The EU funded FP7 project ALTERNATIVE invited Nordic professionals within different fields expected to be interested and to be relevant for discussions and feed-back in the frame of a Nordic workshop on the restorative handling of conflicts in intercultural contexts.
In autumn 2014, NOVA invited more than 40 Nordic professionals from National security sectors, mediation organizations, municipal level, intercultural organizations and other NGO’s, researchers – international, national and local level. Common issues: intercultural dialogue, safety, security, inclusion and local sustainable development. Unfortunately we had very few responses, so we decided to postpone it for February 2015 with a new and more targeted invitation.
This resulted in a list of 22 interested, ending up with 14 participants representing the Police, the Red Cross Street Mediation, The Norwegian Mediation Service at ministerial and local levels, students for human rights and multiculturalism, the student priest-service, the student ombudsservice and NOVA. There were also three Norwegian researchers who first had accepted the invitation, who had to cancel last minute. In addition there were five persons from the practice field of restorative justice and security from other European countries that wanted to come, but who could not find financial support traveling to Norway. In spite of a smaller group than expected, we had two highly participatory days of workshop, presenting preliminary findings from ALTERNATIVE and discussing the implications for the participants´ own practice- and research-fields.
Ida Hydle and Espen Marius Foss presented and organized discussions and summaries. There were presentations from Dr. Inge Vanfraechem, University of Leuven, and sociologist researcher Gabor Hera from the research institute FORESEE in Budapest. We will distribute this report from the workshop to the participants and relevant cooperating colleagues and institutions.
Presentations and discussions
Hydle, Vanfraechem, Hera and Foss presented the ongoing work and what we investigate in ALTERNATIVE:
The possibilities of restorative justice approaches for the peaceful handling of conflicts and coexistence in intercultural contexts in the Nordic countries and beyond. Under what circumstances and in which ways can mediation, conferences and peace circles contribute to security and safety in local settings?
We then gave an overview of the four action research sites and preliminary findings, including using film as a way of dissemination:
- Hungary: Dialogue-work in conflicts between Roma and Non-Roma in a village close to Budapest
- Serbia: The Victimology Society of Serbia and its work for the establishment of restoring communities struck by conflict lines between Serbs, Croats, Kosovo-Albanians, Christians and Muslims in the aftermath of the war.
- Northern Ireland: Needed tools for restorative actions in the new conflicts between different community groups, Protestants and Catholics, new and old immigrant groups, paramilitary groups, local authorities. Experiences from Belfast and Londonderry in the aftermath of the war (“The Troubles”).
- Vienna: Cooperation between local mediation organisations on a city level in the handling of conflicts between different immigrant groups and the Viennese population.
- From Norway we also presented the Red Cross Street mediation work, which is used as a comparative base in the project.
We also had several moderated discussions in groups and plenary on central security challenges and restorative practices as tools. The second day we had a summary on what we have learned and what critical questions have surfaced, including a brainstorm on the participants´ own wishes for projects, knowledge and research in the area of restorative justice and security issues.
The participants were organized in both one circle and several small circles, referring to the circle work in ALTERNATIVE, the Red Cross Street Mediation and the Norwegian Mediation service.
Impressions and outcomes
- The film “Restorative justice. Inspiring the future of a just society for all” was screened, followed by an inspired discussion of the importance of restorative justice in multi-cultural Europe. In particular for preventing crime and for focussing on positive behavior with young marginalised persons (”most of the time you do not commit crime – what causes that?”) etc. In a Norwegian context RJ means that there is not an ”easy way out”, working on an every-day community building. The participants also focussed the practical learning of the RJ methodology, a recurrent issue in all workshops.
- Hera Gabor´s presentation of the case of Hungary generated an engaged discussion on how to approach conflicts that are silenced in many communities, and how to deal with intercultural aspects in that respect.
- Most of the participants saw the need for more knowledge, research and practice on the topic of inter-culturality, security and restorative practices, and came up with several concrete ideas for projects they themselves would be involved in.
- Inge Vanfraechem´s presentation lead to an extended group-discussion on the question of ´culture´ in the understanding of conflicts, central security issues, and how to deal with them. Most people agreed that popular understandings of culture are part of the problem itself, when conflicts become “culturalised”, i.e. ascribed as certain traits or values belonging to particular groups in conflict. There is a need for self recognition and training about “otherness”, “migrants”, “immigrants”, acceptance of differences etc. How to use the RJ principles in every day life, in the workplace, among neighbours?
- The participants reported that the seminar was very useful and inspiring, and a much welcomed reflective space in busy days of the practice field where there is limited time and opportunity for critical reflections on practice.
- They also reflected upon the use of the new knowledge from ALTERNATIVE to their own every day security and safety-thinking and practice. This was new to them. They reasoned that this knowledge must be implemented in the curriculum of several educations for teachers, social and youth work, in addition to local organisers of youth clubs and relevant NGOs. There is also an obvious need for training in mediation and conferencing in several societal areas. Questions were raised as to how to promote people, how to make teaching and training accessible. The focus must be on the good outcomes, the good stories and the best practices. Hard statistics is also needed from “what works”. How to bring these issues forward to people working in the traditional field of security? (Several representatives were invited to the workshop, but did not answer).
- Several of the participants also reflected upon the challenge of involving the media in the RJ fields as a means to enter the public space. They also questioned how RJ and the ALTERNATIVE approaches could be brought on to a structural level. It is relevant for many different societal fields: Kindergarten, family, school, higher education, the public and private practice fields of security and safety, the prevention of crime, the handling of serious crime and other conflicts, the promotion of peace etc. There were reflections of how the link could be made from the micro to meso to macro level – as in ALTERNATIVE, which also gives some answers that might be implemented in a Norwegian context.