This is the Soul of Europe’s vision on how the EU on the ways in which public funding could be more effectively spent in the area of peace building. I use this word in a generic sense covering the whole range of mediation, community relations and reconciliation.
I am using images rather than business-speak and jargon because I hope images allow the reader to roam around in them. I hope you don’t find them irritating.
I am writing this for people and organizations who might consider being part of a coalition of NGO’s who would together with the Soul of Europe on our current and future projects.
There is an enormous gap between practice – the work of peace building, and the values which inform the work, and those who make funds available, and the values which inform their decisions.
On the ground there is the circle where the work takes place. The circle is open. When peace building is taken seriously there will be circles at every level: grass routes, neighbourhood, region, nationally, internationally. Each circle from different levels contributes different experiences and skills.
So we are not just referring to the local circle.
In many areas of the world where peace building is taking place, people are traumatized by the experience of war. Certainly the peace building process will need to involve in one or more circles the dispossessed. They wait for justice.
From the circle(s) there is a ladder. Towards the top of the ladder is where the decisions about funding are made. The higher you go up the ladder the more rarified is the air. The higher he (and it is usually a he) is, the further away he is from the circle. He sits in comfortable security. On the wall there are photographs of when he was long ago part of a circle, and perhaps some photographs. The more recent ones show him coming down from the ladder to visit some circles which he was funding.
In Brussels the funders are on the 18th floor of the European Commission building.
Those on the ladder sometimes start as part of the circle. They will refer to that experience when challenged about this or that : ‘You know I have worked in the field’’ (another image of a sort of circle). The trouble is circles change.
Ladders are uncomfortable. To get up another rung invariably means treading on the toes of someone just beneath you. The world of ladders is competitive and hierarchical.
One of the most important issues to be addressed is DISTANCE – the distance between people doing the work and those who fund it.
To be fair some EU officials recognize problems around ‘distance’. Applications for funding have been streamlined and more autonomy given to regional EU offices, but the fundamental value systems remain intact.
Process is about the way people in the circle(s) relate to each other to ensure the task is completed. Crucial to the success of the work of the circle(s) is the establishing and reestablishing of TRUST. When Trust begins to grow so does RESPECT. On the way, of course, there will be DISAGREEMENT; sometimes very disruptive. This slows everything down. And of course , there will be many MISTAKES. Mistakes cannot be allowed because there has to be a guarantee of success. But as any scientist will say mistakes are an essential part of their method because that is how they learn. (That is why the Log Frame in any application is regarded as vital; it brings together everything and rules out any chance of mistakes. It is airtight.)
To get the job done WORKING RELATIONSHIPS have to grow. When this happens SOLIDARITY and LOYALTY develop. This is what John Paul Lederach means when he writes about creating webs of social relationships which include the other. ((John Paul Lederach is Professor of International Peacebuilding at the Joan B Kroc Institute of International Peace Studies at Notre Dame University, I am referring particularly to The Moral Imagination, Oxford University Press 2005.)
Process requires occasions for CONVIVIALITY, when there can be celebration for what is being achieved on the way. Those at the top of the ladder have expense accounts for entertaining but what expense accounts fund those significant moments when survivors of concentration camps sit down with their perpetrators?
Since I am writing about ‘peace building’ it is essential to remind myself that to begin the process of creating circles is time-consuming, and not always successful. Circle making in a post conflict and post communist society is difficult . Most of us are aware of the passivity of people, who prefer to ‘wait and see’ and who are suspicious of parachuted interventions and preconceived recipes.
Sometimes those on the ladder – particularly at the top – are unsympathetic about the ‘process’. It is too ‘touchy feely’ with uncertain outcomes. They say: ‘Why don’t they just get on with it’ – the implication being that this is just what they did, and look where they have arrived!
The process honours SERENDIPITY: what is not anticipated, what is discovered by accident and what happens by lucky chance.
This means that peace builders have an eye for developing peripheral vision – watchful. They may proceed like crabs. Tunnel vision, which is the way projects are often seen, might be the best way of seeing; but sometimes the undergrowth is destroyed on the way.
And of course RISK is built into the activities of peace building.
Those on the top of ladders underestimate the time it takes to get things moving. They expect too much and too quickly from those in the circle(s).
The fact that I have to make these obvious observations is distressing.
