Peacebuilding in Croatia Through AVP by Mary Arnett
Steve Angell and Marilyn Williams traveled to the Balkans as emissaries of Friends Peace Committee of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting to provide Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) training in eastern Croatia. Steve, a member of New York Yearly Meeting now resident in Philadelphia, is a cofounder of AVP, a program offering experiential workshops in nonviolent conflict resolution. Marilyn is a leading facilitator with AVP-New Jersey and a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Nicholas Street, a British Friend who is director of the Baranja International Meeting House in Beli Manastir near the Hungarian border (see Quakers in Eastern Slavonia Peace Team News, Fall 1997, Vol. 2, No. 3), enthusiastically participated in the program. The team was aided by three accredited AVP trainers from Hungary.
The workshops were held in Vukovar and in Osijek. In Vukovar the majority of participants were young Austrians who were doing their alternative service in the zone along the Yugoslav border which was under the supervision of the United Nations Temporary Administration for Eastern Slavonia (UNTAES). The participants in Osijek were staff from the residential school for children, Centar za Od Jog (COJ), which takes in children aged 11 to 18, placed there either by the courts because of a criminal offense or for reasons of neglect and abuse; a staff member of the Evangelical Theological Seminary; and active members of the Osijek Peace Center.
Three sessions of Children's Creative Response to Conflict (CCRC), the children's version of AVP, were also held in Osijek. Although lack of time curtailed sufficient follow-up to these sessions, the fact that their participants were exclusively local people gave them great strength.
Five three-day workshops in two and a half weeks! A draining schedule for the facilitators, but one they found very stimulating and worthwhile. Participants also had difficulty with the schedule and although evening workshops were offered, some participants could not complete them. The fairly high drop-out rate meant that, although the Basic Workshops started with seventeen or eighteen people, they ended with twelve or fourteen, limiting the pool of people eligible to take the Advanced and the Training for Facilitators workshops.
Of the eight participants in Training for Facilitators, only three were local people: a young woman from the Danube Peace Center Youth Group, a Serbian Croat and a Croatian Croat married to a Serbian Croat. Two of these three, however, were community leaders and peace activists, one being Dusenka Ilic, well-known for her work with "The Bench We Share", a program of the Osijek Peace Center. The other participants were Austrian and other "internationals" who are working in reconciliation and community building in the area.
Language had the potential to be a problem. No member of the AVP training team, including the three associate trainers from Hungary, could speak Croatian. When few people in the group spoke English, the facilitators had to rely on translators. The language problem was greatly relieved by the fact that Steve and Marilyn had with them a Serbo-Croatian translation of the AVP manual made by a Bosnian student studying in Philadelphia. Having this translation added great authenticity to the program, especially during the recruiting process. Dusenka Ilic is now in the process of editing the translation to bring it more into conformity with local needs.
Steve and Marilyn had to work significant cultural differences, and they made a number of adjustments. Participants were reluctant to role-play and reticent to talk about personal problems. For example, one Croatian man told his workshop he had no problems, although he had defied the prevailing norm by staying in Vukovar under siege by the Yugoslav Serbs and, as a result, was now being ostracized (including receiving death threats and being fired from his job). Steve and Marilyn's solution was to use an exercise wherein participants wrote down problems anonymously and redistributed them to others for creative solutions.
A heavy burden in Croatian society is the fear that is prevalent throughout the community. When, in 1991, Serb paramilitary forces came in to halt the secession of Croatia from former Yugoslavia, most of the Croatian Croats fled from the area. Now that the UN has restored control of it to the Croatian government, the Croats are coming back and finding their houses inaccessible or destroyed. They therefore want to seize the houses of Serbs (some of whom have lived in the area for generations) even if they took no part in the Croats' dispossession.
There is a very strong belief on all sides that these wars will happen every fifty years or so and that nothing anyone can do will prevent them. Steve told of prisoners in the U.S. who come to the program believing that violence is inevitable, but change their minds as a result of taking AVP, demonstrating his belief that AVP will help people in Croatia break out of the mind-set that war is inevitable which is imprisoning them.
Steve and Marilyn found it a very different experience to offer experiential workshops in a country which had not long since thrown off the totalitarian value system of Communism, and which still lives under an authoritarian educational system where learning, though thorough, is by rote and innovative courses are unknown. They were gratified when two independent-minded professors from the University of Osijek joined the Children's Creative Response to Conflict workshops. These two professors would like to see CCRC incorporated into the school system and to provide training throughout Croatia for groups of teachers interested in conflict resolution. Since such training is unobtainable within the state-controlled school system, these two professors will work independently of it with teachers at the Osijek Peace Center.
Steve and Marilyn have opened eyes and opened doors in Croatia. There is still an enormous amount of work to be done. Nicholas Street has been deeply involved in developing a reintegration program which will bring Serbs and Croats together. He believes what is needed is for a corps of native Croats, including Serbian Croats, rather than "internationals," to take the leadership roles and to bring in their compatriots. He thinks that training the two groups separately in AVP before they are brought together would be helpful. Katerina Kruhonja, director of the Osijek Peace Center, located in the region's major city, said of AVP: "Unlike other training programs I have attended in the past conducted by 'outside experts,' AVP is designed to teach new local people to carry on the work after their teachers leave, which makes it very attractive to me."
Istvan Fedor and his colleagues from Hungary, where there is a strong AVP program, would like to develop a cross-border AVP program. Steve plans to return to Croatia in the Spring to counsel with the new small corps of local AVP trainers-in-process in Eastern Slavonia and to help them extend AVP in other parts of their country. A working group of the newly reorganized Philadelphia Yearly Meeting will continue to support AVP in the region.