Storytelling Project Conclusion

Coordinating the project has been amazing, especially because half way through I got a coordinating buddy. Claudia arrived 2 days before Sam and Michelle from GlobalGiving came to visit us. She got a very good introduction to the organisation and soon after we teamed up for the storytelling project. That also created new possibilities, since a lot of people in the local community of all ages speak German as a second language. With good research skills and a great background in volunteering with non-profits we made a great team!

We have learnt a lot from doing this project. We got to meet many amazing people, and although at first we thought we might be a bit annoying (asking everyone we met for stories), soon they started to help us get more people to interview, and we witnessed a lot of solidarity and team-work. It was  probably the more sceptical people  that helped us reach out to their connections, to the point where they would always ask how the project was going, and always try to help us find more people to interview. They became a part of the project, despite me never even imagining it would go like this. In the end in CIM we didn’t really do this the ‘traditional’ way’. Despite recruiting a team of volunteers in the beginning, the progress was very slow, and being under pressure, we had to begin collecting stories as well. What resulted from this though was that there is now a large group of people in Sanski Most, most not affiliated to CIM, who know exactly what the project is about and who believe it is something more people should take part in. We spoke so much about this, and advertised it to the point that some locals will probably remember this for years to come. Normally when you meet with people for a coffee, or go out the first thing they ask is ‘how are you?’. In our case, it is ‘how are you and how many stories do you still need?’. People we got to know this summer also know the story question, and tell others what we look for specifically when trying to get them on board to share their stories. They don’t do this because they have an incentive, but because they now believe the GlobalGiving storytelling project is very interesting.  Some people specifically think it is a great idea to gather data and are impressed by the method used. Everyone is grateful for coffee though. Thanks, GlobalGiving!

When I first came to Bosnia some people were asking how many stories we needed. I said ‘at least 100’. They didn’t really believe we would manage. It took longer, but the secret ingredient to gathering these stories was trust, and people buying into it. It wasn’t necessarily about locals or foreigners doing it, but about people getting used to the project itself.

One day we interviewed E. He agreed to do the interview, but ‘only because he knew me’. When we finished getting the stories, he said it would be much easier for him to tell us stories whilst hiking, or out in the nature. We could walk and he could tell me 100 stories, not just two. The context did not suit him as much. In a way I do believe that would be a great way to collect stories: by just living here, exploring what this place is all about by just doing what the locals do, whether that means sitting in a caffe all day having strong coffee, or hiking in the mountains around Sanski Most. With every story,  you could then ask if you could record it. I’m sure the answer would always be positive. Another example of this was D. He found it very hard to think of ‘stories to tell’ when I first asked him. One evening we were out together and he was telling us story after story: let me tell you about this, about that, and I observed how natural it was for him to tell us about all of these events in that environment compared to how long it took to find to stories to tell me when we sat down for that specific purpose. For this very reason, I will try to train new volunteers on how the project works, and encourage them to document these stories by just ‘living here’. That means, whenever they hear a story they believe needs to be documented to kindly ask if they could do it. If the people trusted you to tell you that story in the first place, they will most likely trust you to write it down as well.

Today, we interviewed a friend of a friend of a friend. When A. came to pick up his drums from the CIM office for a local concert I asked if any of the two friends he brought with him spoke English or German. He said one of them did. Claudia came down, and set up an interview with one of A’s friends and we got two very distinct stories from him. In fact not only did we get two stories, but we also managed to convince him to become a volunteer with the organisation. He was really impressed both with the project we were doing and the work of CIM so he decided he would help further and ask some other friends. Today we met with him and his friend K, and after we got two stories, K said he was very happy he was asked to do this, because it was very interesting to him. He used the word ‘inspiring’ to refer to our meeting. He further mentioned he would have never done it unless his friend asked him to. I then asked what would happen if I or a local person stopped him on the street and asked if he had time for a short interview. He said he would have ‘lied’ about all these things he had to do, and refused politely. He also said most people would do the same. K was not the only person who said that though. A lot of people said they decided to do it only after spending some time with us and got to know more about the project.

The storytelling project also motivated us to use a more story-centred approach in our programmes, be it though social media, our newsletters, or grant writing. This year is CIM’s 10th anniversary, and it will also be the first year we will have an annual report. It was always suggested, always considered, always recommended though there was very little capacity for it. I am hoping the new local volunteers we recruited will also get involved in writing CIM’s 2014 story in the shape of an annual report.

‘Our Way’ A story of Community Development in Priboj, BiH

I had the chance to participate in Peace Camp this year. The training is the main, annual project that CIM organises, involving young people from across Bosnia. I had the chance to have a casual conversation with one of the group leaders. Mili is a very outgoing, free-spirited person, and his energy is amazing. We were sitting down in the hotel’s lounge, working away on our computers. Suddenly he complains about the slow internet and explains he had to send a person a link. They had enquired how he managed to build a tennis court with under 3000 euros in his local community. I was interested, and as he went on to tell me what had happened I was speechless. I asked Mili if he would be ok to record this story for our globalgiving project, and not only did he agree to that, but also to posting his story here.

