Peace Indepth. Values and practices
Briefly about the programme
By virtue of evaluations of past Advanced Trainings in Peacebuilding, we have developed new advanced programme for people who participated in one of our Basic trainings or in a similar programme. New programme, “Peace Indepth. Values and practices”, consists of three independent modules/trainings which together make up the whole set:
Module 1: “Do we need reconciliation? Possibilities, obstacles, challenges”
Module 2: “What can we do, how and why? Review of peacebuilding practices”
Module 3: “Stepping unbeaten ways. Challenges in the peacebuilding work”
Potential participants were able to apply for one, two or all three modules. Our goal was to form variegated groups of people, who have high motivation to work on peacebuilding, and who, as in our basic trainings, come from different parts of former Yugoslavia: teachers, journalists, political parties and non-governmental organizations activists, war veterans, etc. This was done for the purpose of gathering different experiences and opinions about relevant social matters in one place. Interestingly, participants from political parties were mainly from national not civic-liberal parties. Also, a number of teachers who participated teach religion. This contributed to authenticity of the groups and hence we avoided creating the dialogue of “the converted ones” and instead of it a multilevel dialogue: cross-border and inter-ethnic, beyond political differences and between people with different value systems was present.
Main goal was to motivate people to work in the field of peacebuilding and dealing with the past, and to strengthen those who are already active in those fields.
This programme was financially supported by Austrian Development Agency (ADA), and is conducted in cooperation with International Fellowship of Reconciliation (Internationaler Versöhnungsbund) and Diakonie Austria.
Module 1: Do we need reconciliation?
First module, „Do we need reconciliation? Possibilities, obstacles, challenges,” was held in the period from 17 to 23 June 2011 in Herzegovina, in the small town of Blagaj near Mostar. There were 18 participants present, and main subjects of the training were reconciliation and dealing with the past.
It was good, it was hard, it was interesting, there were some beautiful moments, it was a challenge. We have dived quiet deep and within main subjects we have also discussed national narratives on war, denial in societies and memorialisation, namely aspects of memorising. Approach to work was more on cognitive, analytic level than on emotional one, so we sat a lot in a plenum and talked. Although it was very hard, plenary discussions on such topics with such colourful group are gold worth. People were very interested in hearing each other and they themselves rather chose plenary over work in smaller groups.
Participants were so active that each workshop lasted longer than planned, because it was almost impossible to stop a discussion. Someone said: “We will sleep when we get home”. This hyperactivity, of course, led to faster fatigue in people, and as time passed by there was a lack of enthusiasm present. However, this did not led to easier ending of discussions near the end of training :).
Participants were also given a reader with relevant articles. Up till now practise was to recommend certain literature to people, but this was the first time we worked on texts within workshops. We mainly used texts as introduction to a topic and incentive for further discussion.
Trainer’s team consisted of Adnan, Katarina, Ivana and Nedžad.
What have we worked on?
In the attempt of deconstruction, we have exchanged national narratives on wars. We have mapped everything that has been denied in our societies, and what is obvious, literal denial, but also denial of interpretations and implications. One of very meaningful workshops dealt with “Memorialisation”. Introduction was dedicated to Auschwitz as the biggest and best known memorial centre which represents point of identity for many people (Ian Buruma’s text from the book “The Wages for Guilt” served as an inspiration for discussion). We have significantly touched topic of the way we remember and how appropriate is to remember the collective victimization which memory itself, can very much carry along. Subsequently we’ve returned to our context with small exhibitions of photographs of monuments from our region and dedicated the rest of workshop to “our” monuments: How do we experience them? What kind of message do they send, what kind of symbols do they contain? What is their purpose? Who are they built for? How much do they contribute to memory of the victims? How much do they contribute to reconciliation?… We barely succeeded in closing the workshop.
Largest portion of time was dedicated to the topic of reconciliation, from dilemmas we have about it, questions of collective responsibility, of national identities representing (or not) an obstacle for reconciliation, what reconciliation actually is, and whether we need it, through interdependence of concepts of peace, truth, justice and forgiveness and their significance in reconciliation, role of an individual, concepts of personal and political reconciliation, to matters of where do we see ourselves in those processes. It was distressing, but, for the understanding of process of facing the past and reconciliation, also very powerful to see on one of the paper where participants wrote their thoughts, on the question “Whom do I need and wish forgiveness from?” stood the answer: “From those I shot at.”
