Donald Reeves is the Founder and Director of the Soul of Europe – an NGO working in the Balkans since 2000.
Nelson Mandela’s words provided a frame for the work of the Soul of Europe:- ‘ If you want peace, don’t talk to your friends talk to your enemies so they become your partners’.
Donald, an Anglican priest, says ‘we instigated the rebuilding of the Ferhadija Mosque in Banja Luka, established a civic forum, brought together survivors of the killing camp at Omarska together with the Bosnian Serb administration to create a Memorial for those murdered there and in the neighbourhood. We got religious leaders to start talking to each other and arranged exchanges between schools in Banja Luka and Exeter.
One thing I have learnt is that the West are not interested in supporting peace-building in spite of all the rhetoric – ‘just too difficult.’
Recently I was at St Endellions Church in North Cornwall (John Betjeman’s and Rowan Williams’ favourite church). I made a five hour presentation on Bach and Peace-building – bit of a marathon – to an attentive audience.
Preparing my talks and also the music I was playing made me recognise once again how odd, how strange peace-building is.
18 years in the Balkans have taught me that peace-building is against the grain; it’s counter cultural; it’s an alternative, not mainstream.
As a grizzled Tory politician told me when I was at Piccadilly about the fifteen year Dunamis project we ran: ‘You don’t solve anything by all this talking.’
So what is so odd about peace-building. Here are eight bullet points – each need a book but brevity will have to do for the moment:-
Politicians shouting at each other ‘in our national interest’ – with an eye to their constituency and the next election.
Peace-builders believe in getting all sides to listen – listening is difficult. Standing in the shoes ‘of the other’.
The Powerful – national politicians – scorn peace-builders. Idealistic, not in the real world, they say. Machismo reigns – among women as well.
Peace-builders don’t give up. When negotiation breaks down the peace-builder is there. As we were told in Bosnia by a journalist: ‘you guys are different; you keep turning up’.
Anything to show we are in business. Bomb the hell out of them, and such is military technology now you don’t even have to meet the enemy.
Peace-building depends on building relationships of trust between the most unlikely groups. We did this in Bosnia. Trust is key. For Trust to grow it needs time – there is never enough of it. Lots of talking.
I have a ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’ – learnt from the philosopher Paul Ricoeur. I mistrust the BBC, the US and Russian media.
Peace-builders must learn to be canny about the media – fake news and the social media are tricky. Probably best to do as much peace-building under the radar – otherwise trust will begin to disappear.
Anything we will do for peace and quiet. Ok there is no peace without justice – back to this idealism again.
Peace-builders understand that everyone is included in the peace processes not just politicians, particularly those whose voices are rarely heard. We did this in Omarska. Needs time and money. Peacebuilders bring a vision to their work – springing out of the imagination. .The last piece I play in my Bach and peace-building presentation is a marvellous chorale prelude on the coming of the Holy Spirit – I see it as former enemies walking together towards a receding horizon.
We heard many sentiments like this over the years.
Peace-builders recognise that in some parts of Europe religion is about as much about identity as beliefs. It was wonderful to see the Catholic Bishop of Banja Luka and the Serbian Orthodox Bishop sitting in the front row at the inauguration of the Ferhadija Mosque. Both bishops are good friends of the Soul of Europe.
But peace-builders try to work not just with people you agree with but with those who violently disagree. Possible but difficult. Takes time.
Not the parties sitting across a table, but in circles. After some of these formal meetings I once told the President of the Republika Sprska that I had not seen his legs! He looked surprised – at the next meeting we were in a circle in the corner of his spacious office. He looked very pleased with himself.
So if you have read this far you see just how alternative peace-building is – and I haven’t started to write about funding. That is something else, except to say we need whistle blowers to show that many of us have to deceive our way through to get funding. The market determines the criteria for funding. You simply cannot measure everything in terms of impact, etc. But we have to find a way to be accountable, using public or trust money. Basic thinking needs to happen.