Working relations have also to be established with those ‘from outside’ who initiate the project. Everything above about trust, etc, applies to them as well as to those who make up the circle(s). This raises a whole cluster of questions about INTERVENTION. Beyond aid and emergency relief, people begin to ask: ‘What are you doing here?’ They don’t put it like that, but suspicions about motives are never far from the surface. In Bosnia for example we have been asked: ‘Will your work here look good on your CV? Are you spies – working for the CIA? Are you here to support your government’s interests? Are you making money out of your activities? Why don’t you go home and sort out your problems there?’ People who ask these questions have had considerable experience of European intervention.
Of course intervention is not just about working in post conflict situtations, but also for ways in which projects are started anywhere. I shudder at some of the mistakes I made as a young vicar on a large housing estate in South London.
Those on the Ladder require instant solutions and a ‘quick fix’. This means that projects have to be seen to have CONCRETE outcomes, and successful ones too. Concrete is a favourite noun among my Bosnian friends who have worked for international NGO’s and learnt it from them.
The Soul of Europe established the Banja Luka Civic Forum. The FCO required the forum to come up with a program of activities – to be prepared and delivered in 4 weeks. It was too much for the group. They had not worked together before. They came from different ethnic groups. The group imploded. Nothing could be done. Six months more and there would have been a functioning civic forum and many other programs. But as we were told by the FCO: ‘You have to deliver, because of the politicians back home.’
The FCO only funds projects for twelve months at a time; the Cards program from the EU up to twenty four months. If a project is starting from nothing it can take up to three months before local staff are in place – even longer if you take seriously the procedures laid down by the EU (gender balance, etc). Then it is often difficult to sustain the interest of local staff for the last four months or so of their contract because they begin job hunting (and who can blame them in a country like Bosnia with up to 40% unemployment). Those on the ladder don’t acknowledge this problem.
Accountability and Transparity
The Soul of Europe has tried to be accountable to our funders. The way this happens is through the preparation and writing of reports. Whether anyone reads the reports is another matter. No one has commented on them. Face to face meetings are not encouraged and the procedures in the EU do not allow for these because of the fear of accusations of bribery. Given the way the people on the ladder think, such meetings are not deemed necessary – everything can be evaluated on a technological grid.
Spare a thought for…
1. The people who make up the circles on whose shoulders rest the requirements of peace making.
2. Those who initiate peace building. They have to learn to ‘do the splits’ – one leg firmly in the circle, the other up the ladder. He or she inhabits two different worlds
3. The subversives in place. There are plenty of these on the ladder. They just need a bit of encouragement to hold tight and speak out. They needn’t fall or be pushed off.
There is little air at the top of the ladder. What there is is stale. Everything needs to be airtight. There is no way in which windows can be opened. Nothing it seems can change.
Politicians blame the bureaucrats who in turn blame the politicians in charge. Officials and politicians claim it has always been like that. This is not true. We created this way of doing things in the 1980’s. What we created we can dismantle. We do not feel we have to live in a world in which to quote the philosopher TE Hulme: ‘assumptions are felt as facts’. Begin to dismantle and create new opportunities and alternatives will bring much needed fresh air.
These are some reflections about circles and ladders. What are at stake here are different world views and philosophical approaches. I outline them in my lecture The Moral Imagination. (This lecture was given at Lambeth Palace in May 2006 as a reflection on the Omarska project, incorporating the insights of John Paul Lederach.) Is peace building to be fuelled by the values of materialistic determinism, enshrined in the language and practice of business or is there another way, more human and more humane, through the imagination?
At the centre of what I have written is a concern to create not just proposals for closing the gap between circles and ladders (though a well thought out research project will certainly deal with this), but to create a critical theory about peace building which will help to ensure that what happens is possible and lasting (as much as anything can be lasting in a world of considerable uncertainty).
Western society is bedeviled by uncertainty. It is because we have not yet found a way to deal with the anger of small groups of people. We are fearful because we do not know who the agents of violence are, their numbers, where they are hidden, and what they want.
Inevitably this means that the very existence of these groups will be perceived as a danger to our own survival. Inevitably propaganda, migratory turbulence and fear of economic insecurity will make us defensive for our own survival, thus making walls between communities inevitable. It is precisely this refusal to acknowledge our interdependence on this small planet which demands all the wisdom of peace builders to show another way. Never have the best insights of those who have devoted their lives to reconciliation more needed to be heard and realized.