We also had a guest lecturer Ugo Vlaisavljević, professor at Faculty of Philosophy in Sarajevo, who held a very interesting and provocative lecture on the topic “Reconciliation as the biggest need and the biggest danger.” Participants expressed great satisfaction with this guest.
Matter that was more difficult to deal with was to perceive own role in processes of peacebuilding/reconciliation/dealing with the past, because great number of participants who are not a part of some organization (NGO of political party) are of the opinion that they themselves do not have the ways to initiate a visible social change. Therefore, we had to work more on empowering than it was initially planned.
One of the difficulties we faced, was that certain part of participants expected this training to be a sequel of the Basic training, i.e. that approach to work and methods would be the same. Focus of this training was the content, but not the group itself and processes within the same, as it was the case at the basic programme. Training team noticed with one part of participants that there existed unwillingness to confront others, but also expectation from the team to ensure space for everyone and to meet unspoken needs. There is a direct connection between that expectation and noticeably low responsibility of the majority of participants towards the process of mutual work.
But, when we draw the line, it was a real pleasure to conduct this training.
Module 2: Reassessing the practices of peacebuilding
Zrenjanin/Serbia, 29.07. – 04.08.2011.
This year, the Centre for Nonviolent Action (CNA) team decided to try a completely new concept of the advanced peace education programme. It was named “Peace In-depth. Values and Practices” and consists of three separate modules, with different themes and foci. The focus of the second module was the peacebuilding practice and stimuli to peace activism, and the official title of the training was “What can we do, how and why can we do that? Reassessing the practices of peacebuilding”.
There were 18 participants from Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia. A conspicuous absence of the people from Montenegro from the basic trainings reflected in the lack of them in this programme, too. A participant from Kosovo was supposed to take part in the training, but the violence that started in the north of Kosovo at that time prevented him from travelling to Zrenjanin.
All training participants had already taken part in a training organised by CNA before, so our way of work and the methodology we use were not unknown to them. Quite a few of them work in schools or with school children, a few work in different media (Croatian TV, Radio Rijeka) or are free lance journalists, some are local NGO activists and two persons are employed by the government institutions. This cross section already shows this time we did not work with a distinctively activist group, but with a group of potential activists or people motivated to contribute somehow to positive changes in their communities in the future. Their value based, political and differences in beliefs, produced different needs in group work and different visions what peacebuilding should be. One would say it was not different than any other work in such mixed groups. What after all was specific is the difficulty the group had in articulating their value and political differences. The attempts to articulate them often resulted in the conflicts with a considerably weak transformation capacity. This, along with a very intensive work, contributed to the prevailing impression the training was demanding and strenuous.
The choice of the location
In the preparatory period, we actively looked for a place with an interesting local context, accessible enough and with a hotel offering the necessary working conditions. We found all these in Zrenjanin, a town located 60 km away from Belgrade, in Banat, Vojvodina. Zrenjanin used to be known to the wider audience as the place with a distinctly multiethnic identity and coexistence of different nationalities. Lately, it is known as the place near which Ratko Mladic was arrested (in the village Lazarevo, where, miraculously, there used to be a concentration camp for Vojvodina Germans after the WWII). Speaking about concentration camps – in the vicinity of Zrenjanin, there are Stajićevo and Begejci, two more concentration camps, but from a different war, the one with Croatia from 1991/1992, in which Serbia officially did not participate. As it turned out during the training, the choice of the location was the bull’s eye, as the extremely controversial local context gave more than enough inspiration to the participants for their practical work. One of the participants said: “Zrenjanin seemed to me a small, beautiful town, but in an afternoon I found out a lot. I came to one, but will leave another town.”
