Forums for human rights and peace education in Eastern Slavonia – and elsewhere

By Jan Oberg

October 11, 1998

Originally published here.

“This is a modest proposal for institutionalisation of peace-related teaching in regions of conflict. It’s a Citizens Forum for Human Rights and Peace Education, HR&PE. It mentions Croatia but is equally relevant for, let’s say, Kosovo or Macedonia, or any other trouble spot. You may think that this is relevant only after war, but I strongly believe that forums like this should be created wherever the situation threatens to erupt into violence. If the trigger-happy international “community” had invested in such projects – both in their own ministries of foreign affairs, in international organisations and in trouble spots such as Kosovo – 5 or 10 years ago, people on all sides would begin to realise the utter futility of using weapons to achieve their goals,” says TFF director Jan Oberg.

“You see, there are no limits to what can be done to help people coexist in postwar communities. The international community has no specialised competence or organisations in this field. Post-war reconciliation is the most important measure to prevent future outbreaks of violence – and we must focus particularly on children and youth,” says TFF director Jan Oberg.

“TFF has been working for more than one year with reconciliation issues in Eastern Slavonia, Croatia. We have analysed problems of co-operation in many schools, served as resource persons at three UN/Council of Europe seminars for principals and teachers, helped about 120 Croat and Serb gymnasium students to see a better future together and we’ve supported local Serb media in their wish to contribute to reconciliation. Just a couple of weeks ago, TFF conducted a seminar with CINES – the Citizens Initiative Network Eastern Slavonia that we helped create in June, an effort to bring mixed groups of teachers, media people and all NGOs together as they are all educators.”

 

BACKGROUND

• The wish of the Croatian government and the UN to promote and develop human rights including peace education within Croatia especially in multi-ethnic regions like Eastern Slavonia. This will help to fulfil, for instance, the goals of the Education for Citizenship programme of the Council of Europe, and those of the earlier UN mission ‘to retain the multi-ethnic character of the region’, ‘promote an atmosphere of confidence among all local residents irrespective of their ethnic origin’, ‘enable all refugees and displaced persons to enjoy the right of return freely to their homes and to live there in conditions of security’. and ‘promote respect for the highest standards of human rights and fundamental freedoms.’

 

PURPOSES

• INFORMATION – Information on all issues relevant for human rights and peace education must be gathered, links between schools established, public information made reliable.

• EMPOWERMENT – Build on local resources, to local citizens more self-reliant and society more democratic.

• SKILLS IN RECONCILIATION AND FORGIVENESS – Through participative processes help locals themselves train their peers and develop teaching materials in conflict understanding, -resolution and civil society democratization.

• COOPERATION – Between principals, teachers, pupils and parents and between them and the surrounding society, particularly domestic NGOs and international organisations.

• CIVIL SOCIETY RESTORATION – To help schools play a much needed role as community centres and public/civic education institutions.

• INNOVATION – Schools in Eastern Slavonia could pioneer new subjects, methods and curricula for the rest of Croatia, and thereby turn a disadvantage into an advantage.

• PROFESSIONALIZATION – To help principals, teachers and students to develop their identity as both educators and learners.

• TO HELP CREATE BETTER SCHOOLS where real educational issues rather than ethnic politics, grievances and symbols dominate and which serve as centres of community transformation.

 

ORGANISATION

• NETWORK – Breaking away from the former Yugoslav and present pyramid-shaped organisation; no “President” should be elected and the people running it should be devoted school people, chosen by their peers for their competence and vision. No one who is also a politician or state/municipal employee should be responsible for the Forum’s daily work. Horizontally structured, dynamic, open for creativity and do-it-yourself.

• LIAISON PERSONS – Aim to appoint committed liaison person(s) in each school.

• RESPONSIBILITY – A small board is responsible to grant-makers and the ministry, but the activity is self-governing.

• INNOVATORS – Take some, perhaps about five, of the most open-minded participants in the Council of Europe seminars, find some Student Council representatives and some NGO leaders whose organisations work with issues relevant for human rights and peace and education in a broad sense.

• COORDINATORS – Help them establish a small secretariat or clearing house that communicates – phones, fax, e-mail – with, in principle, all schools in the region. Best if this group of coordinators is recognised within a Croatian professional organisations of teachers.

• ADVISERS – Ask Council of Europe, OSCE, UN, TFF and others to serve as advisory group, but only when asked by people in the region.

 

ACTIVITIES

In principle unlimited, here are some:

• Newsletter/journal
A simple mono-lingual product where general human rights and peace education (HR&PE) issues can be discussed and where each school – principal, teacher and pupil – can tell others what goes on in their schools and what they want to do, draw on the experience of others in the field. HR&PE in other countries could be reviewed, too.

• Seminars 
Workshops and training for the many who did not have a chance to go to the three 1997 seminars, spreading the message, building momentum.

• Educational materials
Develop teaching materials, serving as a pedagogical centre, perhaps build a small library, translate and edit important international texts for teaching human rights and peace, such as those of UNESCO.

• Pilot studies and experimental curricula
Propose and develop them, in consultation with the Ministry, so that practical experience can be gathered; experimenting with and introducing modern equipment such as computers, video, Internet etc, facilitating later contacts with global trends.

• Spearheading Croatia’s development
Eastern Slavonian schools could become pedagogical learning centres, inspiring schools all over Croatia – and the region needs to be seen as useful, strong and as a vital part of Croatia.

• Reforms in schools and their management
To introduce HR&PE, a democratic spirit, decision-making and dialogue into the daily management of the schools as well as into the formal and the hidden curriculum, to secure that the subjects are practised and not just taught as texts.

• Education-related social activities 
Aiming at democracy, reconciliation and community development, such as e.g. gathering citizens to rebuild schools, paint them, make gardens (memorial gardens too) attached to the schools, suggest cultural activities etc – all to further a sense a community across whatever divisions that exist.

• Outreach to the larger world
Serve as a link to the educational community in Croatia, other former Yugoslav countries and the international community, including linking up with interest associations, professional societies and teachers’ unions.

• Media education
Another important group to reach out to – as educators – is media. The Forum could conduct seminars with educational, human rights and peace NGOs for and with media people and do educational programs for radio and television.

• Small research projects
Conduct a survey of attitudes, norms, wishes and future perceptions of relevance to the schools, in the educational sector as well as outside it.

• Later on – a local history commission to write what happened in that part of the country and why – and what to learn from it. Three versions: one from a Croat perspective, one from a Serb, perspective (and perhaps other minorities), one written together, specifying where agreement can be reached, where mutual understanding is possible and where no mutuality exist. If published the materials here would have a healing effect, suffering of citizens on all sides would be recognised, it would be psychologically helpful to victims. If transformed into school books, it could have a considerable educational value for children and youth by offering reconciliation rather than hate speech.

“What a pity that such, rather simple, ideas are never presented in government circles and among diplomats shuttling around to make what they and the media mistakenly call peace. Why is a Forum like this not even mentioned in the Dayton Accords for Bosnia or in “Interim Agreement” brokered by US ambassador Christopher Hill now for Kosovo?

Does anyone really believe that peace can be “engineered” by foreigners and enforced by military pressure, tough talk and some legal provisions – or that such a peace would be sustainable without involving the people in the conflict areas? Such an attitude lacks every ethos of democracy that the same diplomats normally preach.

I don’t believe that any peace accord will hold if enforced without the informed consent of the citizens. And would it not be wonderful if they were well educated in conflict-resolution and could inspire and challenge the international ‘conflict-managers’ who keep on making peace as if people didn’t matter,” Dr. Oberg wonders.

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