Shared Society

Developing the Next-Generation of Shared Society Theory and Practices

In order to overcome identity-based divisions and inter-group conflicts, the five year program brings together leading professional organizations and academic institutions from five countries that face challenges in establishing a Shared Society among different groups, with the goal to share knowledge and conduct innovative research.

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23 YEARS ON: Current challenges to the Northern Ireland Peace Process

by Clem McCartney

The current tensions and violence in Northern Ireland, as always in these situations, involves a number of dimensions interacting with each other.  Most immediately there are the rioters, young people looking for a bit of excitement and reliving the memories of the troubles of 30 years ago, in which they were too young to take part.  In some ways they could be the disaffected and bored young people in any society, with few outlets and opportunities.  They are probably not much motivated by strategic or political thinking.  Most of those involved are loyalist youth but there have been some confrontations with republican youth.  I live in an area where loyalist youth are not likely to feel comfortable and know their way around, but on Monday evening someone set a car alight on the railway near us.  I would say it is more likely to be a copycat action by local youth.

Then we have the “hard men”, often with paramilitary backgrounds but now involved in the kind of crime that occurs everywhere – drug dealing, extortion etc.  They continually use any opportunity to assert their importance and relevance in the community and at the same time play out their rivalries with other gangs.  They may be encouraging the young people, explicitly or implicitly, but in fact I think they have limited control over them.

Then there is the wider population who have an uneasy feeling about the peace settlement. Most people are not directly affected though the underlying currents do affect everyone.  Northern Ireland is still a deeply divided society, not only in terms of aspirations, but possibly more importantly, in terms of past grievances.   Each side is wondering who won the war and if their side is losing the peace.  Unionists in particular are uneasy that republicans look comfortable, articulate and confident and fear that they are losing ground.  Unionists are also resentful that members of republican paramilitary groups now behave like respectable members of society and their actions during the “Troubles” are ignored.  Republicans have their own concerns, particularly on the lookout for any back-sliding on the Good Friday Agreement, and subsequent agreements, which might impede progress towards a United Ireland.   This all needs to be put in the context that many communities seem to have seen no benefit from the Good Friday Agreement and remain disadvantaged.

Both sides need the consent of the other if, in the case of the Unionists, they are to persuade the nationalists to accept being part of the United Kingdom or, in the case of the nationalists, they are to persuade the unionists to consider being part of a United Ireland.    But the politicians still find it easier to reinforce the uncertainties and accentuate them, rather than encourage serious discussion about a common vision for the future, though Nationalists and Republicans are more likely to try to understand the concerns of the unionist community, and reach out to them.

These dynamics have been pretty persistent since the Good Friday Agreement (23 years ago on Saturday, 10th April) and indeed before.  We have made only limited attempts to change the dynamic and be more sensitive and understanding of the interests of each other, as we managed to do in the lead up to the Agreement.

The other relevant factor, which has been shifting, is the developments in England, particularly around the Brexit referendum and the subsequent process of leaving the EU    Brexit was partly caused by, and in turn amplified, a marked strain of an insular and narrowly nationalist culture in England, both within the community and within the political leadership.  It is found across all sections of society as can be seen in last year’s election with the shift of constituencies that were solidly Labour in the past to support the Brexit-supporting Conservative Party.  It is probably a product of empire.  This is not to say that Northern Ireland is not insular and narrowly nationalistic and what is happening just now confirms that.  But it is compounded by the typical centre/periphery, superiority/inferiority dynamic that recurs in many parts of the world. This has a bearing not only to the Northern Ireland situation but to the whole future of the United Kingdom.  On 18th March a Government Minister provoked ire when he implied that Welsh, Scots and Irish are foreign languages.  We are very sensitive and aware of when we are treated in a condescending and dismissive way.  It leaves us very uncertain and insecure.    In sum, the Northern Irish, the Scots and the Welsh see the English as uninterested and uncaring about the other nations in the United Kingdom, which is increasing tension within Northern Ireland and Scotland, if not Wales.

It is particularly challenging for the unionist community, who have looked to England to protect their interest while at the same time being very uncertainty about whether they could rely on it.  For a time, the Democratic Unionist Party held the balance of power in the UK parliament and so could not be ignored, but when the Conservative Party won a big majority in 2020, then they were expendable.  It did not help that the UK Government did not handle the negotiations for withdrawing from the EU very well, having an incoherent negotiating strategy, not being well briefed on many of the issues and looking like an unreliable and untrustworthy negotiating partner, ready to ignore prior commitments.  For its part, the Democratic Unionist Party did not manage its interests very well.  While a small majority in Northern Ireland had voted for staying in the EU, including many unionist business people, the DUP wanted a clean break with the EU, one reason being that it would weaken growing links with the rest of Ireland.  But that stance led to problems.