A bit more about the concept
The basic idea of this module was to shed light on good (and not so good) peacebuilding practices, to open a wider space of recognising all the possible forms of activism, reacting, and working on peacebuilding, as well as to offer some concrete tools and knowledge that can be helpful with that. Besides, we wanted innovations in the programme (following the trail of what we started in the advanced training in 2008), which mean a lot of concrete tasks for the participants and the field work, that is, the contact with the local environment. We consciously opted for the concept which does not leave too much space for the reflection, dealing with group processes, critical appraisal of the societies we live in… We were fully aware these were the elements that make our trainings appealing to a lot of people. In spite of it, we wanted to create something different, a training where the emphasis is not so much on reflection, but on action and where one does not get the space for the personal and group processes and is not offered the space by the trainers’ team, but must create it and take care of it individually. This setting definitely suited some more than the others and there certainly is the space and need to change and improve things, but we believe this is a solid basis for some similar future programmes.
The peaks of the training are certainly linked to the team and practical work in small groups (consisting of 6 people). On several occasions, they had the opportunity to try concrete tasks in concrete contexts (writing appeals, petitions, invitations to a public discussion), the most impressive being the research they did in small teams. The research themes were: Zrenjanin Germans – the Neighbours that are Gone; Multiculturality in Zrenjanin – Visible and Invisible; Memorialisation – Places of Remembrance of the Second World War and the 90’s Wars. All of the three groups, while collecting the data related to these very demanding themes, used different methods – surveys done in the streets; conversations with the people employed by the relevant institutions; the analysis of the printed media; the analysis of the date obtained from the internet; taking photographs and other ways of documenting the collected material. The impression was the majority liked the team work and the problems expectably arose when the collected data was supposed to be systematised and the most important findings prepared for the presentation. Then, different styles of work and even different political and value positions caused difficulties – what is important, what should be mentioned, how should the findings be interpreted, how much can we rely on our feeling of the things, are we allowed to ask and talk about it, what exactly makes these themes sensitive and how should they be approached? Thus, in a short task, the whole series of important and “big” questions, usually accompanying peacebuilding, arose, and the participants had the opportunity to feel the pleasure of the job finished well, as well as to see the other side, which means dealing with dilemmas and different views.
The visit of Boro Kitanoski from Peace Action (Prilep, Macedonia) was very important and evaluated positively by the participants. He ran a workshop on nonviolent, direct action. For all of us, it was a new, refreshing view on all the possible answers to the problems ‘pinching’ us. I believe the author of these lines was not the only person that felt an intensive desire for a direct, concrete street activism we often forget and neglect.
In the end, this training left us with mixed impressions – pleasures and dilemmas galore. One of the main dilemmas is how it is possible to turn people that are not activists into – activists. This is actually not a real dilemma, because anyone doing this job knows trainings do not produce activists, but help strike the sparks of activism that already exist within people. The real dilemma is how to keep the sparks ‘on fire’, as “it is hard, impossible, there are only few of us”. Maybe one should simply remember those named and unnamed Rosa Parks who started many things only by the strength of their will and wish. There will be fire as long as there are people who are not afraid and do not restrain from raising their voices and reacting to the things they see as injustice, in spite of being the minority. We believe this training lit some sparks that will contribute to this.
Module 3: Stepping unbeaten ways
Fruška Gora, Serbia, o7-13.10.2012.
The final, third module of this years’ advanced peace education programme “Peace Indepth” was held in Fruška Gora in October. The idea was for the third module to serve as a platform for exchange of experiences, challenges and difficulties we encountered in our peacebuilding work and the fields related to it. But as it often happens, initial ideas and concepts often change in the process and the end result differs to a certain extent from the initially envisaged concept. Therefore with this module we eventually got a combination of the exchange of gathered experiences and the much needed incentive for people to engage in stepping of their own beginners’ unbeaten ways in this field. The segment relating to possible actions primarily had the aim of stimulating people to think from multiple angles and consider possible damages, but also to encourage them to accept a reasonable risk when engaging with attempts of acting towards a social change. The training team for this module consisted of Ivana, Katarina, Nenad and Tamara.
It was quite difficult to form the group due to numerous cancellations, some of which came in the last moment when the possibility of inviting someone from the waiting list was significantly decreased. The training was attended by 17 participants, and for the first time it happened that there were no people from Macedonia (FYROM) in the group. That had, along with the already standard absence of people from Monte Negro and the occasional lack of participants from Kosovo, reduced the story to the so called “Dayton triangle” Bosnia and Herzegovina – Serbia – Croatia. However, as it turned out, despite the smaller number of views and perspectives from different parts of former Yugoslavia, the abovementioned triangle is more than sufficient inspiration for the work and discussions of such groups. It was a great challenge to reconcile the needs of those who are currently not working because they got tired and “frightened” by the previous experience and frustrations, and of those who are intimidated by their own inexperience and the feeling of powerlessness. Important for increasing motivation was the presence of two war veterans who had, with their presence and a brave approach, certainly beaten one small path for the whole group – that leading to an open approach founded on a strong motivation and integrity.