It goes like this:

In 2008, I watched a tennis tournament in Australia for the first time on tv. Ana Ivanovic got a great result, and I got the idea to build a tennis court. I spoke with a lot of people from the local community and they made jokes about my idea. I spent 4 years searching for possibilities to build the tennis court, never gave up. After 4 years, I got information about youth bank possibilities to get 1000 E, if we have 5 young people ready to work on the project and find minumum half more from another source. We started campaining indidvidually, when I explained the backround to people they started to trust me more. The funds could be in money or other type of support. we got promises from local companies to flatten the ground. Before that we needed to ask the local football club to give us land and to my surprise it was very easy in the centre of town, close to the school next to the main road, and the football court. The company came with a different machine than needed, they tried to make it flat but it was impossible and i organised zoung people, first 10 than more and we started to fix the ground to prepare it for the next stage. At the same time, still the community, even if they gave us the money they still didn’t fully believe, it was 40 degrees in August, they thought we were crazy, and we had a timeframe. It was a 3 month project. After we flattened it (6 days) we started to dig the foundation for the fence, again manually, the young people only had shovels and other basic tools. We spent 3 days on it, because the fence was long, around 100 metres. It was a hard job because the ground was rocky, but we managed it. After that the next step was to buy stones to make cement to fill the foundation with an iron net inside. After that we did the first foundation stage. After, we asked local building companies for wooden materials to hold the foundation, 25 cm above the gorund. We did it ourselves, we worked 3 days and made the boards and blocks. We filled the boxes with iron pillons. Again we did it alöne with tools from friends and family, and the local community. Again 4 four of us digged again diagonally for the drainage, we collected rocks from the river with a mini tractor and filled the hole completely to make the draining systen. After that my friend with a big truck put the second layer of small stones for the tennis court. 40 m3 and we got this 3 times cheaper than the regular market price. When we brought this we organised 3 tractors from the community to move these stones to layer them. The guy with the skip, came to the tennis court and tried to flatten everything, and again we didn’t have to pay anything. It was a donation in kind, again. 6 or 7 of us made is completely flat again with basic tools.The next step was to layer the residue black clay for the local power plant, again 40m3. My friend who had a truck went there, and I promised I would pay him 35 E for each truck ride. He did 3 rides and again manually me and 5 friends flattened it, completely manuallz. 10 cm thick. Still some people from the community said we were crazy and we would never make it. A lot of local politicians offered us finanacial support, but only if we joined their party and promoted them. Unfortunately for them I refused it, even if they wanted to give us all the money. We had promised the local community that the local politicians would not be involved, and that’s why they donated. I refused politely and said I couldnt make it political, and wanted the courts to be build with the support of local residents. At the same time, I was training for to become a tennis referee and I asked support from the national tennis association. They offered to help me. They gave us the tennis lines, and I asked them for the red clay and they were reluctant. I was grateful though because the lines were 350 E. I came from Banja Luka, and I gave the community this news. Because of the size of the black clay which was uneven, we had to ask for the roller truck again, and we actually got a tube full of concrete with a metal stick, more than 200 kg, and we did it ourselves with that improvised tool. I went to the mayor to ask for a bit of help and he said he couldn t help but he said he had a friend who could help. We got the machine and we rolled the black clay some more. We even worked during rain. It was hard but we didn’t give up. We ran out of money for the red clay. We asked local companies for a machine to crush bricks to make red clay, but it didn’t work. When we told the tennis association we collected all money from the local community, only 15 minutes later we got a call from a guy in Banja Luka and he said he would give us all the red clay for the money we got. He was from Switzerland. He also transported it. The drivers paid for our drinks too. The local school sent all the 9th graders with 2 staff to help put down 30 tonnes of clay. We got the Accomplishement of the Year Award from the National Tennis Association for this.  The media started to pay attention because i posted a photo album on
facebook called ‘our way’ , and everyone was surprised. We built the tennis court our way with our hands, with a small ammount of money. I published all the photos step by step, and from that the people who didn’t believe in us came to us to shake our hands. It was a massive sucess because we proved everyone we could do it, and because of all the hard work. All the time some people said we would steal the money don t do anything. The whole entity was surprised about the award we got. I was so happy especially for the young people who worked with me.

 

The step by step photos of this project can be found here.

Globalgiving Storytelling Project: Visit to Fenix

On Wednesday we decided to have a ‘field trip’ to Fenix for the storytelling collection. Fenix is a local organisation that aims to provide the social services that so often lack in Bosnia. They have a maternity room, a home for elderly people, a soup kitchen and a hostel which also acts as a shelter for homeless people. Knowing that the people they help are some of the most disadvantaged in the local community we really wanted to get their stories.

Me and my new colleague, Claudia recruited two local volunteers, made contact with the manager of the centre through a friend who works there, and agreed to go and collect the stories at around 10 am. At first, the manager introduced us to a woman who agreed to share her story. Most people hadn’t arrived yet. We let Elmin, our youngest volunteer do the first interview. It was his first time doing this type of work and he only got half an hour of training. We sat next to him, ready to support him with anything he needed. There was no need though. We were so amazed with how brilliant he was, how professional, clarifying certain things, actively listening, and showing so much interest in the story.

