State recovery and the international factor

August 13, 2015

Today’s session has been one of the most stimulating, in my opinion. Mr. Kumar came from the office of the UNDP and shared with us many valuable experiences on conflict management and post-violence recovery. One of the important insights I gained was about the importance of historical experiences for rebuilding the whole society. The interplay of different conditions that influence the health of the society is an important factor that determines the viability of peace. It is exactly for this reason that peacebuilding has become such a complex term to define. When a war finishes, the survivors cannot think about what peace means for them in the theoretical way that academics heavily function on. The moment when the peace is singed does not allow for the critical evaluation of the needs and necessities of the citizens of a country. Why? Because those voices that matter the most have been pushed past exhaustion, by the horror that had unfolded, into a state of numbness, which takes time and assistance to overcome. Hence, the ideas of social justice, development, freedom, participation, renovation etc. are defined by only a fragment of the population, if even that, and the international community. However, this, in cases like Bosnia, leads to those people who had brought around the conflict ascending to the throne; they become the people who shape that future of the whole society.

Another problem is that even in the new regime, people tend to continue acting on their previous patterns of behavior, which obscures a more inclusive and equitable approach to governance and society building. But in order for the society to become stable and continue in its path of development, it needs to build its own conflict-management mechanism that is informed by the local norms and values. However, this mechanism cannot operate if those patterns of behavior, those ‘’instinctive’’ responses are not changed. Not only that, but, if it is not rooted out, it becomes very difficult to include wider segments of the population and create a dialogue between the “upper” and the “lower” society. The result can often be the feeling of disillusionment and alienation that makes people more vulnerable to more violent ideas of militarized or radical groups. It is, thus, important to go past “putting up” with the “other” in one’s society, and go to a level where, slowly and naturally, the importance of ethnicity, religion or race will become less a source of friction, and more of an embodiment of human diversity.

In a sense, I could not but think of my own country which has been stuck in place for many years now, with no hope for a change for the better anytime soon. Moreover, the lecture also reminded me of the grave reality on the matter of Peace Agreements; as much as they were important for ending violence on a large scale, at the same time, they could lead to detrimental and unjust solutions that would only increase the animosity between different ethnicities of a nation. This is often the cause when the power balance between different groups varies starkly, but also, when the international community fails to ensure equitable distribution of rights to the population. This is one of the reasons I often find myself in criticism of the manner in which international intervention sometimes plays out.

Nonetheless, while I still hold some cynicism about the whole matter, throughout the last two days especially, but also the whole program itself, I was given the task of assuming some of these roles I had so readily criticized, and what I experienced was self-criticism. Even though I always considered the difficulties in arbitrage, it was mostly very superficial. However, after being in the process personally, and witnessing and experiencing a spectrum of difficulties and complications that arise in these endeavors, I was able to admit that, while power politics does play a role in leading to unequitable decisions, it is also the inability to always reconcile different identities and mechanisms that inform their decisions.

On a lighter note, what I was very much glad to learn was that simple gestures can make a great impact on conflict resolution. As Mr. Kumar informed us, words matter, as does the way we represent ourselves to others. And this is important if we want be the ones who provide that safe zone where people can get past their hurt and fears to the dialogue that is crucial for finding middle ground.

The things that matter

August 6, 2015

Looking retrospectively, I have had the honor of being lectured by some of the most competent, innovative and resilient minds in the field of peacebuilding and conflict-management. And, while I had enjoyed each and every single one of those, there was something very different, very peculiar about the lecture held by Willie R. Stokes that struck me in a way that no other had. Maybe it was because his approach had no restriction or hesitation; his introduction turned out to be a raw and bewildering description of his life and circumstances that completely caught me off guard. Willie use to be a member of the infamous gang “ Nostra Familia”, but, unlike many others, found himself grabbing for a second chance, a different way of being, and dropped out of the gang. What went through my head the whole lecture was the tendency of the general public to assign brands to people ( like gang member or terrorist or immigrant), which has helped in creating this divide of us and “the other”, the latter being anyone not fitting our norms and values,  which results in excluding them from “our society”. Yet, rarely do people realize the whole causal relationship that stands behind actions.

So while I looked at Willie, and listened to his story, I kept thinking about how many children are out there, who find themselves growing up in the same disadvantaged circumstances and I cannot see there being many other ways for them to end up. Yet, while I was always aware of this, how impoverished economic conditions, absence of the “family cushion” of support and love, and the instability of the future lead to gang membership, violence, drugs etc., this story brought back a face to the statistics and the theory that I had studied before. Here I found a man standing before me, a man who has been surrounded by death and destruction a great deal of his life, and yet he was more positive and hopefully and inspiring that anyone I had met before. When he told us, me : “You never know what you can do”, it is the first time that I had not just brushed it off as another person pretending to have faith in a bunch of strangers, but as a man that has proved it and is simply sharing it with a bunch of bookish children imagining they can change the world by reading a few books.

Yet, at the end of the day, Willie also said: “Don’t think you can’t do it just because you don’t have the right background”. So, maybe we are not that starry eyed to engage this big dysfunctional world, full of irrational beings, illogical events and confusing behaviors, and make it just a tad bit better than its former self.