more than what should have been done in the first place. Both are likely to struggle to transcend the zero-sum notions that make common-good solutions difficult to achieve. Meanwhile, the desire to avoid greater bloodshed might lead a weaker side to not push for greater concessions from a stronger opponent. The shared difficulty of coming to the table with former opponents, however, and the risk and sacrifice this entails, is foundational to the reciprocity at the heart of the performance of compromise.

1) As Sinhalese people, we talk about the war seriously. We speak strongly about the borderline villages as threatened villages. Now, after the dawn of peace, we go to visit places like Mullaithivu and Kilinochchi. When we go like that we speak mostly about Prabhakaran, about the submarine or the war tanker created by the LTTE or about a new gun they had gotten.

But during our visit what we saw from the beginning was empty lands [with no more houses]…about which we do not talk. We [Sinhalese] also lost some people as well as a few houses. But in relation to the losses suffered by the Tamils that is only 1 percent. So the effect of war was not the same for the two parties. We cannot justify that.

We cannot say that they have suffered like us. They are still refugees while we are not so. We have even forgotten the day the peace came to us. We say that we have no problem now. All are well except the dead. But the people on their [Tamil] side have no [proper and meaningful] life still. That means the effects of war are felt differently by different communities.

—From Sri Lanka


2) We compromised all right. But there had to be give-and-take on both sides. Had to be give-and-take on both sides. We thought maybe give too much, compromise too much. So I suppose we maybe didn’t get as good a bargain as the other side got. They got nearly everything they were looking for and I think we lost out. Maybe we just hadn’t as good of bargainers as the other side had. They seem to have got a lot. Anything they wanted, they seem to have got it.

—From Northern Ireland


Q: So you don’t have the feeling that there is one side giving more than the other?

A: No…. There is good and bad on both sides. There might be so many people that want to move forward in one community. And then there is so many people still dragging it back and then the same probably in the Protestant community. There are people wanting to move forward, but there are still people running about that don’t want it.

There are some people that want to go forward and then there are some people that will not let them.

—From Northern Ireland


Q: So do you feel that one side gives more or is doing more compromising than the other side?

A: Yes. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that we, the Protestant community, have given much more, much more. In lives, yes, but in our policies as well and in our employment status. We are giving, they are winning, and they are becoming the more dominant members of society.

Q: Your tradition as well maybe?

A: Well, our tradition, yes. Obviously our traditions are being trampled upon, too. The fact that we haven’t got five minutes to walk down a road in the Orange Order. Which should not be a problem to anyone. But it is a problem to Sinn Fein. That should not be a problem. They should be coming out and celebrating our tradition. When they have a parade on St. Patrick’s Day, we don’t go out and say, “You are not allowed to do that.”

I picked St. Patrick and I should have picked him because St. Patrick is for all of us. But they have adopted him and taken him over as theirs. Which he isn’t and he wasn’t. But still the point I am trying to make is, we don’t disagree when they have a parade but they disagree with us when we want to parade along a certain route. And it may only take five minutes or ten minutes. And if they don’t like us, why don’t they stay indoors?

So our tradition certainly has been crushed, squeezed out. And if they can they will eliminate our tradition altogether. Wipe us out.

—From Northern Ireland


3) My experience with all the reconciliation has been, we have reconciled with the apartheid regime. I believe that they didn’t really reconcile with us…. You need to remember that after 1994, after the freedom of our country, the white people in the country, they still received the same money, the same funds. The only thing now is, we are free, we can apply for any job, we can apply for any tender. But you need to understand that the white people have a lot more money and a lot more skills. But at the end of the day, you cannot compete with those particular people….

We only speak about the black government now as corrupt, but we don’t refer in terms of, “What about those people that have for a long time received all these benefits, but they don’t plough back in terms of reconciliation?” I think that is a concern.

—From South Africa


4) Q: Who is doing all the compromising in the peace process? Tamils? Everyone?

A: In the past, between the government and the LTTE. But it failed. It was one-sided. At present still we do not have any movement towards compromise. These are still in the dark. “Here and there,” some people say, but still we do not see a positive sign of compromise in their situation.

—From Sri Lanka


5) Q: In terms of compromising nowadays, do you find that one side is compromising more than the other?

A: I think it is fifty-fifty. There is give and take on both sides. Which I think is really positive. I think the Protestant community in general is a bit more reluctant to give up their dominance. It was very similar to the way the community was in the south of the USA. And then apartheid in South Africa. The whites were very reluctant to give up their dominant status.

Q: So it is a power question?

A: Yes. But I think the younger people are growing up more educated and they can see that to move forward everybody has to work together. Which I think is really good, too. They are more prepared to compromise. Because if we go down the tube we all go down it together.

—From Northern Ireland


6) And I think a very fundamental principle has to be equal partnerships—partnerships that are not based on patronising, but on an acceptance that both of us have something to offer each other. So even though you were the perpetrator, even though you were the beneficiary of an apartheid system and you are well-resourced, it does not meant that I as the victim have nothing to offer you…. So it is where we can negotiate and reach compromises about what the skills and expertise are that we each have to give, that we are able to learn to co-exist peacefully.

—From South Africa


7) We were granted peace. What we ask is that both Sinhalese and Tamils be treated equally. They also might have people who lost their husbands and children. The same facilities that we get must be given to them also. They have also suffered like us. They also have people who were forcefully recruited to the struggle and died. They also have both rich and poor. They have their difficulties. What we say is that peace must be effective to both sides equally.

—From Sri Lanka


There should be equal opportunities, equal rights for everybody in the country, and if such a situation is created, we also can think about forgiving them. But right now what is happening is there is a division and disparity among people. Sinhalese try to show that they have the sole right in the country, and if they do so, Tamils will not forgive them because we lost everything in the war and they were the root cause for this.

—From Sri Lanka


8) Q: So do you see compromising as something good then?

A: Yes. If all parties are willing to compromise. It can’t be a one-sided thing; it has to come from everybody. And the good thing about it is, well, people my age—I am fifty—I don’t want my upbringing for my children. My children do not want their upbringing for their children. So maybe this is why it is now coming to the transition that it is coming to. Because the younger generation is just saying, “We don’t give a damn about your religion. We just want to live.”

—From Northern Ireland