Another man agreed to have an interview and Claudia and Haris went with him outside. After Elmin finished his first interview, we tried to ask more people if they would want to chat to us, but most people refused. They also seemed to be quite suspicious. Later on though, more people heard about what we were doing and soon after that, we had more people interested than we could handle. Elmin sat in one place for 5 interviews, one after the other. Outside Claudia and Haris also got more people interested.

One thing we learnt from this experience is that trying to be more spontaneous did not give as good results as when we would schedule interviews with one person at a time. From a quantitative point of view it was better, but the quality of the research was not as great as in the past. The stories were very heavy, and seeing how much people rushed to us to tell us what had happened to them was very sad and exhausting. We were literally drained of all energy after just two hours. I also noticed that the amount of information decreased. The stories, as important as they all were in content, got shorter the more we stayed there and the more people we interviewed. Another important lesson was how much better it is to use an audio recorder. I would normally just take notes, and write down the stories, but having Elmin with us, who had just recently participated in a programme related to youth activism and digital media was great for us to give it a try. We asked everyone what they preferred and only two people agreed to be recorded, however, those seemed to be the stories with the most context and emotion. I will definitely try to use it more from now on.

It was devastating to hear the stories on Wednesday. It is heart-breaking when people who are some of the most disadvantaged in the community had their houses completely destroyed, and now, once again they are left with nothing. As Elmin said later that day, these people literally have nothing more to lose in life, all is gone. First their families were killed in the war, and now, just when they managed to rebuild their homes and move on, the catastrophic floods occurred, and they lost everything again. There were many organisations people mentioned helped them. One person in particular really moved us by saying how grateful he was to us personally and to CIM for recording their stories and telling the world what conditions they have to live in. Indirectly, the lack of services, the poor economy, and most of these problems that people face are a direct result of the conflict, and poor political decision-making and cooperation at the national level. Whilst we try to overcome these obstacles and do our best to have programmes that address the issue of national and grassroots reconciliation, I am also thankful to Fenix and all other organisations in the local community who deal with the consequences of the political and economic situation in Bosnia.

Storytelling Collection Challenges and Opooprtunities

The second week of our Storytelling Collection Project has just ended. The good news is, I have managed to speak to our volunteers individually and they have at least scheduled interviews in order to collect stories. Since I have arrived I have been posting more on social media, and have written a grant proposal for Peace Camp. I am almost finished, the only thing missing is a story of success. I am taking my time filling in that box. I know the standard would be to tell a story from the organisation’s perspective, though I would really like to incorporate a lesson learnt from globalgiving, and I have asked a person who took part in our project to tell the story from their perspective.

I find there is a lot of free time in between small tasks in CIM, so I have also started taking interviews from people who speak English well. After three stories, I realised something. Not being from here was not a disadvantage, on the contrary. I remember in Corrymeela, people would come to me, tell me their stories without any notice or context. After a casual chat where they asked where I was from, what I did there, and how I found the experience, they poured their hearts out, and I have been told on several occasions: ‘I have never told this to anyone before’.  When speaking to my mentors about it, they said most likely it happened because I was an ‘outsider’. When I asked a person I had met this year through mutual friends if they could tell me a story, they accepted. I was not expecting what followed. When I got towards the end of the form, and adapted the question and asked: ‘how likely would you be to tell your friends/family or organisations about this person?’, they said: ‘I have actually never told this to anyone else before. I wouldn’t just randomly bring this up in a conversation’. This really had an impact on me, and I am now happy I decided to interview community members as well, it just shows me how important it is to ask people for a story, as otherwise we might never get to know what is important to those we wish to serve and empower. It motivates me to motivate others even more to do this regularly.

The beginning of the project has not been without challenges. The fact that we are collecting the stories during Ramadan means that it is harder to meet up collectively to follow the progress. Especially young people tend to switch their activity to night time (as they sleep late during the day, and eat their first meal just before 9pm). Iftar (breaking fast after the sun sets) is also an important family tradition here, and that means meeting people generally happens after 9:30pm, and the volunteers’ schedules vary accordingly.

Another challenge as I have been told and witnessed myself is collecting two stories from one person. People don’t seem to find it hard to think of a story, but for two they need more time. Some volunteers have been told they would get interviews from various people, though they will need to wait for them to have two stories ready. I have personally had a more spontaneous interview, and we stood there for about 20 minutes, when the person said they found it hard to think of something else, and when I sensed a slight frustration might kick in, I told them I could do with just one, especially since it was not about CIM.

The scribes we’ve recruited seem to be quite independent, despite most of them being quite young (16-18). They are happy to meet up and chat, but when I ask if they need any help or have any more questions, they enthusiastically respond that everything is in order.

Another challenge, which I’ve adapted to has been facebook. People in Bosnia use facebook as their main means of communication. I use facebook extensively as well, and post on average at least twice a day on my personal page, whilst also posting content on the organisation’s page. In Bosnia people use facebook more than face to face or phone communication. If I post an announcement about the project on our volunteers’ group, everyone likes my post. I literally get a 100% like return. No one usually comments though, not even when I post a question. I then started to send more individual messages (after I had received friend requests from everyone + their friends). This seems to be working much better, they respond much quicker and provide me with more information. It’s definitely something to think about more in order to get better at this.