As the whole concept is new for us as well, we tried to experiment a bit and had invited as many as three guests to this module. Personal experiences were presented by: Vesna Teršelčić and Eugen Jakovčić from Documenta, Zagreb; Adnan Hasanbegović from the CNA team, and Predrag Azdejković, an LGBT activist from Serbia. With views from different angles (REKOM, work with war veterans, fight for LGBT rights), the guests had brought closer to us their years long experiences in beating paths along which almost no one had dared to walk before. The three presented approaches differ in the subject they deal with, but also in their method and scope. The work of a wide regional coalition for REKOM, the acting of a medium-size peace organization such as the CNA, and the individualist and out-of system approach of Pedja Azdejković offered to the participants a wide spectrum of possibilities as to the different ways one can act, and what that in itself entails. It was evident that none of the approaches was stripped of problems nor external and internal difficulties, but the important message was – it is possible!
Numerous guests contributed to the wealth of presented approaches, however, due to the limited time, that went to the detriment of the inner-group interaction and full development of the optimal group dynamics. It seemed that in the second half of the training we were faced with being torn between the need for deeper discussions about problems and approaches to peacebuilding, and the need for considering the question as to how we will concretely act in the future. The team responded to this challenge by giving the group a possibility of choice, demanding with it concrete questions from the group about which there was a need to talk. In the work process we also came to the initial sketches of some possible ideas for future actions: mapping of antifascism in some cities in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina; peace actions of war veterans; actions against hate speech in local environments; cooperation of the so called European regions (Primorje-Gorski Kotar County in Croatia and Banat in Serbia) etc. The impression was that there is no lack of ideas, while the question regarding the way they should be realized is still quite foggy. But since planning was not the main goal of this training, that stays as a task for the future. The CNA team will strive to support the carriers of each reasonable idea as much as possible, but it is certain that we neither can nor want to be the carriers of these ideas.
The general notion after the training was an impression of enjoying the exchange and a great need for it. We were reminded of the unpleasant fact that, in their everyday lives, most of our participants are faced with the lack of understanding of their environment for this kind of work, and occasionally there are instances of a kind of (self) isolation of those who act and live in contrast to the dominant conformist attitudes. Members of the CNA team saw for themselves that the term “unbeaten way” has a hundred of meanings, and that unbeaten ways of us who are almost 15 years in this story are not the same as the unbeaten ways of someone who is just starting. The dilemmas that plague those working in teams and developed systems differ from the ones faced by those who are trying to do something alone (or with minimal informal support). It seems that the way in which we can effectively and truly support each other, regardless of differences in our personal and professional paths, is still one of the least beaten ways in peacebuilding in general.
Finally, it is important to say that with this module the programme “Peace Indebth. Values and Practices” is completed. Even though the real reach of the programme will be visible after some time, already now we are able to draft the main sources of pleasure, omissions and deficiencies. The upcoming external evaluation will certainly help a lot in the assesment of whether to continue with this type of advanced peace education programme. It is certain that the organization of this kind of a three-day training is extremely demanding in terms of logistics, and that there exists a sometimes greater sometimes lesser deviation from initial ideas and concepts due to the inability to put together a group with greater activist and peacekeeping experience. On the other hand, it was really a pleasure to notice great growth and significant progress made by some people since the basic trainings they had attended. Maturity in thinking and acting could be sensed in many levels, among others also in abandoning the expectation that each CNA training will be an “adrenalin-loaded” and “shocking” experience, like the one from the basic training. As the people would say, we grew up a bit, matured, and therefore we should perceive the situation and ourselves in it also from a more realistic and less emotionally charged point of view. What makes us most happy and encouraged is the evident need for cooperation across state borders, entities, local regions. And the feeling that some lasting partnerships and friendships got defined and strengthened through this uneasy months’ long work.
& Diakonie Austria
In cooperation with Internationaler Versöhnungsbund