By Gianina Pellegrini, USA

As much as I was looking forward to attending this symposium and knew that I needed to participate in this Ginininaexperience, I truly didn’t know what to expect. The first three weeks of the symposium have been filled with many wonderful learning opportunities.  The first week was led by Dr. Hopman, Michael Shipler, and Rajendra Mulmi and focused on diagnosing conflict, conflict prevention, and facilitation training. During week two, Dr. Wilbur Perlot, Betty Bigombe, and Dr. Joyce Neu taught us about conflict prevention, negotiation, and mediation.

In addition to informative lectures and interactive trainings, the first two weeks were also filled with practical simulations.  For the first group simulation, we were instructed to pretend that it was 1993 as the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina was beginning to escalate. We were each assigned to be a country representative and were instructed to collectively draft a proposal for how to address the escalating conflict. For the purpose of this simulation (and the many simulations to follow), the final decision was not as important as the process by which we arrived at the decision.

We have fewer than fifty participants attending the symposium and even with our shared intelligence, vast experience, and general good-intentions, drafting a collective proposal on how to proceed in the region was challenging. Although we were eventually able to come to an agreement, it was not easy to do so: specific country/personal interests, personality conflicts, and varying communication styles made it difficult to agree on the best way in which to intervene in such a sensitive regional conflict.

Similar challenges were apparent in all the simulations that followed: when drafting a UN Resolution for establishing a Disaster Relief Organization; when negotiating a financial agreement between the Ugandan Government and the World Bank; when drafting an EU response to the conflict in Algeria; and when negotiating and drafting an intervention of the conflict in the fictitious country, the Republic of Gloccamora.

It is obvious to state that effective mediation, negotiation, and facilitation all require strong communication skills – but we all know how challenging communication can be among our families and friends. Communication is a skill and an art that requires patience and commitment. When dealing with international conflict situations, skilled communication is extremely important (and also very challenging). As Dr. Joyce Neu so clearly expressed, a good mediator must be observant, intuitive, analytical, informed, consistent, and be able to gain trust and respect from all parties involved. These qualities are imperative for any negotiation, mediation, or facilitation to be successful. And even with a skilled negotiator/mediator, successful agreements are not always achievable. After engaging in these various simulations, I have gained a greater appreciation for mediators of international conflicts and have a deeper understanding of how peace agreements are negotiated.

After peace agreements have been signed, the question then shifts to how societies engage in reconciliation—the topic we covered in the beginning of week three. Dr. Valerie Rosoux presented an honest and informative lecture on the Scope and Limitations of Reconciliation as a Peacebuilding Process. Peace scholars, practitioners, and even government officials often use this term, reconciliation, to describe the most appropriate process a society should undergo following a conflict; however, there is little consensus on what reconciliation actually is, what a reconciliation process looks like, and what (if anything) reconciliation accomplishes. We discussed at length the limitations to applying a one-size-fits-all approach to conflict reconciliation. Any true reconciliation process must recognize the diverse ways in which individuals experience trauma and the ways by which they heal.

Week three ended with presentations from representatives from the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict: Dr. Erica Chenoweth, Dr. Maciej Bartkowski, and Dr. Mary E. King. This lecture series taught about nonviolent campaigns in response to oppressive governments and unjust laws. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that nonviolent campaigns are twice as likely to succeed than violent campaigns. This statistic is promising! Conflict is inevitable. Yet, conflict does not need to be viewed negatively. In fact, conflict often elicits change, growth, and transformation. We must learn effective means to prevent violent conflict and perhaps greater education on nonviolence principles is the first step to attaining a more peaceful world.

Expecting an end to violent conflict in my lifetime is truly too idealistic. However, we must continue our work trying to prevent and effectively resolve violence conflicts. We must continue supporting people, communities, and countries as they heal from the traumatic affects caused by violence. I do believe the effort we exert today will help achieve sustainable peace for the generations to come. That is my hope.