Peace research at Lund University closed down in 1989: Why and how?

Peace research at Lund University closed down in 1989: Why and how?

The main building of Lund University, situated next to the Lund Cathedral in the centre of town

And why I lived happily ever after

Albeit small, this is a piece of Nordic academic history that deserves to be shared. It’s an early example of the destruction of Nordic peace and conflict research and education that followed

By Jan Oberg

February 10, 2020

Last November 2019, it was 30 years since I left Lund University as associate professor and head of the Lund University Peace Research Institute, LUPRI, from 1983-1989.

I did so, and have been a freelancer ever since because the Faculty of Social Sciences that year had decided to close down all inter or multi-disciplinary research and teaching, units and departments at the university – that is, peace and conflict research, women studies, human rights studies, environmental studies and human ecology studies.

In my view, this was a disastrous decision for these 7 reasons:

A) it was made by the faculty without consulting me, I read about it in the minutes from its meetings; so much for the university’s democratic decision-making culture;

B) the pioneering departments that were to be closed down were all dynamic and innovative, filled with people who had a 24/7 commitment to their research fields;

C) it was completely outside the framework of innovative research to close down multi- and inter-disciplinary studies at a time when universities around the world experimented with new structures and problem-solving theme-oriented studies rather than with the old-fashioned institutes/ departments often characterised by tight and high walls among them;

I had one meeting with the chairman of the Faculty of Social Science, Professor of cultural geography, Olof Wärneryd (1931-) who, in addition to not listening to any of my arguments but repeating the faculty’s decision, also informed me that:

D) I had been disloyal to the university by co-founding, with my wife, the private and independent Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, TFF which, according to him, was competitive with LUPRI;

E) Lund University should be maintained as a ‘discipline university’ and all the mentioned academic fields be subsumed under the existing departments;

F) now that the Cold War had, for all practical purposes ended – remember, this was 1989 – there would hardly be any reason to study conflict and peace anymore (!) and, finally

G) that I would be under investigation as head of the institute for having diverted funds of about Swedish krona 400.000 to TFF – more of that bizarre and baseless accusation under g) below.

What follows is my account of how it happened and why and how it felt.

It goes without saying that I played a somewhat central role in it all and I would not be able to write a completely objective account – if you ever can, even generally, in social science. But then, neither would any of the other people who played a role in this academic drama – which according to Swedish institutional culture, was not meant to be shared with the public.

I shared the lack of democratic ethos back then in the local daily Sydsvenska Dagbladet. And I share the events that led to ending peace research at Lund University today.

After all, universities are public institutions and knowledge communities open to the public, as are lectures. And they are financed by citizens, i.e. taxpayers’ money and the work carried out are supposed to benefit society.

What did LUPRI do?

Our tiny institute, LUPRI, was the university’s smallest unit with only my position as associate professor and institute director. Peace and conflict studies had been established as a multi-academic working group back in 1963. One of the enthusiasts at that early stage was Bengt Höglund (1937-2017) and the initiative had the firm support by the university chancellor, Philip Sandblom (1903-2001).

grown considerably in terms of output and people under the very able leadership of Håkan Wiberg (1942-2010) who left the institute in 1983 to become a professor of sociology in Lund and, later, director of the Copenhagen Peace Research Institute, COPRI (1985-2003). COPRI was closed down by the government of Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen (under his leadership, Denmark became an occupying country in Iraq 2003-2007 and in 2011 he was, as NATO Secretary-General, responsible for the destruction of Libya).

At LUPRI, we were tasked mainly with running basic and MA courses in a broad range of subjects pertaining to the field of peace and conflict research in its Nordic school. One of the scholars who came by now and then was the Nestor of Nordic peace studies, Johan Galtung (1930- ) who had created the Oslo Peace Research Institute and held the Chair of Conflict and Peace Research at Oslo University.

We also produced a series of commissioned studies/research for the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (This was a time when Swedish foreign policy had an emphasis on neutrality, peace-keeping, UN matters, international law, confidence-building security, peace, disarmament, the Olof Palme Commission’s concept of common security, etc. which has basically been abolished since the murder of Palme (1927-1986).

Over time, LUPRI became a milieu of some 6-7 scholars, Swedish and international, who did parts of their studies there, had a desk and wrote their dissertation and then defended them at their mother institutes. It was indeed and fruitful milieu with much give-and-take and friendship.