There have been references recently to the Northern Ireland Protocol but it may not be clear why it has gained such notoriety in recent weeks.  The Good Friday Agreement had left Northern Ireland open to both the rest of Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom so each community could express its identity in either direction and could seek to strengthen those links.  That worked while both UK and Ireland were members of the EU, and the EU and Ireland made it a condition of any agreement after UK left the EU that this flexibility would be retained.  For a time, it looked like it might destroy the chance of any agreement, but in the end the Northern Ireland Protocol was adopted, against the opposition of the Democratic Unionist Party.  Under the Protocol, Northern Ireland would remain part of the EU customs union so that goods could pass freely between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland, but that meant that the UK had to agree that goods coming into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK would be checked to ensure that they were not destined for Ireland, bypassing customs.  That meant there is now infrastructure being created at Northern Ireland ports to check shipments, a visible sign that Northern Ireland is different from the rest of the UK.  It has caused delays and some companies are not shipping to Northern Ireland, so there are more goods from Ireland in the shop to avoid checks and delays under the Protocol.   To me, that is a good example of buying local, but could also be seen as creeping unification of Ireland.

But it would be wrong to see the current situation as solely a consequence of the handling of Brexit and English attitudes.  The UK government has belatedly moved and tried to impose its will in relation to a number of issues where the Democratic Unionist Party has tried to resist change: same sex marriage and abortion and also on the payment of pensions to victims.  But this has further offended the Democratic Unionist Party, whose complaining deepens the unease of many unionists.   Recently the Director of Public Prosecutions decided that no member of Sinn Fein would be prosecuted for breaching Covid restrictions to attend the funeral of a leading republican, Bobby Story, in July 2020, giving the reason that the restrictions were not sufficiently clear and that the Police Service had discussions with the organisers before the funeral and that might prejudice a trial.  While there were criticisms of the funeral last year, in the current febrile atmosphere, many unionist politicians called for the resignation of the Chief Constable on the basis of the Director of Public Prosecutions decision and claiming that he is not impartial.  The rioting is in part being explained as a reaction to that.

The shared sense of frustration and powerlessness within the whole unionist community provides a kind of licence for the young people to riot and the hard men to assert their importance as the protectors of the unionist community.  The unionist politicians have made themselves impotent because they share the frustration and at the same time do not want the violence to get out of hand. At the moment the violence seems to have eased off a bit, but there is talk of it re-emerging in a different form.  It could get out of hand, because it is very dangerous to stir up the underlying tensions and passions.  One worry is that the rioting will provoke a backlash within the nationalist community but so far that has been contained.

Much more serious than the rioting is the deep unease about the Northern Ireland Protocol, and the possibility that the Northern Ireland administration might not implement it.  Local councils are responsible for doing this but have threatened to stop because their employees might be intimidated.  They are majority unionist and have no real interest in doing it anyway, and the DUP in the Northern Ireland Executive would not be interested in ordering them to do it when they do not like it themselves.  And the UK Government would find it harder to challenge the Unionist politicians than face the complaints from Brussels, so it would probably do nothing.  The EU in turn has threatened to bring a case at the European Court of Justice, but otherwise has no meaningful leverage to force the UK to comply with the Protocol, now that the Brexit Agreement is settled.  They could turn a blind eye but that would give encouragement to further unilateral actions by the UK and by the unionists.  On the other hand, Ireland might have to impose checks on the Border which would destabilise nationalists in Northern Ireland and the whole settlement could begin to unravel.  The checks should have been carried out in Great Britain before the goods left for Northern Ireland where they would be less visible, and it is not too late to do that.  The UK Government (and the EU) apparently did not think about consequences if the unionists did not implement the checks that are required.  One government Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive ordered a pause in construction of the buildings where the checks are to be carried out, and the UK Minister has just ordered the Executive to continue construction.

There have been a number of critical moments in the last 23 years and each time, after some delay, the political parties have done just enough to resolve the immediate crisis, but have not really attempted to change the underlying dynamics and mindsets.  This time may be no different, but there is always the possibility that things may spiral out of control or, on the other hand, that there is a fundamental reorientation and reset to a new shared future.

