This article is about the basic foundation for democracy, peace and development, for which the tools are to talk, debate, listen and participate in various ways and forums. I will use an old and distinguished Professor to support my arguments - Professor Johan Galtung, a Norwegian like me, who is 82 now. When I was a student, we were all impressed that he was qualified to teach in half a dozen fields.

Galtung is best known as a peace researcher and an adviser on peace negotiations and political issues. But he has also given attention to anthropology, theology and other fields, yes, and common sense. He has impressed supporters through his more than a hundred books and thousands of articles, and he has irritated many powerful leaders, especially conservatives in the West. He enjoys talking, analysing and debating, and recommends that the debate and dialogue must go on so that we can understand issues better and avoid conflicts.

Last week, I found a photocopy in my plastic bag “bookshelf” of Professor Galtung’s memoir or autobiography based on more than 400 pages in the form of articles from his contributions as a columnist and guest speaker at universities, political parties and different kinds of forums in Norway and other countries all over the world. The title of the book is “Johan Without Land: On the Peace Path Through the World” (Aschehoug, Oslo, 2006 edition). We need many such books from insightful people in every county and in major languages, not only in a small language like Norwegian.

It is a fasinating book in which Galtung focuses on peace research and peace education, in addition to a myriad of other issues that are important for development and how we human beings live and can live, to be happier and make the most out of life on earth - irrespective of differences between people. Galtung is not only discussing academic issues; he is as good when he talks about the simple issues and pleasures in life.

I had the opportunity to listen to him in Islamabad some 10 years ago when he gave a great analysis of Afghanistan and the region. I worked for the UNHCR then and I still remember how pleased many refugees and others in the audience were that a Westerner could speak against the policies of great powers and military alliances. He also discussed geopolitical issues in general, gender issues, capitalism and environment. And he stressed that we should always try to understand the world around us and formulate what we see and how we understand it - and what actions to take. Then others can learn, and we can learn from the response we get. This is a key aspect of any democracy, as Galtung says, for example, in an article in his memoir, entitled “Democracy is to participate - in Norway”, or perhaps he could have said “democracy is to dialogue”, as I have called my article today.

But to participate and debate is not always synonymous with agreeing. It is rather the opposite. We should say what we believe in and argue for our opinions, based on our knowledge and values. We should not just let the opponent be right just to be polite or because it may be more comfortable. In Pakistan’s class-culture, we often give the persons with the highest status the last word. That is wrong, and it is not helpful as a way of finding a good solution.

I said a ‘good’ solution, not the ‘best’ solution. The solution of a dispute, a heated debate about a new project, a family dispute, or what it may be, will often require a compromised solution that will not be the best, but it will be acceptable for the majority and even for a small group that might, probably, be entirely against any change. In all communities and societies, we have some people, who are generally against change.

When President Barack Obama was re-elected in America yesterday, he too must do what he has been elected to do. But he also has to listen to his opponents and his inner-self so that he will do (more of) what is right and good for all.

Galtung has pointed out that when America’s empire is reduced and it focuses more on local issues, it will be better for the Americans and for the rest of the world. United Kingdom and France became better for the Brits and French after their empires were given up. Galtung has predicted that USA’s role will be much diminished after 2020.

But how do we participate in democracies that are never perfect? Galtung seems to feel a bit guilty that he has never held any political office, although he was active in student unions when he was young. Later, he was more an observer and commentator - and a great debater, as I have already mentioned. He has also produced new theories and opinions on the present and the future. Sometimes, he has been wrong, too! That is part of the price when you try to predict about the future.

Since Galtung argues that democracy is to debate, also in small groups like lecture halls and seminar rooms, then he has, indeed, lived a life in the right spirit. We should see that our responsibility is to debate issues wherever we live and work. To draw conclusions and to vote only comes at the end of a debate.

All debates must be fair, open and in a spirit of good faith, but not naïve. We should all seek to find the good results through peaceful means. There is no prescription for how to do this. It has to be invented every time and all the time. Peace is, therefore, not the end result; it is a process. This is Galtung’s main lesson to us all.

Since humour and common observation are also part of Professor Galtung’s trademark, it should be mentioned that he was born on October 24 - the United Nations Day. Although he has often been critical of the UN, he has not come up with any major proposal for any better organisation, as far as I can remember. He has said that “the UN should get out of the US, and the US out of the UN.” Perhaps, then the UN can become more independent.

Galtung doesn’t seem to like the European Union much; after all, he is a Norwegian and that country has in two referendums voted against membership in such a gigantic rich man’s club. Referendums and small units are in his spirit; he calls it direct democracy while much of the rest is indirect democracy, where political parties and organisations decide over people’s heads. He wants the debate and dialogue to include everyone and the decisions to involve all of us.

The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience from research, diplomacy and development aid.

Email: atlehetland@yahoo.com