Merve Mert

The answer we were given when we asked them why they burnt down the houses of their neighbors with whom they had been living together for a very long time was “Yes, we lived together but we never interacted; it was a control from outside,” said Knut Vollebæk in our meeting at the Norwegian Center for Human Rights while sharing his experiences from his time in OSCE, working in peace and reconciliation in the former Yugoslavian countries. Vollebæk’s almost casual tone while sharing this anecdote with us did not prevent the statement from having a startling impact on me. How could it be possible that people could live together for centuries and still be strangers to each other? Could this be explained by the lack of interaction and communication between groups? More importantly, was there any way to prevent conflict or facilitate post-conflict rehabilitation, and if there was, could dialogue be employed as an effective method? While my mind was occupied with all these questions, I remembered the week we (the Peace Scholars) spent in Lillehammer at the Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue. We were there with participants from Ukraine and various countries in the Balkans. I remembered how hesitant we all were to interact with each other at first because we did not know how we would be perceived by the others, and how, by the end of that one week, we had become a big group of friends who were not only interested in listening and talking to each other, but also eager to support anyone in the group should they have a problem. The memories from our week in Lillehammer came as a great reminder, and restored hope in me. Although there is no silver bullet solution, after witnessing the restorative impact of dialogue on people from places that have experienced conflicts, I can say that intentional and meaningful interactions have great potential for establishing peace.

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