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Conflict resolution – innovative practices in Croatian post-war communities. 1991-2009. Lessons. 1. Complexity of situation and lack of will at local and national levels are not excuses for delaying actions aiming at building the basis for the restorative processes:
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Conflict resolution – innovative practices in Croatian post-war communities 1991-2009
Lessons 1. Complexity of situation and lack of will at local and national levelsare not excuses for delaying actions aiming at building the basis for the restorative processes: • Enabling people to understand the conflict and behaviors in conflict situations; • Helping them to improve their communication skills and, when possible, acting as intermediary; • Identifying strong and independent-minded individuals and empowering them through training, networking and continuous support. 2. Conflict resolution skills and restorative practices cannot be “sold” to a community whose basic needs are not satisfied: a parallel activities should take place. 3. No organization is strong enough to do the work on their own. Cooperation and mutual support are key to success.
Time-frame • War (1991-1995) • Post-war reconstruction (1995-1999) • Stability (2000-today)
Pakrac The second most damaged town in war operations (after Vukovar); during the war divided by a frontline with UN check-point between Serb-held suburb and Croat-held downtown
Social reconstruction project Pakrac • Started by international volunteers and supported by Quakers from UK and UNOV • Over 300 volunteers stayed in Pakrac from 3 weeks to 3 years; • Entry in community: physical work (cleaning the rubbles, chopping the wood, doing repairs on the damaged houses); • Underlying social reconstruction work: active listening, informal mediations, empowerment.
Goran Božičević one of the project’s founders: • “We did not intervene directly into the conflict, and we did not judge or give advices, but we created the space for the conflict transformation through our own different behaviors and attitudes. We had contacts with all sides. We did not see two sides, but we saw the official and the private level on both sides. The only clear division was the territorial one, and all the other divisions were multi-layered and complex – civilians/soldiers, government/opposition, men/women.” Goran Božičević
Activities • Social skills and conflict resolution workshops for youth • Support for women’s self-organizingthrough laundry project • Providing contacts and opportunities for training in Croatia and abroad …while continuously acting as mediators between divided parts of town, different social and ethnic groups, international agencies, local politicians and police and inhabitants
What made it successful? • Self-motivated local activists from other parts of Croatia (Zagreb, Osijek, Rab); • Courageous women from Pakrac; • Chief of police and high schoolheadmaster who cared and understood; • QPSW support which went to the motivated individuals and their ways of work instead of pressure for tangible immediate results; • “Important visits to the womens’ group” by ambassadors of the countries who funded their work.
Innovation • Providing support to the local people and help with their most urgent needs (for shelter, clean clothes) while simultaneouslypracticing non-violent communication, and acting as mediators between different social, ethnic and interest groups. • In addition, there was continuous formal and non-formal training and empowerment of the locals with the leadership potential.
Osijek Its’ suburbs were touching the frontline; suffered both heavy shelling by the Serbs and atrocities against the local Serb civilians committed by the Croats
Katarina Kruhonja, founder of Center for peace, non-violence and human rights Osijek: • “Right before Christmas 1991, I read an article about the independent newspaper Arkzin. I looked it up at the newsstand and discovered it was a newspaper of the Antiwar Campaign. That issue announced a workshop in Zagreb led by Katarina Sanders. I went to the workshop because I wanted to meet Antiwar Campaign activists. I arrived from Osijek that at the time was under heavy attacks, the atmosphere was of the “total war”. I couldn’t stay at the entire workshop, but the piece I took part at was beneficial and healing for me. It was healing for me to listen about the conflict dynamics because it helped me to distance myself from the conflict in which I was part of, to start understanding behaviors in the conflict, to start understand my own behavior in the conflict. Later I noticed that many participants of the similar workshops react similarly, that the understanding of the conflict and behavior in the conflict situation has liberating effect on them.”
First Center’s activities: direct protection of human rights • Founded in 1992. • Presence on the evictions of tenents in apartments previously owned by Yugoslav Army and legal aid to the evicted: “To the people in uniforms we explained who we were and how do we perceive those evictions, why we are helping to the tenents to stay in their apartments. We wrote down the developments, who was evicting whom, whom we informed and whose intervention we sought – police and the others – who answered to our calls and who didn’t. I learned a lot about acting in a conflict situation from Adam Curle and Herb Walters. I believe that the basic skill we acquired and tried to apply in our work was not to attack person, but the problem. We did that in a way that put an emphasis on describing the problem, and not to interpret it’s causes and motives. We approached everyone involved with respect, which was not easy because of our own prejudice and anger. Besides, we had to face and confront our own fears.” (Katarina Kruhonja)
Spreading the skills: 1990s: • Listening projects in the communities • Conflict resolution training for school teachers • Hooking-up local authorities (those who allowed it) 2000s: • Designing and introducing peer-mediation in schools • Training community police officers, judges and local administration staff in mediation skills and procedures with the aim to enable them to recognize the case and direct it to a community mediation.
Peer-mediation in schools • Zagreb-based NGO Mali Korak (Little step) started training teachers and students in early 1990s and developed training methodology used in Croatia (including UNICEF violence prevention program) • First attempts of educating peer-mediators in Pakrac and Osijek 1995-97 • Improved methodology applied in Osijek and Okučani elementary schools includes (i) joint training of peer-mediators and their teachers and (ii) raising awareness and sensitizing of the whole school and student’s families.
