Political and Societal Leadership in Encouraging Reconciliation

October 22, 2013

On October 22, 2013, the AGI Society, Culture & Politics Program hosted a conference on “Political and Societal Leadership in Encouraging Reconciliation: A Comparison of Japanese and German Foreign Policies in their Neighborhoods” with the generous support of the Stiftung Erinnerung, Verantwortung und Zukunft (EVZ). Dr. Lily Gardner Feldman, Director of the AGI Society, Culture & Politics Program and Harry & Helen Gray Senior Fellow, noted the long-standing efforts of AGI to address reconciliation issues by focusing on four different key topics in reconciliation: historical issues and the role of embedded history, the role of civil society, the role of political and societal leadership (the human face to reconciliation), and the supportive role of multi-lateral institutions, such as the European Union, and third parties such as the United states. Reconciliation is a long-term, messy process of turning enmity into amity.

Panel 1: Political Leadership as an Essential Element of Reconciliation

The first panel focused primarily on the requirement of strong leadership in the reconciliation process. What qualities do we need? What do they mean in practice? Speakers listed the following qualities:

  1. a clear long-term goal and vision for the relationship;
  2. a new relationship building on the past experiences;
  3. an ability to focus on and prioritize reconciliation during times of domestic tension;
  4. an ability to deal directly with opposition;
  5. a capacity to forge personal relations with leaders of other countries (positive person chemistry and engagement in informal settings); and
  6. a willingness to demonstrate the importance of reconciliation in the public sphere.

Panelists offered lessons to be learned from the European reconciliation experience. It was argued that Japan needs to offer a more elaborated, formal apology and timely compensation in order to pursue reconciliation with China and South Korea. The result could be a much stronger economic base in Northeast Asia.

All panelists agreed that leadership is especially critical when public opinion is negative. We need leaders to try to influence media and deal with negative opinion concerning reconciliation when it exists. But not only leadership is responsible for changing opinion – academics, NGOs, young student exchanges, social media, and new technologies play an important role. They create trust, maintain reconciliation, and make sure that younger generations stay committed to the idea.

The desired U.S. leadership role in Asia is very complicated, as some Japanese leaders are wary of being seen as willing to cooperate with the U.S. openly. Some participants argued that the U.S. should stay a covert actor, encouraging talks between parties, and acting as a facilitator. American intervention had been important in German reconciliation with Israel because reparations would not have happened had the U.S. not stepped in at critical junctures. The U.S. might also apologize for the atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, as a way of jump-starting reconciliation in Northeast Asia.  Interfaith dialogues might also be a good opportunity for increasing discussion among China, Japan and South Korea.


Lily Gardner Feldman, AGI View Presentation

Kumiko Haba, Aoyama Gakuin University

Seunghoon Emilia Heo, Sophia University

Nobuhiko Suto, former member, Japanese House of Representatives View Presentation

Panel 2: The Role of Societal Leadership in Reconciliation

The second panel focused on the role of societal actors in reconciliation. The Catholic Church, political activists, and civil society organizations in Poland have played an important role in fostering reconciliation between Poland and Germany. Although the process has been slow, the future of Polish-German relations seems bright from the perspective of the Foundation for Polish-German Reconciliation. Efforts continue on both sides with support from political leadership. The work of the Stiftung Erinnerung, Verantwortung und Zukunft in Germany revolves around reconciliation, political struggles, human rights, and domestic and international dialogue. It is an expression of the continuing political and moral responsibility of the state, industry, and society for the wrongs committed in the name of National Socialism. Forging partnerships between societal actors represents an essential element of successful reconciliation efforts.

Public opinion and the media in Israel historically have been forces against rapprochement efforts with Germany. In recent years, with continued support from German Jews, who advocated a relationship with Germany as early as 1946, Germany’s image has been more positively portrayed. Successful bilateral textbook revision commissions are characteristic of trust and community-building between different nations. The Franco-German Textbook Commission may serve as a model for other conflict regions in the world given its success.

Civil society in China is different from civil society in other countries engaged in reconciliation as a result of the government’s role in shaping societal interactions. However, the official consensus among organizations and the government is to build friendly relations with Japan and strive for reconciliation.


Romain Faure, George-Eckert-Institut View Presentation

Linbo Jin, China Institute of International Studies

Dariusz Pawłoś, Foundation for Polish-German Reconciliation (FPNP) View Presentation

Günther Saathoff, Stiftung Erinnerung, Verantwortung und Zukunft (EVZ)

David Witzthum, Israel Television Channel 1

Keynote Speech

Read Keynote Spearch

The relationship between France and Germany is special, as the countries evolved from hereditary enemies to close friends. Civil society has played an active and decisive role in the process and has influenced the political leadership to pursue reconciliation. Youth exchanges represent a successful instrument in forging a close relationship between two countries. The lessons that can be learned from the Franco-German model are:

1)      Active and courageous citizens and politicians make a difference.
2)      The political support of this model is important for its success.
3)      The establishment of trust is an important part of the process.
4)      Every new generation in France and Germany (or elsewhere) has to be engaged in order for the relationship to continue. The process cannot end.

The goal of exchanges is to learn and understand the “foreignness” of others in social, political, and historical contexts, and to engage in debates with others. Participants soon realize that the alien culture provides insights into their own culture.

Panel 3: Young Leaders and Reconciliation

The third panel focused on the changing face of reconciliation through time, and how to foster a younger generation of leaders who are committed to reconciliation.  We are currently in a crisis of leadership. The task for today is not only to contribute to the initiation of new young leaders, but also to involve the more resistant sectors of our society into the process of reconciliation. The past should be integrated into the present, which requires cultivating a culture of memory by actively caring for the living victims of past wrongdoings and focusing on deepening understanding between nations. There are already some mutual exchange projects set up, for example in the German-Czech Future Fund, that support the engagement of future leaders by offering the participants skills and training to enhance competency and personal growth while creating an environment for them to form mutual trust.

Memory matters, and leadership is sensitive to social framing of memory, which has to be examined closely at each period. Young leaders have to face growing skepticism towards the EU, and must not disregard the benefits of a strong Franco-German friendship. Mistrust among Koreans, Chinese, and Japanese is due to the small role of history in education. This will hopefully change in the future, as religious actors are playing a larger role in reconciliation, and Japan is focusing more on globalizing its youth and sending students to South Korea and elsewhere in hopes of building skills and learning English. All of this activity requires deep and nuanced thinking about the very meaning of the term reconciliation, and whether it involves the idea of forgiveness.


Seunghoon Emilia Heo, Sophia University

Tomas Jelinek, Czech-German Future Fund   View Presentation

Dagmar Pruin, Germany Close Up / Aktion Sühnezeichen Friedensdienste e.V.

Antoine Vion, Aix-Marseille University    View Presentation

Relevant AGI publications include:

Who Can Lead the Change?

The Franco-German Elysée Treaty at Fifty: A Model for Others?

Listening to Legacies


Photos from the Event:
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