Because I have more free time than anticipated, I have decided to gradually input the stories into the database as well. I realised it also pretty much takes as long, if not less than scanning everything to be sent out to globalgiving. It is more efficient this way.

Polako (slowly) we’re making progress🙂

Globalgiving Storytelling Project-Bosnia Edition

Over the past three years storytelling has become central to most of what I do. I never paid too much attention to it before, but since first coming to Bosnia I have begun to purposely acknowledge how both myself and others around me used it. I had positive experiences: listening to inspirational stories that in one way or another changed my life and the path I followed, and negative (but constructive) experiences: witnessing hopelessness, trauma, anxiety, anger, disillusionment.

From an academic point of view, this conflict transformation approach was ruined for me, and I surprised myself that despite my very negative experience with that specific module, I have not given up on it yet, on the contrary, I am eager to learn both in formal and informal ways.

I happen to be back in Bosnia. Together with the CIM directors, we agreed to apply for a grant from Globalgiving for a community feedback project. Basically Globalgiving do not only provide you with the basic tools that any other fundraising website would, but they also put a lot of time into training community based organisations. From fundraising to social media, from M&E to reporting, they do it. There’s more though. For the past four years, globalgiving have been busy with a storytelling project in East Africa.  Organisations from the region and their volunteers collected 57 000 stories from local communities. A new, easy to use analysis tool was developed and all the stories now make up a huge database. Organisations can input their stories, analyse and improve their programmes according to findings from the analysis.  This led to a new model to be adopted by globalgiving: listen, act, learn.

At first, I was ok with the model, it sounded very good, and I was intrigued. Then, I was a bit worried about this development. As members of globalgiving, organisations would all have to follow the East Africa Storytelling Project approach in order to become more visible and gain points: collect stories, analyse, act on the findings, learn, and repeat. I thought that many community organisations would not have the capacity to do so much work just to keep a fundraising page, when others would be much less hassle. I knew for sure, it would be difficult for CIM, and was afraid that there would be little capacity to cope with the new system, particularly since we already have our own internal evaluation system. On the other hand, I like to challenge myself and to find the best possible solution to a potential problem. I know this made me even more committed to find local capacity for CIM to fundraise on globalgiving, which is on my to-do list for this trip, and I am getting closer to ticking the box. In this way, we can ensure that feedback collection will happen on the ground, and I can still handle the communications and analysis from anywhere in the world.

I see globalgiving  raising the bar by raising the standards for local organisations in terms of programming. So indirectly and slowly, globalgiving could create a network of grassroots organisations that have a professional level in fundraising, evaluation, and programme development. The tools they need are easy to use. The points based system is somewhat competitive. The rewards they get are too good to move away from. Those who will be serious about development work, will have adapt, improve and sustain an impact on the ground in order to keep getting the benefits. It really seems to be a win-win situation.

The whole process of planning the project happened very fast, I made a draft plan when the grant proposal was submitted, and since I heard we got it, I’ve been planning and thinking of strategies and back up plans on buses, trains, and flights, whilst the other CIM staff were recruiting volunteers. It was a massive incentive to move forward and brought a lot of enthusiasm to the office. Of course, some things have worked well so far, but I have also found it a bit challenging. The Bosnian way of working  is way more relaxed than what I am normally used to. Thankfully, I am the flexible type, and despite the fact that I cannot relax so much and need to have a regular intense mode to function, I manage to work well with the local culture. I think it is the Bosnian humour which I find strange but hilarious that helps a lot. Having Balkan roots also means I am familiar with the work ethic. The centre directors really trust me and let me do the work at my own pace, knowing that I can slow down when I have to, and whenever I’m alone, party time: intense work mode switches back on so I can really feel like I’m maximising productivity in the time I have.

I am focusing a lot  on monitoring the project development and identifying strengths, weaknesses and possible solutions to the latter. Last night I got a tip from a globalgiving staff member, used it, and got a great reaction from a volunteer I trained, which was very rewarding. I also met some volunteers from another local organisation which has a soup kitchen and a hostel for people in need of food and shelter. I am hoping to chat with them some more, and see if both the organisation and the people who benefit from their project might be ok with us making some coffee and cake and collecting some stories one afternoon. I remembered that once I witnessed a violent scene with a homeless person who was very drunk. I asked people what was happening and they said he was an alcoholic who lost his whole family during the war, developed an alcohol addiction and lost everything. The locals I was with said that no one pays attention to him, and ignore him completely. It is a memory that really stuck with me.  As a peacebuilding organisation that focuses mostly on youth, we don’t usually have access to people in such situations, and I think it would be good for us to document their stories. The organisation I mentioned above has been working with CIM very closely in relief efforts during the floods, and the storytelling collection project could perhaps lead to even closer links.

In terms of analysis, I am playing around with the tool built by globalgiving, and trying to master it by the time we will get to do our own analysis and compare and contrast trends with other peace and conflict stories in the database. I am very excited about it, especially since I may be getting some input from an economist/political philosopher, and a former CIM volunteer who is specialising in gender issues.

