We are the Peacemakers! International Youth Exchange Report

Although we are living in the time of the longest peace in Europe, the conflicts keep appearing, sometimes in the places no one expects them to. Moreover, the “new wars” that are hedged are no longer involving the conventional weapons, but rather are held over the minds of people, mostly affecting young generation.

As the youth is becoming more and more vulnerable to the negative impact of the latent violence, the risk to use violence as a way of solving their own conflicts (as the outcome of the lack of skills and understanding) is growing dramatically too.

We believe that in order to create peace — not only in the sense of absence of war or social unrest — to live in harmony with others and with ourselves, our young people need to develop certain attitudes such as tolerance, respect for each other, compassion, forgiveness and ability to reconcile.

The project “We are the Peacemakers!” was specifically developed in response to the current events in Europe and is designed to encourage a dialogue between German, Ukrainian and Russian activists and create a platform for sharing thoughts, new ideas and concepts for a better shared future. As the Noble Peace Prize Laureate Jody Williams said in her TED talk back in 2010: “It is time for us to re-claim what peace really means”.

On November 12th, 2018 three groups of young community leaders came together in a historical town of Erfurt in the middle of Germany to discuss capacities for peace and their role in fostering it. A lively, yet cozy in its own way, working space called “KreativTankstelle” opened its doors for our public and welcomed us in its comfort.

It was a unique moment for young Germans, Ukrainians and Russians to talk why they are here and what they expect to change after they come back home, what bothers them, what are they afraid of and what, on contrast, inspires them and restores their faith in the good of humanity. 

Prof. Dr. Heike Grimm, Vice-president of the University of Erfurt and Director of the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy, greeted everyone on the Official Opening of the “We are the Peacemakers!” project and encouraged the participants to strive for the peaceful society in Europe. 

With the help of Amit Tyagi, a political and social activist from Peace Foundation, the participants of the youth exchanged explored the notion of inner peace, looked inside themselves in the search of harmony. During the “Power of Compassion” exercise they got struct into the walls of individualism and had to overcome personal desire for more for the benefit of the group. The tensions was released and reflected on later in the meditation, which Amit conducted himself. With this, the inner exploration for the capacity of peace was finished.

In the following days our peacemakers explored the realities outside: they had the Session on Positive and Negative Peace by Berenice Muñoz, then an interactive input on Understanding Conflicts by Christopher Ehling, and Introduction to Conflict Triangles with Johana Botia Diaz and Urquia Martinez, all Master student of the Conflict Studies and Management specialisation in the Master of Public Policy program. 

After learning from and with each other, we hold the Panel Discussion “Women’s Role in Peace Processes”, inviting Esmeralda Altmeyer to share her experience from the study visit to Kyiv in October this year on women’s engagement for sustainable peace in the region at local, regional and national levels. She talked about the UN resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, but also mentioned lack of its implementation, especially on local levels all across the world. The discussion turned to be very heated and regarded as one of the most interesting parts of the program, according to the participants’ written evaluation.

Another memorable experience for the participants was the visit to the Memorial and Education Centre Andreasstraße. There young people learned that even in what seemed peaceful German Democratic Republic, horrific measured were taken by the state security service (commonly known as Stasi) to keep the order of things. The concept of negative peace was instantly shown in application thorough various detainees’ statements from the archive and mostly the guided tour thorough the prisoners’ cells.

In the later part of the week we have worked on the topic of non-violence. Natalia Skorik, Russian group leader and project manager of “Academy of Innovation”, led a Workshop on Non-violent Communication. In her modification of the Abigail story, Natalia has challenged the participants to debate in a productive way, without descending to violence. She also introduced the “The 4-Part Nonviolent Communication Process”, developed by prominent American phycologist Marshall Rosenberg, which helped the participants to acquire needed skills for observation and compassion.

In the afternoon of the same day, Zafar Saydaliev, CGE’s manager, conducted the Session on Mediation followed by the Simulation Game on Charlie Hebdo trial. During the simulation the participants were divided in teams, representing French government, Charlie Hebdo editorial staff and the group of mediators. Each team had to make statements and work toward a common peaceful resolution, which turned to be a challenge.

On the last program day, the participants met again with Amit to have a Session on Non-violent Engagement in Local Community. He presented many examples of distinguished activists running such campaigns, starting with Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent civil disobedience and Martin Luther King’s power of words and acts of non-violent resistance. Amit also told his story and the results of “Vidarbha Peace Project” which aimed to stop farmer’s suicide in central India.

Inspired by the success stories, young leaders were invited to brainstorm on their own concepts for local actions. Each national team prepared a poster with detailed description of the plans to engage with the local audience and spread the knowledge of the “We are the Peacemakers!” project.

And so the week was gone. Young leaders went home to comply with their compromises to put in action the ideas of the brainstorm round. Our CGE team stayed put in Erfurt, but continued spending the wonderful achievements and hard-work results of the first encounter. Thanks to the dissemination activities, even German National Agency for Erasmus+ “JUGEND für Europa” acknowledged the contribution to peacemaking that we’ve accomplished during that week. That gives us hope, that more people will find out about the success cooperation of German, Ukrainian and Russian youngsters and decided to join our campaigns.

We would like to thank our partners “Enlightening Initiative” (Ukraine) & “Academy of Innovation” (Russia) for being full-heartedly engage in the project. CGE Erfurt e.V. is also grateful to University of Erfurt, Willy Brand School of Public Policy and Studentenwerk Thüringen for their support.

The “We are the Peacemakers!” project is supported by the Erasmus+ program of the European Commission (through the JUGEND für Europa) and Thüringer Ministerium für Bildung, Jugend und Sport.

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