There was no PhD degree back then in peace and conflict studies at Lund University – which later emerged at the parallel departments in Gothenburg and Uppsala.

In addition, LUPRI was among the departments that participated in what was then called core curriculum studies – short preparatory and general courses for basically all students enrolled at the university to help them keep their eyes open to studies and academic fields outside their own.

And finally, LUPRI did extra-curriculum seminar series, evening lectures with sometimes world-renown scholars but also with Swedish politicians, scholars, people of culture, diplomats etc. who gave public lectures about security, defence and international problems, all with a view to what it meant for peace, in the Nordic setting, in Europe or worldwide.

LUPRI was known and appreciated in the university town of Lund for those activities, more than many, much larger, departments.

One such series had the theme of Common Security – inspired by the Olof Palme Commission on that subject; another was a series of lectures by Western/US scholars and Russian counterparts.

Remember, the Cold War structure of the time was the main conflict formation that concerned everybody. Arranging meetings between Americans/West-Europeans and Russian/East European scholars had an importance beyond the purely academic. In and of itself, it was an act of dialogue, tension-reduction and an opportunity to develop mutual understanding.

Scholars from officially adversary countries got to know each other – and each others’ way of thinking – and we wrote books together.

Håkan Westling

The latter seminars were arranged by me as head of LUPRI and the Office of the University Chancellor, MD Håkan Westling (1928-2018) – a broad-minded, kind humanist who personally supported such a peace gesture and felt deeply unhappy with the decision to close down LUPRI – a decision he, of course, could not interfere with (1).

The 25 out of 26 years of peace research at Lund University is documented in the booklet ”Freds och Konfliktforskning i Lund 1963-1988” (96 pages) edited by me. Unfortunately, it is in Swedish and not available online. It explains the developments – research programs, courses and seminars in the field of peace and conflict in Lund – except the last year when it was all destroyed.

It also made mention of conflict studies that could be found elsewhere at the university, e.g. empirical studies of border conflicts under the able leadership of Professor Sven Tägil (1930-) at the Department of History.

Table of content of the 25-anniversary book

The 25th Anniversary publication lists no less than 372 publications between 1965 and 1988 by researchers such as Lars Dencik, Lars Borgquist, Kerstin Nyström, Herman Schmid, Charles Edquist, Kent Lindquist, Jan Annerstedt, Per Gahrton, Wilhelm Agrell, Haakan Wiberg, Jan Oberg, Jan Andersson, Katsuya Kodama and a few others – all of whom were either project-employed, had grants from their mother departments or research granting boards or were otherwise associated via projects with LUPRI.

The majority of these, at the time of course young, scholars fared very well through their later careers, most of them becoming professors and productive writers in Sweden, abroad, or both.

A short summary of LUPRI’s fate can be read at The Transnational here.

It deserves to be mentioned that LUPRI was managed by a multi-disciplinary Board of Lund University scholars. Its chair was professor H. F Petersson (1925-2009), Department of Political Science. I remember that when I applied for the position at LUPRI, I handed in 2500-3000 pages of published academic literature; I was then 31 years old. Professor Petersson who was 58 at the time had written his PhD (1964) and, since then, published 2 academic articles.

Professor Petersson and professor Wärneryd, chair of the Faculty of Social Sciences, had written up a position paper in 1986 about the need for re-organizing the peace and conflict activity. However, for all practical purposes, “re-organisation” came to mean closing down – as some of us predicted.

One may say that they were the main responsible for causing the end of peace and conflict research at Lund University three years later.

If you put these diverse activities together – research, courses, commissioned works, core curriculum and public lecture series of benefit to the local community as well as the later careers by the people related to it – on what was then a shoestring budget, it would be reasonable to conclude that LUPRI stood for comparatively high innovation, productivity and quality.

The decision to close it down was neither innovative, productive nor of quality. It was short-sighted, narrow-minded and destructive.

Let me now turn to arguments a-g) above.

A short-sighted, narrow-minded and destructive decision

Here my arguments related to the 7 reasons mentioned above:

a) Lack of basic democratic consulting

The process that led to the closing down of LUPRI was top-down. I felt it was authoritarian and out of touch with the more democratic university we all had fought for since the student uproars around the world in the late 1960s and 1970s.