Bosnia/Northern Ireland-frozen conflict vs conflict

A few days ago I had an interesting conversation about Northern Ireland and Bosnia. It all started with being asked whether I head the “thunder” in the morning. I had heard a big noise at about six  am. I can normally sleep through anything, though this was very very loud. A few months ago I shared with friends a sad realisation that when you live in Northern Ireland, things like shootings, pipe bombs, molotov cocktails, protests gone violent become common and you just get on with your life. We had a lot of bomb alerts (real ones), and partially exploded bombs in the centre, and many threats over Christmas. Did that stop people from getting on with life and doing their last minute shopping? Hardly. At that point I wondered if that was good (people making a statement they won’t be intimidated) or not so good (people accepting this as a reality and be passive about the situation).

It might seem crazy but this week when I heard the noise, the most likely explanation I could find was that a bomb had exploded somewhere in North Belfast. The least likely explanation I could think of was “thunder”.

The conversation I mentioned above took an interesting turn. It went back into the Bosnian court, mainly because someone I know is fascinated with this comparison. Then I shared my opinion on the biggest difference between the two regions. The similarities are endless: consociationalist structures, hard hit economies, youth unemployment, nationalistic politics, party politics divided by religious views, religion as an ethnic marker, separatist ideas, prejudice, stereotypes, segregation, etc. None of the regions are post conflict. At best Bosnia is in a frozen conflict state, where things could deteriorate very quickly. Having also lived in NI for just over two years, observing, taking things in, studying about it, having discussions with those involved in the process and those who research it, I have had my beliefs confirmed that NI is in fact conflict, not post conflict, nor frozen conflict. The main characteristic of the Troubles was its “sporadic violence” element. That has not stopped. It seems like the latest contentions issue of the flag, has in fact made it even worse. People ignore the dissident republicans because they are “small” and don’t have much influence, yet the threat and even sporadic physical violence continues. The fact that a large number of areas are patrolled by paramilitary organisations is tacitly accepted by the large majority of their residents which give in to paying “protection fees”. It is even argued by some that these effectively illegal organisations are used by politicians to “stir things up” when the level of support for their ethnic and religious based parties drops.

In order to give a practical example to the big difference between conflict/frozen conflict, I pointed at how context matters  when you implement peace projects. The conflict transformation idea of storytelling has been used in many parts of the world as a tool for reconciliation and specific peace projects. There are many such initiatives both in Bosnia and in NI. If you have read my blog you have probably heard me saying all these things about local ownership and how much context and culture matter. When it comes to a personal transformation, yes storytelling does miracles. I have personally, professionally and emotionally witnessed first hand how this transformation works and I vouch for it. However, storytelling as a means to bring about social change at the society or political level will not be equally as effective everywhere. I believe it can work well in Bosnia, and my conclusions are based on research and a few years of observation of such as programme. A lot of people involved in that programme actively participated in the recent protests and in drafting clear demands from citizens to their government taking it a step further from the street. Some had solid resources to do this as they established civil society groups and organisations across Bosnia after they took part in the programme. I have had the chance to see this at work in Northern Ireland as well, and I think when it comes to change at the society/political level it doesn’t have the same results. When people go back to their communities in Bosnia the context allows for them to share their opinions or continue the type of work they have done with other young people. In Northern Ireland, in the areas this type of initiatives are most needed, it’s very risky and dangerous, so people may not share the opinions they had before, but they cannot verbalise or try to share what they’ve learnt because of the risk of physical threat to them and their family. Pressured by the circumstances, they might even continue to financially support paramilitary groups.  The pressure extends to maybe not sending children to an integrated school or teaching them to speak up against prejudice or mix with children from other communities because doing so will put them at risk. This is not to say exceptions do not exist thought sadly I personally think it happens in a vast majority of cases.

If you think all of this is common sense, then why are universities and governments referring to Bosnia and NI as post conflict. I was taught something very different before I had the chance to experience it. I went to Bosnia and asked why all the projects mentioned conflict and resolving conflict, when I though we were doing post conflict peacebuilding. I now look back and think I was very naive when I left university. I am just pleased my mentors and professors encouraged me to go out and see for myself how the reality of these places looks like, and I am grateful for it.

copyright @lsmithe1 http://blogs.swarthmore.edu/northernirelandsemester/?author=8
copyright @lsmithe1 http://blogs.swarthmore.edu/northernirelandsemester/?author=8

Opinion: the rise of British populists, “polite xenophobia”, and dangerous propaganda

The past years have seen the rise of UKIP in opinion polls, and their growing support base is becoming increasingly apparent all over the UK.  Mainstream parties are in the news all the time criticising UKIP intensely with good points to make as well as weak political tactics and comments which are ultimately seen as “political attacks” and only aid UKIP’s campaign.  Nigel Farage, a political entrepreneur who charms the masses with his “polite xenophobia”, simplistic solutions, and exaggerated or false statements,  leads the party.

