September/October 2002 Living Now
Peacebuilding in Croatia
by R. L. Miller, Ph.D
"There's where the American helicopter was shot down."
These were the first words I heard outside of the airport at Dubrovnik,
Croatia, in June. I had arrived for a conference, called the Alchemy
of Peacebuilding, to be held in a hotel a few miles down the road. We
were driving along the hills that line the central Adriatic coast, passing
heaps of rubble on one side and some new construction on the other.
"Yeah, one of my cousins opened a restaurant up there - he's doing
quite well" the driver continued. And so, I thought, we come to
terms with war.
The conference was designed by an American organization, the Praxis
Peace Institute, (www.praxispeaceinstitute.org)
for people who are working to create peace in the world. The speakers
were leading-edge thinkers and writers plus young men and women who've
been making a difference in war zones - specifically in Belgrade, the
Bronx, and Watts. The topics ranged from interpersonal dynamics through
the future of money; from the personal experiences of war victims through
the impacts of a dominator paradigm in Western Industrial culture. We
were there to network, to learn, and to make a difference in the local
Most of the attendees were women. At one session, designed to heal
some of the rifts between men and women in our culture, about 130 women
sat on one side of the room and about 30 men sat on the other. Interestingly,
most of those men were there as presenters. Nonetheless, the session
was powerful. Will Keepin and Molly Dwyer of the Satyana Institute (www.satyana.org)
led the group through a process that helped us see that many of our
assumptions about each other are unwarranted. As the men watched the
women stand in response to questions like "have you ever been afraid
to walk down a street in your neighborhood because of your gender?"
and as the women watched the men respond to "have you ever been
struck or beaten by a woman?" we could feel the atmosphere in the
Equally powerful were the stories shared by the young people who had
grown up in war zones and worked to bring some measure of peace to their
world. One young woman got through the worst of the Bosnian horrors
by focusing on whatever beauty she could find. A young man, hiding
in a bombed-out hotel, found scrap paper and made up versions of board
games like Monopoly for the children he was with. Filip Pavlovic, now
studying for his doctorate, says he learned we need to move toward "conflict
transformation, rather than conflict resolution."
In Watts, Aqueela Sherrills and his brother, Daude, overcame their
early gang involvement. They brought about a truce between the Bloods
and the Crips and founded the Community Self-Determination Institute,
which has been a model for similar organizations across the country.
Aqueela says "Watts is a trim-tab community for America ... alcoholism,
drug use, violence are symptoms, not the problem." Jejuana
Johnson says, "I realized I didn't love myself and these people
who were killing each other didn't love themselves either. So I began
treating myself as someone special." Asked what spiritual insights
their experiences gave them, Pearl, from South Bronx, says she learned
"we are one, united, with many different bodies."
Sam Keen's insights from his latest book, Faces of the Enemy provided
powerful contrast. He said "enmity is a science; neurosis writ
large" and "warfare is always applied theology." It was
difficult for many of us to witness his "dirty pictures" -
propaganda images which, for both sides of past wars, demonize the enemy
and show innocent victims becoming sanctified heroes. It was even harder
to hear this respected psychologist tell us that "ultimately we're
going to fail; all humans are here to fail
get comfortable with
Keen seemed more aligned with the others, though, when he said, "humans
are biomythic animals... culture is a mythic story into which we are
born - a form of hypnosis..." David Loye, expressed the situation
this way: "we live by stories; the story we're living by is driving
our species to extinction." Drawing on his new book, The Lost Love
of Darwin (www.partnershipway.org),
Loye told us that, while the phrase "survival of the fittest"
is used only twice in Darwin's Descent of Man, the word "love"
is used 95 times. He says that the story we are told in the media and
by our social scientists has "missed the fundamental paradigm"
of partnership that Darwin found essential. The global women's movement,
too, feels partnership must be part of any peacebuilding effort.
Loye's presentation, and a wonderful concert, took place in the courtyard
of the Rector's Palace in Old Town Dubrovnik. Here for hundreds of years,
every 30 days, a man would be elected to manage the city - during which
time he was not allowed to leave the palace, and after which he could
not be elected again for some time. And so Dubrovnik avoided war.
Back at the conference center, Patrice Flynn (www.flynnresearch.com),
very effectively demonstrated how our economy, based on dominator culture
rules, is reducing our quality of life. In particular, she showed how
the relationship between our government and our banks is driving not
only our economy but that of many other countries and can be directly
tied to recent economic upheavals in Mexico, Thailand, and Argentina.
In the political arena, Paul Ray, co-author with Sherry Anderson of
The Cultural Creatives, shared his new book, The New Political (www.culturalcreatives.org).
He outlined a shift that has occurred in American - and perhaps European
- politics, away from left and right, into a new, four-directional,
"compass." The new players are, he says, social conservatives,
big business conservatives, progressives, and another 36 million in
a previously undefined group of cultural creatives, whose issues have
not even begun to be addressed by "politics as usual."
Congressman David Kucinich, author of "A Prayer for America"
and chair of the Progressive Caucus, built on these ideas. "We
need to... know that we are one, undivided whole... We realize that
what affects anyone anywhere affects everyone, everywhere... We must...infuse
our world with peace, ask so that we can receive it, and not breathe
the poisonous gas of terrorism." He went on to say - and Thomas
Jefferson would have approved - "If governments fail to recognize
the networks of active citizens, they may become irrelevant."
Vesna Pusic, a member of Croatia's parliament and a professor of political
philosophy, supported this, telling us her country has learned that
what's needed is "hands-on citizenship" so that each citizen
comes to an "acceptance of involvement in political life."
She said that when her new country held their first elections they were
looking for something: "we called it freedom, but we really meant
happiness and affluence." They had significant problems as a result,
and learned that "without civic self-confidence, it's impossible
for democracy to function."
Meeting with some of the wonderful women who attended these sessions
gave me hope that Dr. Pusic' requirement might be met. One woman coordinates
a citizen peacebuilding program at a major university. Another helps
children in war-torn countries get support. Several attendees are ministers
seeking to integrate the spiritual and practical aspects of peacebuilding.
And one woman came to share about the powerful movement of women around
the world, who, without funds or centralized organization, simply meet
in public places, wearing black, and stand silently holding a sign that
says "Women in Black for Peace." It was such a powerful idea
that several of us decided to do it, right there, at the conference.
So, as people were gathering for the final banquet, we stood silent
in the lobby, some of us in borrowed black clothing, creating a sacred
space for peace. It was, for us and many who saw us, the most powerful
moment of the whole event.
Concerts and informal singing were part of almost every evening, and
some of the presentations ended with a chant or song. And it was all
embraced by the breathtaking beauty of the Adriatic coast - blue waters
and grey-green hills against deep blue or grey skies, white stone houses
with red tiled roofs nestled into green gardens, and ancient stone walls
snaking up, down, and across the hillsides, marking fields that have
been used for centuries.
"You'll come back, no?" were the last words I heard before
entering the airport outside Dubrovnik. I'll come back, yes. Perhaps
not in this body, but certainly in my heart and mind - with many thanks
to all who made this place what it is, and made this journey possible.
R. L. Miller is a writer and lecturer with degrees in anthropology,
environmental science, cybernetics, and systems science. After a career
as a futurist, community developer, and academic, Miller now works as
a "circuit riding" minister, teaching people and organizations
around the Pacific Northwest ways to expand their capacity for well-being.