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Living the Day After

Anna Savva May 31, 2024

I have an image in my mind of an old photograph: a blurry photo of my fourth-grade recital, where I am smiling at the camera wearing a sash with the name of my grandfather’s occupied village, Yialousa. At 10 years old, I knew the word refugee well. I knew the terms prisoner of war, missing in action, and occupation. Growing up in post-conflict Cyprus, I lived with daily reminders of what used to be. My public-school notebooks displayed haunting images of quiet beaches and boat docks in villages before their occupation. It was a time before the conflict, a time I never knew, but somehow was taught to yearn for. A nostalgia I was taught to chase, an emotion meant to transform into anger and despair. Instead, I chose to transform that feeling into action. 

The conflict in Cyprus has resulted in 50 years of continuous military occupation in the northern third of the island. For this reason, Cyprus is often described as a frozen conflict. Some might describe it as perpetually living “the day after.” The day after is a term used in the peacebuilding field to describe the aftermath of active conflict. This usually involves postwar planning and a timeline of reconstruction. Today, we see the term “the day after” used in places like Ukraine and Gaza. In certain ways, it is grim.

As the numbers of victims rise daily, food insecurity grows, the destruction of cultural heritage ensues, and entire families are wiped from existence – who could think of the day after? Humanitarians, politicians, and peacebuilders understandably focus on the emergency short term solution. The very urgent and violent nature of crisis, however, can unwittingly lead us into a cycle where we end immediate physical destruction, but fail to reckon with the aftermath that follows. Successful peacebuilding is about more than a ceasefire deal or transitions of power, it is about healing, rebuilding and using a long-term lens for sustainable peace and security for future generations.

Anna in front of the White House, a short walk from her office building.

At times, conflict is indeed cyclical and repetitive. To address this cyclical nature, using a long-term lens for conflict resolution can be beneficial. A noble modern example can be found in Ukraine, where even amidst incessant destruction, the Ukrainian people have organized themselves to preemptively think of rebuilding their country. Initiatives like Diia, a mobile app launched by Ukraine’s Ministry of Digital Transformation only two weeks before the war, provides access to citizens’ digital documents and a single portal for public services. Using e-services, the government of Ukraine compensates homeowners directly impacted by Russia’s violence through initiatives like the eRecovery program. In just ten minutes a Ukrainian can report damage caused to their home by Russia, and within weeks, they can receive compensation to renovate or rebuild. 

On the international stage, we see collaborative discussions around the seizure of Russian assets being used for reparations to the Ukrainian people. The efforts of the US and G7 countries to participate in the seizure of Russian assets for rebuilding Ukraine in a war that at times, can seem endless, highlights how international cooperation can play a critical role in post-conflict peacebuilding even during active warfare. 

In Gaza as well, where Oxfam reports 70% of civilian infrastructure has been destroyed, groups of Palestinian architects have come together to creatively plan for the future, even suggesting that the rubble be used as a building material for reconstruction. Sigrid Kaag, U.N. Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator for Gaza, has recently suggested that in very localized settings, where there is no or limited fighting, early recovery should have already begun. She has emphasized the need to internally pivot to begin organizing Palestinian-led good governance for the day after a permanent ceasefire. 

Anna’s placard at a private roundtable discussion at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Globally, we have seen the world advocate for full UN membership of Palestine, with some countries seeing Palestinian statehood as a prerequisite to rebuilding the day after. As of late May, Norway, Spain, and Ireland were the latest countries to announce that they would formally recognize a Palestinian state. In the spirit of conflict resolution, the Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide noted, “We used to think that recognition would come at the end of a process…we have realized that recognition should come as an impetus, as a strengthening of a process.” 

Effective conflict-resolution is best addressed when practitioners can consider the past, present and future of a conflict simultaneously. Early warning systems, active crisis response and post-conflict mediation can, and should be, a package deal. As a Scoville Fellow at International Crisis Group, I am constantly thinking about the ways the peace and security field can evolve to be all encompassing in conflict response. Crisis Group is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict. At Crisis Group I support elevating peace and security policy recommendations from our regional experts to US government officials through advocacy. Indeed, advocacy is a cornerstone of change.  As I regularly track foreign policy developments in Washington DC, I am reminded that legislation is most effective when it prioritizes the experiences of those affected by conflict.

In summary, no one expects that in the midst of bombs being dropped a Palestinian, Ukrainian, or any affected civilian for that matter, should be thinking about rebuilding their destroyed home. War is bleak, it intentionally clouds our ability to think about the future, fostering a feeling of hopelessness and defeat. Often civilians cannot afford to think past the present moment, rightfully focused on survival alone. It is the responsibility of peace practitioners to build up empathetic mechanisms which are centered around the protection of civilians, while thinking about the day after in a sustainable way.

Anna representing International Crisis Group at a conference.

I have personally lived “the day after,” and while it has meant a permanent ceasefire, little else has happened in peace negotiations. For 50 years  my family has not been able to return to my grandfather’s village, nor the house of my father’s childhood. It remains an unhealed wound for many. Meaningful conflict resolution is about so much more than the cessation of violence alone. All people deserve more than just the end of active violence; they deserve dignity and peace for themselves and the generations after them. 

Anna Savva is a Spring 2024 Scoville Fellow with International Crisis Group.