The main attraction to UKIP is the radical Euroscepticism if I may call it that: the complete withdrawal from the EU, whilst “the doctrine of multiculturalism should be ended by all publicly funded  bodies, the Human Rights Act repealed, and Britain should withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights”.  (Jupp, 2010)

UKIP has existed for years and it has never had any significant political influence, with the most successful outcome being Farage and a few other party members comfortably being paid as MEPs to protest against the UK’s membership of the EU. However, the recent development in immigration scandals, namely the lifting of working restrictions for Romanians and Bulgarians has come to the party’s advantage. Tabloid newspapers set the scene in portraying a decaying future for Britain as millions of Eastern Europeans would come to take British jobs and Farage comfortably used the figure of 29 million as a fact to further ignite the fear in British voters, as well as stressing the very little control British voters have over their future and the amount (mainly fabricated) of laws that are made by foreign bureaucrats in the EU. A lot of this has come to surface in the debate with LibDem leader Nick Clegg.

Recent “political attacks” on Mr Farage included being accused by former party members of mishandling allowances from the EU, which were not used according to EU guidelines but migrated into the leader’s personal bank account.  The New Statesman published a video from 1999 where he pointed at games politicians play such as “employing their wives”. It is ironic that Nigel Farage is in fact now employing his wife with his EU allowance. The article is published here though the video now reads “this video is no longer available because the uploader has closed their youtube account”. The media frenzy was meant to expose the leader’s hypocrisy in criticising corrupt politicians. Farage came fighting to turn matters into his own favour saying how easy it is for MEPs to get money and not have to account for them. With his background he comes across and the honest British politician who knows all about the EU because of his role, however, it is ironic again that figures suggest Mr Farage has in fact not been doing his job as an MEP. As uncovered by the Financial Times earlier in this article it seems that he has attended only one out of 42 meetings he was responsible for. At the time he was accused by former UKIP members and other British MEPs of not helping them make Britain’s vote count in the EU.

As UKIP play the immigration card obsessively,  their new campaign which alludes to a hard core message that British jobs should only go to British workers unfortunately is not surprising. Today mainstream politicians accused the party of “racism” and some drew comparisons to a former BNP campaign. Cheap foreign labour is seen as damaging to national interests and the British public.  What British citizens who buy into this don’t realise is that UKIP is doing no more than dealing with a symptom of a larger problem. Having recently watched a documentary about the “black market” of labour in the UK, I realised that some of the problems are there because of ripe conditions for exploitation within Britain. The documentary uncovered the  poor conditions in which immigrants live, the efforts of the British and Romanian police officers to investigate cases of illegal activity and a large scale of employers breaking British and EU laws. My point here is, if the UK would focus on bringing to account those employers (British or not) who exploit immigrants for cheap labour then the problem would be nowhere near as grave.

UKIP however have no interest in stopping the exploitation of foreign migrants, but to use them as “a common enemy” that all British people must stand against. They make it personal to the British, they generalise the foreigners, they stereotype and use prejudice as their main weapon to seeking political power.  Over the course of history we’ve seen or read about so many populist leaders that we should be able to realise that the large majority have little substance to their claims and policies, and the only way to keep their position in power is through manipulation and abuse.

 

A theoretical analysis of liberal/international vs traditional/local approaches in CR

Peacebuilding and civil society in post conflict countries have been dominated by the idea of liberal peace. [1] The modern liberal ideas of human rights, liberal economy, and the rule of law have dominated both the practice and theory of peacebuilding. Since such initiatives have usually been accompanied by strong elements of statebuilding it led to the process being associated almost entirely with the idea of prioritising the state institutions. Building strong liberal institutions is seen as the best solution for sustaining peace, managing, and containing conflict, while other liberal peace practices have been marginalised. [2] The truth is, the record of successes that liberal peacebuilding initiatives of this kind have achieved is very limited. It is argued that half of the liberal peacebuilding interventions fail within the first five years. Once the foreign troops withdraw, the elites return to their traditional ways, under the umbrella of liberal terms for their actions, practices, and statuses. Given these records, the peacebuilding agenda has not yet changed to accommodate these challenges. The liberal way of building peace is seen as a technical fix, superficial, and suffering from a legitimacy problem. Liberal peacebuilding is said to provide the kind of peace that “it believes people should have rather than one they might seek for themselves if their stakeholder status meant more than just participation in someone else’s idea of peacebuilding.”[3]

 

The idea that it is the whole process of liberal peacebuilding that fails has led critics to dismiss it to a certain extent and look for alternatives. It is assumed that in theory it sounds extraordinary but in practice it fails. However, the fact is that this may not be a strong argument. The main issue is that it is not what is implemented that may not be the best idea, but how it is implemented. Rejecting the idea of liberal peacebuilding as a whole in a way can suggest that liberal practices are rejected as well. The problem is the standard operating procedure that has dominated international interventions, which acts in the name of liberalism. Conflict is not a virus that needs a vaccine. The issues are different in nature, and even if they are similar, their context will be different, cultures are different and so is the baggage of history. Therefore a post conflict society will need a procedure that can ensure the future of the country will be shaped by a human rights agenda, and supported by the international community, rather than the international community dictating solutions to problems as most “liberal peacebuilding”/western interventions have promoted in recent years, and are not fit to accommodate the differences among conflict situations.

