Plenaries

Morning plenaries

The morning plenary sessions featured announcements, world news, and short presentations from participants who came upon their nonviolent activism in difficult and threatening circumstances:

Serdar Tekin from the Izmir War Resisters' Association described how he and war resister Osmat Murat Ülke sat around a table one night in the early '90s working out a strategy for resisting militarism in Turkey. "We thought we were the only ones in the country. We are very isolated because of the very militaristic and authoritarian society."

The group first contacted WRI in 1992, and soon made vital international contacts with other conscientious objection movements, including that in Greece (the Turkish state's traditional enemy). Anti-militarists in Izmir, Istanbul and other cities soon found themselves the subject of official harassment and arrest; when Ossi officially challenged the military service law by publicly burning his call-up papers, a long cycle of trials and releases and re-arrests began. International support was a major factor in keeping up morale, both for Ossi and his supporters: "For all this time we have not been alone. We really felt we were in a network of international solidarity."

Yeni Damayanti described how an opposition culture emerged out of student circles in Indonesia in the late '80s and early '90s. "We were trying to break up the culture of fear and give people more information, so we started to make open demonstrations. Usually we took cases of land disputes, because so many farmers had been kicked off the land for development projects like golf courses and chemical plants."

"We had the demonstrations openly, but we were quite careful in designing them. We had levels of danger for different locations. The one that got me to prison was in December, 1994, when we kind of miscalculated. We were in front of Parliament House, and we demanded that Suharto be taken to court and the military stop using military force dealing with civilians, and we also demanded dissolving the military extrajudicial bodies. Then the military came."

Yeni was imprisoned for a year. "In Indonesia, if you're an activist, you accept the fact that one of your feet is already in jail." She lived in exile for three years after her release, returning home soon after the fall of Suharto.

Xhelal Svecla, a dentistry student at the UPSUP Health Commission in Prishtinë (Kosovo/a), described how he became an activist after "trying to lead an ordinary life ... closing my eyes and thinking that someone else will deal with the situation."

"But the situation reached the stage that you couldn't any more just switch the TV off and stop it. I joined the students' union after I saw that I myself had to do something myself to help my people, to help somehow to resolve the situation that was eating me and eating everyone day by day. Now that the war is going on, I think there is not a lot of space and means with which we can work in our nonviolent struggle. Lots of people ask why the nonviolent struggle didn't work, and I don't know that myself.

"I hope the time will come when everyone in the world won't switch off the TV when Kosovo/a is shown but will raise their voice to stop this bloodshed and to start talking between two nations, between the Serbian regime, which is most to blame, and the relevant Albanian side, and once and for all to stop this genocide in Kosovo/a".

Diane Rizek/Shaloufi was born to a Palestinian family in Nazareth. "In 1948 Israel became a reality. Many Palestinians ran away because of the war in 1948 or they were kicked out. An apartheid policy was introduced. Farmers lost their land. Our history books were written in a way to encourage hatred of my people.

"As a student I started as an activist. Hatred started to increase inside me so I had to do something because I don't like to hate. When I married, we went together to live in Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salaam to rewrite the history of how people live together in this country.

"We have a lot of problems because we are a mixed community. But we try to teach our children -- also children from the surrounding villages -- they should look at the other as equals.

"Now we are recognised as an experiment. Many people come and visit us, take part in our workshops and training courses. We also get teachers to learn about how we do it, also from other countries -- like Greece and Croatia -- to learn how to deal with culture and different languages. How to deal with all these issues. "

from notes by Howard Clark, Ellen Elster, and Judith Pasternak

Choosing Peace Together

Vesna Terselic of ARK welcomed participants to the Triennial and noted the difficulties facing participants from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Montenegro and Serbia, including Vojvodina and Kosovo/a). "The war in Kosovo/a is gathering force and the humanitarian crises have already started, but the Croatian administration have not given visas to the people who work for peace and who could tell us about the 'other side' of the conflicts."

One invited participant, a human rights worker in Kosovo/a, was seriously injured when the van in which she was travelling struck a landmine a few days before the conference, Vesna told the meeting.

African-American peace activist Greg Payton spoke of his journey from conscript to discharged veteran to anti-war organiser. "In the coming days I will talk with people in Croatia and Bosnia who are traumatised by war, as myself. It's my hope that by talking about my own experiences can solve some of the inner tensions of what many people are suffering. Talking about the war is a way out of it.

"Within eight weeks of basic training, I was transformed from a person to a killing machine. It was a process of starting to dehumanise." Later in 1967, he was sent to Vietnam.

"Racism was very visible. The blacks were doing the dirty work, especially drafted blacks. It was supposed to be a rotating system of duties, but it didn't happen. After a while I understood that the way the Vietnamese were treated, was the same way as the blacks were treated. I was disappointed. I raised my voice against the practice in the barracks. Then I was attacked. I was shot at more times by white US soldiers than by the North Vietnamese.

"I started smoking opium in Vietnam. When I was back, I started with heroin. That took me away from reality and to forget what I had experienced. At the same time as using drugs, I tried to live a regular life with a family. It was like having two faces. Eventually I had a crash: I lost everything, my family, work, my dignity. I came to wanting to take my life. On that day I heard a voice in the back in my head.

"I was taken to the veterans' hospital. There I got in touch with Vietnam Veterans Against the War. As I got better, I started to talk with other veterans. We suffered from post-traumatic disorder. We suffered from the same problem. That unified us."

from notes by Ellen Elster

Justice After War

This session was set up as a debate among former-Yugoslav activists with differing views on the balance between justice and reconciliation in postwar societies, who would then face questions from a panel of people from other post-conflict situations (specifically, Chile and South Africa).

The Death of Conflict Resolution

This plenary was somewhat different from the other evening plenaries in that there were no speakers invited to give their considered views on the subject. Rather it was an interactive session which allowed all the Triennial participants to use their own experience to explore the issue of the current state of conflict resolution and the implications for the peace movement.

A series of issues were proposed for participants to consider and there were invited to use a variety of discussion methods to bring out contrasting assumptions and perspectives, and participants actively used the opportunity to disagree and exchange views. Among the issues raised were: the potential of conflict resolution to neutralise power imbalances between parties; the limited capacity of conflict resolution to cope with issues of justice and adequately incorporate a human rights perspective; and the possibility that conflict resolution can deal with the dynamics of inter-personal conflict but is unable to deal with the forces inherent in inter-national conflict. It also looked at ways in which the insights of a conflict resolution approach might still be relevant to peace activists if its current inadequacies are recognised and dealt with.

The session was not intended to produce agreed conclusions but nonetheless some points did emerge:

  • conflict resolution has seldom been implemented fully
  • conflict resolution does tend to encourage parties in conflict to accept the current balance of power
  • the application of conflict resolution approaches to some conflicts may actually do harm in the long term.
  • conflict resolution tends to problematise relationships rather than the problems
  • the term conflict resolution has become so stretched that it has become virtually meaningless.
Report written by Clem McCartney. A longer version is available in the WRI archives.

Civil Action for Peace

The closing plenary included a powerful speech from Koussetogue Koude of Chad. Born during the civil war in Chad, Koude ('I come from a sacrificed generation') works for a youth organisation which resists discrimination and injustice. "When we talk about nonviolence, and say that it is possible to build a world without violence, they say that we are being utopian. How can we envision such a thing, when we live in a world with increasing borders and rising nationalism? But people can refuse to support war and violence...I am utterly convinced that we will prevail. They can call me a utopian, but I am profoundly convinced that it will happen."