My journey to the Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue began a long time ago, in 2004. I was starting a career as an international news editor at a Ukrainian TV station, and updates from all over the world were part of my routine. The news were mostly about wars, terror attacks, pointless political discussions, natural disasters – daily life and daily death, says Olga Ivanova, Ukraine.
One day I received a video report about a small Balkan city called Mostar, where the first ambulance had crossed a bridge connecting the two parts of the city. The report presented this event as an ultimate sensation. I was puzzled. Why is it such big news? Why didn’t they have these ambulances before? It is quite logical to have doctors helping people on both sides of a river. Forgive my ignorance. I was a beginner at news reporting, and although I knew about the Balkan wars, bombings and mass atrocities I didn’t know them in great detail. I started googling Mostar and found out that it was one of the most integrated cities in ex-Yugoslavia, turned by war into a battlefield of severe inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflict. I found out that blood was spilled like a river, flowing under the medieval bridge. The bridge itself was destroyed by the bombs and later reconstructed. I felt tears in my eyes.
But the bridge had now been reopened, the ambulance helping both Croatians and Bosnians was launched, and this created a hope for lasting peace and the overcoming of the divisions caused by the war. I remember clearly that I contemplated the noble and important job of those who bring people together and give them a chance to find understanding and peace, and I wondered what could be done to make such a miracle happen elsewhere. Actually, everywhere, because there are so few conflict-free spots on our planet. At that time I had no idea that 10 years later I would be crying because of destroyed bridges and bloodshed in my own country, and that I would be searching for peaceful solutions to a conflict, this time in Ukraine. I checked who had worked in the Mostar community, and that’s how I found out about the Nansen Dialogue Centers.
5 lessons on dialogue
This June I came to Lillehammer to meet with 40 participants of the Nansen Dialogue Summer School, several dozens of dialogue practitioners and keynote speakers at the Lillehammer Dialogue City, and of course, the founders of the Nansen Dialogue Method, including Steinar Bryn.
This was an immersive and intense dialogue experience, which resulted in a series of unexpected insights, answers and even more questions. I don’t think it is possible to say that it was just a 6-day course, and it is now over. No, something only just started this June week in Norway. All the thoughts and reflections will be brought by the participants to their native countries and communities, and no one knows if there will be an end to the processes we launched in ourselves, nor what they will help us to achieve.
During my week at the Nansen Dialogue Summer School of 2018 I learned 5 lessons about dialogue and would like to share them with you.
1) Dialogue is easy.
There is no more natural thing than to speak to each other. We met, altogether 40 participants from Europe, both Americas, Russia and Africa, from different generations, with different backgrounds. Some of our countries of origin were in conflict, but we kept talking. Family stories, misunderstandings with parents, love, friendship – these are the endless topics of discussions in all possible languages.
“I never thought we have so much in common”–that was the quote from one of the American participants.
2) Dialogue is extremely complicated.
What is it like – to talk to the person who voted for policies endangering you or your parents, brother, sister, children? What is it like to be held responsible for the crimes your country committed? How do we find the right words, not to hurt and humiliate, but to be understood by the other person? “How should you talk to the occupant, the violator?” –this was a popular question these days among the Summer School participants. And there were people there who devoted their lives to answering these questions, and they found the answers. Every time – new ones, no set rules. Dialogues are possible for Arab and Israeli people, former enemies from Balkan countries, rebels and victims of attacks in Colombia.
3) The questions are essential.
“What event or person shaped you?” That was an opening round of questions which allowed us, the participants, to feel proximity and trust as though we had known each other for many years. There is nothing supernatural about dialogue, but there is a true miracle in the right questions which may unveil so much in both the person answering and the person asking. The more you study other people, the more you discover inside yourself.
4) The dialogue may be short, but understanding takes time.
Don’t expect immediate miraculous results. Propaganda, lies and hatred takes time to wear off. It is no wonder that understanding others is also a time-consuming process. The deeper the conflict between you and your counterpart, the more time you both need. Dialogue is not a way to force someone to forgive and forget. Listening is not the same as agreeing. If that is what is expected from you, then that means the dialogue has gone wrong. Even considering the possibility of dialogue may be a miracle and a step forward.
5) Look at the needs
Our amazing colleague Anuenue from Hawaii, mother of 20 children, broke into tears during the discussion about projects for youth: “Children need love!” And that’s so true, and essential to understand the needs of people around us. The real needs, not the needs constructed by political and social identities. We all need love, respect, safety and freedom. We all care for our families.
What do I take along with me on the long journey of understanding others? The feeling of the world becoming smaller. Fewer countries are now “far away”, fewer are now “not my business”. I will now see more and more places in the world as a home for my new friends and colleagues, and my home in Kyiv will also be open for them and for more dialogues, hopefully about common joys and hopes, not about war.
The Nansen Dialogue Summer School is a collaboration between the University of Oslo Summer School and the Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue. The seminar offered insights into of how dialogue can be used in everyday life and in conflict situations. The 40 participants of 2018 came from Russia, Ukraine, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia, Colombia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Albania, Montenegro, USA and Norway.
Olga Ivanova, Kyiv, Ukraine, is the Ukraine Operations Director for Stabilization Support Services. She achieved her Master’s degree in Management of Organizations at the Law and Management Institute, Kyiv National Linguistic University in 2006. Among the projects implemented by Ms. Ivanova’s organization are those related to dialogue initiatives, prevention of the sexual violence in conflict, overcoming of the psycho-social consequences of the conflict, documenting of the human rights violations at Donbas.
For more information about next year´s Nansen Dialogue Summer School, write to firstname.lastname@example.org