As no critique of one method is sound without alternatives, many have turned towards supporting local initiatives for peacebuilding practices. These initiatives are led by locals with insights into the culture, and work on the ground to address the needs of the people in the aftermath of violence. This came as a result of local values, traditions, and institutions being dismissed in conflict contexts, and seen as a problem and cause of conflict rather than potential grounds for change and peace to be promoted.

As opposed to the international interventions that are said to be “liberal peacebuilding” and emphasise universality/standard procedures when it comes to peace practices, the local approach, also known as communitarian, stresses the importance of integrating tradition and context into the development of institutions, and ethnics. In the past, communitarian approaches, which are characterised by “buy-in” and legitimacy, have only been able to flourish in areas with little external intervention. This is where the concept of local ownership comes in place. It sits at the crossroads between the relationship of outsiders and insiders in peacebuilding contexts. [4]

Local ownership theory promotes traditional and indigenous practices when approaching peacebuilding, or developing civil society structures. It draws on long-held practice, rooted in the customs of a certain area. These approaches are locally inspired, as opposed to the standardised methods and processes used by most International Organisations. The priority for these international, standard methods means that local customs such as the alleviation of grievances through storytelling will be sidelined, particularly when it comes to the process of justice and reconciliation. In indigenous and traditional approaches, though they differ from one area to another, it is possible to identify common traits. For example, most of these practices rely on the moral authority of respected figures, such as elders, or other respectable figures in the community. Decision making processes are characterised by transparency and participation, such as meetings taking place in public, and accessible places. The practices are more relationship centred than narrowly looking for an agreement by all means necessary.  Most importantly the key advantage of traditional, locally inspired approaches is that they do not require a wealth of resources and expertise from outside, but rather rest on the public understanding and acceptance. [5]

The danger here is that promoting a sole local fix approach might lead to falling in an extreme as well. The local ownership is key to promoting legitimacy and getting to the roots of the conflict, but the question is, in the aftermath of violent conflict, with results such as trauma, division, and lack of trust, do these communities have the capacity to build up a peace process that is sustainable? The fragility of the situation can lead to nationalistic elites gaining more ground for perpetuating a conflict should there not be an international presence to monitor and make sure the parties respect the agreements they signed up to and facilitate the way to a pluralist society that will protect its citizens.

Based on literature, there seems to be growing contradiction between liberal peacebuilding approaches to civil society and traditional approaches implemented by local actors rather than the international community. The critique against liberal peacebuilding is based on heavy western intervention that deals with conflict issues on the ground in a technical way that leads to a superficial fix of the problem. Liberal peacebuilding as a general concept means no harm nor is it intended to be short lasting. The problem with this approach lies in the fact that there is a standard operational procedure which does not fit all cases and should be reconsidered. In general terms it seems that in the past the lack of sustainability can be blamed on lack of legitimacy of the process and the feeling of ownership of the peacebuilding process. In the case of Bosnia for example, the lack of local engagement led to the locals not buying into the process, and more importantly the heavily involved western community led to critiques of the process to go to the extent that the international community was blamed for neo-liberal colonialism. The critique of the liberal peacebuilding was then fought with arguments pro locally led initiatives and the theory of local ownership.

To conclude, in order for peacebuilding processes to be more sustainable there needs to be more local ownership, and the standard operational procedures have to be loosen to the extent that there is enough flexibility to take into account local customs and ways of dealing with conflict and justice. Leaving the locals alone to sort out their own problems in the aftermath of violent conflict might not be a sound competitor to liberal peacebuilding or intervention as in essence there is no guarantor to ensure that peace will be rebuilt. Also, considering the high levels of trauma and mistrust created by the conflict, there needs to be a neutral presence that will build up the capacity of the locals, and facilitate the peace process. Facilitation and capacity building are key words here, opposed to imposition and laissez-fair attitudes. Local ownership should be embedded into the process so that after the exit of the international community/guarantors, the locals would have trust into the process, and work for a peace process that will be able to stand without foreign mandates. In all, the attitude should not be one of “Do it like this!”, “Do it yourself!”, but “How can we help you rebuild your communities and pave the way to reconciliation?”.


[1] Oliver Richmond (2007),  The Problem of Peace: Understanding Liberal Peace, In Globalization and Challenges to Building Peace, eds Ashok Swain, Ramses Amer, Joakim Ojendal, Anthem Press, UK, pp 17-38

 

[2] Timothy Donais (2012), Peacebuilding and Local Ownership, Post-Conflict Consensus Building, Routledge, UK

[3] David Roberts, Saving Liberal Peacebuilding From Itself, Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice, (August 2012) Vol 24 (3), 366-373

[4] Timothy Donais, op cit.