I had led the institute’s activity for 6 years and LUPRI was appreciated and respected for its achievements, and not only locally. What would have been more natural and decent but to consult with me, invite me to at least one meeting at the Faculty of Social Science and listened to what my colleagues and I would have to say in response to the bureaucratic plans that had been made over and above us, the scholars?

b) Ignoring academic innovation, quality and productivity

Of course, the present author is not objective and I may exaggerate the quality of the institutes involved in the process, in particular the one I was responsible and fought hard for at the time.

If these multi-disciplinary experimental units at Lund University had not been serious and spearheaded by very committed people, they would not exist today as highly respected also internationally.

Here is what these units developed into over the succeeding decades:

• The Environmental Care Program (Miljövårdsprogrammet) back then developed into what is today The International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics (IIIEE) in Lund. The driving force at the time was Thomas B. Johansson, a world-renown expert on alternative energy, the environment and sustainability, who also headed the institute for many years.

• The human rights program at the Faculty of Law back then developed into what is today the Raoul Wallenberg Institute (RWI). The driving force at the time was Göran Melander, leading human rights and humanitarian law expert, textbook author and specialist on laws pertaining to refugees – who also headed the institute for many years.

• LUPRI’s one academic position – the one I was responsible for – was transferred to the Department of Sociology; it could not simply be abolished because it had been created by government decision. It was taken over for a few years by Per Bauhn who in 1989 had defended a PhD in practical philosophy on the subject of ethical aspects of political terrorism but had no relations with or competence in peace and conflict research.

Various courses under the title of peace and conflict studies are still offered at the Department of Political Science, for many years led by professor Karin Aggestam, an excellent student of mine at LUPRI.

However, the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, TFF that was established by my wife PhD Christina Spannar and myself as a private not-for-profit research foundation in 1985 can be seen as the intellectual continuation of LUPRI although it has never run courses but focused exclusively on theoretical and goal-oriented research, on-the-ground conflict analyses and mediation in conflict/war zones as well as public education.

In contrast to the above-mentioned institutes, TFF has remained completely independent of Lund University.

Like Thomas B. Johansson and Göran Melander in their fields, I was the driving force in peace research at Lund University and I am still the co-founder and director of TFF.

I have not had the opportunity to follow what happened in two other academic fields that were “re-organized” at the time. But you may see here what Lund University offers today in human ecology and in gender studies (2).

In summary, the unwanted multi-disciplinary academic fields survived, three of them with remarkable international profiles and respectability – IIIEE, RWI and TFF. Just look at their homepages above.

c) Single academic disciplines instead of multi/inter-discipline

These, admittedly cursory, “histories” of the subjects and institutions seem to me to offer evidence that closing down or disrupting these academic fields in the late 1980s was ill-conceived and short-sighted.

I say this particularly because the vision and vitality of the mentioned pioneers in their respective fields stood the test of time and because everyone knows that human rights, environmental/sustainability and peace and conflict studies are closely related to the challenges humanity faces – back then and even more so today.

These early struggles for new multi-disciplinary studies and their subject matter were not vain personal pet projects with no future beyond a few individuals. They were not l’art pour l’art. They have become central knowledge reservoirs and tools in securing humanity’s longterm survival and welfare.

And, interestingly I believe, they were all related to the struggle against violence: peace research for the gradual reduction of all kinds of violence, war in particular; human rights for the strength of international laws and the reduction of violence against the rights of human/citizens, and environmental sustainability for the reduction of violence against nature.

Back in the 1980s, it didn’t require a prophet to predict that solutions to humankind’s problems were in need of intellectual co-operation. Already in the 1970s, global initiatives such as The Club of Rome and dozens of other institutions – The Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation in Uppsala to just mentioned one – had demonstrated the clear advantages of being produced by teams of diverse scholars.

In addition, it was common knowledge – however, probably not to the chairman and the members at the time of the Faculty of Social Science – that new knowledge, innovations and breakthrough in insights often happens at the margins of sciences, namely where they meet other sciences and begin to talk.

On this point, I gladly admit that I was young and naive: I had always argued that peace and conflict research would not necessarily be served intellectually by becoming departments of their own at universities – like all the existing, traditional, disciplines.

I argued instead that, while peace research had its own body of theories, concepts and literature and in that sense was already a discipline with its own identity as much as any, say, economy or law or sociology – it would serve it better to, organizationally, be a meeting place – a centre where many rivers flowed together and nurtured each other.