Given the number of interests involved, responses to the current rioting and tension have to be at each level. The UK Government has to recognise and address the contribution it has made to the sense of insecurity and the loss of trust in it. There have been calls for a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference “to address the deep rooted issues that have been given expression through street violence,” which makes sense, but the Government has said it “would be held at an ‘appropriate time’.” This seems to confirm that it is not really interested.  The Minister for Northern Ireland has said that “The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and Policing Board need to reconnect with communities and build and restore trust”.  While this is required, it does not take into account the Government’s role in the underlying unease and loss of trust.  It also does not recognise the delicacy of policing and there needs to be an open discussion of the limitations on the Police.  Sometimes restraint is required in order to avoid greater unrest and this does not mean that it is partial and favours one community and is harder on another.   Politicians need to rethink their approach so that the whole community can work together for everyone’s benefit while each community retains its own aspirations.  This is unlikely to happen while there is suspicion and fear of their opponents, but it might be possible to organise some dialogue sessions within and across political divides, as has happened in the past.  They could possibly include some exercises in strategic foresight to consider if the current approaches are going to be feasible in the light of future trends, and build confidence that they could respond positively to any eventuality.  There also needs to be wider discussion within the whole community on these issues.  Some groups are doing this on a small scale, but many are not engaged and more positive support from public bodies is needed.  Greater energy needs to be put into addressing the causes of disadvantage and inequality.  And of course, young people need to have greater opportunities and the means to take advantage of them.  A pretty full agenda and we need a measure of humility and remember that even with the best of intentions we are all to some degree creatures of our environment with unrecognised prejudices which are only too apparent to others, or as Arthur Koestler said our “own instruments are polluted.”

This is one insight into what is happening and why.  Of course, others might see it differently.  In any case, there may be parallels with other situations around the world.

Clem McCartney is an independent consultant and policy analyst from Northern Ireland. From the mid 1980s his main interest has been in conflict resolution, mediation and peace building.  From 2007 until 2019 he was Policy and Content Coordinator for the Shared Societies Project of the Club de Madrid.

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LECTURE by Steinar Byrn: Teachers working for a common future together

One society for all…that what we are working for.

Steinar Byrn a Team Member gave two lecutes on the 14th and 16th of September to groups of 75 teachers each – they had finished the training at the Nansen  Training Center for teachers. He held  similar lecture in conference halls, it was almost as if the teachers felt safer this time sitting in their own homes, speaking from their own desks.  His speech is intended as a motivational speech making them proud of being part of a program on the cutting edge of breaking away from ethno politics.

Click here to see the video Teachers working on inter-cultural education on youtube

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Making new connections instead of new borders

By Steinar Bryn

After the breakup of Yugoslavia the International Community was optimistic in terms of a possible „europeanization“ of the Western Balkans. It was launched as the best strategy to integrate the new Republics in Europe and thereby securing stability and peace to start the process of building functional states. The EU, OSCE, UN all shared this strategy, and an enormous amount of human resources and finances were invested particularly in Kosovo and Bosnia Herzegovina.

In a recent book called „The Balkanization of Europe“ Sylo Taraku argues that while this process is very slow in the new Republics, there are signs of Balkanization in the rest of Europe. Stronger ethno politics, fake news, polarization, and the new waves of immigration revitalize the old concept of „brain drain“. Norway have benefited from medical personnel, engineers, construction workers being educated in the Western Balkans, and applying their skills elsewhere.

The Balkan countries and territories are becoming more mono-ethnic. Kosovo more Albanian, Serbia more Serbian, Croatia more Croatian. Currently there is an ongoing political discussion of landswapping. North Kosovo, the most Serbian part of Kosovo, is planned to eventually be exchanged with the most Albanian part of Serbia to create two new more mono-ethnic states.

It is worth asking how it was possible to invest so much energy in building functional democratic states without much result. Could it be something wrong with the peacebuilding strategy?

In Kosovo there has been huge investments in infrastructure, building up the police, public administration, legal elections, one of the best constitutions in Europe, law and order – still people are leaving in a high number to Western Europe and the United States.

What was neglected from the very beginning was dialogue and reconciliation. The enemy images are not produced by politicians or in the media, they are formed much earlier; in the homes and in the schools. One can invest millions in a new school building, but if the old curriculum is being taught, enemy images are kept alive and transferred to the next generation. The mantra has been to build a strong state, focus on the strong institutions, get the economy going and the rest will follow. But the rest did not follow.