“Teachers were not ready at all for the peer-mediation. First they refused to attend the workshops with the children, claiming there was nothing to learn. And we wanted them to be there in order to understand the process and to be able to support the peer-mediators. And then, they started dumping their own responsibilities on the peer-mediators, e.g. with disciplinary issues.” Amalija Krstanović, trainer and mediator
Community mediation between returnees and refugee settlers (1996-99) • Peaceful re-integration of Eastern Slavonia is one of the success stories of the UN. The provisions of the agreement guaranteeing the right to all who fled their pre-war residences to return, however, did not elaborate how it will happen. Activists filled the gap between provisions of agreement on peaceful reintegration and situation in the field where Croatian returnees’ property was destroyed by the Serb settlers that fled from other parts of Croatia; • Several dozens of mediation were conducted, first shuttling between the parties and than bringing them at the same table.
What made the work successful? • Fearless individuals; • Support of the Nansen Dialogue Center – their Croatian office is based in Osijek.
Innovation • Despite the shortcomings of the political agreement, small group of mediators prevented physical destructions of property (and perpetuating chain of revenge and violence) by helping to establish relationshipsbetween the returnees and displaced persons. • Peer mediation training for teachers and pupils in the same group; pupils were selected among the most popular and the most unpopular from each class; two levels (for those bellow and those over 10), that should start at age of 8 and of 12.
Beli Manastir In Estern Slavonia, since 1991 part of the Serb-controlled territory until its’ peaceful reintegration (1996-7); although it avoided physical damage, most of its’ population has refugee experience and the community is still divided.
Mediation promotors and practitioners in Beli Manastir • President of the municipal court • Municipality employee • Roma leader
“The most difficult part is to bring everyone to the stage when they can envision different options. Lack of motivation of everybody involved (children, parents and teachers) for solving the problems is one reason. Lack of positive examples is another.” Duško Kostić, mediator and Roma leader
What made it successful? • Support from the NGOs outside Beli Manastir; • Persistent enthusiasts willing to act on their own and to invest their own time and often resources in vague idea of community harmony
Innovation • As in Pakrac, responding to the people’s most urgent needs while using the restorative approach (listening – training – empowerment); • The main role of the mediator/facilitator: creating the space for expanding the number of available options for those involved in a problem.
What is common? • Local individuals who are committed and motivated • Restorative practices implemented while responding to the most urgent needs in community • Listening – training – empowerment • Support of foreign institutions and of Croat activists from other parts of Croatia
Initiatives on regional level – Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia • REKOM – coalition of NGOs advocating creation of Comissions for Reconciliation • Documenta – coalition of NGOs from Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia monitoring war crimes trials, documenting oral history and supporting victims and vitnesses • IZMIR – coalition of war veterans’ organizations
Actors • Civil society • International donors • Political elites and policymakers • Social services providers
International training for Croatian activists • American and West-European activists and trainers either visited Croatia or worked with the local activists from post-Yugoslav countries on the conferences and meetings abroad: • Christine Schweitzer, Kurt Suedmersen, Adam Curle, Katarina Sanders • Merle Lefkoff, Paula Gutlove, Eileen Babbitt, Marshall Rosenberg
Indicators of success – Pakrac • Individual acts of courage took place: e.g. immediately after the operation Flash, a local Pakrac woman accompanied foreign volunteers into Serb villages to make sure atrocities are not committed. Second, women from Pakrac traveled to Macedonia to the first meeting of post-Yugoslav women activists. • By 2000s, a multi-ethnic women’s group in the eyes of the (right-wing and nationalistic) local government has changed from traitors to partners, and of the Croatian war veterans who seek their cooperation as partners in projects and as educators. • Based on project’s lessons learned, UNDP has set up much more complex community reconstruction projects in Bosnia-Herzegovina (Gornji Vakuf/Uskoplje and Travnik), that were first of a kind within UN system.
Obstacles – Pakrac: • Lack of support structure for the volunteers; • Lack of understanding of local culture (patriarchal, traditional) and lack of skills/will to cope with those differences; • Financial restrains; • Lack of freedom of movement; • Physical threats to volunteers (by locals, by mines and occasional shells).
Indicators of success – Osijek • After mediations between returnees and displaced settlers in their property, there was no property destruction. • Success (in their local communities) of the people the Center supported through training and volunteer activities (increased credibility, respect and power); • Peer-mediation in schools (where Center introduced it) is sustainable; • Formalized agreement on cooperation between local police and Mediation Center.
Obstacles – Osijek • Sometimes irreconcilable differences between the two approaches practiced at the same time: (i) activities of direct human rights protection and advocacy; (ii) mediator’s role in bringing different groups together and facilitating their dialogue. • Fast expansion of operation on various communities in North-Eastern Croatia without long-term funding hurt Center’s credibility and trust in those communities.
Indicator of success – Beli Manastir • Lives of the individuals belonging to the marginalized groups are changed (e.g. in last two years, 15 Roma teenage girls re-enrolled to the high school as result of the mediation between school, parents and girls)
Obstacles – Beli Manastir • Lack of structural support to the individual enthusiasts; • Implementation flawsof programs aiming at empowerment of the marginalized groups (such as Roma Decade); • Racism and discrimination.