[5]Roger Mac Ginty (2010), Gilding the Lily? International Support for Indigenous and Traditional Peacebuilding, In Palgrave Advances in Peacebuilding, ed Oliver P. Richmond, Palgrave, UK

Short reflection on DPC (Dialogue for Peaceful Change)

I returned to Corrymeela once again, with my group (my classmates from ISE). I expected again to have to deal with a lot of frustration while trying to forget the fact that I was at home, and do my best to play the role of group member. However, for some reason, I ended up not doing that much. What I achieved I think was a good balance. Perhaps our group leader, Colin Craig really helped in making me feel more at ease. Since the beginning he actually embraced the fact that I knew where some things were, and how they were done. I particularly appreciated the fact that in the morning, when he came in, he told me I should not be doing much work, and enjoy my time. I was arranging a tea trolley, but I assume noticed that I really enjoyed doing it, and that what I was incredibly happy to make sure my classmates and friends got a warm welcome to the “bubble”.

That ease, and lack of too much trying “not to feel how I felt like about the place I was in”, really helped to enjoy my time there more this time. The module was absolutely fantastic, the atmosphere was great, and for some reason I felt so much closer to everyone in the group. This is something I cannot really explain, since I felt like I really bonded with everyone during the storytelling sessions in November. However, this experience really proved that it can get much better.

I was absolutely delighted to see some of the part time students again, and learn with them. I was also impressed by our ability to welcome the new part-timers (that at least I hadn’t met before) so soon, and so well. I felt a very close connexion with them from the very beginning and was absolutely filled to joy to have them around.

One of the things I particularly enjoyed was the opportunity to do exercises where we had to be very flexible and adapt easily. There was a very fine line between remembering negative experiences from our past and having someone say something that made us all laugh, and suddenly we were back on track.

There are so many amazing moments, that I will perhaps detail a bit later, but again I am so grateful to the Craig family (our trainers), who managed our group so well, and helped us learn so much, have a lot of fun, and although we were mediating in groups, the atmosphere made me feel like we were all part of a team, working together to learn more. Dialogue for Peaceful Change was an amazing programme, one of my best academic/practical experiences, where even when you did role play and were in a conflict with someone, you did it as part of an amazing team (you did your best to make the situation very complicated so that the people who were mediating could stop an figure our how to deal with such unforeseen circumstances).

I remember writing a post about Corrymeela, and saying that generally you put so much effort into building good relationships that at the end you cannot help but cry. I used to do this all the time at Corrymeela, until I realised I had to try not to, and take care more about my emotional being. The crying phase probably stopped in May for the groups I worked with, and haven’t experienced it until today. One reason for crying was the outcome of the conflict I mediated (so unprofessional-you learn from your mistakes!), but mostly I cried because I was saying good bye to my group, the group leaders, the volunteers, sharing the space and the learning together. Going back to Belfast has never been harder. I miss the view, the hospitality, the learning, and most of all, the people!

Us versus Them

Lately I have been drawn towards reading more about social identity theory. I long for being in a community again, for having people I have interests in common with around, for a sense of belonging, for people to understand me. In the past 4 years, I have been part of such groups, and now I feel like I am slowly falling outside of the process. Having a certain group identity gives one meaning, security, confidence, and support, so what’s not to like about it?

In my context, where I study about ethnic conflicts, divided societies, it is all about the negative aspect of social identity. This “us versus them” concept drags people into cycles of violence, that they cannot escape from. Today, I was at a conference with the theme “gender” where we touched on both issues of feminism and masculinities. Almost after every talk, the issue of the flags came up. What better example to illustrate that the construction of identity can result into violence? One does not have much choice being born and growing up in a certain environment. Had that 8-year old boy who was throwing petrol bombs at the police a few weeks ago, been born in a middle class family in Cambridge, be doing that now? Certainly not. He is deeply shaped by the Loyalist masculinities around him: he has to go out there and fight for his identity, his community, and make others proud. Other than the concepts of group formation, and the construction of identity, we also have Rene Girard’s mimetic theory which helps us get the grips on why such things happen, at a deeper level.

If we use social identity theory in my context, there is a lot to worry about. This us versus them thinking can lead to prejudices, scape-goating, superiority. As outlined in his theory Henri Tajfel emphasises that through the process of social categorisation we automatically divide the world into this us vs them system, and we are inclined to discriminate against them in order to enhance our self-image.

Going back to my need of belonging to a community, a group, I realise that both myself and the people around me conform to Tajfel’s theory. No matter how much we try to not be judgemental towards others, to be neutral and unbiased in our work, to be fair to everyone, we do categorise, and do all of the above. This “we were different” phrase is a very subtle way of saying “we were better”, just because we are not part of that group, because we feel a bit on the outside, because we are scared to embrace a new group, fearing that we would betray our own, the one that gave us the meaning we have now, and shaped us.

The social identity issue surrounds me so much these days, that I even found it in the novel I’m reading before bed:

“We students in the seminar developed a strong group identity. We were the students of the camps-that’s what the other students called us, and how we soon came to describe ourselves. What we were doing didn’t interest the others; it alienated many of them, literally repelled some. When I think about it now, I think that our eagerness to assimilate the horrors ad our desire to make everyone else aware of them was in fact repulsive. The more horrible the events about which we read and heard, the more certain we became of our responsibility to enlighten and accuse. Even when the facts took our breath away, we held them up triumphantly  Look at this!” The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink