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FALL, 1998: Volume 3 Issue 3

Back To Croatia With AVP by Stephen Angell and Mary Arnett

In early April, 1998, Stephen Angell made his second trip to eastern Croatia to nourish the seeds of the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) which he and Marilyn Williams had planted while there in November/December of 1997. See Peace Team News, Spring 1998. Unlike the first time when he was a stranger in their midst, this time the local peace community welcomed him with open arms and with much of the groundwork for his workshops already laid by trainees from his previous visit. On this trip, he took co-facilitator, Sr. Margaret McKenna, who is well-known to Philadelphia Friends for her use of AVP in her work in recovery programs in North Philadelphia. Philadelphia Yearly Meeting supported the second trip (as they had the first) to a region which had sustained major destruction of property and dislocation of people in a recent war. The five main objectives of the second visit were
  • to strengthen the skills of the apprentice facilitators trained during the first visit in delivering AVP workshops;
  • to train an additional group of apprentice facilitators, with particular emphasis on involving Serbian and Croatian participants;
  • to strengthen the collegial relationship with “AVP Hungary,” which had agreed to provide mentoring to “AVP Croatia,”
  • to extend the geographical range of AVP into adjacent areas;
  • to leave behind the basic tools to enable the local people to offer AVP workshops on their own, with Hungarian support.

On their way to Croatia, Stephen and Margaret stopped in Budapest and Szeged, Hungary, to meet with Hungarian AVP facilitators and to offer Facilitator Advanced Training. Fedor Istvan, a Hungarian physician who had worked with Stephen before, introduced them to his AVP colleagues. So great was their rapport with their host group that several volunteered to come to neighboring Croatia the following week to assist in the training. From the moment of their arrival in the Osijek/Beli Manastir region of Croatia, Stephen and Margaret were made to feel like old friends. Foremost among the apprentice facilitators from the previous visit who welcomed them and helped them set up their schedule was Dusanka Ilic, a Croat married to a Serb. Dusanka is one of the founders of the Osijek Peace Center and the director of “The Bench We Share” project, which helps bring together Serbs and Croats whose former peaceful co-existence in the area was shattered by the hostilities of the early '90s. Once again their host was Nicholas Street, a British Friend who had set up the three-year-old Baranja International Meeting House (BIMH) in Beli-Manastir, previously a predominantly Serbian town, to be a supportive presence in restoring peace to the area.

In the late fall of '97, Stephen had found the BIMH nurturing and housing the Oaza Gruppe (“the Oasis Group”), made up of members of the local community who were undertaking peace initiatives, especially in connection with the Osijek Peace Center, an established group fifty or so miles to the south in a predominantly Croatian community. Though Nicholas felt led to close the BIMH at the end of May '98, Stephen was gratified to find that the Oaza Gruppe, which had just been getting started when he was first there, was now gaining strength under the direction of Katarina Kinie. It had acquired a house of its own and was building a strong peace program. With preparation by Katarina and Dusanka and with the participation of Hungarian AVPers, Stephen and Margaret conducted two Basic Workshops, one Advanced Workshop, and a Training for Facilitators Workshop.

Fifteen women and men participated in the Advanced Workshop, all very enthusiastically. The topic they chose to work on was, “Learning to live with our differences.” At the conclusion of this workshop, all fifteen signed up for the third level Training for Facilitators Workshop, with thirteen of them actually completing it, eleven of whom were either Serb or Croat. This compared favorably with the first AVP trip, when there were only three Serb or Croat graduates, only one of whom (Dusanka) remained involved, the others having been internationals working locally. This time only two internationals participated.

When not engaged in these trainings, Stephen and Margaret traveled to other towns further to the west in the former war zone, Pakrac and Slavonia Brod, to offer mini AVP Basic Workshops. The participants in these new places received the workshops enthusiastically and expressed the desire for the full range of trainings. Stephen and Margaret also visited the women's prison, the men's prison, and a youth detention facility in the nearby town of Pozega and talked about AVP with the correctional personnel, who responded very positively. They found these institutions amazingly homelike and non-oppressive.

Stephen and Margaret left behind a translation of the AVP Basic Manual into Croatian and money to cover the costs of reproduction, as well as English versions of the two later manuals. The documentation they brought home was equally precious, the trainees' evaluations of the workshops. One example: “I can't wait to help other people learn all the things that I have learned and look forward to when I will help other people to learn to live with differences. Big thanks for Stephen and Margaret, because they brought sunshine into my life and gave me strength and the will to continue to go their way. I want to help people, and I can't wait to see you again! Everything and everyone was wonderful, and because of that to say goodbye is very hard for me. My love to all of you.” And another: “Especially I have appreciated the way Stephen and Margaret handled the facilitating process: understanding, positive critique, encouraging. I thought they did an excellent job. I hope to see them again—eventually to work with them again (underlined). Thank you for everything you have done for AVP in Osijek. We ourselves now need to carry on the tasks and objectives/goals of AVP. PS: We will be extremely delighted to have you again as soon as the circumstances will allow you to come. We do hope to have you back sometime soon!”

All indications are that the seeds planted in November/December 1997 are now in the Spring of '98 firmly taking root. Hopefully AVP will spread from here to other parts of the troubled Balkans and be an instrument for creating social justice and lasting peace.

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