For those who wanted to build, or believed in, academic “empires”, for many researchers and university bureaucrats, this was not an easy one to comprehend. However, I hold this view even today while also recognising that it was, perhaps, naive to believe that you could keep an open structure and survive in an organizational setting where wars were fought about academic territories as much as countries would fight about geographical or economic territories. And the bigger swallow the smaller one(s).

In spite of LUPRI’s name as “institute”, we were such a multi-disciplinary centre. We were such a fruitful meeting point. But organizationally vulnerable. And peace researchers elsewhere wanted their own independent institutes or “empires” – and many got it. At least until they were also swallowed and mainstreamed into something else, or closed down.

When – after having left the university – TFF’s multi-disciplinary teams began to work on the ground in all parts of former Yugoslavia during the dissolution wars, I often thought to myself: How on earth could anyone believe that such a complex phenomenon as Yugoslavia and its positive and negative dynamics could possibly be understood through the knowledge reservoir of only one discipline – be it political science, psychology, law, history or anthropology?

You needed them all – plus some kind of living yourself into it all by being there and also using your intuition.

What I had learnt was basically two things: 1) the walls surrounding academic institutions and protecting their staff from the real world outside can be rather thick, and 2) the idea of single intellectual-academic territories divided by high and thick walls were completely outdated because no single academic field can provide understanding of a complex issue from more than its own perspective.

You can apply, say, political science to Yugoslavia and you’ll develop important knowledge – but it will remain only that one perspective on the country and its conflicts; it will be a “politologized” interpretation – like the sociologist will produce a “sociologized” interpretation, etc. Or the psychologist will tend to look for traumas and sadist personalities and consider the history or the economy secondary.

A qualification must be added here, of course: It’s necessary to be highly competent in one field, to be disciplined within a discipline – or you end up in superficiality, amateurism and ignorance. And it is natural to consider your own academic perspective particularly important – you are in love with what you do and think it brings you a deeper understanding.

But it is not sufficient if you want to understand the world. It’s only one approach among many possible ones.

Or to put it crudely: It’s a pity that universities were (and some still are) divided into disciplines: The world is not!

d) The establishment of TFF was disloyal competition with the university

This was a rather far-fetched argument by the chairman of the Social Science Faculty. As described above, LUPRI was tasked by the university and by LUPRI’s board to, first and foremost, deliver academic courses in various aspects in the wide field of peace and conflict – from theories of human aggression to global affairs.

TFF’s mission is described in details here. Any reader, whether academic or not, can see that TFF never arranged an academic course, attracted students or handed out grades or diplomas. TFF’s work was focussed research on certain themes and, if anything, academics who came and worked at TFF was occasionally shared with LUPRI to, for instance, do single guest lectures at LUPRI courses and extra-curriculum public lectures such as those of East-West relations.

When it comes to my own activity and whether I could be accused of spending too little time at LUPRI and too much at TFF – and be disloyal in that sense – no student, colleague, LUPRI board member or anybody else at Lund University ever complained that I did not carry out all my duties according to my job description as both teacher, researcher and administrative head of LUPRI. That I could be fully committed to LUPRI and also develop another activity in my spare time had to do with my being happy working many and long hours and a certain capacity for organizing my time productively.

That TFF was a disloyal, competing activity was an ill-willed invention out of the blue. In addition, it was personally offending.

e) The multi-disciplinary academic units should be closed down and subsumed under the existing department to preserve Lund University as a ‘discipline university’

It would be reasonable to assume in good faith that what was intended was to shape up the university structure in cohesive departments or institutes and preserve rather than kill the five multi-disciplinary fields.

However, not for one moment in this process, did I believe that the result would be anything but the de facto demise of peace and conflict studies at Lund University. I had several discussions with the heads of the other threatened units, Göran Melander and Thomas B. Johansen, and it was my impression that they too feared what would happen to their pioneering work with human rights and environmental studies, respectively.

Small, idealistic and new endeavours like ours could easily be “swallowed” by the much larger traditional institutes at which old-time heads and bureaucrats would always know how to “integrate” smaller fields of studies and streamline them – sometimes out of existence.

That was exactly what happened to peace and conflict studies.

The one position I had was, as mentioned above, taken over by the Department of Sociology which was already a kind of academic empire and the position given to a philosophy scholar who had no credentials in the field – and seemed to also have no interest in developing a capacity in it.

