TFF turns 31: Flashbacks and vision

By Jan Oberg

It’s 31 years today – September 12 – that Christina Spännar and I founded TFF and gathered experts and friends from many walks of life and world corners and set out to make a difference.

1985 were in the midst of European peace and anti-nuclear activities and a moment of history when one could begin to feel the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact cracking, fragmenting and giving way to something new.

Whatever survives this long under very very difficult circumstances of independence and freedom in our world must have some qualities.

During these more than three decades, we’ve been witnesses to world history in international affairs such as the end of the first Cold War with the fall of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the genocide in Burundi and Rwanda, NATOs expansion as well as 9/11, the War On Terror and – sadly – all the failed wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria to just mention a few.

But we have also seen the world order change, the trend towards a multipolar world, the betterment after the end of formal colonialism, people living longer and better, the rise of non-Western powers, the good sides of globalisation and modern communication technology etc.

We’ve done research – everything we do is research-based – public education, academic courses, mediation in major conflicts such as Kosovo and a lot of outreach: Social media, videos, media commentaries etc. And we still remember how we sent out newsletter that we had typed on thin stencils and manifolded on a stencil printer, the pages sorted and put into envelopes with address labels. The kids in our street helped us and got some good food (or child labour!) and we could do 1100 in one day in the basement and bring them to the post office the next. Then came the fax machine…

Those were the days.

Today about 10.000 people all over the world get TFF PressInfo several times a month; while it does take a couple of hours to edit and format, they go out in one batch within a couple of minutes at the click of a button. And we are later told who and how many have opened them or clicked on their links!

TFF was among the first academic institutions to actively use the Internet, our first very simple homepage being online 1997; we are presently working on a new one, our 6th or 7th. We began using social media in 2006 if I remember correctly. On a good day we are in direct or personal contact with about 100 people one way or the other on Facebook (2), Google+ and Twitter. And the total reach per year through homepage, social media, lectures, media appearances, articles, PressInfos etc – all of it produced by our brilliant TFF Associates – must be counted in tens of millions worldwide.

TFF’s new flip-magazine, Transnational Affairs, hasn’t yet gathered many followers – but it will come: It’s where everything is gathered, also what may not be on our homepage or other social media.

Until 1999 we had a small annual, organisational support from the Swedish government but we knew too much about Yugoslavia and had been mediating over 4 years in the Kosovo conflict and went out worldwide, including at CNN, and argued against the bombing that later took place. Actually, we predicted today’s situation quite well and had also produced a peace plan for a 3-year negotiated solution that both sides were seriously interested in; nobody else did that.

But that was too much for a Swedish government that only wanted to get closer to the U.S. – prime minister Göran Persson and foreign minister Anna Lindh.

TFF was thrown out of the government’s budget for good (although it was couched in bureaucratic terms). It’s the only NGO thrown out so far, as far as we know, and today we consider in an honour. Naively, these people probably thought we had made ourselves dependent on those US$ 40.000 or so we received per year and that they could by that narrow-minded act make us close down TFF. But no one except we ourselves can.

We have remained – and will remain – independent.

That means receiving no government or corporate funds to support the organisation as such (while we have now and then sought and received specific project funds). TFF is people-financed – and there is no big sugar daddy, there are only good-hearted citizens around the world and particularly in Denmark and Sweden who support us with anything from US $ 5 to a couple of thousands per year. We do all we do for about US$ 25,000 annually and – sorry to tell you – no matter what we give to ever more people around the world and in spite of quite intensive fund-raising appeals on social media where people benefit a lot from TFF, we receive less than ever.

See how far it will go. Bottom line is to be able to pay the necessary bills and go to the necessary places – like we do to Iran nowadays – to know for ourselves and gather the facts.

So, how do we do it all on such a shoe-string budget?

Well, first of all the founders, the board and the Associates are all unpaid – unpaid for the production of articles, administration, outreach, etc. Secondly, the foundation is housed in the founders’ private villa, the rent symbolic. Third, we do it thanks to passion and commitment – a strong belief that it is better to work for peace than for war (!)… And the tremendous joy of meeting on our way so many wonderful people all over the world from high-school students to those over 90 who are passionate about peace.

Or – peace by peaceful means, as stated in Article 1 of the UN Charter.

That is what we remain committed to no matter what. In contrast even to much peace research, we are uncompromisingly – fundamentalism, yes please! – opposed to the use of violence to solve humanity’s conflict. Only in cases where everything has actually been tried and proven in vain may we contemplate the use of some kind of violence and then – as also stipulated by the UN Charter – only organised by the UN and not by coalitions of “the willing” – meaning interventionists, militarists and racists who look down upon others with contempt.

To do good, hold on to basic values – to realize a credo – creates an enormous energy. Also when the world developments are not going in the direction – at the moment at least – that we hoped for when we were younger.

We expect to go through some very tough years now but in about a decade when the US Empire has lost most of its influence (and the US republic thrived wonderfully) and NATO has closed shop and then witness a new multi-polar and balanced world order that can offer humanity more hope and vision than the West as a leader has been able to. Those who live shall see.

We’ll be around through those years too – but perhaps at a slightly lower activity level. We are getting a little older after 30 years and I want to do more art photography work before it is too late.

And here you can see what the founders said about it all last year at our 30th anniversary.

Some ideas and things do not change. Because they are right, necessary, sustainable, visionary – and still have a lot to offer and achieve.

Nonviolence in thought, speech and action – nonviolence in relation to other people, cultures, genders and Nature is such a thing and has exactly that: A lot to offer! More than violence ever had.

TFF will remain at service for that great civilizational idea.

Whereas, as Gandhi stated it, the principle of an eye for an eye will one day make the whole world blind. Well, it doesn’t have to go that way: one, it is a principle whose death is approaching and, two, as long as we help each other daily with eye-opening counter ideas – facts, criticism but most importantly, constructive ideas and visions about how beautiful the world can still be. Open your eyes!! See!!

You can count on TFF: Up-to-date, diverse, factual, critical and constructive – pro-peace. Independent of state and corporate (and military) interests. Free to do and say – and go – where we feel we must. Uncompromising on the side of the UN Charter norm that war shall be abolished and peace be established by peaceful means. Quite high productive and flexible in adapting to world developments.

No, we don’t do everything and there are many issues, theories and conflicts in the world that we and our associates have no particular knowledge about. TFF also knows when to not utter opinions or play experts. That preserves our credibility in areas where we have expertise.

On a day like this we thank the thousands of supporters over the years out there, our Board and Associates for making TFF what it is today. We, the founders, do carry a good part of the burden, that is true – but our dream a good 30 years back would have come to nothing without all of you. Our heartfelt thanks! We shall keep on going. Together.

Convinced that TFF is important to support? Please go here.

Thanks for thinking of TFFs work when you think of a better world!

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