Sunday, November 17, 2013

The first step into peace work

          I have now been in Croatia for four weeks! Four weeks of transitioning and learning about myself, a new country, and of course a new language. In the midst of this transition, I have temporarily forgotten one of the main reasons that I have come here. And that is to learn about peace work and the war that occurred here less than twenty years ago. It is strange to think of this place in the midst of war... life seems so normal now. However, as I visited the Osijek Center for Peace, Nonviolence and Human Rights on Thursday, I learned a lot more about the effects of war on the people here and work being done for justice and human rights.
          First, though, I want to mention two instances when I witnessed reconciliation at work. The first happened a couple of weeks ago here at the seminary with a presentation of the Bible, newly translated into the Bosnian language. Most of the presentation was in Croatian, but the last speaker was from the U.K. and thus spoke in English. He has helped translate the Bible into many different languages and helped with this new translation. He explained that the main translators of the Bible were actually Muslims. These Muslims from Bosnia, wanted the Bible translated into Bosnian as a sign of reconciliation towards the Christians in the country. He went to talk about how these Muslims were cousins of Christians and we should not be afraid of the differences between the two religions. Coming from EMU, hearing someone talk on inter-faith dialogue is not a new concept, but it was interesting to hear it in the context of Bosnia, where Christians and Muslims live side by side.
          The second instance of reconciliation was at the youth conference I attended in Zagreb and this weekend at the Pentecostal church I attend. The youth conference brought in participants from not just Croatia, but Slovenia, Bosnia, and Serbia. This did not seem like a big deal to me, but one of my translators pointed out to me how incredible this really is. At one point they had people from the different countries stand up and everyone else cheered loudly. I was told that for Croatians to be cheering loudly for Serbians is really unique and does not happen. And this weekend, a Roma band from Serbia has been here and leading worship in several different services. I have loved to hear this new kind of music (think of a normal praise band, but then add violin, clarinet, and accordion) and enjoyed getting to know more about Serbia and Roma culture. However, I also realize that this is not normal for the country. It really impresses me that the evangelical church here really works to be a church body across nationalistic and political lines. This is reconciliation at work.
          But now, I am hoping to really learn so much more about peacebuilding here in Croatia. My meeting with the staff of the peace center went great and I hope to have coffee with them again this week. They gave me several books and magazines to read about peace work in this region after the war and I have spent part of my weekend being all nerdy, reading up on how groups are monitoring war crime trials and specific peacebuilding practices that occurred after the war. Reading has brought back some of my passion and my excitement to be here in this country, which I had lost as I had been feeling homesick and awkward. It reminded me of what I want to do with my life and the importance of learning Croatian. But it has also challenged me to keep questioning what I am doing.

The following is a list that Goran Božičević has written about why internationals enter the peacebuilding field. It doesn't paint a pretty picture, but I think this list is important for young idealists like myself to think about as we enter into international peacebuilding.

a) Peacebuilding is a new field, not many people are even aware of its existence - so activists can consider themselves as pioneers, even as making history. 
b) Peacebuilders are supposed to bring about change, or at least manage it, which gives a powerful feeling.
c) We can earn quite a good income from working 'in peacebuilding'. Plus, if we count more than money, we earn huge benefits: experience, exposure to different cultures, contacts...
d) Peace work takes place in situations at the edge of danger, which means that it is emotionally demanding (so we have the rewarding feeling that we are doing a hard job).
e) We have the privilege of being part of big, powerful, dominant structures, but we are also distant from them. What I mean is that our passport is -often- protecting us. Established, functioning, efficient health and social care systems are backing us up. If the situation should worsen, evacuation will be organised for us. Our kids have access to all the resources 'those kids in the field' do not have. We are/feel like 'normal' people - but in the 'field' reality, we are not.
f) We consider ourselves as 'good guys', even though we never say so. As we are fixing what 'bad guys' have done, we must be the good ones. This feeling creates individual and collective 'identity'.
g) Wherever you work, whatever conflict you are managing (they are 'all the same' or -well- 'similar') you always find someone you know from some other crisis - an old friend. The more you work and travel, the more people you know. In the end, we are one (relatively small) community.*

*From Collusion and Disobedience: Positive peacebuilding practices in Croatia in 1990s and later. 

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