Peace research outfits had been swallowed before by other studies, political science in particular. And it has happened since too. Mainstreaming and political correctness plays their part.

And peace research’s goal-oriented constructive program – proposing what must be done – causes some traditional scholars to run screaming away maintaining that proposal making is “unscientific” – which is as misguided as arguing that doing diagnosis, prognosis and treatment in medical science is unscientific.

Furthermore, it means that core issues of peace and conflict research – such as concepts of peace, concepts of peace in different cultures, nonviolence, forgiveness, reconciliation and the study of peace processes and peace-building – are cleansed out of courses and research programs which, over time, instead come to look like any other course however with some little variations – or topping – to make it look like “we do peace and conflict here too.”

In any case, what comes out of such processes depends to a high degree on who can teach what and on scholars’ research interests – and where the funds may come from. And, finally, with the marketization of so much of the research and its funding processes – what has market utility? – peace studies will loose unless it is nurtured in a positive, caring environment.

Without the core themes and a core team with a genuine interest in developing this independent field in its own right inside new institutional settings, there will be no peace and conflict studies.

And how do we know that?

Because it’s an empirically proven truth about any new, or younger, academic field trying to make it. It takes enthusiasts in supportive milieus – exactly those destroyed at Lund University in the late 1980s.

f) With the Cold War over, there is hardly any reason to study conflict and peace anymore

This second argument by the chairman of the Faculty of Social Science illustrates both his lack of knowledge as a citizen concerning international affairs and how thick the walls between the protected offices of academia and reality can sometimes be.

It was blown as soon as Saddam invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990. And on March 2, 1991, the first shot in the Yugoslav wars was fired. They were both conflicts and wars that had a fundamental impact on international affairs also way outside their own regions and marked the beginning of seemingly never-ending conflict and wars, traditional as well as new types.

Vukovar, Croatia, Yugoslavia 1991 – almost no reason to study conflicts and peace…

And the world has seen almost no wars and conflict since then, right? Although still tiny in comparison with many other subjects, peace and conflict research is more needed than ever given the ways of the contemporary world.

In conclusion, a far-fetched argument as the preceding one – and as the next one which added a shabby dimension to the affair.

g) I had diverted LUPRI funds to TFF

This – bizarre and baseless – accusation was of course yet another accusation directed at my person by the faculty chairman. But in all fairness, he may have had his reasons to accuse me, thanks to a couple of colleagues of mine.

The story is a bit complicated but hang on…

LUPRI hosted a scholar who, one, had a research grant which was administered by the university’s central bureaucracy and, two, had a serious physical handicap.

As administrative head, I never paid salaries or bills myself. It was my duty to only authorize his monthly salary by filling in a form and send it to the central administration (CA) for the people there to make the actual payment of salaries and bills.

When his research grant had been spent according to schedule, this scholar and I duly informed the CA in writing that the grant’s funds had been spent. So far so good.

Because of his handicap, he was to be transferred to some other institute also because his grant at LUPRI had expired and we were to be closed down. However, that could only be done through negotiations between his labour union and the university as his employer. And those negotiations dragged out over many months and no agreement was found that the university, his labour union and he himself could accept.

While that went on and on, the CA kept paying the scholar’s monthly salary as it was legally obliged to do. And put the expense on LUPRIs account as if he still managed the expired project. Month by month I saw on the CA’s statements how the deficit on LUPRI’s account grew, told the CA that the payment of the scholar’s monthly salary should be on the CA’s account, not LUPRI’s. But this continued until the end and a deficit appeared of about Swedish krona 400.000 (about US$ 40 000), or about the equivalent of LUPRI’s annual budget.

So, if you were an outsider to these bureaucratic ways and looked at the bookkeeping statement of our institute, you’d indeed believe that I was indeed responsible for having accumulated a huge deficit. And where had the money disappeared to?

Now, here is one more little nasty fact: At this stage, approaching the closing down of the institute, two colleagues – friends at the time – went to the Faculty chairman or somebody else in in the university bureaucracy (I don’t know) and planted the story I had transferred funds from LUPRI to TFF.

I had no clue about that dagger in my back until the local daily, Sydsvenska Dagbladet, published a story. It didn’t interview me but let its readers know that I was under suspicion by the university and an investigation

I had no clue about that dagger in my back until the local daily, Sydsvenska Dagbladet, published a story. It didn’t interview me but let its readers know that I was under suspicion by the university and an investigation would now be carried out of everything I had done 1983-1989.

I can only see it as a deliberate attempt to harm TFF and myself. TFF was newly established and was known to survive – until it got an annual grant from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – on donations from the public. A rumour about me stealing funds from the University to our private foundation could be devastating for the latter.

At one of the last days I was working at LUPRI, a couple of gentlemen in trenchcoats made an unannounced visit with a heap of packing cases and collected all binders related to the financial management and other administration. I remember saying ‘Goodbye and good luck’ to them when they left.

Those were also the days when politicians, friends and others called me and said – “Jan, what is it we read in the Sydsvenska Dagbladet?” What happens at Lund University – to which about 40% of the university town of Lund has some relation – naturally makes big news. And of course, this was a juicy story – peace researcher steals public funds to benefit his own private outfit!

With these rather unpleasant events, I ended my employment at Lund University. And the University had de facto destroyed peace and conflict research and studies.

What happened then? And why have I lived happily ever after?

Freed by the investigation

In January 1990, I took up the position as visiting professor at the International Christian University, ICU, in Mitaka a little outside Tokyo.

At some point during autumn, I received information from the university director, Göran Angsmark (1932-2011), that the investigation had finished its work and found me non-guilty of any wrongdoing or mismanagement – and it would be nice to see me and close the whole affair.

I had known Angsmark a bit because he too was involved in the core curriculum courses that LUPRI and others had arranged earlier. He was a professionally respected, jovial and decent man with a sense of humour and self-irony.

So when I was back in Lund from Tokyo for Christmas and New Year, we met at his office – coffee, small cakes and, if I remember correctly, a glass of sherry. He started out saying something to the effect that he thought the whole affair against me had been unpleasant to witness.

In concrete terms, the investigation had not only provided evidence that I had administered the institute over these years meticulously and that not a single krona had been diverted. It has been wrong to put the salary payment for the handicapped scholar on the LUPRI account while negotiation took place but that was how bureaucrats sometimes did it.

And then came two funny additions.

He looked at me with an archly smile and said – “but they did find one thing you seem to have cared less well for…” It was the box with coins and notes that we kept at LUPRI for coffee, cakes, flowers and small celebrations. The investigation had found, if I remember correctly, some US$ 30 unaccounted for in it…

But then came the most embarrassing – for him. As you’ll remember, I was employed both as a scholar (associate professor = forskningsassistent) and as head or director of LUPRI, i.e. as administratively responsible. What had been found out in the course of the investigation was that, during the second employment period from 1986-1989, the university as the employer had overlooked to employ me as director, responsible for the administration.

That meant, as Angsmark expressed it, that even if I had done something criminal, I could not have been legally prosecuted because during those three years no one was legally responsible for LUPRI’s administration. (The contract as head of the department was something my labour union had also overlooked and I didn’t bother about it because it was merely a title and an obligation; being the head and caring for all the administrative work was unpaid).

On that point, he concluded, the central administration would have to revise and update its employment routines to secure that such a thing could not happen again. I agreed with a smile.

My last question then was: “Göran, you remember how I was exposed in a very unpleasant way last year in the local media. Now that you have found me non-guilty, do you send out a press release that will help me be cleaned from the accusations in the public eye?”

“We don’t normally do such a thing, but I do see your point and it would only be fair. I can only hope that the public has forgotten all about it now a year after – and I am also not sure that the newspaper would print it if we did send it out – you know it doesn’t make news that you were not doing anything wrong.”

I appreciated his honesty in this and he was probably right about what makes “news”.

We shook hands and that was the end of my relations with Lund University. None of those who caused the closing down or the investigation of me ever approached me. I have given one guest lecture and participated in one public discussion there since 1989. Competence plays no role if you are outside the – thick – walls.

From the entire experience, I also learned that competence, productivity, innovation and hard work for your academic field was of absolutely no importance to bureaucrats or less brilliant academics-turned-bureaucrats.

At the time, LUPRI had produced more publications and helped PhD students finalise their dissertation and graduate than had the parallel institutes in Gothenburg and Uppsala. But they later got full chairs and millions of krona in funds and grants.

Living happily ever after

When all this happened I felt bitter. Angry. I had put all my efforts into building an even more interesting institute than the one I had taken over from Håkan Wiberg who, by the way, had been my PhD adviser, one of my two peace research mentors and from whom I had learnt a lot about how to administer the department and also maintain high productivity.

And the reward for those 6 years was the destruction of the work built over 26 years, of what I as LUPRI director had done and produced and then followed by the central administration’s mismanagement and two colleagues’ spreading nasty rumours about me being a criminal.

And, like many a young scholar, I had more or less consciously seen myself as a future professor of peace and conflict studies at the university I had enrolled with as far back as in 1972.

The whole thing felt like a disaster – and also losing the income from employment. My wife was already a freelance and how would things go for us with me also not having a permanent, paid job?

So I was very happy to go far away, to Tokyo. Also to think peacefully and in a benign milieu about my own future path(s).

My students and colleagues appreciated me there. I’m still in contact with some of them 30 years later. And I was wonderfully relieved from anything bureaucratic – just teaching and advising students, attending conferences, go to research seminars at the lovely ICU campus. And make friends from all over the world. Thank you, ICU and Professor Mogami for getting me over there and then!

While being in Tokyo, I began to wonder what TFF’s next step should be.

The first 5 years had been devoted to research and book-writing – e.g. Winning Peace. Strategies and Ethics for a Nuclear Free World (1989) by Dietrich Fischer, Wilhelm Nolte and Jan Oberg plus lots of smaller publications, studies and newsletters.

It struck me that we could, of course, continue doing that kind of more theoretical stuff with policy recommendations, but how interesting would it be in the long run to do only that?

Perhaps it would be more challenging to pioneer a new direction – namely, send multi-disciplinary teams into conflict zones and test whether our theories, concepts and knowledge could be useful in the real world. And, if so, help solve some problems – like a doctor leaves the laboratory and meets a patient, does diagnosis, prognosis and treatment and heals a patient from suffering.

TFF’s Board composed such a multi-disciplinary team of TFF Associates and went into the war zones of Yugoslavia in September 1991 on our first fact-finding, diagnostic mission. It resulted in the first of many reports over the next ten years, After Yugoslavia – What?

Given the remarkable attention and wide distribution of that report – by all sides in Yugoslavia, at the UN HQ in New York and its Yugoslav desk at the Department of Peace-Keeping Operations (DPKO) – as well as with former US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance who was the UN S-G’s Special Envoy to Yugoslavia and his assistant, ambassador Herbert Okun, in Yugoslavia – the fate of TFF’s future direction was sealed.

Over the years to come, we worked for more than a decade in all parts of Yugoslavia (over 75 missions there), in Georgia in 1994, in Burundi 1998-2010, in Iraq 2002-2003, in Iran 2012, in Syria 2016 and since 2018 in and with China and the Belt And Road Initiative (BRI).

In between, I served as a lecturer or visiting professor in Japan (5 times, 3 universities), at the European Peace University, EPU, in Schlaining, Austria, at the Bell Foundation in Rovereto, Italy, at Basel University’s World Peace Academy, and many other places, some over several years – as well as giving single lectures and public speeches in dozens of countries. And I was widely used as a media commentator.

All this work, all these – to some people – politically controversial countries and conflicts and all this being away from Lund for months every year, would have been impossible had I maintained an academic position at Lund University. Also, could such “political” work have been conducted with me as representing in some sense that university?

The answer is “No!”

So, out of the crisis emerged something challenging new: A new freedom (also from bureaucrats) albeit without a stable monthly salary, but there are more important things in life.

There emerged the opportunity – or a series of them – to shape one’s own life instead of following a predictable career pattern, meeting the same scholarly colleagues at the same coffee table every day and accompanying them to the age of retirement. Actually, I am not going to retire.

I feel deeply privileged to have been engaged in places of considerable importance to contemporary history, to have seen and experienced reality far away from the world of books and abstract discussions (inside the mentioned thick walls). And perhaps, even – so I believe – we have made a difference together with all the brilliant TFF Associates and friends over time in places we worked and for people, young people in particular, we met. And you got many friends – and a few enemies too.

So, being kicked out of Lund University turned into an opportunity to go in a new much richer direction – with on-the-ground conflict mitigation that TFF pioneered.

In conclusion, I have lived happily ever after and I am actually grateful for that kick which helped me live a much more exciting life and learn so much more about the world than I ever would at Lund University during the same period of gigantic international changes.

Walls too thick. Organisation too bureaucratic. Academic fields too closed. Academia steered too much by market interests and political correctness: We need much fewer uni-versities and many more multi-versities to understand – and change – the world for the better.

And much more research on and education for the conditions of true peace… (3).

If you learned something from this article . . .


  1. Many years later, I met Dr Westling in town, behind the majestic Lund Cathedral. He was supported by his wife and a rolling walker. Although it was almost thirty years later, he immediately asked me whether I still worked for peace and what I thought about the world’s developments. I told him I did, and that our foundation was still operating as it had since 1986 in, or with, various conflict zones.
    Then he looked up, smiled and said – “I am very happy to hear that. I shall always vote for you.”
    Not that I was up for any election but it was his warm-hearted way of expressing his appreciation from back then and till that day. Shortly after, he passed away.
  2. The pioneer of human ecology at the time was professor Torsten Malmberg. Two of the leading gender studies researchers at the time were Karen Davis (1959-2006) and Johanna Esseveld (1945-). I knew them and respected for their innovative minds and devotion to their fields.
  3. This little piece of history does not cover two other aspects of LUPRI’s and my academic experience.
    First, why and how the similar units at Gothenburg and Uppsala received all the government resources for peace and conflict research, including chairs, in spite of the principle stated earlier by the Ministry of Education that equality should apply to all three activities.
    And, two, the procedure by which I obtained the position as associate professor and administrative head, i.e. the bizarre aspects of the academic evaluation process and the peculiar way in which I was finally appointed in competition with another qualified scholar.
    Both taught me, as a young scholar at the age of 32, how non-academic aspects can be employed in academic settings and override academic criteria when decisions have to be made.

6 Responses to "Peace research at Lund University closed down in 1989: Why and how?"

  1. Pingback: TFF 1986-1996 | The Transnational

  2. Pingback: Fredsforskningen ved Lunds Universitet nedlagt i 1989: Hvorfor og hvordan? – JanOberg

  3. Alfred vierling   February 10, 2020 at 9:59 pm

    I have been a student of the Dutch peace science initiator Prof. Röling at Groningen University and of Prof Jan Tinbergen, Nobel price winner in the field of economics. That is why i am torn apart one sided by my deep respect for their initiatives in the same spirit as that of Jan Oberg and othersided by my profound disgust of their ideological blindness towards the concomitant problems of mass non-european immigration and islamisation to our continent. Lund being next door to crime-infested multicultural Malmö can hardly be a residence for a peace loving academic crowd if it continues to behave like an élitarian gated community isolated from the civil racial war zônes in European cities.

    • JO   February 11, 2020 at 8:10 am

      Mr Vierling
      I will let this comment of yours remain here. I want everybody to be able to see why I will prevent you from publishing more of your racist, Islamophobic views here on The Transnational from now on. This article is a piece of academic history from Lund University going 30 years back. Despite that, you see it as an opportunity to present your obsessive, repeated and disturbing views on Muslims “invading” and destroying Europe. No matter the content of an article here, you twist all your comments in that direction, this time also – bizarrely – arguing that if we live in Lund, close to Malmö, we are able to do peace work only if we are not a gated community. Tell you what – my wife and I, founders of TFF, are the only TFF people living in Lund. TFF is a Nordic and global community. I have warned you several times before that The Transnational or any other TFF platform can not be (mis)used to post your Islamophobic views. You are welcome with non-racist views, of course, but not one more of this type will pass. I am the editor and there will be no way you can change that policy. We keep a decent, educational non-racist atmosphere here where people address the content of the articles – just read the text over the comment field to see what comments should be about.

      • Alfred vierling   February 11, 2020 at 8:26 am

        thank you Mr. Jan Oberg for not removing my comment. I appreciate your justification for it reveals a fundamental misconception by you which is easily denounced not a racial concept, so criticism of islam is not a racist category. Mass Immigration of people of non-european cultural background is not a racial phenomenon, so criticism of such mass immigration is not (necessarily) an utterance of racism.

      • JO   February 11, 2020 at 8:44 am

        If you prefer “xenophobic”, “discriminatory”, or “violation of basic provisions in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, fine with me. Your psycho-political purpose remains the same: to argue that Muslims – or Mohammedans as you use to call them – are a danger because they are Muslims and carry with them all kinds of bad things, such as crime – and only that. And here ends this discussion.

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