Photo: Ronaldo Schemidt / AFP retrieved
I would like to introduce the concept of “peace privilege” to refer to people who have lived in peaceful contexts all their lives and cannot truly grasp & empathise with what it means to live in a conflict.
— Cristal Palacios Yumar (@CristalPalacios) March 15, 2019
A few weeks ago, when the editorial coordinator of Caracas Chronicles asked me to expand on the idea exposed above, I quickly replied in an uncommitted manner: Déjame pensarlo.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m passionate about Venezuela and consider myself an activist for peace in my home country. Heck, I’m even doing a Ph.D. on the Venezuelan diaspora! I hesitated because discussing this issue means reviewing distressing interactions on social media, opening myself to further criticism. In these exchanges, “deniers” of the Venezuelan crisis (most of them tweeting from their peaceful lives in the U.S. or Europe, with no real clue about what it means to survive in present-day Venezuela) attack and provoke Venezuelan social media users. They, in turn, go to painstaking lengths to prove that what these “Starbucks communists” claim and what it takes to actually survive in Venezuela are not correlated.
The situation in Venezuela, especially the complex humanitarian emergency, is not a topic for opinion; it’s a verifiable fact made of hard data and thousands of difficult, devastating and resilient personal stories, impossible to summarize. Yet everything about social media is fleeting, prone to misunderstanding.
The irony is that, often, these “deniers,” the very people who often condemn foreigners for intervening in Venezuelan issues, feel like lecturing Venezuelans about their own country is justified.
These interactions are not limited to the internet. Venezuelans in the diaspora encounter people like these on a daily basis and they must choose between having an argument with an acquaintance or with a perfect stranger, or biting their tongue and carrying on with their day with that bitter aftertaste of feeling invisibilized, oppressed by someone foreign who is using his privilege (be it language fluency, immigration status or nationality) to tell our story. The irony is that, often, these “deniers,” the very people who often condemn foreigners for intervening in Venezuelan issues, feel like lecturing Venezuelans about their own country is justified.
I chose to call it “peace privilege”, this mindset by which people living in peaceful conditions cannot grasp (and empathize) with conflict and context-specific issues. To outsiders, Venezuela is particularly difficult to grasp as a conflict, since it doesn’t look like a war (even though over 300,000 Venezuelans have been murdered during the so-called Bolivarian Revolution) and there are no clear-cut parties confronting each other over specific issues like religion, territory or ethnicity.
In my own life in Northern Ireland, a country torn apart by 30 years of armed conflict and working hard to continuously renew its commitment to peace, I have these unsettling encounters at least once a week. I often walk away out of emotional self-preservation, yet I always wonder: have they forgotten what it means to live in hell? Have they forgotten what it feels like to be lectured by an outsider? Not to mention that the “peace privilege” from which they speak is founded on the back of a very fragile peace of their own, a society still wracked by division.
To add insult to injury, these encounters often happen with individuals with whom I would personally agree on issues like gun control in the U.S., or legalizing abortion in Northern Ireland. Yet, about Venezuela, they think in binaries: “If Trump supports Guaidó, then I cannot support him.”
She's not talking about history, She's talking about generations. I was "peace priviledged" in Venezuela up until 2002 and I understand exactly what She means, I wouldn't have given two fucks about other conflicts.
— Cuero Seco (E) (@capelaez) March 15, 2019
Venezuelans themselves face this conflict (and I call it “a conflict” and not just a dictatorship because of its evolving nature) after a life of relative peace, or what Johan Galtung calls “positive peace”: peace is a relationship between two or more parties and it can be harmonious, positive or negative, when what is good for one is bad for the other. Venezuelans lived in a society striving towards positive peace for at least 40 years of democracy, but slowly went into a negative one, where what’s good for the governing elites is rarely good for the Venezuelan people.
Yet, about Venezuela, they think in binaries: “If Trump supports Guaidó, then I cannot support him.”
Those who remember life before 1958, during Pérez Jiménez’s dictatorship, also speak of a certain “peace” created by an iron fist, in which fear and silence ruled. 50 years later, our globalized world makes it impossible for Maduro to completely silence its population North Korea-style, yet it tries. And with censorship coming from home and “Starbuck communists” alike, it may succeed.
Over a month has passed since my tweet on peace privilege. Recent events in Northern Ireland, in particular the murder of journalist and activist Lyra McKee at the hands of the New IRA, continue to challenge my idea of what “peace privilege” could be. Northern Ireland is a negative peace society and political division is everywhere. Yet, people who have lived in conflict adapt to this new-found peace, striving to put painful memories in the past. Since tweeting about the idea of “peace privilege,” it continues to resonate and will continue to be an adventure in academic and activism explorations for me, probably furthered by reactions to this post, and as the diaspora and the refugee population continue to grow, so will their voice.
A strong, informed voice that, despite deniers and their peace privilege, will not disappear.