Spanovich: Peace is possible

Peacemaking professor seeks to thaw icy relations with North Korea
by: submitted file pboto, 
Gary Alan Spanovich, right, of Marylhurst University and director of the Wholistic Peace Institute in Portland, in late February visited Mr. and Mrs. Kim of Geosong, North Korea. He was the first American to visit the Geosong area. During this visit to Korea he also was a keynote speaker at the World Summit on Peace in Seoul, South Korea, where he met with former South Korean president Kim Dae Jung, winner of the 2000 Nobel Peace prize.

When most people scan the newspapers and TV news today, it is easy for them to conclude that prospects for peace in this world are very, very bad. Perhaps impossible.

But they aren't watching the world as closely as Gary Alan Spanovich.

The executive director of the Wholistic Peace Institute, author and a professor at Marylhurst University, Spanovich does not think he is a victim of wishful thinking.

Not when he can become the first non-Korean to be inside a North Korean family's home since the end of the Korean War. Not when he can gather nine winners of the Nobel Peace Prize to speak to the youth of the Northwest.

'We have a lot of momentum,' Spanovich said. 'I am very optimistic about achieving peace with North Korea. I feel like North Korea is in the same place China was just before Nixon went there in 1972.

'In 40 years North Korea could look a lot like China does today. Relations with North Korea can be more like the relations the U.S. has with Canada or Mexico.'

For that to happen, however, some 'warming up' has to be done between the two nations. The thawing began with the historic Six-Party Talks early this year in Beijing, China, where a plan was agreed upon in which North Korea would agree to give up its nuclear program in exchange for unfreezing its $25 million frozen bank account and the provision of fuel oil - something for which the impoverished, fuel-depleted nation is absolutely desperate.

'The timing was good,' Spanovich said. 'The talks were successful. The coldness creates the climate for war, and weeks and weeks of work went into unfreezing it. Things are much warmer between North and South Korea thanks to the Six-Party Talks.'

However, the plan has yet to be implemented because of the sticking point of unfreezing the $25 million bank account.

'The U.S. bureaucracy has not allowed it,' Spanovich explained. 'You can compare this situation to Hurricane Katrina. People are not doing what they need to do quickly. This needs to be done quickly because there's a great crisis in North Korea. Four million people are starving there.'

But since he became the first American in more than 50 years to be welcomed into a North Korean home, Spanovich feels optimistic that things will eventually work out. Especially because he takes to heart the adage, 'Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.'

Spanovich has been deeply committed to humanitarian work ever since he built a school for street children, in conjunction with Rotary International, in India in the early 1990s. His career as a peacemaker took a truly strong turn when he founded the Wholistic Peace Institute in 1999. Spanovich remembers exactly what caused this turning point in his life.

'I was inspired by the Dalai Lama,' Spanovich said. 'When I saw him for the first time, tears came to my eyes. If you read his words, he really does believe in world peace.'

In 2001, Spanovich organized a world peace conference in Portland that included six Nobel Prize Laureates. Since then the Wholistic Peace Institute had held more than a dozen events involving Nobel Peace Laureates. Another world peace conference will be held in Seoul, South Korea in 2008 that will involve 15 Nobel Peace Laureates.

Spanovich works especially closely with Kim Dae Jung, former president of South Korea and himself a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. The two men are currently writing a book together.

His relationship with Kim Dae Jung reflects Spanovich's remarkable affinity for getting such prestigious people involved with his projects. One reason is because he has a background as an urban planner and he can see the Nobel laureates 'as a mayor or a county commissioner.'

Once the laureates are on board, they like it.

'Many of them are tired of giving lectures,' Spanovich said. 'They want to play a role in solving real conflict situations. They don't want to just come, give a lecture and leave, although that does inspire.'

Youth are another big reason that Spanovich has high hopes for peace.

'After the first peace conference, 75 college students said that the conference changed their lives,' Spanovich said. 'They said, 'I'm going to go in a different direction.' '

Naturally, Spanovich, who recently brought Arun Gandhi to speak at Marylhurst University, has many big plans for the future.

'Now I'm working with nine Nobel Peace winners, and they're all incredibly inspiring,' he said. 'I have wanted to get Jimmy Carter for a youth summit here.

'A huge event like this can be transformative.'

For more information about Gary Alan Spanovich and the Wholistic Peace Institute, go to