After World War II Tito made a huge mistake in his attempt to build up a new Yugoslavia, he neglected the necessary reconciliation after the war. Torvald Stoltenberg claimed that Tito had told him „give people refrigerators and televisions, then they will not care about the rest“.

We have learned one thing from history and that is that we don’t learn from history. New borders don´t heal infected relationships. Dialogue and Reconciliation do and a revised curriculum in school which tells both stories can help.

The strongest argument for land swapping has been that to make Serbia and Kosovo more mono-ethnic will make both Kosovo and Serbia into more functional states and ease the way into the European Union.

The rest of the countries in the European Union are, on the other hand, becoming more multi cultural states. Climate changes, wars, economic collapse and human misery and human dreams will continue to send millions of refugees across borders in the years to come. We have not seen the real big waves yet.

I have often heard, Serbs and Albanians simply will not deal with each other. They don’t want to communicate or to cooperate. Still I have spent most of my adult life listening to them talk with each other. Around 500 people from Kosovo, mixed groups of Serbs and Albanians, have visited Lillehammer in Norway. Several thousands have participated in dialogue seminars in Ohrid, Herceg Novi, Brezovica, Borovets. Similar meetings have been organized for hundreds of people from the Presevo valley.

The main problem is that dialogue has not been recognized for the substantial contribution it gave to reconciliation. Myths like, only people who agree dialogue or dialogue is only cozy talk and trips to the ocean. Some have argued dialogue doesn´t threaten any power structures or everybody will dialogue as long as Norway pays the coffee.

My experience is the complete opposite. I have learned tremendously from listening to Serbs and Albanians telling their stories. The first 7-8 years we had three month long seminars in Lillehammer, including people from Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Croatia and Montenegro. That gave space for long conversations, and possibilities of learning to know each-other not only as a representative from an ethnic community, but as lawyers, teachers, music lovers, basketball players and dancers.

After the war in 1999 we had multiple seminars with people from Mitrovica. The most used way of communication was sharing how the conflict had affected our lives and question and answers. Each group got hours to formulate the most important questions they wanted answers to, and then they exchanged questions and got hours to reflect on how they would answer. Individually or as a group.

I don’t think anyone changed their political views, but they changed their perception of the enemy. And participants built networks across ethnic division. Several Nansen Dialog Centers were built, and most of them focused on breaking down segregated education. In Macedonia the Nansen Center has analyzed the existing textbooks in Albanian, Macedonian and Turkish. They all cherish their own culture, at the expense of the others.

If we want to build a functional society in Kosovo, it must be a society that prepares the youth for a multicultural future. Mono-ethnic states are slowly disappearing, in spite of great resistance, particularly in the old Eastern European countries.

How to improve our understanding of each other is the key question for the future? It will affect how we teach literature, history and every subject in the school. Students must meet each other, interact across ethnic division.

How did Germany and France manage such a successful reconciliation?

Partly by an extreme high number of student exchanges and by the year 2000 almost 70 percent of cities had some friendship alliance with another city across the border.

Serbian and Kosovo authorities must realize that the infected relationship between Serbs and Albanians will not be healed with border changes, that will just increase the distance between them. One heals infected relationships by facilitating meetings (in education, art, sports, festivals, music), by thorough analysis of what happened and why, by educational reforms increasing the focus on understanding each other.

This article was first published on the Kosovo Sever portal.
We are glad to have the permission to repost it here.
Link: https://kossev.info/making-a-new-connections-instead-new-border-lines/

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Interview with Dr. Ran Kuttner

Ran Kuttner is an Associate Professor of Dispute Resolution (expert track) at the University of Haifa, where he teaches in the International Graduate Program in Peace and Conflict Management Studies. He also serves as an academic advisor to Givat Haviva, an organization that aims at building a shared society and dialogue among Jews and Arabs in Israel. Prior to his return to Israel, he was an Associate Professor of Negotiation and Dispute Resolution at the Werner Institute, Creighton University (USA) and preceding his arrival at Creighton, he was a Visiting Scholar at the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School for three years. He is a certified mediator and mediation teacher in Israel and consults to organizations and community mediation centers that work towards a more dialogic Israeli society in implementing collaborative conflict engagement approaches.  He teaches courses on dialogue, group facilitation, leadership and conflict resolution, negotiation, mediation and peace building strategies.

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